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Establishing Electronic Communication Resources for Trainee Educational Psychologists

Jim Boyle, Ingeborg Stobie and Andy Tolmie, Department of Psychology, University of Strathclyde

Introduction

Educational psychology trainees at the University of Strathclyde spend two days per week in the university and two days per week working in psychological service bases. It was felt that there was scope to develop the trainees' use of email and conferencing as a means of (a) enhancing their learning experience through improved communication with tutors, peers, library facilities, WWW etc. and (b) promoting generic, transferable IT skills which would be valuable to practitioners.

Reflections

'Hands on' training should be provided in the practice bases, not just in the university.

Although everyone participated, there was noticeable variability in the use of email and CMC. This was linked in part to the fact that two trainees had particular difficulties in gaining access to FirstClass. This may have resource implications (e.g. the ability to provide a modem or a laptop computer) and highlights the need to ensure equal opportunities for access in practice bases.

Marked problems were observed in exchanging file attachments across different hardware and software platforms used in practice bases. (The .rtf file format was eventually found to be the most portable.)

The time required by trainees to complete the task was on average four times that anticipated by tutors.

There was insufficient time at the end of a busy term to complete peer-reviews of the seminar papers prior to 'publishing' them on the course website.

FirstClass email/conferencing software was selected to achieve these aims after a survey revealed that the system could be accessed readily in the field by eleven of the twelve trainees on the course. A 'closed' discussion group was set up for the trainees and training in the use of FirstClass was provided in the university.

With the assistance of the LDTI Project Consultant, activities which lent themselves to computer-mediated conferencing (CMC) and which could be integrated into the course were identified. Evaluation strategies (e.g. group interviews, the use of log sheets and checklists to monitor the uptake and use of conferencing) were also identified.

Implementation

Following the use of FirstClass email facilities only for one month, trainees were asked to work in two small groups, each to produce a seminar paper. Key reading (3 papers) and 4-5 'starter' web-sites were made available to the trainees by tutors. The task of each group was to review the materials and produce a briefing paper of 4-5 pages. In addition to developing practical IT skills, it was hoped that the project would develop the trainees' skills in synthesising and evaluating data through opportunities for discussion using CMC.

The briefing papers were of a high standard, and the trainees were positive about using email and CMC in this way. They have continued to use FirstClass for writing collaborative reports of reading projects and for exchanging information through email. It is hoped to continue to develop the system next session.


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