The aim was to understand what is referred to as being innovative and why; with the objective to understand the innovation in its broader national context. Finally, on the basis of those examples this paper attempts to point to common elements of what is seen as innovative in different European countries.
The aim was to understand what is referred to as being innovative and why; with the objective to understand the innovation in its broader national context. Finally, on the basis of those examples this paper attempts to point to common elements of what is seen as innovative in different European countries. During the PIC discussions there was no consensus about the concept of innovation; some participants see innovation as a step-by-step improvement building on existing technologies while others thought of innovation as a radical shift of doing things. Others included both notions in the definition of innovation in order to do justice to incremental improvements. Participants also agreed that radical change with the aim of improving existing practices is difficult to implement at school level. Schools are still traditional and when introducing innovation in schools this should be done step by step.
Some participants also reported a difference of taxonomy, in Finland, for example, discussions in education are about development rather than innovation. In Sweden, discussions focus more on improvement.
Examples of Innovation
Catalan Blog project "Escoles en Xarxa"
The idea of the Catalan project "Escoles en Xarxa" (Schools on the Net - 1 http://escolesenxarxa.vilaweb.com), which was presented by Orland Cardona of the Department of Education in Catalonia, originates from an initiative of a secondary school in Barcelona willing to establish a blog for their news service. adapting journalism practices in high schools from printed newsletters to the web and then to blogs has been a logical evolution and a constant demand from Catalan schools.
The project received support by the Catalan Department of education in charge of the coordination of ICT educational projects with two goals in mind. Firstly, to create a community based on the Catalan language in secondary schools, and secondly to spread social values using ICT. Fifty three schools are now connected to the project in the Catalan speaking Community (Andorra, Balearic Islands, French Eastern Pyrenees, Catalonia and Valencia). Escoles en Xarxa permitted the establishment of a community and network to promote a minority language.
However, for students this was not the primary aim. The blogs are used to report on what is new in schools and their environment, to debate social problems and to relate to experiences of people just arriving in Spain from third world countries. From a pedagogical point of view, the project fostered collaborative work, sharing of knowledge, and the creation of a community of interests to work horizontally on any subject throughout the school year. One objective of the project to provide new pedagogical skills based on ICT, is still a major challenge as teachers do not implement ICT in their current practices. The project’s success lies in a natural evolution, in the motivation of the students to use blogs and get their voices heard.
Emigrants’ mother tongue project (Norway)
Another language-related project is the Norwegian project ‘Emigrants’ mother tongue’ presented by Lisbeth Pedersen from the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training. It provides evidence that ICT, if properly deployed, can facilitate the process of foreign language learning and promote the integration of immigrant pupils into Norwegian society.
What is quite unique is the project’s focus on strengthening the mother tongue of immigrants at the same time as the acquisition of Norwegian using a variety of new technologies. As Lisbeth points out, language teachers in Norway tend to embrace technological developments (digital cameras, sound recorders and video projectors) to create the desired learning environment for their students.
More specifically, pupils describe their everyday activities and as a result they learn the words in the different languages with the help of a creative tool called Klikker 4. In addition to multimedia material, smart board is a vital tool for presentations and discussions in the learning process. Moreover, the exchange of e-mails between teachers from different nationalities results in the development of a multilingual vocabulary. Close contact between teachers makes preparation of the next lesson easier. The pupils, together with the teacher, contribute to building a multilingual lexical resource, illustrated with pictures and voice recordings. The dictionaries and the lessons are made available digitally for free use. The school is using a Learning Management System (LMS) facilitating communication, cooperation, creating, sharing and reusing content and resources.
Mobile technology project "Mudlarking in Deptford" (UK)
The Mudlarking project, presented by Mick James from Becta, (UK) is another example where technology is used as a motivator for exploring alternative learning paths. The challenge for educators and designers is to understand and explore how best they might use these resources to support learning.
