English in Action (EIA) is a nine-year programme which will provide professional development to 51,000 teachers by 2017. This massive undertaking was not conceived as a programme with a fixed end date; rather, the idea or ethos behind it is to provide a vehicle for on-going self-supported learning after the programme officially ends. To this end, the idea of the ‘trainer in the hand’ emerged as a viable way to provide teachers with the professional development required to meet EIA’s goal after 2017.
The ‘trainer in the hand’ is a mobile device (iPod in the programme’s pilot phase; currently a low-cost mobile phone) which is used not as a phone or for accessing the internet, but as a device for hosting a range of teacher professional development materials (video and audio) which can be easily accessed by teachers anywhere and at any time.
In a pilot study (2009-2010), carried out to test the viability of the ‘trainer in your hand’ idea, EIA provided teacher professional development resources (audio and video) pre-loaded on to the Apple iPod Nano (primary) and Touch (secondary). In addition to teacher professional development materials, these devices included a suite of audio resources for teachers to use in the classroom to support the national course textbook. Teachers were also supplied with a portable, rechargeable speaker. The ‘trainer in your hand’ set of professional development resources to support primary teachers’ own learning included 18 video clips and 4 audio recordings that exemplified a range of correct and incorrect English communicative language teaching (CLT) classroom practices. It is intended for teachers to use on their own. Figure 1 shows one of the ICT-enhanced teacher professional development videos, entitled ‘Doing pair-work’, on the mobile device; the red cross and green tick (lower right-hand corner) indicate the correct and incorrect ways to introduce and implement pair work in an English CLT classroom. The secondary teachers were supplied with an iPod Touch with 46 audio files dedicated to teacher professional development.
Following this, in the EIA programme’s pilot phase, 475 primary teachers were given an iPod Nano and 225 secondary teachers were given the iPod Touch. The secondary teachers’ iPod Touch was preloaded with audio podcasts, enhanced with synchronized text and images which provided the core of their ICT-enhanced professional development materials. They also received a print-based teacher professional development package entitled English for Today in Action, which presented 12 CLT modules (active listening, predictive listening, using visual aids, creative writing, and so on) that could be adapted and used to teach communicative English.
In 2011, we finished field-testing the same audio and video resources on a much cheaper mobile phone-based kit using the Nokia C1-01. This phone sells for £38 and supports up to a 32 gigabyte secure digital (SD) card which holds all of EIA’s materials. EIA materials were also field-tested on micro SD cards, which were supplied to the teachers for use with their own mobile phones.
Our research on the pilot phase teachers showed that the support provided through the materials is seen as both relevant and effective; in particular, the digital content on the media players is highly valued. Using audio and video has proved to be tremendously helpful in realising the current classroom-based changes. As using audio and video for increased teacher support, and the use of audio in particular, is such a critical success factor, it continues to be a core part of our delivery model now and will be in the future. One of the key advantages of the ‘teacher in the hand’ mentioned by the teachers is that professional development is provided through mobile technology which gives them the freedom to learn at their own pace, when and where they want. In addition, the interactive nature of the classroom methods and materials, delivered through audio, has proven to be highly effective in reaching a large number of children and is changing the way in which English is taught and learnt. Teachers find it relatively easy to use the technology and to actively integrate the audio in to their teaching.
But even more significant is the proven technological appropriacy of the ‘trainer in the hand’ – teachers are able to watch demonstrations of classroom practice which reflect their real life professional situations and challenges. In the latest version of the EIA materials, this has been taken several stages further with all the teachers used being themselves participants in the pilot, and all the filming carried out in their real classroom with their classes. This sense of authenticity helps the teachers to feel the direct relevance of the programme and shows that their realities have been incorporated into all the materials hosted on the ‘trainer in the hand’. All this is now mediated via a Bangladeshi narrator who introduces and then comments on each video clip – creating a further sense of ‘presence’. Early indications of the new materials are that this greatly enhanced sense of authenticity and classroom reality, which provides a backdrop to improving pedagogy, is greatly appreciated by the teachers.