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21 September, 2003
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An approach to the deployment of new technologies in education (Spain)
A report on the utilisation of ICT in rural schools in Spain with recommendations for further development and lessons for other rural areas in Europe.

Regional Development

APONTE (Esp)

Lasipalatsi (Fin)

Parthenay (F)

Singapore ONE

Executive summary of the case:
Timing of case
The time allocated for the experience was limited to about 4 months. To fully determine and measure all the benefits and disadvantages of introducing ICT in teaching a project, the timing should be several months or years longer.

Geographic setting
The project was carried out in Galicia (North West Spain) and Northern Portugal, two regions which are presenting a wide range of similarities in terms of geography, language, economics, population, etc.

Type and use of ICT

  • A PONTE website
  • Aula A PONTE (AAP), a web-based collaboration tool. It grouped several features, such as web mail, chat tool, discussion forums, course section, etc.
  • The Internet Starter Kit (ISK) was a self-training CD-Rom for teachers including basic information and a practical guide for Internet beginners.
  • Videoconferencing
  • Additional printed and multimedia training material

Main contributors
Sema Spain: overall project co-ordination and the integration of the distance learning tool Aula A PONTE.
Super-computation Centre of Galicia (CESGA): co-ordination the 'pedagogical experiences' in Galicia and between Galicia and Portugal.
Association of Universities of Northern Portugal (AURN): co-ordination of the 'pedagogical experiences' at the Portuguese participating schools.
SBLN (UK): co-ordination of the adaptation and translation of the Internet Starter Kit into Galician and Portuguese for the use of the A PONTE teachers.

Main beneficiaries
Students and teachers in Galicia (Spain), 16 schools; and 11 schools in Northern Portugal.

Background
A PONTE was focused on introducing ICT (new technologies) in rural areas. The overall approach was to analyse the advantages of using it in secondary schools. Rural areas have some demographic, economic and socio-cultural particularities. These zones are usually isolated, have a low teacher-pupil rate, and it is difficult to access cultural resources and events from them.

Objectives
The objective was to analyse the use of ICT in education in rural areas based on pedagogical experiences carried out in Galicia (Spain) and Northern Portugal. The methodology included a research on educational needs, a selection of schools to perform the experience, creation of ICT tools for the experience, design of the pedagogical experience, fostering of multicultural diversity, carrying out the experience, dissemination of results.

Activities
1- Research on educational needs in rural areas and selection of schools to perform the experience.
2. Technical approach: ICT tools chosen for the experience
3. The design of the pedagogical experience

Outputs and results
Pupils in general enjoyed the experience and took advantage of their pedagogical aims. Communication in schools was positively affected by the use of ICT. The awareness of other linguistic and cultural realities was noticeable. However, one of the objectives - fostering group work through ICT- was not completely achieved.

Teachers considered that computers are not the master key for learning; a teacher is always needed to humanize the process. Some of them were even reluctant to use computers in class. But throughout the experience they appreciated interesting possibilities and possible applications. They developed two different pedagogical approaches by using ICT and tested their results in situ.

After the trial, a compilation of guidelines for future similar projects was made: ICT training should be integrated in future teachers' curriculum; technical support will be needed; guide to the Internet resources for teachers to reuse already-made contents; fostering campaigns for reluctant teachers; class schedules must be adjusted in order to ease synchronic activities among the schools, and the need to approach the Educational administration down to the schools or viceversa depending on the structure and uses of the community.

Lessons and conclusions
The main result of the project is as a set of general guidelines for the application of ICT rural areas in other countries of the European Union. It could be easy to adapt and use some lessons learnt during the project to most rural regions. Some ideas achieved during the project development should be adapted to new appearing technologies. As an example, videoconferencing over ISDN was found to be very promising. However, it might have to wait some more years before this technology is cheap enough and the networks support better this kind of transmissions, but ICT should fit expectations of educational rural communities.

