The Norms and Standards for Educators, published in February 2000, refers to the need for programmes to be “offered in modes that allow practising educators to attend” and the need for learning materials to be “developed and used to create spatial flexibility in courses”8. This poses a challenge for all programme designers. It is necessary to satisfy these criteria for a number of reasons.
Firstly, educators in this country have very real transport problems. This places limitations on them in financial, logistical and spatial terms. Much of the available ICT training has taken place at centralised, well-resourced training venues. Training is often also limited in time because of late arrivals and/or early departures. Secondly, the educators are not encouraged to leave school during school hours. This places inflexible limits on when and where training can take place. It has severe implications for the cost-efficiency of training delivered in the traditional face-to-face mode. Thirdly, face-to-face training leaves a vacuum as soon as the personal contact ceases. This has resulted in many teachers losing enthusiasm through frustration and lack of support. This adds to the lack of cost-efficiency of the training. Fourthly, budget constraints have limited the training exposure to any one school to very small numbers of educators and these have not always been the most appropriate choices of people. The effectiveness of the principle of the “trickle-down effect” is known to be in question. This is also known as the “train the trainers” or the “cascade” approach.
“The training-of-trainers model for professional development might just be the most misunderstood or misrepresented model in education. Quite often it is interpreted as one or two people delivering a workshop in which the participants are supposed to acquire the content knowledge and training skills needed for conducting turn-around training. Unfortunately, this seldom works because (a) the content is too complex to be mastered in a one-shot workshop and there is no follow-up accommodation for the would–be trainers to become proficient, (b) there is no support for turn-around training, or (c) the would-be trainers are inexperienced trainers. For the model to work, all three barriers must be overcome.49”
It has therefore become essential to seek models of flexible delivery for educator development for ICT within a distance education framework, supported by experienced support and mentor staff.
Flexibility in the context of this framework refers to access, delivery and content. Educators should be able to choose whether they would like to participate in a course face-to-face or online. Access to support should also provide options. Besides collegial support within a school, educators should be able to access support telephonically, on the Internet, in printed form or from collaborative team members. Online modes of delivery and support should not be demanding on bandwidth or online time. CD resources should provide the bulk of electronic support and delivery, with optional online links only for extension and other essential elements of the course. Content should be flexible in that educators should be able to decide which course options they need most and to pursue those in their own time frame, or by mutual agreement with collaborative team members. Flexibility should provide choices wherever possible.
Flexible delivery through distance learning has the advantages of
- increasing potential participation
- increasing responsibility for learning
- possible increases in the effectiveness and efficiency of teaching and learning41
- more sustained support
Flexible delivery methods are undeniably time-consuming to set up and may involve a very different distribution of human resources and funding for educator development programmes. For example, if online time is being built into the programme, with virtual synchronous interaction, this may mean that educators will be using the school’s resources in order to participate, while the allocation of funding for trainers may be reduced. Flexible delivery methods may not necessarily be cheaper at all. For instance, the use of electronic journals and ongoing mediation would require more human resources in the field of mediation / mentorship. The need for this type of ongoing support is illustrated by the findings of the ACOT project. It may be necessary to design a system of grants and allocate these to schools where educators have achieved certain competencies, in order to not disadvantage educators participating from poorly-resourced schools.
Flexible delivery through distance learning faces challenges in
- access, material cannot occupy large bandwidth, so content must be kept simple or accompanied by resources on CD,
- cost and management of mentoring,
- attaining levels of effectiveness that face-to-face interaction provides.