Local Education Authorities (LEAs) like so many other educational services are feeling the pinch due to budget cuts. As a result, some primary schools are witnessing a reduction in the levels of ICT support and resources previously provided by LEAs. This worrying development has been compounded further by the dissolution of organisations such as Becta, which was pivotal in influencing policy and strategic developments with regards to ICT provision in the primary and secondary sectors. The continued culling of bodies such as these will only serve to increase the spread of an already existing void. A question some believe HEIs need to be asking themselves is whether or not they are in a position to fill this void, and if so, what should the nature of their involvement be.
During the academic year 2010/11, I saw first-hand how the experience and knowledge within HEIs can be tapped into in order to support ICT-based activities in primary schools. Along with Mabel Ann Brown and Prof. Des Hewitt, we explored how technologies such as Skype can be used to extend traditional learning environments beyond the physical confines of the traditional classroom. Our collective endeavours became known as the Skype for Learning Project – http://www.derby.ac.uk/lei/our-structure/celt/skype-for-learning. Links were created between St. Mary’s Catholic Primary School, Loughborough and Grundschule Am Albertschacht, Freital – Wurgwitz (neat Dresden). Des also established a link between students in the UoD and the University of Nuremberg.
From my own personal perspective I felt the whole collaborative experience was productive on a multitude of different levels. We gained valuable insights into how practices within a primary context could be transferred to an HE one. The most beneficial thing I came away with was an awareness of how these tools can be used for so much more than supporting online communication. I got a real sense of how they impacted upon classroom dynamics and more importantly the challenges they posed the teacher in the area of classroom management. As a University, we are constantly addressing notions of space and how this impacts upon classroom design and cohort dynamics. As we reconfigure our learning spaces to support more collaborative approaches to learning, it was really valuable to observe how to this was supported in a primary environment.
By working with the schools, we helped them identify meaningful ways in which technology might be used to support their pupils. Since the project finished, the schools have started new ICT initiatives. Building on the video and audio creation work they carried out for what became ubiquitously known as the German Project, St. Mary’s have continued to explore the role of video in education. They have set up Film Club – http://www.filmclub.org/ – and are encouraging the children to take part in a script writing competition as part of their literacy activities. To date, they have 50 members and growing. There are plans to turn the scripts they write into short-films and showcase them at the end of the year at an Oscars-style event. The school have also gained a Quality assurance award from the British Council for their work and have been named as eTwinning project of the month for October – http://www.britishcouncil.org/etwinning-project-month-stmaryscps.htm. When you consider they have an Ofsted inspection looming large, this can only help them.
When considering whether HEIs are in a position to fill the void created by recent changes due to cuts, I believe they can. In doing so, they can strengthen local links with partnership schools and the wider community. However, I think they need to be mindful that for some, it may not be seen as the best deployment of staff time and resources. For this reason, there needs to be complete transparency with regards to what goes on and a clear rationale as to how such activities with benefit all involved, particularly the HEI. Also, they need to consider the nature of their involvement. Do they take on the role of trainer/provider, or do they adopt the mantle of facilitator, providing the space and resources for practitioners from different domains to come together to share practice?