The B-Level ICT teacher training, the “Traditional” and the blended learning model
The “B-Level ICT Teacher Training” or “In-service teacher training in the utilization and application of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the teaching practice” (full title) is a long-lasting and popular teacher training program of the Greek Ministry of Education, offered to Greek teachers since 2008 (https://e-pimorfosi.cti.gr, http://b-epipedo2.cti.gr).
This teacher training, in the form it was implemented from 2010 until 2015 where this study refers to, addressed teachers of the main specialties i.e. Language, Mathematics, Natural Science, Informatics, Primary School and Kindergarten teachers.
The main aim of B-Level ICT teacher training is to provide teachers with the knowledge and skills needed and to help them create a certain stance towards:
the pedagogical utilization of digital technologies (e.g. educational software and tools, educational platforms, school digital infrastructure etc.) in the classroom
being able to adapt new technology developments into their educational practice (i.e. not depend on specific tools and technologies)
Training content and objectives put special emphasis on the design of educational activities and scenarios, since their role in the integration of ICT in class is considered as significant and necessary. Furthermore, the “in-class application of ICT” phase of the program, during which trainees put into practice the knowledge and skills they acquire, by implementing educational activities using ICT in their classes with their pupils, constitutes a mandatory and integral part of the teacher training itself.
The training program had a duration of 5–6 months, including 96 teaching hours, accompanied by 24 more hours of supporting meetings for the preparation and review of “in-class application of ICT” activities Fig. 5. Trainers who undertook training sessions, are highly qualified teachers, i.e. coming from teachers’ community themselves, selected through an open process, in order to attend a specialized long educational program (380 h) in Universities and subsequently become certified for the role of “B-Level ICT Teacher Trainer” through demanding exams.
At the beginning, the traditional training model was followed, including entirely face to face sessions in Training Centers (Fig. 1), which are usually schools that provide for that purpose their computer labs, as well as support staff (e.g. technical support, program administration) during after school hours. In this framework, 2.057 training programs were implemented between 2010 and 2015, each of them addressing a group of 10–12 teacher trainees of the same or similar specialty.
However, through that method, it was not possible to cover the training needs in small remote and isolated areas, where there aren’t enough trainees (of the same specialty) to form a group or there is no trainer or training center available and thus, there is no possibility for implementing traditional – face to face training programs.
Thus, for covering remote or isolated, hard to reach areas (e.g. small islands, mountainous areas), as well as in the case of lack of training facilities, a blended learning model, appropriately designed to serve the specific training needs and objectives, was applied to a number of B-Level ICT training programs.
Interaction, effective communication and collaboration between trainer and trainees, as well as among the trainees themselves, constitute a significant asset of the B-Level ICT teacher training program, mainly achieved through the face to face contact and direct interaction during the lessons in the Training Centers, taking place twice a week, in case of traditional training programs. The pedagogical approach of the training program and the nature of its content, which includes lab classes and workshops (e.g. educational software and tools’ learning), discussions, exchange of experiences, ideas and opinions on educational scenarios etc., as an integral part of the learning process, make the above elements extremely necessary. This frequent contact, the discussions, the exchange of experiences, ideas and opinions contribute to building a team spirit and finally, to the creation of a learning community of practice, which usually remains active even after the end of the training program.
In typical distance education models the above elements are absent or difficult to be achieved. However, they are considered as crucial for the effectiveness of the B-Level ICT teacher training and thus, in the design of the blended learning model emphasis was put on keeping them, through regular (at least, on a weekly basis) synchronous distance learning sessions, using special tools (synchronous distance learning platform), as well as through a few number of face to face training sessions (Fig. 2).
