Integration of technology in education has been a major focus of in-service teacher training. What, however, is the quality of these trainings, and how relevant are they to teachers’ needs? This study of one model school in Uttarahalli, Bengaluru, presents an encouraging picture of integration of technology in education by teachers.
The quality of school education depends largely on teachers, who are required to learn and update their skills throughout their professional life.
To enable continuous professional development, the National Policy on Education (NPE) 1986 has emphasised in-service teacher education. The government has set up 500 District Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs), 87 Colleges of Teacher Education (CTEs) and 38 Institutes of Advanced Studies in Education (IASEs), and strengthened 30 State Councils of Educational Research and Training (SCERTs). The District Primary Education Programme (DPEP), which kicked off in 1993–94, has also introduced block and cluster resource centres and made in-service teacher education and cluster-level schools the main strategies for pedagogic renewal.
Government teachers are required to undergo 30–60 hours of compulsory training in pedagogical methods every year. Often, in-service programmes are tied to specific reform initiatives in curriculum, pedagogy or assessment. They include activity-based learning, classroom management, multi-grade teaching, team teaching, cooperative and collaborative learning, problem-solving approaches, subject-teacher workshops, and so on. These training programmes provide opportunities for teachers to engage with other teaching professionals and update knowledge. In recent years, there has been a focus on educating teachers in integrating technology in teaching.
What, however, is the quality of these trainings, and how relevant are they to teachers’ needs? Are they actually improving classroom practices or just a useless formality?
To find out, I studied the ways in which some teachers at the Government Primary and High School in Uttarahalli, a suburb of Bengaluru, use technology in teaching practices, exploring also the support systems available to them for the integration of technology in the teaching-learning process. The Government Primary and High School is a model school (English- and Kannada-medium) with 1,600 students (Grades 1 to 10) and 45 faculty members. It was chosen for this study because it was an early adopter of ICTs in education in Karnataka, introducing computers and a smart classroom in 2009–10.
Barriers to technology integration
The International Society for Technology in Education’s definition for integration of technology in education was used for this study: “Effective integration of technology is achieved when students are able to select technology tools to help them obtain information in a timely manner, analyse and synthesise the information, and present it professionally. The technology should become an integral part of how the classroom functions—as accessible as all other classroom tools. The focus in each lesson or unit is the curriculum outcome, not the technology.”
A Quality Education Data Inc (1995) study with over 600 teachers, 300 principals, and 100 districts identified seven barriers to computer-based technology integration:
- Lack of workshops/training programmes and related support systems
- Lack of time to learn and master the skill and knowledge
- Lack of access to equipment
- Lack of class time for technology integration
- Lack of relevance to the curriculum
- Lack of motivation (internal and external) and social awareness
- Lack of funding to sustain the programme.
The Uttarahalli school has a computer lab, a smart class and a resource centre, all three with broadband connectivity. There are 15 desktops, 18 laptops and six tablets. Learning Links, Educomp and the Dell Youth Connect Programme have been functioning here since 2010. Their resource persons are stationed at the school to provide technical support.
The computer lab and smart class remain open after school hours until 5:30 pm. Many students from other institutions also use the ICT infrastructure here, and teachers conduct extra classes or remedial classes for students.
I interviewed five teachers, four women (who teach science and maths in Kannada and English), and one man (who teaches Hindi).
The ways in which teachers integrate technology were studied under the categories of a) purpose and b) process of technology integration.
Purpose of technology integration
Teachers are clear about why they want to use technology. They use it to:
Prepare for their classes: They look at the textbooks and then browse for additional resources including texts, quizzes, pictures and activities. They also connect to other teachers through WhatsApp to share what they are doing or find out how other teachers are dealing with specific topics.
Project digital resources in class: Teachers use videos from YouTube, Educomp digital resources and other CDs to explain processes and depict events. They also use content-specific digital resources such as Geogebra and PhET simulation software. They use quizzes for assessment and online tests to prepare for competitive exams. They use technology platforms such as Educomp’s Fliplearn, which allows students to learn on their own and find homework help.
Process of technology integration
To begin with, teachers locate pictures, diagrams and flowcharts on the topics they plan to teach (for example, the sense organs or parts of the eye).
They pick the relevant ones according to grade appropriateness, student interest and innovation of presentation, indicating that the selection of resources is not random but motivated.
