Teaching Adults ICT Skills

Series Further Education
Author(s) Alan Clarke
Publisher Learning Matters
Published 2006
Pages 144
Price £17.00
ISBN 1844450406
Reviewed by Mr Jim Crawley
Bath Spa University
Review published 28 November 2006

In the introduction to the book, Alan Clarke describes it as being 'aimed at teachers, tutors and trainers of ICT user skills'. He goes on to suggest that the diverse range of adult learners who seek ICT courses, the extensive range of contexts and locations in which they take place, and the need for those learners to learn 'certain personal skills' all combine to produce a teaching situation which is full of challenges. One of those is that these factors tend to 'encourage courses to focus on the individual, and this often results in group or whole class lecturing methods being neglected'. Importantly, he goes on to say:

This seriously limits methods that many learners find beneficial and forces too narrow a range to be employed (p ix)

As a teacher trainer who has observed hundreds of ICT classes over the years, I have seen many teachers operating in a climate, which has stifled any attempts to use varied, interactive teaching methods. Many useful functional skills have certainly been gained by the learners in those classes, but this book's central idea is that there is much more to learning ICT than that. The underpinning philosophy of the book is to promote the notion that using ICT is a wide-ranging and essential life skill - to offer 'advice on a wide range of methods' of teaching and to demonstrate 'how to employ approaches that are now widely accepted as good practice'. (ix) This is a welcome and aspirational approach, which I wholeheartedly support.

Having set itself these elevated goals, how well does the book succeed? There are 10 chapters addressing a wide variety of topics and themes including practical and theoretical aspects of teaching ICT, curriculum issues involved in working with ICT, contextual issues relating to ICT and professional issues for teachers of ICT to consider. Chapter titles include planning and managing; support; integrating ICT into other subjects; assessment and continuing professional development. If you need advice about learner motivation, embedding ICT in different subjects, and how ICT can assist economic activity, you will find it there. Technology is involved in many aspects of life, so teaching ICT skills has to take account of many of these, and this breadth of vision and content is welcome.

There is much simple practical information about different aspects of ICT, what they are and how they can be embedded into different subjects. There is a mention of how ICT can contribute to economic activity and developing communities. Relevant theoretical principles are also introduced to support the practical elements of the book. Because of this breadth, I did occasionally find myself wanting more depth, rather than another short section on another topic, but this is not really the intention of the book.

As is generally the case with publications by Alan Clarke however, the clear, focused advice, seasoned voice of experience and breadth of expertise of the author combine to make the text well worth reading, and there is much in the book which will help and support ICT teachers.

To give an idea of what the content covers, here are three examples:

There is a section on ICT literacy and its 'inter-related forms' in the first chapter, which offers a genuinely clear articulation of the essential components of ICT learning, which are seen as that of ICT Literacy, Media Literacy and Information Literacy. The need to address all these three in training programmes is underlined by the statement.

It is important to realise that learning the simple mechanics of using technology is insufficient. Users need to understand factors such as judging the quality of website content. Media and information literacy are vital for the effective use of technology for social and economic benefits. (p8)

In chapter 2 initial experience and assessment there is a really useful section on organising a 'taster' as part of the ongoing process of engaging learners' motivation and at the same time learning more about what they can (and can't) do. The suggested activities are straightforward, engaging and provide much information for the learners and tutor alike. Clarke makes the important points that such sessions need several people present to support the learners, and that the tutor should keep clear records of what happened, as this can assist planning and negotiating the curriculum to meet the learners' needs.

In chapter 8, methods, teaching and learning techniques the promotion of variety in teaching methods is well supported by ideas, examples and activities to use in ICT teaching. The methods and activities recommended are mapped onto the four stages of Kolb's experiential learning cycle on a useful table, and the section on using group discussions shows how interaction and active learning can be just as much a part of an ICT class as any other.

There is much more in this book than a short review can do justice to, and other sections cover assessment, support, continuing professional development, and current buzz words such as personalisation. The emphasis throughout is on learners gaining confidence and understanding so that they can apply and transfer their skills, and this certainly fits in with the wider purpose of the book.

As a reader there were two key messages which clearly stood out. The first is that mentioned at the beginning of this review, that ICT is too important to just be addressed in terms of functional practical skills. The second, (perhaps not entirely intentional) is that teaching this vision of ICT, whether as a subject, or when embedded in another subject is about as challenging as it gets for a teacher. This is due to the remorseless pace at which ICT changes and develops, and the diverse range of ways in which it interacts with everyone's lives.

Overall I would recommend the book for all teachers of ICT and teacher trainers (and perhaps a few managers in the learning and skills sector!).