Learning about new software is at the heart of developing every students’ capabilities whether it will be in the new Digital Technologies curriculum or across the curriculum in various Learning Areas (General Capability – IC T Capability). No matter if it is animation, generic, graphic or even subject-specific software the best practices need to be implemented in order for students to be able to make effective decisions about what software to use so to create a solution to a problem situation.
When deciding to introduce software to students you need to ensure that the software that you are intending for the students to use will develop student capabilities in ICT in your Learning Area. Using ICT as a resource to support your teaching strategies across the curriculum may provide opportunities for the development of students’ ICT capability, but this need not always be the case.
Research shows that subject-specific software will not allow students to do this as they don’t have full control over the technology. Control of learning is in the hands of the management system and the nature of them are typically highly directive.
Content-free software is your best choice. Here are some questions to help you evaluate the educational potential of software (Bennett, 1997, 21 as cited in Kennewell et al., 2000):
- What features and facilities does the software provide which might be used to extend children’s learning?
- How easy are the features to use?
- Will the children be instructed in their use before or during their use of the software?
- What is the educational purpose underlying the child’s use of the software? (e.g. To develop ICT skills? To learn how to use the software? To use the software as a means to an end? To develop communication skills and knowledge?)
Student Autonomy in the Selection of ICT Tools and Resources
It is important in your role as a teacher to help students to become autonomous users of ICT tools. This can be achieved by discussing with them what the software is, where and when it is commonly used for and highlighting its features and functions that enable various tasks to be carried out. You will find that this may be a continuous process in your lessons but it help students to develop their higher order skills and this is vital if they are to develop their capabilities efficiently.
Discussing what the software can do and how it might be achieved is a greater way of introducing new software to students than merely demonstrating a fix sequence of techniques to achieve a single outcome.
Another method is to allow the ‘sandbox experience’ to take place. Students are given time to play and experiment with the software for a short period of time – perhaps half an hour depending on the complexity of the software!
Progressing with Software
A common misconception of teachers is to introduce new and more sophisticated software to students just because it is there. What may only occur is little more than the learning of new techniques and skills and it will not promote progression in student ICT capability. It is vital, therefore, to only do this if the task demands it and if there is increasing elaboration of curriculum contexts. Your aim should be to broaden and elaborate contexts.
Students will need to expand their vocabulary to understand increasingly complex concepts throughout their progress through school and this can be achieved using more sophisticated software and techniques to support their learning.
Develop - Your own skills and confidence.
- Read the manual, consult the teacher’s guide and check the publisher’s website for answers to frequently asked questions and practical teaching ideas.
Identify - Unique features of software.
- What can the software do that other instructional strategies cannot?
- How can you capitalise on these features?
Troubleshoot - Potential problems.
- What areas might cause difficulty for your students?
- What questions will they have?
Stretch - Your imagination.
- Think creatively and brainstorm ideas for unanticipated uses of the software.
- Talk to other teachers.
- Use your observation of students’ interactions with the software to spark ideas.
Table 1. Guidelines for preparing to use software with students. Adapted from Wepner & Ray, 2000 as cited in Watts Taffe & Gwinn, 2007, p68.
Introducing New Techniques
Along with new software comes the introduction of new techniques. Depending on the nature of the class, a number of different strategies can be used if it is aligned with the objectives (Kennewell et al., 2000).
- Demonstration: Data projectors are great for this purpose and it plays into the hands of whole-class teaching which is also good for assessing student techniques. However, the success of this technique depends on other factors: How you will place the students? What will your position be in relation to the class? Can you still face the class while using the keyboard?
- Step-by-step handouts: This works well with limited content or with the most able students. In this circumstance, you will need to continually reassure the students that they are doing it right. An important downside of this technique is that by giving students a set of instructions as to what to do will not help them use their higher order skills. It is using these higher order skills, in order to make decisions as to how to apply the techniques they have learned, that enable them to complete the process and in so doing demonstrate their ICT capability;
- Whole-class talk through: A useful strategy to quickly get a class or group to a particular point. Be mindful here of those more capable students who want to move ahead themselves. You could ask them to help the slower students;
- Trial and error: This is good for when your students are using graphics or artwork software. It can even be used with a more experienced class after a brief demonstration. It is also suggested that you plan carefully a plenary session so that you can discuss the terminology for the techniques and concepts and how to combine the techniques to complete the process. By doing this, you will ensure that each and every component of ICT capability is developed effectively;
- Cascade: In this strategy, you will show the next phase or more advanced technique to a small group. At the end, each member of the group can then show students around them. Before you allow this to occur, it is crucial that you instruct the students on the best way to show their peers. That is, by explaining the concepts involved as they go and not by doing all the work for their friends.
Teacher’s Knowledge of the ICT Resources
It is significant not to forget how your own knowledge of the resources affects the introduction of new software or techniques. However, throughout my online courses I have always made it clear that you don’t need to be an expert in ICT to teach ICT capability effectively. The ongoing changes and developments in society with ICT makes it impossible to know everything about it and so we are all lifelong learners.
To be an ICT capable teacher only involves knowing how to effectively use software for a specific purpose in your students’ learning. It is for this reason that it is more important for you as a teacher to be very knowledgeable about one particular software or program that your students will use as opposed to being acquainted with a large number. In doing so you will not limit the student’s development.
The first step would be to ensure that you have effectively defined the purpose of the task as it will improve the focus of your interventions. By becoming familiar with the software and getting to know it on an intimate level you will be able to identify the circumstances when students are ready to move on to a new feature or to use the software for a more demanding purpose (Bennett, 1997 as cited in Kennewell et al., 2000).
Know more than just knowing how to use the program for a variety of tasks. Ensure that you:
- Reflect on the processes it helps the user to carry out;
- Reflect on the techniques with which the particular effects can be achieved and;
- Consider how the students will be introduced to the program, what ideas need to be clear before they start and where they might find difficulties.
Research has shown that the level of confidence that you have as a teacher in a particular software has a considerable impact on the development of student ICT capability. Become familiar with piece of software at a time that you may use in your class.
The use of ICT across the Learning Areas of the curriculum is a fantastic way to support subject context. Software and techniques learning forms a key part in this process for your students and for you the effective teaching of ICT capability as a requirement in national curriculum. ICT capable students at your school should be able to meet new software with a positive attitude and have an inclination to explore. They can use the concepts they have learnt and developed from their experiences with other software. These capable users need to able to explore new systems and work out what to do next as they proceed. It is a characteristic that needs to exist in all schools and among all students today.