ICT as Political Action

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Setanta Project

Taoiseach interacting with students

Schools IT2000

In November 1997 the Department of Education and Science (DES) launched the programme ‘ Schools IT2000’. This was as a result of an undertaking by the Government of Ireland in its ‘ Action Plan for the New Millennium’ to achieve computer literacy throughout the school system. Schools IT 2000 was intended to provide ‘a comprehensive and innovative programme to achieve this objective’ (Government of Ireland, 1997).

As announced the programme ‘Schools IT2000’ was composed of three major strands. These were the Teaching Skills Initiative (TSI), Technology Integration Initiative (TTI) and the Schools Integration Project (SIP).The thinking which can be seen in the ICT policy document led to a proposal to NCTE that would entail a significant commitment to ICT and its transformational potential in St Aidans.

The project which became known as the Setanta Project was developed as St Aidan’s response to the government initiative ‘Schools IT2000’.

Photos from the Setanta launch show students and faculty from DCU, teachers and students from St Aidan and Loreto Grammar school interacting with the Taoiseach and with each other.

A project proposal was submitted to the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE) in January 1998 (O’Neill 1998a). Within the project there was an implicit understanding of the importance of collaborative work. This can be seen in the steps taken to seek the support of the School of Computer Applications at Dublin City University (DCU) and from the Education Trust in DCU (O’Neill et al 1998). The Setanta Project was developed with the belief that the provision of hardware and software was a necessary but not sufficient condition for the integration of information and communications technologies into the life of the school. The project set out to examine the question ‘How can we provide equitable and effective access to information and communications technologies within our school?’

DCU Virtual Art Gallery

This was accomplished by obtaining the support of faculty and students from the university along with teachers and students from the school. Two faculty members of the School of Computer Applications joined the steering committee for the project and joined in the day-to-day running of the project working with their own students and with school staff and students. They placed an Intranet based project, which had the potential to support Setanta, on the list of third year projects for Computer Applications students. Two students selected this project and undertook to work with their own university supervisors and with teachers and students from St Aidans in producing a Virtual Art Gallery (VAM) for the school Intranet (Farren 2001).
Deirdre Pentony and Mary Mooney worked on the implementation of the Virtual Art Gallery (VAM) throughout the school year 1999-2000. They worked in co-operation with Sonya Kinch art teacher in St Aidans and Ray O’Neill ICT teacher and St Aidan’s students. By joining in common activities and by 'what they have learned through their mutual engagement in these activities' (Wenger 1998) this group became a community of practice. They were involved in joint enterprises which were continually renegotiated by members. They functioned by mutual engagement which bound members into a social entity and it developed a shared repertoire of communal resources which included routines, sensibilities, artifacts and styles. These are defining characteristics of a community of practice (Wenger 1999: 73-84).
A community of practice involves much more than the technical knowledge or skill associated with undertaking some task. Members are involved in a set of relationships over time (Lave and Wenger 1991: 98) and communities develop around things that matter to people (Wenger 1998). The fact that they are organizing around some particular area of knowledge and activity gives members a sense of joint enterprise and identity.
For more information about the DCU VAM click here

St Aidans Gallery

At the same time in St Aidans, a group of students undertook to develop their own version of the art gallery. This work was undertaken in co-operation with their art teacher and ICT teacher. As part of this project the students identified their lack of web development skills. A training course in web design skills was set up to meet their own identified needs. While the focus of this course was teaching ICT skills interconnectivity was a key theme. The course was taught by a member of the School of Computer faculty. The class group was made up of fourteen students and four teachers including the principal learning within a classroom as equals on a collaborative venture.
To access St Aidans Art Gallery click here

Four students
Members of the St Aidans Art Gallery development team:
David Hesnan, Niall McCarthy, Ronan Fahy and John Donlon.

Presenting the achievements of the Setanta project

In May 2000 the work of the Setanta project was presented to the school community, the university community, the local community and a range of dignitaries including the Taoiseach (Prime Minister), officials from the Department of Education and Science, representatives of the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE) and many others. At the event, students demonstrated and explained the work that they had achieved and the learning that they had undertaken. The event gave learners – students and teachers – an opportunity to celebrate their achievements and to gain public recognition for their learning. Within this event the voices of children, which have been missing from the discussion (Kozol 1991) were found and celebrated. The students had been active with their teachers in educational reform. The teachers in this project had sought to make a difference for good with, not for, students (Corbett and Wilson 1995).

