A teacher’s perspective on an IT manager’s role when supporting autonomous learning.

Autonomous Learning – the IT manager’s role in an educational establishment, from a teacher’s perspective.

Autonomous learning encourages students to acquire knowledge by their own efforts, and in the process develop skills in inquiry and critical evaluation. True independent learning requires that students have freedom of choice in determining both objectives and methods (supported by educational professionals) and places additional responsibility on the student for both achievement and value of goals.

In the twenty first century many of the study methods that students should be able to employ involve information technology. This puts a heavy burden on an IT department, with responsibilities to both teachers and students. The IT manager is also likely to be liaising with the institution’s librarian.

Students will need to be able to access resources, create work in different formats, and submit it to their teachers for checking. Teachers will need all of this, plus methods of giving feedback to students as they progress.

As many devices are probably going to require wireless access, adequate wifi coverage is a sine qua non. Different institutions will have different systems – some may rely on a simpler intranet while others have a full-scale virtual learning environment; in some places teachers use cloud systems such as Googledocs, Evernote or Showbie, in others student work is kept within the institution. I’ll try and describe what is needed, how it is provided will vary.

What sort of things will students need to be able to do? Searching the net for information is probably the first impulse of our students when they are faced with a research task. IT managers have a difficult balancing act, maintaining a firewall to protect young people, while allowing them the widest possible access. From a teacher’s perspective I would ask that the firewall should not be too rigid, so that if a student/teacher requests access to a barred site, then it is possible to create a path. My experience has been that if a student asks me, a teacher, to help them in such a situation, the need is usually valid. If students know any request will be checked before authorisation most will be deterred from improper requests.

Students will be encouraged to collaborate, and to review each other’s work. One solution might be a shared area for a class, maybe their own blog within an institution.  I have also used electronic post-it boards such as lino and padlet. Whatever the system it needs to be policed so that students do not abuse – the system, each other or anyone else. Some of the policing may be done by the class teacher, within an institution the need and responsibility for such policing must be understood and allocated, for everyone’s protection. (This ‘policing’ will fall within the whole institution policy for IT and social networking. Parents may need to be reassured that checks are in place).

How free students are, both to choose the device they use, and to choose the methods they employ, will be a matter for an institution to decide, and for teacher preference and judgement with particular tasks. However I should expect students to at least be able to create illustrated text documents, slide shows, annotated pictures, videos, mindmaps and create and analyse spreadsheets. They will also need to be able to collate their work, and to be able to combine formats in a single piece of work. I have found student ebook creation enables both tasks.

I think it is useful to insist on a protocol for submitted text and illustrations, so that they are saved and sent for feedback in PDF format and can thus be accessed on any device. IT managers may need to recommend slideshow and video formats, which will be handled successfully by your system. As an IT manager it may be useful to consider whether a school wide policy for submitted work may both allow students freedom to use their preferred app/programme initially and save later frustration. Storage of students’ work, and later access to it by teachers (including managers) and possibly students, plus storage of feedback as evidence of good practice must also be planned.

Training for teachers and students may be part of the IT manager’s remit – if not then whichever teacher is leading such training may need IT assistance on hand (I always did. And deeply appreciated help with the inevitable glitches with new, unfamiliar systems).

But the most important thing is cheerful reassurance and help for both students and teachers accessible by phone, email or a visit to the IT department. I was extremely lucky to have such support, and deeply appreciate it.

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About lifelonglearner

Teacher in Southern England enthusiastic about exploring ways to learn and teach, and evangelistic about sharing them. Specialism is Physics, but that's just a useful starting point.
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