Teachers are required to ensure availability of the smart classroom a day in advance and contact the technical support person 15 minutes before the class to ensure that all systems are working well. They have to arrange the logistics of taking the children to and from the smart class, which is located on the first floor. This process itself takes 15 to 20 minutes. To avoid this time wastage, teachers who plan to use the smart class sometimes exchange their classroom with a teacher whose classroom is located near the smart class. This allows them more time in the smart class. All this requires prior planning. One teacher explained that the use of the technology resources helps a better understanding because it is colourful, facilitates clarity with neat labels showing the processes, and is an effective alternative for teachers who are not skilled at drawing diagrams on the board.Many teachers create PowerPoint presentations (PPTs) that include simple definitions, examples or quiz questions. They felt this was better than the paper notes they used earlier because it helped them clarify concepts in their own minds.
Different teachers had different reasons for preferring presentations:
“Students find PPTs simple and to the point.”
“I get students to read out the PPT and find that all their friends are generally listening. I am now able to see who is involved in class and who is finding it difficult to understand concepts.”
“The attention span of students is limited. It has to be managed. Incorporating quizzes in PPTs holds students’ attention.”
“Sometimes we give our presentations to students and ask them to take extra classes for others. This helps us allocate more time for difficult topics.”
Not all teachers use audio-visual content in the same way. The extent to which they intervene in the content and the reasons for it are different, as seen in the four responses below:
“I show the video as it is. Since Educomp videos are arranged class- and topic-wise, I select the video I want to use. These classes are generally held later in the day. We have a lot of energy in the morning hours but since we have back-to-back classes, we get tired. Therefore, I sometimes bring students to the smart classroom where I make them watch Educomp videos. If I feel that students have difficulty in understanding the concept, I change the language of the resource (from Kannada to English or English to Kannada), since these videos are available in different languages.”
“I use YouTube videos because they provide good animation of ideas and processes. I mute the audio and show just the video. I explain the content in my own language.”
“Although I teach science, I am not good at drawing say the shape of an atom or nuclear chain reaction or how cells or chromosomes divide. Videos show this clearly through animation. I feel that this clarity and detail give students a better understanding of the processes.”
“I do not play the audio-video content continuously. I play it for some time, stop in between and ask students a few questions on what they have seen and heard. I also make students read the subtitles. This not only gets them engaged in learning by seeing, hearing and reading, but also helps me know whether they have understood the concept or not.”
For subjects such as math and science, teachers use simulation software like Geogebra and the PhET platform, which work online and offline. The simulations are conducted either in the smart class or in the computer lab with the help of resource persons. A major challenge with simulation software is that it needs to be updated from time to time and the support of the resource person is called for. The good thing about the simulation software, all teachers said, is that it is freely available. The way teachers use the simulation software also differs. Most give the software interface to students and ask them to play with it. If students encounter problems, they guide them.
“We give them a specific task to do in simulation software. It is generally a group activity, but students who stay back after school hours can individually play with it. Students can learn the concept by doing. In the process, their understanding deepens. We cannot show them these through experiments or regular activities.”
“First, I try to explain the concept. Then I take them to the smart class where they work on the concept. This way of learning builds the imagination of students and triggers their curiosity about the concept.”
One teacher also mentioned the downside of simulation software:
“Earlier, when I gave students a problem to solve, they tried doing it. With simulation software, students say that since the computer can solve it, why should we? They no longer see a point in solving problems.”
Teachers also use digital technology for assessment.
“Continuous comprehensive evaluation requires us to make many formative assessments. Through technology, I am able to access question papers of different boards. I use them to prepare my students. The use of technology makes assessment fun for students.”
“I am able to get model exam papers of Class 10 from websites. This helps me prepare students for the board exam more adequately.”
“These days we not only have to prepare students for various tests, but also for online tests. If students are not familiar with the format of online tests, this will affect their performance. I use technology to give students online tests so that they are able to participate in competitive exams like the National Talent Search Examination.”
“I use technology to ensure that assessment becomes fun for my students and not a source of stress.”
Teachers also use technology for remedial and extra classes. Both these are conducted after school hours in the smart classroom or at the resource centre. For remedial classes, teachers use Flip the Class, where students access teacher-created videos. To make the videos, teachers must know how to use cameras, video editing software (Adobe Presenter is used in this school), and PowerPoint.