Case description:
Background
A PONTE was focused on introducing ICT (new technologies) in rural areas. The overall objective was to analyse the advantages of using it in secondary schools. Rural areas have some demographic, economic and socio-cultural particularities. These zones are usually isolated, have a low teacher-pupil rate, and it is difficult to access cultural resources and events from them.


Objectives
The A PONTE goals were to establish closer relations between universities and schools, to meet demand for less taught subjects, and to bridge multicultural and multilingual diversity in these rural areas.

The objective was to analyse the use of ICT in education in rural areas based on pedagogical experiences carried out in Galicia (Spain) and Northern Portugal. The methodology included a research on educational needs, a selection of schools to perform the experience, creation of ICT tools for the experience, design of the pedagogical experience, fostering of multicultural diversity, carrying out the experience, dissemination of results.

The A PONTE project has evaluated the advantages and disadvantages of using ICT in educational systems particularly in remote areas. The specific goals of A PONTE were:
-To establish closer relations between universities and schools in rural areas.
-To meet demand for less taught subjects.
-To bridge multicultural and multilingual diversity.


Activities
1- Research on educational needs in rural areas and selection of schools to perform the experience.
First of all, the A PONTE team performed an analysis of the specific requirements of the educational community in rural areas and the establishment of criteria for school selection. The result from this research had to show how ICT can help to improve the educational quality in rural areas. It also had to evaluate the conditions required for the performance of the experiences. The need analysis would take into account:

  • curriculum subjects (compulsory-optional, national-regional scope)
  • location (rural-urban)
  • ownership (public-private)
  • educational levels (elementary-primary-secondary-professional training).

The need analysis did end with a selection of the schools who would participate in the pedagogical experience, eleven schools in Portugal, and sixteen in Galicia.

2. Technical approach: ICT tools chosen for the experience
The next step in the methodology was to provide the schools with the necessary ICT tools to perform the experience. To reach the pedagogical goals of the project program, it seemed very important to provide non-expert users with easy tools and user-friendly online work environments. Feedback from teachers was required to create the appropriate applications, and therefore, during the regular workshops organised with all stakeholders the tools were evaluated by the teachers, and subsequently refined by the consortium. Several tools were developed to achieve the project goals:
-The Internet Starter Kit (ISK) is a self-training CD for teachers, which was designed for learning fundamental skills on the Internet. It was translated to Galician and Portuguese.

Aula A PONTE (AAP) is a browser-based collaboration tool. It was developed to support course activities and course delivery over the web. Existing tools for collaboration and distance learning were integrated in the Aula A PONTE. The final system consisted of a chat tool, an email client, a log analysis tool, discussion forums, announce board, a collaborative story creation module)and ‘Aulas’, content repositories where the content of teaching courses could be accessed.

Apart from these technical tools, a helpdesk was set up which would solve all doubts of teachers and pupils concerning the practical and pedagogical use of Information and Communication Technologies, pedagogical experiments performed, the material offered or the A PONTE project in general via an on-line service.

3. The design of the pedagogical experience
A schedule was elaborated for the teachers of the 16 schools in Galicia and 11 in Portugal to meet periodically and form a committee in order to review the progress of A PONTE and plan next activities. In these meetings, workshops and conferences some topics discussed were:

  • Content of the teaching units
  • Definition of the pedagogical experience
  • Status and progress of the Internet Starter Kit for teachers
  • Integration of Aula A PONTE into the experience.

It was decided to:

  • To study the distance co-operation goal, an experience was set up to define a teaching unit with groups collaborating at a distance. ‘European Dimension’ was chosen as content of the teaching unit, because this could be educationally relevant within the framework of the experience.
  • To evaluate the usefulness of the Internet in everyday teaching, several pedagogical experiences were carried out in the regular school activity context. The teacher would select a working topic out of the regular curriculum, and would define the contents of a class to teach the selected topic.
  • In order to connect secondary students to university reality the students could access the A PONTE Website, where there was a specific section devoted to the university close to the schools, with information databases and links available. Also several videoconferences with staff from the University of Santiago de Compostela’s guidance centre were organised, allowing the students to make specific questions on the issues that concerned them.

