Teacher Aid Project – where students teach teachers how to use various technologies!

Caroline Kearney (Education Analyst at European Schoolnet, Brussels) interviewed Bart Verswijvel (Dutch teacher at Immaculata Instituut, Malle, Belgium) on 7 June 2011 in the aftermath of the Innovative Schools Event organized by the Italian Ministry of Education, ANSAS (National Agency for the Development of School Autonomy) and European Schoolnet, which he presented at in Rome on 10-11 May 2011.

Bart, at the Innovative Schools Event in Rome you presented your innovative project entitled Teacher Aid. Could you explain how the project came about, the rationale behind it and its aims?

Some years ago I got a Smart board as a winner of a project competition. When the board arrived at school, the reactions were predictable. My colleagues were on the one hand fascinated by this piece of technology but for several reasons most of them would not integrate this interactive board into their teaching. In fact this attitude is prevalent with regards to all means of technology that have come into schools over the past years, such as educational software or internet applications.  In most schools ICT is not integrated as it should be because of the absence or insufficiency of infrastructure, but the main reason however is that teachers lack technical knowledge, didactical ideas and confidence.

In my project Teacher Aid I wanted to change things and I did so with the aid of my ICT smart students.  I appointed them as the ICT buddies of the teachers and they organized in-service training sessions for my colleagues during lunch breaks. I think we were very successful because right from the start we had 70% of the teachers taking part.

What is the perceived impact so far on students, teachers and the wider school community? Could you describe the biggest difficulties and successes of the project?

I really think the project is a win win situation for all the participants. Many teachers at my school got started thanks to Teacher Aid: they wanted to learn, they started communicating and in the end they implemented what they learned into practice.

But also the students themselves benefited. They could practise many skills like presenting, speaking, communicating in a digital way, cooperating, discussing and reflecting etc. The learning environment was not artificial but rather they operated in a real context and that makes quite a difference. My students are about 17 years old and in their last year of secondary education, but I think similar activities could be possible with younger pupils as well.

I think our school is above average in Flanders not only because we have 1 computer for every 2 students but certainly also because of the many skilled teachers who make up our staff. Of course this work must continue, in fact it must go on permanently since the digital evolution does not stop either. It is important that teachers improve their attitude towards being involved in the digital world and that they take professional development in that field seriously.

How long has the project been running for so far and will it continue in the next 2011-2012 school year?

The project started in September 2009 and has run now for 2 years. In the first year we focused on in-service training for teachers. We continued with that programme in the second year while also adding new target groups. We organized tutor activities at our school where the ICT-smart pupils guided other pupils at school. In the beginning of the school year they introduced the school network and learning environment to newcomers to our school. Later on they organized workshops about social networks for fellow students during our Internet Safety Day. Also this year I gave some training sessions myself. We have built up a tradition in our school of teachers teaching each other, also on matters other than ICT.

For the coming years we are considering arranging for ICT buddies to interact with other target groups outside of school, such as parents or social groups.

What advice could you offer teachers from across Europe reading this article to enable them to initiate a similar project in their schools in the coming new school year?

I think schools should take the matter of ICT integration and e-inclusion seriously. The digital gap between adults but also between youngsters has in many ways serious consequences.

I believe in a holistic approach. Schools willing to change should start with a profound discussion with principals, ICT coordinators and teachers about a master plan. What are the specific needs of the organization and what are the goals you want to achieve? My advice is to use the expertise that is present in a school building and to set up active networks. I suggest to integrate ICT in general subjects and give an active role to students. I am a fan of connectivism. Learning is a matter of give and take.

The important thing is to take into account the specific context of each school. Don’t copy my project, but adapt it. But do it with passion.

Many thanks for sharing your insights into this innovative project with us Bart. For interested readers, a presentation and video on the Teacher Aid Project is available at European Schoolnet’s Innovative Schools Event blog: (http://innovativeschoolsevent.weebly.com/index.html). Bart has also documented his experience at the event on his own blog, accessible here: http://teacherinresidence.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/scuola-digitale/. Should you wish to contact Bart for further information/consultancy you can email him at the following address: bartverswijvel@live.be.