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Technology Based Teacher Training


Vijaya Sherry Chand

Professor, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad 

The traditional training for teachers in the public school system of India involves transfer of knowledge from experts to the trainees. This model limits the number of teachers that can be trained, and the training content lacks real-world problem solving. This article presents an alternative model,  which used a technology-driven platform to deliver the content. The content focussed on teacher-developed innovations for real problems facing them.

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One of the key interventions that developing countries undertake to improve the much-criticized poor quality of education in the public schooling system is the provision of more training to teachers. Such training is usually based on a model of professional development that stresses top-down, institution-based transfer of knowledge from experts, conducted over a period of a few days in a year. This approach limits the number of teachers who can be reached. As a recent study of nine states (provinces) of India pointed out, “states receive significant resources for in-service training of teachers…though only about half… was actually spent [and] little progress has been made on the absolute number of teachers across India receiving training between 2005-06 and 2012-13 (NUEPA & World Bank, 2015, pp. 195-196). Secondly, the effectiveness of such training programs is difficult to gauge given the absence of rigorous evaluations of training programs, but anecdotal evidence indicates that the training is often not geared to addressing problems faced by the teachers on the ground since program content usually does not draw on real-life school experiences. An alternative approach to the professional development of teachers that “stresses innovation and problem solving, autonomy, and localized peer-driven learning” and is technology-enabled (Chand and Avadhanam, forthcoming) seems to be the way forward to reach out to the large numbers of teachers in the state-run educational system with relevant content, and promote sharing of experiential knowledge among them. This article presents one such model of professional development of teachers that addresses both issues identified above by using a technology-driven platform for delivery,and teacher-developed innovations that have a problem-solving as its program content. It is targeted at policy makers and administrators in charge of teacher development in the public educational systems of developing countries.

The project, a research activity of the Ravi J. Matthai Centre for Educational Innovation, at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA), in Gujarat, India, has been under development since April 2014. It is targeted primarily at teachers in Gujarat, a province in western India. Gujarat has about 33000 elementary schools in the public system, covering grades 1 to 8, in which about 204,000 teachers work. The language of instruction is Gujarati, and hence all the material in the project under discussion is in Gujarati. The program content is drawn from the Educational Innovations Bank (www.inshodh.org), a collection of educational innovations developed and implemented by teachers working in the government system. The elements of the model are presented in Table 1.

Table 1: Elements of the Professional Development Model

 

Date networking initiated

Status as of December 2016

Networking Mode

Objective& Content

1

April 2014

On-going

Short-message Service (SMS) for feature phones

To initiate a peer-driven discussion forum to sharing information in interactive mode through SMS.

Short cases of problem-solving educational innovations of teachers, validated by IIMA.

2

August 2014

On-going

Facebook (FB)

FB had gained in popularity by mid-2014; the specific objective of this mode was to share information about educational innovations mobilized from the state of Gujarat and promote discussion on innovation.

Educational innovations as in the SMS effort, and teacher-generated material.

3

April 2015

On-going

WhatsApp groups, relying on smartphones

As smartphone penetration increased rapidly, two-way activity to send digital content to teachers, promote collective discussion, and encourage teachers to upload their work and share digital content.

Educational innovations as in the SMS effort, and teacher-generated material.

4

July 2016

On-going

Google+

This mode was introduced to discuss educational innovations and is accessible to only a closed group, only by selection. The focus at the moment is only on dissemination.

All four networking modes listed above rely on mobile phone technology. The use of mobile phone technology made sense for a number of reasons. Mobile penetration, especially mobile internet, was increasing rapidly. The mobile subscription base in India had crossed one billion by late 2015 (http://trak.in/tags/business/2016/01/05/indian-telecom-stats-1billion-mobile-subscriber-base/), and an estimated 371 million mobile internet users, 109 million of them being rural, by mid-2016, smartphone penetration was growing at about 56 percent year-on-year (http://www.iamwire.com/2016/03/mobile-internet-penetration-india-2016-rural-urban/133328).More importantly, internal estimates indicated that most teachers possessed mobile phones, with about 30 percent of them having smartphones. The number of smartphone users was increasing rapidly, and had doubled over the one year period 2014-15.