4. The actual pedagogical experience & evaluation
During 4 months the actual pedagogical experience took place. Just before it took place, teachers were trained and the necessary equipment was installed.
The pedagogical team following the activities in Galicia was formed by a group of 3 professors and 3 researchers from the University of Santiago de Compostela, (Faculty of Educational Sciences and Educational Sciences Institute).
Their role in the experience was different within each stage:

  • Within the initial stage of the experience, the pedagogical team worked on the elaboration and distribution of the “teacher questionnaire” and “student questionnaire”, going to every participating school to interview both actors.
  • Monthly, there was a visit to every school by a member of the pedagogical team in order to monitor the work process developed by the students and teachers when working on the didactic unit designed. A “Observation Protocol” was completed after each visit.
  • The last stage comprised the assistance to the different pedagogical questions arising from the teachers of the Project. The team provided this pedagogical support via e-mail, ordinary mail, phone and fax. This task also allowed to check the development of the activities at the schools. All this information was collected by the researchers in individual field books.

5. Dissemination
A PONTE is a demonstration project. It is obvious that the project has developed a strong communication plan, focussing on several means of communication and various target groups.

The general objectives of the communication plan were:
-to inform the identified target audience in Galicia and Northern Portugal, but also in the other countries and regions of Europe, about the A PONTE project and its outcomes.
-to enhance the professional development of teachers, in particular concerning the use of ICT in teaching and learning.

The communication was carried out through three conferences, the website, and the CONTEXT magazine.

Output and Results
Pupils in general enjoyed the experience and took advantage of their pedagogical aims. Communication in schools was positively affected by the use of ICT. The awareness of other linguistic and cultural realities was noticeable. However, one of the objectives - fostering group work through ICT- was not completely achieved.

Teachers considered that computers are not the master key for learning; a teacher is always needed to humanize the process. Some of them were even reluctant to use computers in class. But throughout the experience they appreciated interesting possibilities and possible applications. They developed two different pedagogical approaches by using ICT and tested their results in situ.

After the trial, a compilation of guidelines for future similar projects was made: ICT training should be integrated in future teachers' curriculum; technical support will be needed; guide to the Internet resources for teachers to reuse already-made contents; fostering campaigns for reluctant teachers; class schedules must be adjusted in order to ease synchronic activities among the schools, and the need to approach the Educational administration down to the schools or viceversa depending on the structure and uses of the community.


Output and Results - Key Factor: improved regional human capital
Teachers’ reactions to the pedagogical experience:
Although teachers considered they had to be receptive to ICT, and they were motivated towards innovations in education, they thought that ICT usefulness should not be exaggerated. According to them, ICT can be useful to complete the learning process but they are not enough in themselves to constitute a full methodology.

This kind of project should serve to evaluate teachers’ methodological renewal. This project made the participant teachers change their ordinary work schemes and adopt a new teaching-learning structure, where the teacher’s role was undoubtedly different. In any case, the short duration of the experiences has not allowed us to check whether the change in the teacher’s methodology has influenced the rest of his/her teaching outside A PONTE experience.

A PONTE helped to improve the levels of professional socialisation, promoting a more fluent communication and collaboration among colleagues and schools. Isolation, one of the traditional barriers of teachers working in rural communities was overcome by their regular use of email, discussion forums and even videoconferencing systems (where available). The face-to-face workshops were also found very useful, giving the teachers the needed self-confidence to tackle the initial difficulties and a providing a common space where to share their experiences and discoveries in this field.

Five different stages in the use of ICT among the teachers have been identified by experts in this field :

  • Integration: learning basic notions of the technology used
  • Adoption: Technology is used to support traditional teaching methodologies
  • Adaptation: Technology is integrated in the classrooms dynamic in a practical way
  • Appropriation: New ICT co-operative and projects are settled
  • Invention: Discovery of new uses of ICT in this environment

Following this list, A PONTE project has reached a stage between “adoption” and “adaptation”. According to Haymore, the whole process should normally take about three years.

