By Brigitte Guillet, elementary school teacher, Hamel School, Commission scolaire des Hautes-Rivières. She holds a DESS in education (Université de Sherbrooke) and a 1er cycle in Integration of software-tools in education (TÉLUQ) and student in the 2e cycle in Educational Technology (TÉLUQ).
After a forced adjustment for teachers in the use of digital tools during the pandemic at Covid-19, the return to the classroom for 21-22 has come in different ways for many in terms of digital. More than ever, it will be important for schools to maximize digital teacher trainings to counteract the growing digital divide in education.
1. Develop a list of actual digital needs of teachers and school staff
- Gather data on teachers' needs by asking specific questions about their skill and comfort levels with specific digital tools.
- Suggest a list of training that may be of interest to them: as many may still be new to certain technologies or digital tools, it may be difficult for them to accurately name their training needs.
- Demonstrate how the training will be useful in the teacher's daily life and how it will be possible to apply it concretely in the classroom with the students: this can direct the teachers' choices more easily by allowing them to choose in coherence with their current teaching practices.
- Include other school personnel who make up the school: administrative assistants, daycare workers, special education technicians, etc.
2. Provide training tailored to the needs of teachers and school staff.
- Separate teachers by type of need and skill level to allow for maximum training.
- Schedule small group releases and coordinate them at key times to maximize resources (trainers and substitutes) and allow for richer exchanges.
- Schedule release time for distance learning, either with an academic advisor or to train on platforms available online.
- Provide hard copy materials to support teacher learning: a binder of resources and tutorials and a digital news sharing board can be strategically placed.
3. Educate both students and teachers about the need to integrate digital technology into the classroom.
- Valuing technology as a work tool with added motivational, pedagogical and practical value.
- Propose a digital integration at the level of each one's know-how: a small step for each teacher is a big step for all the students of the educational network!
- Create an interactive practice or sharing bank between the different members of the school (TEAMS channels, HyperDoc, Facebook group, blog, shared discussion forum...).
- Provide a list of "digital best practices" to implement on a daily basis.
- Educate to digital citizenship: develop the critical sense of each one and make them more responsible in the use of technologies.
4. Include the pedagogical goals regarding digital development and training needs in the School Success Plan (MEES, 2005).
- Develop a gradation in digital learning for students and teachers.
- Ensure consistency and cohesion across the school.
- Ensure that all teachers are involved and invested in digital training (both their own and that of their students).
- Allow for a logical and efficient distribution of teacher training.
Overcoming the digital divide
The concept of the digital divide, introduced in the 1990s by the OECD, has since been the subject of much research around the world. In 2003, the Canadian Data and Research Centre (Looker and Thiessen, 2003) noted that their study of key factors in the digital divide "highlights the important role that schools can play in promoting access to and use of ICT. They concluded that it was important for schools to create more opportunities for the use of ICTs while including them, in a relevant way, in school tasks as a working tool.
Recent OECD studies have shown that teachers, during periods of distance education, have been forced to adapt to digital tools without necessarily receiving planned and sustained support (Remiers & Scheiders, 2020a & b). This would have created a great deal of stress and anxiety for many, who were forced to move outside their zone of proximal development.
In June 2021, the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) proposed different ways to counter the growing digital divide in a summary document on digital and technological inequalities. Among other things, it proposes to "Support the digital transition in public institutions," including the many schools in Quebec. Indeed, the investments planned by the Digital Action Plan (MEES, 2018) should bring some uniformity in terms of infrastructure. However, it is important to provide teachers with the necessary conditions to train adequately in order to make the integration of technology in teaching more effective, coherent and meaningful.
The importance of teacher training
To do this, it is important to think about teacher training in order to establish a fairly precise plan of what is needed in each school. In fact, the planning of training by the principals must be done according to the needs of the teachers (section 96.20 of the Education Act). However, it is sometimes difficult for teachers to determine their own needs in terms of digital development. They do not necessarily know what training is available, the form it can take or the subject it can cover.
Even more important now, with the growing shortage of teachers, is to judiciously coordinate the time that will be set aside in their teaching duties to take these courses and to plan the necessary resource persons to support them. A discussion between the various members of the school team is therefore essential and the role of the principal as the school's techno-pedagogical leader will be called upon more than ever!
" To ensure that everyone understands the logic of the whole and how their actions contribute to it, the collective reflection should define all the roles and responsibilities in a systemic perspective, without forgetting the role of educational leaders."(MEES, 2020)
Students as techno-pedagogical resources
Several classrooms and schools have already implemented this innovative teaching practice: a small group of students trained specifically to provide front-line technology support in the school. These students are tasked with helping out in classrooms on an ad hoc basis and providing additional technology support to teachers and students. This "squad" not only provides a tremendous sense of pride for the students involved, but also develops their own and their peers' technology skills while fostering positive social interactions.
Also, this specialized squad is very useful in reducing the stress or anxiety level of teachers who are also in the midst of learning about digital technology at the same time as their students! Since students are more naturally motivated by digital learning (Viau, 2007) and being born into this interactive era, it is easier for them to acquire a certain level of competence with the technologies.
In contrast, most teachers are, by age, "digital immigrants" (Prensky 2001). So while it is difficult for many teachers to accept that they cannot be more digitally literate than their students, learning about technology provides a perfect opportunity to put students at the center of their learning. Students are given the opportunity to share their digital knowledge and skills with their peers and teachers in their school.
While the Digital Competency Framework (MEES, 2019) is "one of the best policies in the world for the use of digital in education" (CRIFPE, 2017), it is also important to ensure that everyone knows how to adequately use technologies as pedagogical tools. The implementation of strategies by the main change actors must then support the work of teachers by providing an adequate training offer and resources. It is therefore important to develop teachers' digital skills through training adapted to each individual.
In fact, the Report on Educational Needs (MEES, 2020) states that "schools must, among other things, provide individuals with the opportunity to learn how to properly use the technological tools they will have to use. This statement should apply to both school staff who use digital tools to perform their daily tasks and to students who will have to use many technological tools in their future jobs.
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