The rest of this article describesthe modes listed in Table 1, and discusses the implications of the project for the professional development of teachers in state-run schools.

1.    SMS-based peer-driven networking platform

The key tool used in this first approach, which assumed only feature phones, was a discussion forum in which teachers could participate.

 

1.1      How does the SMS-based platform function?

  • As part of another project on educational innovations, about 6000 innovations of teachers that had been validated, and were known to be problem-solving initiatives, were being collected. These grassroots innovations were responses to problems faced by a large number of teachers, and formed the program material for a discussion forum. The mobile phone numbers of many teachers and members of the school management committees, which worked in partnership with teachers on school governance issues, had also been collected. About 5000 teachers formed the group that the discussion forum targeted.
  • An SMS message, sent every 10 days approximately, was the primary vehicle for delivering program material.Each message contained a Google-Form link to one innovation and some multiple-choice questions and a request for feedback.The Google Form at the back end had all the information pertaining to the innovation.
  • When a participant received the SMS, he or she had to click on the SMS and the details surfaced. The participants could then read the text matter and type in their responses or choose the appropriate option in a multiple-choice format. Along with the text matter, photographs or a relevant web-link were also posted.Oncethe participant pressed the ‘submit’ button, the data automatically went into an MS Excel sheet, for analysis.
  • Every response with an appropriate answer earned 15 reward points along with an appreciation message and a brief analysis of the responses received for that particular message.
  • Once a participant accumulated 150 points, he or she received a certificate of appreciation.

The topics covered in the discussion forum were focussed on innovations that resolved problemsencountered by teachers in areas like teaching, managing school infrastructure, community participation, etc.The number of questions askedfrom June 2014 to November 2016 (30 months) was 86. On average, about 300 teachers respond to a question, average responses per question is 300, and the number of unique teachers who have responded (as of end-November 2016)is 2809 (2218 or 79% male, and 591 or 21% female). The responses have been from all over the state of Gujarat, and the number of teachers who receive the program content is roughly 10000. As of end-November 2016, 19,469 letters had been sent and 440 teachers (353 males and 87 females) had earned certificates of appreciation.

 

1.2      Adding value to the discussion forum

Feedback from the teachers indicated that a mobile-based application which would facilitate the upload of digital content by teachers, and also create an archive to view past posts was needed. An engineering student who interned with the project then designed an interactive android-based application for the discussion forum in July 2015. The application has been developed and piloted and is being handed over to the state government’s training organization for further use.

2.    WhatsApp Groups for Peer Learning

This mode was introduced in April 2015, because it offered the option of sending digital content to the teachers, had interactive possibilities, enabled teachers to upload and share digital content that they had created, and was a cost-effective option for teachers. The rapid penetration of smartphones made this mode possible. This mode piggy-backs on the SMS-based discussion forum. The same program material is used with the WhatsApp groups, but there is additional material in the form of short video clips and photographs of the innovations. The teachers respond with similar content that they have created. The sharing of video links happens through a YouTube channel, on the main project’s website www.inshodh.org and Facebook links. Forty groups of teachers, each with 100 teachers, were initially created by the project. Then some teachers were made administrators to add other teachers to the groups. Five other groups were added. There are more than 4500 teachers who are active participants, sharing their work with each other. Unlike in the SMS forum, no letter or certificate is issued in this networking mode.

3.    Use of Facebook for Professional Development

Facebook (FB) is becoming a popular social medium among teachers, and this was the reason for using FB to work for the objective of sharing information about educational innovations and promoting learning from them through discussion. ‘One post a day’ is the norm followed by the project. The focus is once again on sharing innovations, which are supplemented by photographs and videos, sharing the link of the mobile discussion form, and disseminating information about events undertaken at the training centres of the state. There are 5265 teachers who are regular followers of the page, but the connect is with 329 groups of teachers and other educationists, with a total membership of 1,446,087.FB has been useful in directing teachers to the project’s main website, which provides access to many more innovations—about 18,000 teachers visit the website every month. An extension of this mode was the creation of a women teachers’ group on Facebook in August 2015. The participation of women teachers in the mobile discussion forum was low, and there was strong feedback from the teachers that a separate women’s-only group was the right starting point. A closed forum limited to women teachers was thus created. There are 1683members in this forum from Gujarat, the neighbouring state of Maharashtra and a few other places. This forum is one of the most active, and sees a clear and sharp focus on classroom activities that provoke postings anddiscussion.This response prompted the project to hold three workshops for the members to consolidate the learning from the discussion.