Output and Results - Key Factor: improved regional inclusion
The work in Aula A PONTE gave the students from rural areas a unique opportunity to get in touch with ICT. Unlike the students from urban areas, they have few chances to access them. A great majority of rural students did not own a computer connected to Internet, and could not access Internet through a local library or cybercafe (because there were none of them in their villages). The school became not only an access to these Internet services but a place where this access was pedagogically guided.

The use of ICT affected positively communication and general atmosphere within the classroom. Students’ motivation and satisfaction increased, not only due to the use of new tools, but as a direct consequence of moving from an individualist structured learning to a co-operative structured learning. This implies a deeper collaboration and positive interdependence among equals, and a class work less dependent from the teacher.

However, it should be noted that one of the main objectives, ‘constructing a cooperative document with other groups of students’, was not achieved. Some of the groups requested help from other participants via the Internet, but once the information was found, the group itself produced its own document in the chosen subject and completed it with little or not influence from other groups of students.

The awareness of other linguistic and cultural realities was also very noticeable. Sometimes, the overwhelming presence of English language in Web pages often discouraged the students to start communications or to try a more autonomous surfing through web pages. Once they knew (with the help from A PONTE Help Desk) of the existence of online instant translation WebPages, their pursues were more successful. This problem motivated some of the schools to implicate the English language teachers, who encouraged the students to develop their reading and comprehension skills.

Furthermore, A PONTE allowed an easy access to the different options for university studies. However, only a few students showed interest for this information, maybe because they were more interested in other types of vocational studies or because they were still far from having to make the decision of going to the university.

The experience allowed us to state the importance of distinguishing between information and knowledge in the access to the various contents present in the Net. Some participant teachers shared their concerns about how the students find information and how this information is memorized and related to their previous knowledge. In this sense, the stage between accessing the information and learning it could not be documented to its full extent during the project’s lifetime.

A PONTE project, being a demonstration action, pointed out the most outstanding factors and observations, but failed short in providing enough data as to determine whether the students learned in a more efficient way with ICT than with traditional methodology, because the real experience took place in a too short period of time to fully achieve expected results - 4 months.

Pedagogical approach:
There were two different pedagogical approaches in this project: an inductive approach and a constructivist approach.

Galicia selected an inductive approach, which was characterised by the creation of independent "lessons" or aulas by every participant teacher. Teachers decided the subject, according to their field of teaching, in order to motivate the pupils, because they did not seem very interested in A PONTE initially proposed subject, ‘European Dimension’.

The inductive approach resembles traditional teaching, where the teacher designed and presented all the contents of a "lesson" s/he wanted his/her students to learn. However, introducing a computer in this simple schema caused some trouble. The Internet connection was too slow, and the computers were, in most of the classrooms, facing the wall, so the students had to look back to see the teacher. These were not the best conditions to work in. What is more, students communication with other A PONTE groups through the Internet was not reinforced.

Using ICT to support traditional methodology should go beyond presenting certain contents on a web page instead of on a printed paper. Internet resources do offer a lot more possibilities to the teaching-learning process, and these possibilities should be clearly identified and used to improve teacher’s methodology.

On the other hand, Portuguese schools chose a constructivist approach. It consisted of the design of a wider collaborative environment, a common framework to let the participant groups of students and teachers fill it with appropriate contents. They used ‘European Dimension’, the subject that was suggested in A PONTE Project Programme. Teachers, together with students were asked to comply a demanding task ‘fill with content’ this unit, (not chosen by them, and which had little or no connection with their daily schoolwork). Teachers’ role was different than in the inductive approach.

