venerdì 11 gennaio 2019

A digital ecosystem for teacher training

The ‘turning point’ in teacher training
One of the key challenges for Italy is to improve the quality of the school system and to implement a strategy of support and guidance for continuous professional development for all teachers.  

Legislation, highlights the importance of this and makes provision for in-service teacher training, guaranteeingongoing funding of 40 million euros a year for further training.  The law actually takes things even further as the decree also introduced an annual training bonus of 500 euro (known as the ‘teacher card’) which entitles every teacher to use the funds for their own training needs.
The national funds provided mean that more than 426 million euro is made available for training each year. This is a considerable investment which has, not surprisingly, received positive comments and feedbackeven in the international arena.
The ministerial decree 797/2016 introduced ‘The National Teacher Training Plan for 2016-2019’ which, for the first time, outlines the implementation of continuous professional development (CPD) for the entire cohort of teachers. 
This is an innovative project of immense scale and organizational complexity. It aims to balance the relevant regulations, administrative and organizational proceduresand the use of technology within a single ‘system of professional training’
This initiative will ensure ongoing professional training and development and aims to make the outcomes of training more effective.  It includes introducing the monitoring of outcomes and the use of data to continuously improve the efficiency of training initiativesas well as to define the objectives for future public policies.
In addition, the transition from a fragmented training model to a centralized system of continuous professional development means that initial teacher training and in-service training can be integrated and provision can be made for on-going training throughout a teacher’s career.
A system providing essential organizational support 
The financial implications of the costs teacher training require the re-modelling’ of administrative procedures to speed up the allocation of fundsHowever, at the same time is also important that these financial and administrative procedures are made ‘invisible’ to the participants involved in the training and that the procedures do not make it difficult to implement the relevant training activities.

It is essential, for example, to build a realistic timescale into the training cycle which allows enough time for the required funds to be released to the school/institution so they are able to pay the training costs incurred.  

With such a complex system, it is key that a digital ecosystem is developed which integrates all the administrative procedures with the implementation and delivery of the training activities.  In fact, the basic objective is to amalgamate all the activities linked to the ‘training life cycle’ onto a single platform including:

• the needs analysis for different users and differing recipients 
• the training plan(s) (and documentation)
• the implementation and management of training activities/initiatives 
• the administrative and financial management (allocation of funds and accountability)
• the monitoring (output – outcome) of training initiatives;
• the accreditation of training bodies and recognition of training courses/activities.

Digitizing the management  of training 
The introduction and development of a digital platform for the management of training is a fundamental part of ensuring the governance of the varying degrees of complex organizational and decision-making involved in the Italian school system. 

Currently, it is not possible to get precise, up to date information on the activities/training initiatives carried out by training bodies and associations throughout the country.  Nor is it possible to know, in real-time, for example, how many teachers have taken part in a national or local training initiative funded by the Ministry of Education (MoE).

It is becoming increasingly important to be able to collect data which records the ‘training history’ and the training routes followed by teachers. This creates the basis for the development of a professional portfolio which can accompany a teacher throughout their teaching career.

The digitalization of the management of teacher training does not mean that the human factor should disappear, in fact it is important that this human element remains and that new administrative and organizational procedures focus on the actual quality of the training initiatives.

The digital catalogue of the training initiatives

The digitalization of professional development provides the opportunity to create a more ‘systematic approach to training’ with increased transparency and qualityThe new digital platform for the management of training will slowly enhance the management of:
- training courses;
- training requests
- the interface between supply and demand for training;
- data analysis of the various processes and procedures involved;
systematic documentation of training initiatives;
administrative and financial reports integrated with documents related to training plans and initiatives

Providing access to training

The digital platform is set up to cater for a range of training providers as per the 170/2016 decree and includes reference to:

- accredited bodies/ associations whose training courses are recognized at national level (the Ministry of Education has developed a digitalized accreditationprocedure for this and from next year, those bodies/training organizations whose training courses are recognized at regional level will also have access to the platform).
- accredited bodies which comply to Article 1, Paragraph 5 of the above mentioned official guidelines (universities, academic consortia, tertiary education institutions, research bodies). These categories of training entities,once they are registered, will be able, to offer training initiatives on the platform; 
state school institutions which are also recognized as accredited training bodies according to Article 1, Paragraph 6 of the official guidelinesIn particular, public school institutions which are already registered on the digital system, will be able to access the training platform using the Sidi access details they already have.

Private schools, (scuole paritarie) which have legal (Ministry) recognition, will be required to register before accessing the platform.

Note that since early 2017, the above mentioned entities have been able to access the platform where they can upload their training initiatives in an official training catalogue.  This catalogue is made available to the public.

Description of the training initiatives/offer

For each training initiative training bodies/providers are required to upload a range of specific information.  This includes:
the title of the training initiative;
the aims and a brief summary of the course/training initiative;
the specific and transversal areas with reference to the official guidelines (Directive 170/2016);
-the programmethe course duration and, if possible, details of the director of the program (the person responsible for the training initiative) and the trainersinvolved;
the “potential” competences to be achieved by the end of the course/training initiative.