4.    Integration of Mobile Discussion Forum, WhatsApp and FB for School Management Committees

In an experiment to understand the three forums when it came to enlisting the support of School Management Committees for their teachers and education, 50 SMCs of three districts in Gujarat were studied. SMS-based forums, WhatsApp Groups and a FB page were specifically created for the SMCs. Content from the teachers program material was adapted, and a one-year intervention (May 2015 to July 2016) carried out. The idea was to use the spread of mobile internet in rural areas for education. The experiment revealed that a technology-based intervention can augment the roles of SMCs as envisaged in the Right to Education Act and complement the capacity building training that is provided by the state government. The project also had a control group of 50 matched SMCs; pre- and post-tests of all the SMCs were done, and a difference-in-difference approach used to calculate effect sizes. The main conclusions that emerged were the following.

With respect to roles and responsibilities, a clear shift in monitoring teacher attendance and preparation of school development planning is evident, indicating that the management aspects of SMCs are better understood in the villages where the experiment was done. Also, there is a significant drop in the perception that taking signatures is effective in matters of announcing meetings of SMCs; in contrast the effectiveness of display of agenda of meeting has significantly changed. These indicate that more formal procedures for managing SMCs are in evidence in the experiment villages.When it comes to attention to special focus group children, the most important change is the significant increase in targeted attention to girls in matters of rewards, and a corresponding significant drop in attention to all children, irrespective of gender.Also, there is an increase in the perceived importance of educating parents. All these findings indicate that change has been positive and is towards to a better understanding of the formal aspects of managing SMCs and a targeted focus on girls. The other qualitative findings included the following:

  • Low cost of sharing information related governance.
  • Sharing of innovations done by SMC members was reported to generate a better environment for schooling and more confidence.
  • Learning was based on actual experiences of schools, so that SMC members felt that real-life good practices were being shared with them.
  • The technology enabled use of leisure time of the SMC members as per their convenience so that their livelihoods were not affected. The need to give up daily wage employment to attend to school affairs is a major barrier in the participation of SMC members in governance.
  • Photographs or videos or video links of various teacher and SMC innovations helped in overcoming problems due to poor literacy among some SMC members. 

Though the project ended in July 2016, 97 of the 100 SMCshave sent in their plans for 2016-17, listing specific activities that they would be completing by June 2017 to address identified problems. Fifty-two cases where SMCs have taken up an activity or have developed an innovation of their own, drawing inspiration from the discussion forum, have been identified for documentation (as of November 2016).

5.    Using Google+

Introduced as a closed group in July 2016, this forum has the same objective of professional development through sharing and discussion of innovative practices. The details of educational innovations along with the relevant videos and photographs are shared with the members, as in the other forums. Every day, one post is shared and the reach is 488,188 members in 31 groups.

6.    Case study of discussion forum practice

 

An example of an SMS-based intervention:

February 5, 2016: Using the example of a government primary school (Dedarda, Bhavnagar, Gujarat) which had used mobile technology to network with parents, a question was posed: “What initiatives are currently suitable for maintaining contact with parents?” The discussion was open for 10 days. From the 417 responses received, five were selected for further discussion. Three focussed on using mobile phones to interact with parents on academic matters and student absenteeism, one was on regular fortnightly parent meetings to discuss academic progress and attendance, and the fifth was on locality-wise involvement of school management committee members. All five were in actual practice, and stressed the importance of making school management committees more functional community.

