Estonia: Information Technology in Teacher Education - a collaborative project across East West Boundaries.

Department of Business and Computer Education
University of Strathclyde, Faculty of Education
Glasgow, Scotland G13 1PP

Jack Winch
Department of Business and Computer Education
University of Strathclyde, Faculty of Education
Glasgow, Scotland G13 1PP

The focus of this paper will be on the work undertaken by the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland in partnership with the University of Barcelona, Spain working with Universities in Estonia. The work is ongoing and has been undertaken as one of the Tempus projects funded by the European Union. The project involves working with colleagues in three Estonian Universities to develop courses in teacher education and information technology at both pre-service and postgraduate level. The experience in both Scotland and Barcelona of running these type of courses has been invaluable. However, the main theme of the project is that of partnership and towards this aim we have worked closely with our Estonian colleagues to develop systems and courses which are in tune with their background, culture and experience.

1. Background

Estonia is a country which has experienced considerable change over the last 10 years, moving from being a part of the USSR to full independence. This has also involved a shift in culture and this is recognised by both students, teachers, and lecturers. The previous system led in part to isolation in terms of technology and the Universities are keen to move quickly into the information age particularly in the fields of E-mail and the Internet.

The population of Estonia is a mix of mainly Estonian or Russian nationalities, with about 50% of each. There are separate Estonian and Russian schools. The Russian schools still form a large part of the education system where Russian is the main teaching language. The second taught language of most Estonians until independence was Russian, although now most children are learning English. The IT provision in the schools is patchy and many schools have old Russian computers and little software.

Since independence a competition has been held each year to allocate a number of 486 PCís to schools. The schools put in bids describing how the machines will be used and the best bids receive machines. This has resulted in a number of schools receiving modern machines over the last five years. Software in the Estonian language is however still limited, although the Universities and some enthusiastic teachers are producing educational materials.

2. The Tempus Project

The acronym TEMPUS stands for Trans European Mobility Programme for University Staff. Tempus Projects are funded by the European Union. Countries from Eastern Europe publish a number of strategic aims and bids to meet their needs are received from Universities in member states of the European Union. Bids have to involve at least two European Union countries, and the Eastern partner then decides which most closely meet their needs. The Tempus Office in the Eastern Country then decides from these bids which it will fund.

The Faculty of Education of the University of Strathclyde, in collaboration with the University of Barcelona has run two Tempus projects over the last five years. The first of these involved working with the Czech Republic and the current one with Estonia.

Tempus projects funded by the EU take several different forms. This one is run on a collaborative model with colleagues from Estonia visiting institutions in Glasgow and Barcelona and colleagues from Glasgow and Barcelona visiting Estonia.

3. The Aims

The main aims of the project are, to develop in Estonian Universities:

ï Courses on skills and educational uses of IT for all students undergoing initial teacher education.

ï Inservice courses in IT for teachers which can lead to a postgraduate award.

ï Developing a nationally agreed system for the structure, management and organisation of postgraduate inservice courses in IT for teachers.

4. Undergraduate Courses

Estonia education is in a process of great change moving from the prescriptive, didactic model of the USSR to a more flexible model where active learning is to play a greater part. The need for teachers to change their methodology and take a greater part in the learning experience of their students is one of great opportunity, however for some the experience is proving traumatic. The Universities are working hard to prepare their students for this new role. However the shortage of teachers has led to the development of localised colleges of education which in general are poorly funded, staffed and resourced.

Economics plays a big part in the development work being undertaken and although the student teachers are enthusiastic and well prepared for their future role the reality is that many will take better paid jobs in commerce.

The project is working with two Universities in Estonia in a partnership role to help them introduce relevant courses in their undergraduate teacher education programme. The Universities are based in Tallinn (the capital) and Tartu, and are the only providers of teacher education at degree level in Estonia. The project is certainly focussed around the provision of IT education to teachers in Estonia. However much work, perhaps of more general significance, is also related to the development of the teaching methods employed. Students are used to a didactic approach with traditional lectures being delivered and progress monitored solely by means of a final examination. The new courses are encouraging much greater student participation in the learning process and are assessed both formatively and summatively on a continuous basis. This does not however mean the end of final exams or a reduction in the academic rigour of the courses - quite the reverse in fact.