The constructivist approach experience provided very interesting results. Initially it caused some confusion as it was a new demanding task for the students, who had never before worked in that way. There were two steps in this collaborative process: the first was to obtain information from the Web; and the second, the collaboration over the Internet. However, the final documents sent to AAP (Aula A PONTE) did not gather everyone’s contribution, but the individual groups’. This shows that the collaboration process was affected by the on-line element. The students from other groups were seen more as “reference” to look for material than as members of the same group which contributed to only one document.

The constructivist approach was undoubtedly far more demanding than the inductive one, and we would need more future experiences to take it to the following steps, where the “e-groups”, the virtual groups of students, are working as one team. If the final idea is working in virtual groups or sharing educational materials, more resources and previous training will be needed.

It is not yet very clear which choice is the most beneficial for working in e-groups. It seems that one single topic for every group promotes a better collaboration and communication among the groups of students and teachers as they have something in common to talk, discuss and share. On the other hand, it is not always possible to find a topic that interest an heterogeneous group of users (with different curricula, ages, interests) in the same way, and they would rather choose a particular topic for themselves.

Lessons and conclusions
The main result of the project is as a set of general guidelines for the application of ICT rural areas in other countries of the European Union. It could be easy to adapt and use some lessons learnt during the project to most rural regions. Some ideas achieved during the project development should be adapted to new appearing technologies. As an example, videoconferencing over ISDN was found to be very promising. However, it might have to wait some more years before this technology is cheap enough and the networks support better this kind of transmissions, but ICT should fit expectations of educational rural communities.

Final guidelines for projects with the scope of introducing ICT in rural schools
As a conclusion, we present here a compilation of guidelines for similar projects:

1. The competent administration should commit an education technology funding strategy based on integrating ICT into the curriculum. This necessarily requires ongoing investment in:

  • support for teachers (i.e., technical and integration support, models of practice, and training)
  • infrastructure, networking, hardware and software in classrooms/schools.
  • additional ICT funding for a multi-year, phased-in, rural specific approach.

2. Technical Support. Make sure that there is a system manager available to solve problems, so that teachers do not have to do this type of work in their free time. Buy good software which has the required functionality for the school to act as the virtual aula. Schools should rely on a well developed product of their choice, which is constantly maintained, and for which they can get a good support.

3. Give the teachers basic training to be able to use Internet resources for their teaching and personal uses. On-line training and CD-Rom based training are not enough, and must be complemented with face-to-face learning. Make the training partly general for all teachers (general Internet skills) and partly subject specific, with easy examples of use in the classroom.

4. Provide teachers with tools and guides to develop, complement or adapt already-made material for their classes. ICT provides highly valuable resources for teachers and students who are located in isolated areas, which can help diminish the gap with urban areas availability of resources, such as on-line libraries, access to University information or other private and public services.

5. Foster reluctant teachers’ participation. If these projects are intended to have sensible mid or long term effects in rural education, they require participation by teachers who may not be enthusiasts or even believe that technology will not answer any of the important questions about education. Any successful implementation will require that their questions are included in the implementation strategies and decisions.

6. The project experiences should plan very detailed short term tasks and activities, integrated in a more ambitious framework. Train them to start with simple scenarios, relating them as much as possible with links to their already known skills. Only when the teachers and students feel confident with this, evolve to scenarios where the possibilities of internet are used in a better way: collaboration at a distance, etc.

Summarising, ICT in rural areas might be useful, however it will be very expensive when you follow all necessary steps. On the other hand, it might be an important element in keeping schools open and help people living in the small villages while offering them the access to the same resources available in the cities.

