The Biggest E-Learning Laboratory in Europe

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A good balance between self-reliance and guidance; a strong emphasis on real life tasks, as well as peer-to-peer advisory meetings and a refined tracking system: these are the main columns of the large scale training module set up in Italy by the National Agency for the Support of School Autonomy in order to enhance teachers‘ ICT skills. Since 2001 the agency has managed to serve approximately 1,000,000 students with its platform ‘PuntoEdu’ and a comprehensive e-tutor system. OEB asked project managers Elena Mosa and Giusy Cannella to describe the logistical and didactical challenges that accompany such an enormous project.

OEB: What does teaching one million trainees in order to enhance their “eSchool” competences really involve?
Ms Mosa/Ms Cannella: Indeed, it is a complex matter that we have been dealing with since 2001 when we ran our first e-learning course. From the Lisbon Strategy onwards, the Italian Ministry of Education has designed an action plan focused on a continuous professional development training programme. The National Agency for the Support of School Autonomy was appointed to carry out these aims and, for this reason, developed a blended e-learning methodology that focuses on digital skills and teaching disciplines with ICT.

We involved such a lot of trainees because since 2001 we have run many blended courses for different school levels and dealt with different topics: from the school reforms, to innovation into disciplines with a methodological approach to ICT. The one million trainees include principals and other school personnel, though the majority of trainees are school teachers.

OEB: How is this manageable, especially from a logistical point of view?
Ms Mosa/Ms Cannella: One of the key points of the learning model is that it is manageable by the e-tutors who try to fit their work to the professional needs of any trainee. E-tutors have been selected as teachers experienced in the use of ICT and have been trained by the agency to do this work. To date we have trained about 5,000 e-tutors.

OEB: What skills do you focus on in particular? What can teachers learn from your classes?
Ms Mosa/Ms Cannella: In the beginning, we focused on the European Computer Driving Licence’s key competences. Our experience showed that teachers don’t need to know how to use each function of a spreadsheet, rather they need methodological competences to enable them to use ICT in their daily lessons and, first and foremost, to use ICT within disciplines. Although in the past few years a lot of work has been done on ICT as tools, treating them as the ’panacea‘ for students’ learning achievements, the agency supported the idea of using ICT blended within disciplines and no longer as a subject per se. This is the leading idea behind the latest school reform, namely “Indicazioni per il Curricolo”.

OEB: Could you describe in more detail what your idea of ‘blended learning’ is? How are your classes designed to reach their target groups effectively?
Ms Mosa/Ms Cannella: Bearing in mind that we are addressing adults in their professional capacities, it is useful to consider the andragogy principles. Keywords that feature in our learning model embrace the setting up of a so-called social learning environment, an in-house developed platform for interaction and communication through virtual classrooms, forums, communities and synchronous events. Furthermore, we ask students to carry out many learning by doing activities, ranging from problem solving to case study approaches. And finally, we rely very much on personalisation. That is why our e-learning tutors have become so important. Each of our e-tutors is responsible for two virtual classrooms working either on site at school or online.

OEB: Do you experience an increasing level of ’e-learning awareness‘ among today’s teachers and, if so, do you regard it as a result of your programme? Is the New Millenium Teacher who implicitly handles and integrates IT in the classroom already a reality?
Ms Mosa/Ms Cannella: Every time we run a blended course, we appoint external partners, mostly universities, to carry out monitoring activities during and at the end of the learning activities. From the reports we infer that the ’e-learning awareness‘ of teachers has increased and this analysis will be the focus of our presentation at ONLINE EDUCA.

OEB: Do these changes also mean that you have to modify your teaching approach?
Ms Mosa/Ms Cannella: This reflects the vision of our agency mission: changing teachers’ professional attitudes through the use of ICT and working towards innovation in didactics.

OEB: Thank you very much for your time.

Get a foretaste of the blended learning methodology used by the National Agency for the Support of School Autonomy here:

At OEB 2009, Elena Mosa and Giusy Cannella will present “Teacher Training and Competences: A Longitudinal Analysis and Some Evidence” as part of the session “Assessing Competency – Pre- and Postlearning” which will take place on Friday, December 4th from 16:30 – 18:00.

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