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Lessons to Learn from the ACOT Programme

The Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT) project took place in a very different context to South Africa's current educational technology situation, but there are important lessons to learn from that experience.

The ACOT project was characterised by:

  • technology use in the classroom
  • extensive research and formative assessment
  • massive capital investment
  • relatively little use of the Internet
  • great emphasis on educator development and support
  • strong support by partners, especially in educational circles
  • its relatively long-term outlook.

Current projects in the field of technology introduction into schools in South Africa have thus far been characterised largely by:

  • one computer schools and 10-computer centres in schools
  • ad hoc research and assessment, none of it formative
  • tight budgets from corporate sponsorships
  • considerable focus on the Internet, especially e-mail
  • constraints on educator development; low level training
  • good support nationally, but contrasting degrees of provincial government support
  • mostly short term project duration.

The scenarios are therefore clearly different, but clear direction for Educator Development Strategies can be gained by the ACOT experience.

1. Technology Introduction

As has been the experience with the piloting of SchoolNet's Educator Development for Telecollaboration material, it was found that a definite gap existed between the beliefs and actual practice of educators. Training appeared successful when constructivist learning strategies were used. These were designed to involve teachers in the project-based learning approach. However, back in the classroom the same teachers showed no signs of adapting their more traditional practices. It became evident that educators accept and respond to change at different rates. They clearly needed sustained support in the form of technical assistance, ongoing strategic facilitation and encouraging reflection before they were able to consider adaptation to the new technologies. There is no single recipe for achieving this 57.

The familiar five stages of response to technology introduction were identified in this project, viz.:

  1. Entry - basic IT skills, frustration and fiddling
  2. Adoption - focus more on how technology can assist traditional teaching,
  3. Adaption - productivity of  both educator and learners increased, mostly in writing and presentation
  4. Appropriation - the computer becomes a natural tool, new learning strategies, including collaborative work and project-based learning
  5. Invention - teacher understand the role of technology and innovative in its use. Information skills used in constructivist learning strategies49.

Reflecting on these five steps, the following should be noted:

  • Step 1-3 normally takes the best part of two years, especially where the educators are the first from that school to be introduced to technology. Once there is a core of existing technology users in the school, these same steps could take less than a year for an individual educator to work through, because of the support that colleagues provide.
  • Educators in the USA came from classes well-equipped with existing forms of instructional technology e.g. Overhead projectors, slide and film projectors, blackboards, textbooks etc. To a large extent the educators in South African projects do not have extensive experience of educational technologies.
  • Progress in the Adoption stage was often hampered by bureaucratic demands that entrenched old paradigms, and educators' perceptions of what is expected of them as classroom managers e.g. good grades, silent classes, covering the prescribed content. The same constraints exist in this country.
  • Success in the Appropriation stage is dependent on regular access to the computer, so that it becomes a natural tool. This cannot be realistically expected in one-computer schools.
  • Very little was reported on the Invention stage. Significantly this was four years after the project was launched. Clearly, there is no general fast-tracking possible for the acceptance of technology and the accompanying change in individuals. It takes time - a fact that cannot be ignored by evaluators of the impact of technology on education. A minimum time scale for recording change should be 2-3 years.

2. Training and Support

Training and support for ACOT teachers has been substantial. Use was made of 5-day and 4-week workshops where constructivist learning strategies were used on educators. These educators at first resistant to this approach, expecting to be fed information about IT skills in the traditional mode. By the end of the workshops the teachers had greater understanding for the value of the approach. The recommendation coming from this experience is: model classroom practice. This is probably the best way in which we can implement a degree of situated learning in this country.

Additional approaches employed in the staff development programme of ACOT were

  • the use of short courses by distance learning. This was clearly needs-driven.
  • the use of mentors to support and continue the conversation and reflection with ACOT teachers as they developed towards accepting change
  • just-in-time training through a help desk
  • performance aids in the form of "tip sheets" and intranet resources which were available on a CD57.

It cannot be stressed enough how important a role the ongoing support played in the success helping teachers grow professionally and in influencing change in classroom practice. Much of this support is emotional, especially initially, but technical assistance is also of basic importance. Once these needs had been satisfied, support needs became more orientated towards learning strategies and collaborative planning.

The new approach to educator development that  worked well in the ACOT project was to involve educators in reflection of their practice. This ongoing interaction between mentors and educators took place in a number of ways. There was flexibility allowed in this regard. Successful use was made of audio tapes in recording educators' reflections.

Principles of sound staff development that emerged from the ACOT project are:

  1. the context of classroom experiences and needs was always used
  2. modules were developed that could be implemented back at school
  3. educators worked in teams in order to reduce isolation
  4. the constructivist learning approach was used (learning by doing)
  5. reflection of practice was encouraged
  6. educators were encouraged to make plans for change in practice, based on reflection
  7. situated learning took place through follow-up class visitations
  8. follow-up support and a continuation of the dialogue took place
  9. educators had access to technology when returning to their schools55, 56, 58.

Partnerships with school district offices played an important support role. These offices would typically set annual goals for curriculum development, instructional strategies, technology use and student learning52.

The importance of mechanisms for support can not be over-emphasised. The "adoption of innovation and the creation of a collaborative environment are complimentary conditions for change53".  Mention is made of a "symbiotic relationship" between the two. It is emphatically stated that "lasting change will not occur simply by giving teachers the latest technological tools. Teachers must be provided with on-going support which is available only if the larger system in which they are  working changes as well53". What exactly this means in the South African context is open to debate. It is clear change cannot be expected when it is not supported by school principals and subject advisers. On the other hand, educators are more receptive to change suggested through collegial support channels. Clearly, both dimensions of support need to be procured if one is hoping to measure the impact of technology in the classroom.


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Last updated: 17 April 2000