Lessons and conclusions

Key Factor: improved regional human capital
Participant teachers:

  • Participant teachers and schools should be adequately compensated by the competent educational administration to avoid frustration. The administration should motivate them in a clear way, this being an economic incentive or a reduction in the rest of her/his teaching duties. This participation should also be part of the continuous training plan for teachers established by the Educational authorities.
  • Participants should have clear information on the characteristics of the project with time enough to allow a proper distribution of resources.
  • Even when some teachers are reluctant to new technologies, they usually find that the experience has been productive. In Portugal, there was a previous selection of the area and requirements needed for the schools to participate. Therefore, Portuguese teachers voluntarily chose to take part in A PONTE. Quite the opposite happened in Galicia; a team of pedagogues established the criteria to select the most appropriate schools. Most of them, although initially disoriented and not very enthusiastic, soon became active members of the project. Besides, the Galician heterogeneous group of teachers -with very different interests, ages, teaching background and attitudes towards ICT - made the study very interesting. Some of them even admitted they would probably not have chosen to participate in such a project as they had not previous computer experience.
  • Educational authorities should promote intensive ICT training for future rural teachers from the university level.

Lessons and conclusions - Key Factor: improved regional inclusion
School organization:

A PONTE had to overcome difficulties related to organisational problems derived from the particular conditions of rural schools, which were decisive for the development of the project:

  • Insufficient infrastructures (rooms or technical resources) in some of the schools conditioned the beginning date of the experiences. Assuring the adequacy of resources and appropriate location for the experience to take place will result in a more enjoyable experience for the users. Unfortunately, it is impossible to foresee every problem when working with a large number of schools: building works in one school, re-arrangement of school classes into another building, etc. are likely to appear at the early stages of the project, and a good collaboration with the competent Educational authorities is very advisable.
  • Complex class schedules should have been taken into consideration. This project was a new element to fit into every participant school scheme according to their own circumstances. Therefore, activities that required a coincidence of more than one participant in time (chats or videoconferences) implied a bigger effort from the teachers’ and students’ side. Sometimes, morning recesses or school breaks were proposed for this kind of activities. It should be advisable that the educational administration would recognise the training value of this kind of projects, allowing and supporting more flexible timetables.
  • Complex transportation routes for pupils to come back to their small villages leave no time for non-curricular activities. Population lives in tiny but numerous villages around a bigger village where the school is located. Pupils have to take a bus to come back to their villages every day at the same time. They could not be late, because if they missed their bus, they could not go back to their homes.
  • Different regions have different curriculum and/or administrative structures. While in Galicia there was a fully independent regional educational administration, North Portugal had not the same level of autonomy. Project development in Galicia benefited from this closer communication with higher administration officials.
  • Inexperience of teachers and headmasters could delay the project. It is highly advisable to include a sufficient number of experienced staff from the beginning of the project to foresee initial difficulties related to the school and class organisation.
  • Different pedagogical approaches could result in a more difficult analysis of results. A PONTE experienced two main approaches to content design, a constructivist approach (in Portugal) and an inductive approach (in Galicia). It would have been better if both areas could have fully participated from both approaches to enhance a comparative analysis.

Use of ICT:

  • The integration of ICT in the schools should be a continuing effort. Otherwise, projects like this can be understood as casual fireworks, causing frustration and incredulity among teachers.
  • The school as a whole should assume the use of ICT. Otherwise, it would only be an anecdote of little significance, always dependent on the few willing teachers and professionals who do not mind to spend much of their free time in this project. As individual schools are part of a larger educational structure, the competent administration should promote these initiatives and facilitate their development.

References and links
FINAL REPORT - ESPRIT Project Nº: 28085, A PONTE

"Secondary Education in Rural Areas supported by ICT" by Elena COELLO, Lydia MONTANDON, José M. CAVANILLAS . The paper describes the first project results which are the analysis on specific needs.


References and links - Key Factor: improved regional human capital
ESPRIT Project Nº: 28085, A PONTE
-Haymore, J; Ringstaff, C. And Dwyer, D.C. (1996) : Teaching with Technology: Creating Student-Centered Classrooms, New York, Teacher College Press.
-Fisher, C. (1996): Education and Technology: Reflections on computing in classrooms, San Francisco, Apple Press/Jossey-Bass.

References and links - Key Factor: improved regional inclusion
FINAL REPORT - ESPRIT Project Nº: 28085, A PONTE

Context issue Nr 24 - December 2000: www.context-europe.org/cafr24.html