Aims

What were the main aims of the initiative?

A suite of online continuing professional development (CPD) programmes for teachers on inclusive education and special educational needs (SEN) has been developed. It aims to rapidly build capacity for inclusion within schools and increase teachers’ knowledge, skills and understanding of diverse special needs. In 2001, the Institute of Child Education and Psychology (ICEP) Europe delivered the first online course for 125 Irish teachers, supported by the Department of Education and Science in Ireland. The aim was to give teachers direct access to expert practitioners and evidence-based practice for inclusion and the effective education of diverse learners. To date, ICEP has developed a suite of 19 courses, firmly grounded in psychological theory and best practice and designed to support inclusion by enhancing the quality of teaching and learning for learners with diverse learning needs.

Themes

The training’s main aim is to promote inclusion and equality for people with diverse special needs and learning differences through providing the highest quality CPD to international educators. The courses aim to enhance the quality of learning and teaching, with particular reference to the education of learners with special and additional learning needs. Ultimately, the aim is to improve educational outcomes and the well-being of diverse learners. ICEP trains both primary and secondary level teachers across a range of inclusion and SEN topics. The training also brings teachers from Ireland, the United Kingdom, Europe, the Middle East and Australia online together.

The training is unique because of its international reach, and the fact that it provides easy access to expert practitioners. It provides a solid grounding in theory and research, yet is highly practical. There are opportunities to participate in themed discussions moderated by an expert tutor. The course’s rich interactive nature provides an opportunity to share experience and best practice.

This inclusive training context provides a rich learning environment which builds understanding and develops knowledge and skills in a supportive community of practice.

Background

Location, setting, Scope, key events etc.

In the past 20 years, Ireland has undergone significant changes with regard to inclusion. Policy and legislation firmly support the education of learners with SEN in mainstream classrooms with their peers (Shevlin, Winter & Flynn, 2013).

The Special Education Review Committee (SERC) (Department of Education and Science, 1993), the Education Act 1998 (Government of Ireland, 1998) and the Education of Persons with Special Educational Needs Act (Government of Ireland, 2004) led the way for an entitlement to an appropriate education for all children, including those with disabilities.

International policies, such as the Salamanca Statement on Special Needs Education (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 1994), the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN, 1990) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN, 2006), have all played a role.

However, despite this positive progress in the overall context, teachers in the system were not sufficiently trained to deal with the changes (Travers et al., 2010). The challenges to inclusion at a school level and a class level in Irish schools have been identified. At a school level they include issues such as assessment, resources, the withdrawal model, and discipline and behaviour. At a class level, lack of time, differentiation, readiness for grade, teacher unwillingness and lack of CPD and teacher expertise have been listed (O’Donnell, in Day & Travers, 2012).

One aspect of the Irish response to the challenge of building capacity in the system and up-skilling teachers quickly was the provision of online courses on inclusion and SEN (Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, 2003). By 2010, over 12,000 Irish educators had availed of these programmes.

In recent years, ICEP has opened these programmes to international participants. To date, over 20,000 teachers from 57 countries have been trained. These online CPD courses are aimed at mainstream and specialist teachers from primary and post-primary settings who are working with learners with SEN.

The scope of the provision covers many areas, including inclusive education, autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), positive behaviour support, etc.

These interactive online courses are offered over three times a year. During an active term, the courses are available for eight weeks.

Each course is supported online by an expert practitioner in the topic, who actively encourages reflection and discussion and provides guidance and practical advice where required.

Participants are asked to complete a minimum of 20 hours of self-paced study, of which five hours must be spent engaging online.

ISSUES ADDRESSED

What issues/challenges does the example address?

This suite of provision was developed in response to a perceived need to deliver high quality training to teachers on topics relating to SEN and inclusion. The goal is to develop both knowledge and understanding, as well as practical skills, in order to support the quality of teaching and learning for learners with various SEN.

To this end, the courses combine solid grounding in theory and research with evidence-based strategies and best practice approaches in order to include and effectively support learners with diverse needs. So, for example, teachers gain an in-depth understanding of autism or dyslexia and also learn how to support learners with these needs in the classroom and beyond.

 

Implementation

How was the Initiative implemented?

The first online course on ADHD went live in 2001. Following that course, ICEP Europe delivered courses with various partners, including the Department of Education and Science, the Special Education Support Service, the Special Education Department of St Patrick’s College (Dublin City University), the Centre for Talented Youth and Dublin City University (DCU).

Approval was sought from the Department of Education and Science in 2001. ICEP Europe delivered the first online course for teachers in July 2001. In 2002, ICEP Europe worked with the Special Education Department in St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, to design a course on autism spectrum disorders and also that year ICEP Europe independently developed a course on dyslexia. Courses on ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome, social, emotional and behavioural difficulties /positive behaviour support, general learning disability, Down syndrome, and applied behaviour analysis followed. Another partnership on gifted and talented learners was developed between ICEP Europe and the DCU Centre for Talented Youth in 2007.

In 2012, three courses were approved as professional development for teachers in New South Wales, Australia, by the Board of Studies Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) and in Victoria, Australia (Professional Development Institute). Two more courses were approved in 2015.