Furthermore, each training initiative or series of training sessionswill have an associated registration period, venue and specified duration, as well as potential associated didactic (learning) resources. 

In addition to the management/co-ordination of training initiatives and series of training sessions, training bodies will be able to manage participant registration, download the list of participants, as an editable document, certify the attendance of participants and provide certificates of participation

Entities can access the catalogue of training initiatives and compare their own training offer with those of other bodies.

School institutions (the designated school coordinating training within each territorial network, training hubs, etc) will be able to upload their catalogue of training initiatives, financed by teacher training plan 2016 – 2019 and proposed within their territorial training network or organized thanks to the teacher bonus of EUR 500. The data collected from these initiatives will provide a real-time picture of the development of the range of professional opportunities given to teachers. 

How the teacher training platform works

The professional development and training requests are based on the training needs of the teachers themselves.  Teachers can access the platform, initially, with the same access details used for POLIS services. 

Searching for training courses
Teachers will be able to consult the catalogue of training initiatives via the platform and they will be able to filter the options according to different search criteria for example; the city and province for each training initiative, the specific and transversal area coveredthe title, the type of training organisation, etc. In addition, they will be able to state their areas of interest so that the system can suggest the most appropriate training initiatives based on their request.

Teachers will register for a training course on the platform with a simple click. The system will automatically send the registration information to the training organisation
The training courses will not be delivered via the platform but will be delivered according to the delivery options offered by the accredited bodies.

Training bodies are required to provide certificates of attendance where the teacher has attended at least 75% of the total hours required.  This is to be completed via a special function on the platform.

Participants (teachers) will be required to evaluate every training initiative by completing a participant satisfaction survey. This questionnaire will be based on the quality checklist, as outlined in the training plan.

Completion of the feedback questionnaire is a compulsory requirement for teachers to be able to receive a certificate of attendance/completion.  This will be recorded in the individual teacher’s profile.  This is also where a full list of training completed by the teacher will be available.

Record of training 
Access to all information related to each training initiative will be made available.  This will include, the training programme, the course duration, the trainers and their CVs, the skills and competences to be achieved by the end of the course and a link to any course materials.

The training history/records of teachers will be made available and, thanks to additional documentation, it will be possible to link what they do in the classroom with the application of the contents of the training courses.  

Benefits for teachers
Some of the benefits of the platform are immediately evident. It will be easy for teachers to consult the entire catalogue of training initiatives offered by accredited bodies, qualified associations, school institutions, universities, etc. 

The official guidelines 170/2016 defines a new, more rigorous accreditation procedure for training bodies which aims to improve the quality of the training initiatives made available on the platform.  This in turn will have positive consequences for the teachers who will be taking the courses.

It will be a requirement that training course information is provided in a standardized format to ensure that course information is homogeneous.
Teachers will be able to access the platform at any time to check their registration status on any course, download the course programme and training materials and consult their “training history”.
The teacher card will also be integrated making it possible to pay for course registration using the 500 euro teacher bonus.

Further developments to the training system

To explore the advantages of this “digital ecosystem” for teacher training, we should consider two different aspects: the first one is the new accreditation system of training bodies which has been re-designed and the second one is the introduction of a digital system for matching the demand and supply of training initiatives

Accreditation management

With reference to the new accreditation system adopted with Directive 170/2016 by the Ministry of Education, an undoubted advantage lies in removing the amount of paperwork produced by both the training organizations and the Ministry of Education itself, to manage requests for accreditation.

Additionally, it is now possible to conduct administrative analyses, unlimited by time or space. This has enabled for instance, an initial examination of the National Technical Committee’s cases, remotely, saving travel and associated costs.  Moreover, process digitization has raised the standard and clarity of documentation on the accreditation system.  This has led to fewer requests for explanations or integrations.  Digitizing the accreditation procedure also created an anti-corruption measure in an area prone to potential risks. 

Matching supply and demand for training

The first benefit of the digital platform lies in matching supply and demand and in encouraging “healthy” competition between accredited training bodies. In this way quality is continuously improved throughout the whole training “life cycle”, from the publication of the training and development paths on the platform to their evaluation (and the compilation of teachers’ feedback questionnaire) and the production of final certificates.
Thanks to this system, it will be possible to use a standard process that includes both the planning of the training initiativethe allocation of fundsthe organizational set-up (calendar, registration, etc.) and cost reporting.

Moreover, it will be possible to ensure immediate access to accurate, real-time data on the training “numbers” and “activities” (the training and development paths developed in different regions, fund allocation etc.) through a summary dashboard which includes all the planned initiatives, ongoing or completedrelated to the different players involved. (The Ministry of Education, Regional School Offices, territorial networks and schools

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