Earlier in the year, BESA reported that teachers confidence with using ICT had fallen by 10%. Which sounds dramatic, and was described by some writers as ‘alarming’. But is it?

Well, here’s the data for the last 11 years – from research done by the old DfES until 2004, and data from BESA from 2002. The reason the two lines don’t match in the overlap period of 2002-2004 is probably because DfES used to ask head teachers “What proportion of your teacher are confident”, whereas BESA asks individual teachers “Are you confident?”

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Although you can use the data to produce a headline like “Teacher ICT confidence down 10 per cent”, it’s unlikely that average teachers confidence with ICT is the same as it was in 1998. After all, in 1998 we weren’t using the Internet in many classrooms, or using any of the fancy multimedia resources that you see in the majority of classrooms today.

So what’s going on?

I think that what’s happening is that the data is reflecting the journey through the learning curve. We all start any learning journey in the “Unconsciously Incompetent” box – ie we don’t know what we can’t do. And normally progress through to being “Consciously Incompetent” (ie we find out what we cant do), before continuing through to “Consciously Competent” (a feeling of relief from knowing that we can do it!). And, in the perfect world, we end up “Unconsciously Competent” (ie we aren’t even aware that we’re competent at something, like riding a bike").

The journey looks something like this:image And I think the reason that we don’t see a continual increase in teachers’ confidence with ICT is two factors:

  • The first reason is that because things keep changing, it means that we all end up moving into the between the “Incompetent” and “Competent” boxes. In fact, it always seems as if the IT industry is waiting for me to get competent with something before it changes! Only yesterday I discovered the my favourite page on Amazon had changed the way it worked, and I had to re-learn how to do things.
  • And secondly, I think that the majority of teachers are surrounded by people who appear to be more fluent with technology than they are – hordes of little people who’ll happily load a video onto YouTube before breakfast, and IM all day long. In that environment, where you’re surrounded by people who seem to know more than you, wouldn’t you feel less confident? And I don’t think this existed in 1998 – the majority of people didn’t have a home computer, and so everybody was on a level playing field.

Which means we’re unlikely to see an increase in Confidence, even though there’s a continual increase in Competence

Teacher ICT competency is up

My view is that that teachers’ ICT competency is going up, even though the research says their confidence with ICT is going down. What I think is happening is that the gap between teachers’ and students’ competency with ICT is growing. Not in the conventional ‘can-you-master-a-complex-spreadsheet’ way, but in a ‘I-use-ICT-to-solve-my-life-goals’ way. The way that you see students tackling new things with technology, even if they’re not sure how.

The chart probably looks like this:

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Which means we’ve got a different kind of problem to the headlines from the research. The gap between the way that students and teachers use ICT, and the multiple competencies that are being developed with different kinds of ICT, is leading to a growing gap between the students and teachers, even though teachers are continuing to increase their ICT competency.