Every blended training program consisted of a group of 10–12 teachers of the same or similar specialty and had a duration of 24 weeks. Training sessions were taking place either face to face in the Training Center or synchronously from a distance (through the synchronous distance learning platform) and were accompanied by asynchronous activities across the course. In the same way as in the traditional B-Level ICT teacher training model, after the first 8 weeks, “in-class application of ICT” activities were introduced through the weekly “supporting meetings”, where the trainees were coached by their trainers for the implementation of educational activities using ICT in their classes with their pupils, and/or they were discussing on the outcomes of them after their application at school Fig. 5.
Face to face training sessions were taking place in four (4) weekends (3 h on Saturday and 3 h on Sunday, each weekend). Synchronous distance training sessions were taking place on a weekly basis, through the synchronous distance learning platform Blackboard Collaborate (Fig. 3), while the asynchronous activities were carried out using the Learning Management system (LMS) Moodle i.e. assignments, upload of work, assessing and grading, communication and collaboration etc.(Fig. 4). LMS was also used for the delivery of the training material. Tools for virtual class management and operation like video conferencing, application sharing, whiteboard, chat, voting, recording etc. were also available by the synchronous distance learning platform.
Technical support was offered to the trainers and to the trainees by the technical staff of the training center during both the face to face meetings and the synchronous distance sessions. Help was also provided for various preparatory actions e.g. educational tools and software installation in trainees’ laptops, connection to the platforms.
Consequently, the trainees of a blended training program were participating in face to face meetings of a total duration of 24 h, distributed in the course appropriately (at the beginning, in the middle and before the end). That way the contact and interaction elements that were previously mentioned, could create conditions towards ensuring the effectiveness of the distance communication and collaboration in the weekly synchronous sessions and asynchronous activities that followed, given also the technical support offered by the training center staff (Fig. 5).
The B-Level ICT Blended Training model was applied in a small number of programs, in two phases, in 2013–2014 time period. First pilot phase included ten (10) programs (two for each teacher specialty), that were implemented in order to test and improve the methods, the tools and the training material (formative evaluation). This phase was followed by a second one, including forty-five (45) programs, in order to offer the possibility of a further study of the results, before applying the model in a wider scale.
The B-Level ICT certification
Teacher Training is followed by a certification process regarding the knowledge and skills acquired by teacher trainees, through special, independent, nationwide, digital exams which take place in University Computer Labs acting as Certification Centers (Fig. 6).
The aim of the certification process is to find out whether the teachers who attended the B-Level ICT Teacher Training, have gained the theoretical knowledge regarding the pedagogical utilization of ICT and have acquired the skills needed to be able to organize their teaching (in their specific specialty subjects) using digital technology tools.
The right to participate in the exams was offered only to the trainees who had successfully completed the training program, according to specific prerequisites regarding their presence in lessons (at least 90%), the “in-class application” activities using ICT, as well as, especially in the case of blended training model for the period studied in this paper, the elaboration of specific project activities (e.g. the development of educational scenarios using ICT) at the asynchronous phase of the course.
The computer-based exams (Fig. 7) have a duration of 4 h maximum and include two parts: a first part with automatically graded questions (e.g. multiple-choice questions) and a second one, concerning the development of an educational activity – scenario on a specific topic of a discipline in relation to their specialty (an essay, anonymously graded by a body of assessors consisting of B-Level Teacher Trainers) utilizing ICT.
In the first part of the exam, a test is assigned to each candidate who is asked to answer a number of questions of graduated difficulty on the training cognitive subjects. The questions are answered through a specialized certification software application and they are automatically graded. The development of questions follows specific rules and quality assurance processes, in order for a big test item bank to be constructed, which feeds the tests (Christakoudis et al., 2011). Some questions and their alternative answers are extremely simple while other ones are more complicated i.e. concerning a combination of concepts, understanding of specific situations, scenarios for software applications etc. Each candidate has to take a separate test i.e. including different but equivalent questions selected randomly from the above-mentioned bank in a way that assures entirety, variety in types of questions, representation of the specific cognitive subjects, objectivity for the process, diversity of the tests while keeping the same difficulty level (Zagouras, 2005). The test item bank is frequently renewed following a specific process which includes: a) the addition of new questions in each new certification period, b) the removal of questions after their usage in a specific number of tests, c) improvement or replacement of questions according to a formative evaluation of the test results.