7.    Policy Implications

The objective of the project reported in this article was to develop a scalable, technology-enabled, decentralized alternative approach model of professional development of teachers that focused on problem solving and built on the good practices that were being implemented by teachers in various state-run schools.Such an approach is needed to reach out to the huge numbers of teachers in the public system as well as to motivate the majority of teachers through good examples of innovation from within the same system. Given this objective, what impact has the project had? While a formal independent evaluation is still to be done, regular feedback from the teachers indicates the following: 

 

  • The Mobile Discussion Forum (SMS-based) has been appreciated for its ability to provide contextually relevant solutions to common problems.“We were able to identify new methods of teaching; we have applied these in our classrooms and have generated interest among students. These innovations have also improved my understanding and simultaneously also have helped in providing meaningful education to children” (VijaySinhMacchar, NaniKhajuri Primary School, Dahod, Gujarat).
  • The social media forums have been appreciated for the ease they offer for information sharing. Many teachers share digital information about what has worked for them.
  • Some teachers maintain a file of the analysis sent to them and use it whenever needed or share it with teachers who are not part of the discussion forums.“I share all information and innovations with my staff teacher members, students and also share information with teachers of other blocks and districts” (VikramGohel, Shri Ajak Primary School, Junagadh, Gujarat).
  • In workshops that are conducted for teachers, lower-level functionaries of the blocks and clusters have used the discussion forum to illustrate their lectures and direct teachers to the discussion forums.

Given the strategic objective of assisting the formal training systems to reorient their approaches, the project worked in close collaboration with the Gujarat State’s nodal teacher training organization, the Gujarat Council of Educational Research and Training (GCERT). All the material related to the discussion forums is available on the project’s website and is linked to GCERT’s website (http://gcert.gujarat.gov.in/gcert/). The GCERT works through District Institutes of Education and Training (DIET)—each DIET would on average cover about 1000 schools. The DIET staff, along with the coordinators of the sub-district units called blocks and school clusters—each block covers about 90 to 100 schools and each cluster would have about 8 to 10 schools—are the actual trainers. However, the approach to training relies on traditional views about training, as described in the introduction. Staff from these bodies have been involved in and exposed to the platforms developed by the project. The forums will now be handed over to GCERT for further implementation, but some technical support will be provided for some time.The key lesson is that, given the poor levels of technology use in teacher professional development, workable models that are cost effective and reach out to large numbers, need to be demonstrated to the state before they can find acceptance. Even then, some technical support will be needed until the training staff of the state are comfortable with exploiting the potential offered by technology for training, and blending this mode with the traditional face-to-face training.

The discussion forums are now part of the in-service training that DIETs conduct for teachers. One unexpected outcome has been the use of the forums and material by the coordinators of the block resource centres and cluster resource centres. They are actively using the discussion forum for information seeking, and designing workshops based on the information gathered. This is an interesting outcome which was unintended but perhaps best illustrates the use of technology in developing locally-relevant content.In brief, technology-mediated interventions have the potential to reach out to a large number of teachers in a cost-effective manner, and to promote a flatter, interactive system based on learning from peer-interaction. In addition, cleverly mixed with face-to-face training, as in the example of the women teachers’ forum cited above, it opens up the possibility of cost-effective blended learning. The discussion forums experiment, and its platforms, are now being extended to a large-scale online training program for head-teachers on governance which will begin in January 2017. This will be complemented by on-site training by government functionaries to result in a ‘blended learning’ model. This initiative should provide more evidence of how (a) cost-effective technology-driven platforms for delivery and (b) content that is geared to problem-solving as program material, can help in educational reform.

 

 

References

Chand, Vijaya Sherry &Avadhanam, Rukmini M. (forthcoming). Antecedents of Teachers’ Workplace Innovative Behaviour.

NUEPA &World Bank. (2015). Draft Report of Teachers in the Indian Education System: Synthesis of a Nine-State Study. New Delhi: National University of Educational Planning and Administration.

 

Acknowledgements

The work reported here was supported by the Hewlett-Packard Sustainability and Social Innovation Award (Education Innovation Fund for India, supported by the India Council for Integral Education) the author received in 2012-13. The project with the School Management Committees was supported by UNICEF Gujarat. The author thanks Avinash Bhandari, MeghaGajjar,LaljiNakrani (who manages social media), Adit Ravi (intern who designed the mobile app) and SanketSavaliya (research assistance), for their support to the project.

 

 

 

 

 






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