The Mudlarking venture (http://www.futurelab.org.uk/showcase/show.htm) is a worldwide initiative to research the use of technology in education. This project gives students the opportunity to use mobile technology to discover and explore their environment, in short, a digital version of the traditional guide tour. The area where the project takes place is located in and around Deptford Creek, a very inaccessible area in south-east London.
As part of a team including researchers from University of London and Bristol-based Futurelab, year seven students from Sydenham school have created an innovative route around he area, one on which they are able to record their experiences and thoughts using hand-held personal digital assistants (PDA) to create a stash of captured writing, sound and images to share with classmates.
The originality of this project is in using relics from in and around the Creek to stimulate multisensory poetic associations between histories, stories and visions of Deptford Creek, and developing these fragmented responses into the design of a walking trail of an everyday area.
‘Learning Management System and PCs in school’ project (Denmark)
The project ‘LMS and PCs in school’, presented by Steen Lassen from the Ministry of Education in Denmark, was initiated in 2004 to support ICT integration in education with a particular focus on primary and lower secondary schools. The aim was to tackle the lack of ICT infrastructure and resources in schools observed in 2002 and 2003(1) which prevented schools from adopting innovative methods in terms of management and teaching. Within this context, the Danish government decided to subsidise the acquisition of LMS and PC's for third grade for the period 2004-2007. The government covered half of the expenses and the municipality the other half.
This project is regarded as a decisive step for the integration of ICT into primary and lower secondary schools. It aims to ensure the daily use of ICT and contribute to school development. So far, the results of the project, which will be continued in the next two years (until end of 2007), are very positive: In 2005, the schools bought 50,000 new computers so today there are less than two pupils per computer in third grade. In March 2006, the percentage of schools with a LMS reached about 70% and at the end of 2006 the number is expected to be very close to 100%. (With regard to upper secondary schools, they all already have a LMS).
New Regulations in Sweden
The representatives from the Swedish National Agency for Education Sven Borg and Peter Karlberg highlighted two recently adopted regulations. It is believed that these two laws will create a new attitude towards improvements in the Swedish education system and the situation for pupils. As Sven Borg pointed out: ‘provided that innovations stem from a positive and flexible environment that can improve the situation for the individuals depending on the system, the new two laws will provide the pupil and parents with a possibility to impact on the learning process’. In addition, they are also expected to affect the use of ICT in the teaching and learning in the Swedish schools.
The first law which came into force on 1 January 2006 formulates individual development plans for all students aged between 7 and 16(2). Those plans, designed by the teacher in cooperation with the parents and the pupil, are intended to set objectives for the pupil’s progress in studies and support their development of knowledge. An assessment of pupils’ progress in ICT will also be a part of the process.
The individual development plan will give the pupil increased leverage and responsibilities over learning. It will describe in detail further measures needed for a pupil to attain the goals of the curriculum. This is to strengthen the pupil's right to receive the support and stimulus needed to make progress. The individual development plan also creates continuity for the pupil in case of changes of teachers, or school.
The EduRep project (The Netherlands)
The Netherlands (Keimpe de Heer, Kennisnet) presented the EduRep project (Educational Repositories Network), a single uniform search interface for teaching materials developed by Kennisnet. The interface will use a harvesting protocol that can search different databases. Search queries can be entered through one central website or the harvesting protocol can be installed on a particular school’s ELO (‘electronic learning environment’) through which enquiries can be conducted. This is specific useful for teachers as they can find easily educational resources on places they normally use, like in an Electronic Learning Environment or Intranet. They do not have to go the different portals and websites.
The originality of this project is in exemplifying that technology in itself does not have to be an innovation to be innovatively used. What is more important is the actual use of the technology and more specifically the services built around Edurep. The role of content suppliers, the intermediate users and the role of the endusers as well as the relationship between each other as a mechanism for content distribution is innovative as they can connect via one platform.
Furthermore, the system uses acknowledged standards, manages intellectual property rights issues and is easy to use.