Teachers said they have to do a lot of research on the topic being taught. They also have to take care to anticipate the questions that students are likely to ask.
“It is good that teachers make their own videos because we use English that the students can easily understand. Videos on YouTube have an accent that is difficult to understand.”
“I like the Flip the Classroom initiative because students can now revise concepts by themselves, going back as often as they need to.”
Teachers also said they would like to learn to make videos that are more effective.
For the extra classes, teachers use Educomp videos. Teachers allow students to watch these videos independently. Some teachers identify the problem that students have in understanding a concept and provide the video accordingly.
“I sometimes advise students to go through videos for the lower class to improve their understanding.”
“I let students access the Educomp website and we guide them through it so that they use it independently. These videos have an inbuilt quiz that helps students assess what they have learnt.”
Sometimes, however, the licence of the Educomp software lapses and teachers have to look for other material.
Support and self-development
Teachers have taken the initiative to build their own technology skills. There are two kinds of capacity-development platforms—formal and informal. Formal platforms are those created by others while informal platforms are those created by the teachers themselves.
Formal: This school had the continuous presence of resource persons from Learning Links and Educomp. They were available for all kinds of support before and during class. Teachers also sought their help to know more about technology. The trainers created email IDs for teachers so that teachers could approach them for clarifications. Teachers seldom used this, perhaps because the resource persons were available in school. As part of the Subject Teachers Forum, online groups were created for members to interact. Teachers used these sometimes to discuss subject-related issues with other teachers.
Informal: Teaches created WhatsApp groups and used them to share their initiatives, model question papers, jokes, school-related events and government information. Some teachers had family members with expertise in the use of technology. Teachers took their help and shared the knowledge with other teachers. Teachers also sought the help of alumni to get the latest updates on technology matters.
Impact on teachers’ attitudes
Knowledge of technology made teachers feel empowered and on a par with private school teachers. Earlier, they had thought of technology more as a source of entertainment, or even feared technology. They never imagined they would create videos themselves. As they began to see students taking an interest in learning, they were motivated to learn more about technology. Since their school is a model school, they had a lot of work like regular record maintenance, parent-teacher meetings, examination centres for board exams, and so on. Despite this, teachers have made the effort to master technology and its integration. They do not see this as a burden but as an enhancement of the learning of students. They did, however, feel that some sort of recognition from officials for their work would be motivating for them.
Describing the impact of technology-integrated education on their students, teachers felt it gave them confidence and a feeling of equality with students in private schools. Since technology allows students to learn at their own pace, and on their own, it aids learning and conceptual clarity.
This small study at one model government school in Karnataka reveals an encouraging picture of the integration of technology in education by teachers. Teachers are experimenting and innovating with technology for improved teaching and learning. They do not fear that technology will replace them. They are open to learning from the younger generation.
However, teachers feel that training programmes must focus on the integration of technology in pedagogy rather than on ICT skills per se.
Since more e-learning resources are available for math and science, there seems to be a misconception that these subjects require conceptual teaching while teaching of social studies or languages do not. These misconceptions fuel the already existing hierarchy among subjects.
My observations also revealed that teachers are empowered only to an extent. There are several areas where they depend on others. For example, when a teacher prepares a question paper, she depends on the resource person to convert the paper into coding format. Another teacher asked a student to type some material in Kannada instead of learning to do it. Similarly, the resource person often ends up doing the video editing for teachers. It is important for teachers to move to greater autonomy, in attitude and practice.
Added to this is the problem of sustainability. The Flip the Class initiative stagnated because the software licence for editing videos expired after a year, and for nearly eight months when there was no Educomp resource person available at the school, teachers got no support.
Another problem is that teacher performance is evaluated on the basis of marks obtained by students and not the effort put in by teachers. Therefore, if students who learn with technology do not score well, the teacher’s performance attracts a negative score. This method of teacher evaluation is not conducive to technology integration, which is time-consuming, resource-intensive and requires a lot of effort on the teachers’ part.
Successful and more widespread integration of technology in education will call for a focus on sustainability, long-term resource planning, and teacher evaluation.
Shriharsh Chandak is an alumnus of the Azim Premji University (APU). He conducted this study during his internship at APU in 2016, under the mentorship of Professor Devaki L.