KEY OUTCOMES & IMPACT

What where the key Outcomes? What impact/added value did they prove? What were the biggest challenges?

  • Online training can remove barriers to learning and participation and improve access for all teachers to high quality courses.
  • Online training can provide a rich forum for exchanging ideas, good practice and information.
  • It has enabled teachers in Ireland to rapidly up-skill on inclusion.
  • Teachers were initially reluctant to come online, but they now embrace this method of learning.
  • Evaluation findings and anecdotal reports from participants suggest that online training can impact practice and improve teachers’ confidence regarding inclusion and the teaching of learners with SEN.

EVALUATION

Has the initiative been evaluated or are there plans for this in the future?

Evaluation takes place on a number levels. Firstly, ICEP asks the teachers to fill in an online survey regarding their experience on the course, its content and structure, and whether they feel they achieved the learning outcomes. This is required in order to complete the course, but is anonymous. The results are collated and reviewed course by course each term. The intended outcome is to ensure that quality enhancement in the provision of all programmes is regularly monitored and sustained. This review of courses each term also includes learner participation logs and attendance data, admission and course completion criteria. The Department of Education and Science in Ireland also monitors the courses and an inspector reviews and provides a detailed report on each course as part of their review process.

We have very high completion rates (over 90% consistently), which is probably because the teachers are highly motivated and receive high levels of support from technical administration and tutoring staff.

What was learned from this initiative is that continuously monitoring and supporting teachers online can sustain a high level of participation and low attrition rates.

One of the main challenges was to engage the teachers in providing feedback. However, by making the survey compulsory, a 100% response rate can be achieved. In terms of content, a big issue is the incorporation of video, which has to be traded off against broadband issues in some countries. Restricting the amount of multimedia material and providing alternative formats, such as DVDs or USB keys, for participants with broadband issues are means of overcoming this problem.

Another issue is ensuring that participants are completing their own work. This is more challenging, but the nature of the content and the teachers’ motivation reduces this difficulty. With eye scan and fingerprint identification in the future this will become less of an issue.

FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS / SUSTAINABILITY

Have any plans been made for future direction of the initiative?

ICEP Europe is working with partners (including in Saudi Arabia, Australia and Singapore) to localise content and translate it in order to ensure the appropriateness of this training for teachers in other countries.

LEARNING POINTS

What are the main learning points?

It has been an interesting journey. Online content is becoming the norm for teachers, as the internet is now so much part of daily life.

Teachers value the flexibility and ease of access which online learning provides and also the opportunity to learn new skills and exchange experiences and practices online.

A high level of tutor support and interaction maintains engagement and also facilitates high completion rates and peer learning.

Asynchronous support works well and allows for different time zones and the inclusion of educators from across the globe.

While online training is suitable for teaching theory and explaining practice, it will never replace classroom observation.

Teaching online is a different way of teaching – tutors guide and direct participants and build a community of learners online without actually meeting the individuals involved. It makes different demands and requires more emphasis on building relationships with learners.

There is great value in training teachers from different cultures in one class online. The rich exchange of ideas and the support that develops as more experienced practitioners guide less experienced ones is very satisfying.

Materials

Are there further information about supporting materials?

Institute of Child Education & Psychology: www.icepe.eu

To log in and see a demo of the course, go to this landing page: elearning.icepe.eu/cpdonline/

Follow the prompts and type in the username: unesco@icepe.eu and the password: password.

References

Department of Education and Science, 1993. Report of the special education review committee (SERC Report). Dublin: Government Publications

Government of Ireland, 1998. Education Act. Dublin: Government Publications

Government of Ireland, 2004. Education of Persons with Disabilities Act (EPSEN). Dublin: Government Publications

Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, 2003. Supporting special education in the mainstream school. Dublin: Irish National Teachers’ Organisation

O’Donnell, M., 2012. ‘Teachers’ efficacy beliefs for including pupils with special educational needs in Irish mainstream primary schools’, in T. Day and J. Travers (eds.). Special and inclusive education: A research perspective (pp.·69–83). Oxford: Peter Lang

Shevlin, M., Winter, E. & Flynn, P., 2013. ‘Developing Inclusive Practice: Teacher perceptions of opportunities and constraints in the Republic of Ireland’ Journal of Inclusive Education, 17: 10, 1119–1133

Travers, J., Balfe, T., Butler, C., Day, T., Dupont, M., McDaid, R., O’Donnell, M., and Prunty, A., 2010. Addressing the challenges and barriers to inclusion in Irish schools. www.spd.dcu.ie/site/edc/documents/StPatricksCollegeSENReport2010.pdf (Last accessed 21 October 2015)

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 1994. Salamanca Statement on Special Needs Education. Salamanca: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

United Nations, 1990. Convention on the Rights of the Child. New York: United Nations

United Nations, 2006. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. New York: United Nations

ContacT

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Dr Moya O’Brien

Director, Institute of Child Education and Psychology Europe (ICEP Europe, www.icepe.eu), Unit K4 Maynooth Business Campus, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland

Phone +353 1 6510618

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