Student teaches art class using multimedia
David Hesnan using the St Aidans Virtual Art Gellery to teach art history to a class of senior Art students.

Reconceptualising teaching and learning

Having deployed their Art gallery to the school Intranet two students undertook teaching a topic in Art history to an Art class. To do this they setup the technology – computer, data projector, intranet access – in the Art room. They prepared a class on Renaissance Art and taught it to a senior Art class. They supported other students in their learning by providing them with information on how to access the web site that they had created. This is a step in making their work public. The students were seen by their peers in a position of authority not usually seen within school. The teachers involved were using their power in an attempt to help others exercise power (Ellsworth 1992: 107). Students and teachers were in the ‘being’ mode of relatedness to the world. Instead of being passive receptacles of words and ideas they listen, they hear, and most important they respond in an active and productive way (Fromm 1979: 38).

While developing the Art History web site students worked closely with their Art teacher, and their computer teacher. The nature of the working relationship was collaborative. Each member made their own contribution to the group. Sonya, the Art teacher, offered her knowledge of art history, Ray his knowledge of web development. The students, Niall, David, Stephen John and Aiser brought their personal creativity and enthusiasm to the work. Weekly meetings took place between the members of the group. Within these meetings the key decisions were made on the design and content of the web site. In traditional schools teachers tends to work alone (Lortie, 1975). In learning enriched schools (Rosenholtz 1989) teachers work more together and by having colleagues who show support and communicate more, teachers gain confidence around what they are trying to achieve. ‘Joint work’ – which includes activities like team-teaching, planning and action research – creates stronger interdependence, shared responsibility, collective commitment and improvement (Little 1990: 22).

The shared learning gives students an opportunity to engage in discussion, take responsibility for their own learning, and thus become critical thinkers (Totten, Sills, Digby, & Russ, 1991).ng for practice

There is persuasive evidence that cooperative teams achieve at higher levels of thought and retain information longer than learners who work quietly as individuals (Johnson and Johnson 1986: 31-2). The collaborative nature of the work promotes meaningful engaged learning (Jones et al. 1994). Conversely engaged learning involves being collaborative – that is, valuing and having the skills to work with others. Successful, engaged learners are responsible for their own learning – they select the content and skills that they wish to learn. Such learners are self-organising and self-regulated and are able to define their own learning goals and evaluate their own achievement.

Within the Setanta project, the University students selected the development of the Virtual Art Museum (VAM) from a list of projects. The choice of project was their own and they selected the underlying technologies they wished to learn and use for the project. The university students undertook to develop the virtual art museum using Java (JDK 1.2) and Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) (Farren, 2001). They worked collaboratively with the Art teacher to choose the Art History content for their VAM. This was the teacher and students working together to envision their desirable future (Schön 1991: 16) and they found ways of bringing it about. They choose tasks which were challenging, authentic, and multidisciplinary. These type of task supports engaged learning (Jones et al. 1994). Such tasks are typically complex and involve sustained efforts by learners over large amounts of time.

The same is true for St Aidan’s students. Within this project the participants built knowledge of technical matters, of curricular matters and interpersonal matters. As engaged and collaborative learners they were constructing a knowledge-building learning community which develops shared understandings collaboratively. Within the Setanta project the learners produced an Intranet to support the teaching and learning of Art History. But the outcome of the project was not the Intranet. The Intranet was an artifact that was produced. The outcome was the collaborative learning that took place through the educative relationships of the participants. In many respects this was education through relationship.

Innovative clusters

Research elsewhere indicates that a key characteristic of innovation is its tendency to cluster (Brown and Duguid 2002: 430). It is argued that innovation clusters because innovative people tend to cluster, staying close to close to those who share their vision, understand their insights and advance their ideas. The innovative collaboration between school and university was part of a process of supporting innovation by surrounding oneself by innovative people Within the Setanta project support for innovative practice was found locally, with innovative colleagues in school, in the university and in NCTE.

By clicking on the link below you will be taken to a page given detailed evidence of learners - students and teachers - engaging with leaders in the community and presenting their work publicly to that community.

Evidence from the Launch of the Setanta Project

Evidence from the SIP Symposium

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