The ‘orientation law’ for the future of schools (France)
The new French ‘orientation law’ for the future of schools (lois d’orientation et de programme pour l’avenir de l’école), presented by Maxime Lejeune from the Ministry of Education, lays down the general guidelines for the integration and generalisation of ICT into schools. This initiative, which fits into the overarching national action plan ‘RE/SO 2007(3), aims at the implementation of virtual learning environments in schools, the generalisation of the B2i certificate for students and C2i for prospective teachers as well as the participation of ICT coordinators in the pedagogical committee meetings within the schools.
The originality of this initiative lies in the fact that this is the first time that mastering ICT becomes one of the five key competences that pupils need to have at the end of their stay in school. The decision to include ICT skills has a direct impact on the structural organisation of schools and more precisely as regards to pedagogy. This constitutes a new, more global approach, towards the implementation and use of ICT in schools: previously ICT was taken into account through each school programme whereas now there is a more inclusive approach as ICT is considered at national level.
Different views on innovation
The examples illustrated above show the differences in the way innovation is defined and perceived in highly diverse national contexts. It has been an underlying goal in the UK, Catalan and Norwegian projects, that the use of ICT should inspire and motivate pupils, having thus a profound effect on children's learning in terms of enhanced pupil outcome and in the students' views of themselves as learners (e.g. increased self-confidence, self-assurance). All these projects are based on the use of technological developments that have been proven to be attractive to students (e.g. blogs, PDAs, mobile phones). Another common element in these projects is that students play an active role, have control over the process as well as ownership of the result. The activities are also related to student’s real life interests and have a strong collaborative and communicative component which is a main motivational driver. Yet, although these innovative environments create favourable conditions for learning they might represent isolated examples. Their implementation and wider roll out depends to a large extent on the willingness and the personality of the teachers to do so as well as on many other factors, such as schools’ and national priorities or organisational structures.
As regards the Nordic countries, the observation expressed at the beginning about how innovation is perceived, is well reflected in the examples. In the Nordic countries, ICT is viewed as a tool to support pedagogical development and school development and is seen as an essential cultural technique which can significantly improve the quality of education and promote innovation. For this reason, in Denmark there have been important investments to equip schools with computers and more recently with Learning Management Systems to the point that now they are a routine part of daily school life. However, more information would be needed on its actual use. With regard to Sweden, efforts have been concentrated on laying down a general framework for schools (part of which are the individual development plans) with the aim to meet the different learning styles of the students whilst at the same time meet the prescribed goals of the school. With regard to the Dutch project (‘Edurep’), it places emphasis on innovative use of technology. It would also be useful to further observe the wider impact of the innovation on the teachers’ actual use.
Finally, in France, the recently adopted ‘orientation law’ for the future of schools fits into the overall national plan aimed at placing the French Republic in the Information Society. Therefore the example provided by the French Ministry of Education constitutes a major breakthrough at national level, whereas it might have not been regarded as such in another national context. The examples provided indicate how diverse the concept of innovation can be. The extent to which participants were able to identify an activity as innovative (in its own context) and to explain why that was so, would call for further exploration on a national level as to what is understood by innovation on the basis of concrete examples.
(1)In 2002, only about 25% of the primary and lower secondary schools had a LMS for administrative and pedagogical purposes. In 2003, the median pupil/computer ratio in primary and lower secondary school was 6:1.
(2)The second recently adopted regulation, which came into force in April 2006, prohibits any form of discrimination and other offending treatment of children and pupils.
(3)Presented by the French Prime Minister, the RE/SO 2007 plan (for a digital Republic in an information Society) is intended to accelerate France’s conversion to the information society by promoting effective development of its infrastructures (facilities, internet access conditions, legislative framework, etc) and uses. The development and use of ICT in public services is one of the three key aspects of the plan. For more information see http://www.internet.gouv.fr
Keywords: educational innovation, educational policy, peer group
Last changed: Tuesday, 06 June 2006