In the second part of the exam, the candidates are asked to free-write an essay on a specific theme concerning a lesson plan and its in-class application using ICT. This theme addresses all concepts that the teacher trainees faced during the training, mainly through the projects and activities they carried out. It mainly concerns educational scenarios and activities where educational or other software tools and environments were used as a significant part of the B-Level ICT Teacher Training process. These themes are only used once in the exams and are totally renewed for each new certification period.
The final certification grade derives from the formula: Gcert = 0,40*GpartA + 0,60*GpartB, where GpartA and GpartB refer respectively to the grades of the first and the second part of the exam, as described above. The participation of a teacher trainee in the exams is successful so that she/he is considered to be certified for the specific B-Level ICT knowledge and skills, if the final certification grade she/he got is at least 60 in 0–100 scale.
This research was carried out by scientific staff of the organization responsible for the implementation of B-Level ICT Teacher training on behalf of the Greek Ministry of Education. It was carried out as part of a broader attempt to compare the B-Level ICT “traditional” and “blended learning” models, before proceeding with the application of the Blended learning model at a wider scale, acknowledging that changes in well-established education processes should be gradually and carefully applied in order to be successful.
The aim of this specific research is to study whether the approach/model i.e. the methodology followed for the implementation of the teacher training (traditional or blended learning model), affects the “performance” of the trainees, in the framework of their participation in the training program and more specifically, in the certification process of the knowledge and skills acquired that follows the training. In this framework the research questions attempted to be answered include: a) How are the rates of the trainees who successfully completed the training program affected by the different training approaches (i.e. the traditional versus the blended learning model)? b) How are the percentages of the trained teachers who participated successfully in the training program and then sat the exams compared in between the two approaches? c) How the success rates at the certification exams of the above two approaches are compared? d) How are the grades achieved at the exams compared in between the two categories of trainees? e) How is certain “poor” performance of the trainees compared in between the two models? f)Is there any difference on the above “performance” factors between the various teacher specialties?
Therefore, the data examined as indicators for the “performance” of the teacher participants in the training and certification process refer to (Fig. 8): a) the successful or no completion of the training program, i.e. to the fulfillment of the minimum requirements such as the presence in the training sessions, the implementation of “in-class application” activities using ICT etc., in order to get the right to participate in the certification exams, b) to the participation in or abstention from the exams, as well as to c) the grades achieved at the certification exams (automatically graded questions and free-writing theme/ essay on an educational scenario / activity utilizing ICT).
For measuring and comparatively processing the above indicators, we used data from all the B-Level ICT Training programs implemented in 2010–2015 time period (of both traditional and blended learning model) all over Greece, where 23.689 teachers of “basic” specialties (Language, Mathematics, Natural Science, Informatics, Primary School and Kindergarten Teachers) participated.
Actually, it was not only a sample of data concerning a number of teacher trainees that was examined, but all the data concerning the trainees who participated in the above-mentioned training initiative in total. The authors of this paper, coming from the organization responsible for the implementation of B-Level ICT Teacher training, were able to access all the data needed for this research, through the Management Information System (MIS) supporting this large scale initiative. In specific, they collected and analysed the following data per teacher specialty and training model: a) the total number of trainees registered in the teacher training course, b) the total number of trainees who successfully completed the training course, c) the total number of trainees who participated in the certification, d) the grades of the trainees in these exams (and consequently the certification result: success or fail).
Based on the above data, the aforementioned indicators were examined through the comparison of the corresponding parameters presented in the following table (Fig. 9).
The comparative study of these parameters and indicators in between the two models (traditional and blended learning model) both in total and per teacher specialty, actually answers to the corresponding research questions above, and leads to the results of this research as presented in the following section.