5. Postgraduate Courses

In order to progress the educational use of IT in schools it is important to have a programme in place to train teachers already in posts to enhance their methodology and status and give them new skills in using the modern technology. These courses have been developed across the three Estonian Universities which provide postgraduate teacher education. The structure of the award-bearing programme was agreed between the three Universities and follows a modular pattern, with students able to ëmix and matchí modules from each of the three Universities. This concept is known colloquially as the "hitch-hiking student".

The postgraduate award is at three levels - Certificate, Diploma and Masters. Each level requires a prescribed number of modules to be passed and for the Masters level a thesis is also required.

Modules are defined as being the equivalent of 60 hours work, with a balance between taught classes and individual study or development, the balance is usually 30:30. Each sixty hour module is worth two credit points which count towards the given target for each award. The number of points and modules for each award is as follows:

Certificate 4 Modules 8 Credit points

Diploma +10 Modules +20 Credit points

Masters +6 Modules +12 Credit points

+Thesis +40 Credit points

The above structure follows a generally accepted pattern for Estonia, with a Masters involving 40 credits of study plus a final thesis of 40 credits.

The modules used for the Postgraduate Award have in several cases been modified from the new courses delivered to the pre-service students, and take into account the teachers' basis of experience. In this way the work in each area has benefited both groups. As much of the methodology is new to serving teachers this has not caused problems, although the level of assessment has been tailored to suit the different target group with the possibility of designing, implementing and reflecting on a practical classroom application of IT.

5.1 Content of the Modules

The modules taken for Certificate level will have an emphasis on development of IT competence and classroom application. This however goes beyond computer literacy and covers a broad range of IT skills and concepts and their application to the educational context. The modules at Diploma and Masters level will focus on broader pedagogical and management issues and need not be entirely IT based.

5.2 Modes of Delivery

Although Estonia is a small country, the countryside is rural with a scattered population, the Universities are aware of these problems and have therefore emphasised the use of E-mail in their course development with three of the postgraduate modules being delivered exclusively in this way. In this area Estonia is leading the way and colleagues from both Glasgow and Barcelona have been interested in seeing the results.

The modules have been developed by each of the Universities independently, and the mode of delivery varies according to their client group. The modules appear to be popular with teachers and the first students will achieve a certificate this year.

6. Collaborative Working

The key word in this project has been partnership, with all participating Universities having equal status. Staff from the Universities of Barcelona and Strathclyde have visited the three Universities in Estonia on a regular basis and a variety of involved staff have had reciprocal visits. There has also been a great degree of collaboration between the three Estonian Universities both in the development of the course structure and the format of modules.

Staff from a number of different departments have been involved in the work and have developed modules within their own areas. This has resulted in a wide variety of modules being on offer to the students. Modules in Art, Logo, Desktop Publishing, Foreign Language, Native Language, Biology as well as the more generic Information Handling have been developed by subject specialists and are being delivered to teachers from a variety of backgrounds.

Some of the most interesting developments have involved the use of the Internet and e-mail as a delivery medium. Some modules, especially in the University of Tartu are being delivered entirely through this medium, including Logo, and one for School Internet Postmasters. Small rural schools who do not have access to e-mail have been collaborating with larger schools to give them access through their system and this has in the main been a great success.

7. Equipment

The Tempus project funds new equipment for the Universities to use for the courses run for the project and this has had an immediate impact on transforming the IT capability of the departments involved. The equipment has also provided for developmental work with video conferencing being explored by one of the Universities.

8 Progress to Date

The project is now in its third year and has to date been highly regarded by the Estonian Universities and the European Training Foundation who advise the European Commission on such matters. A national framework for postgraduate awards has been set up and the first candidates will have received awards by the end of this year. Useful and enduring links have been forged between colleagues at an international level. Collaboration amongst the Estonian universities has increased. Further to this colleagues from departments previously unaware of the potential of IT in their subject have been involved and have developed an enthusiasm for the value of the use of IT in the educational process.


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