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Elearning and the Professional Development of Teachers of Children with a Visual Impairment

By Peter Rodney, Tarja Hannikainen, Steve McCall

Download Warsaw questionnaire [doc]



This initiative originated in meetings that were held at the ICEVI conference of teacher trainers held in Bratislava (1999). A subgroup of trainers met in Copenhagen shortly after the conference to devise a plan for promoting ICEVI and disseminating information relating to the education of children and young people with a visual impairment. The Copenhagen meeting resulted in the establishment of the ICEVI website.

An key function of the website was that it should become a vehicle for the exchange of teaching materials among trainers and allow teacher trainers to share their expertise and experience. Unfortunately due to lack of contributions from trainers, this function of the website failed.

As part of the Copenhagen subgroup, we felt that this failure needed addressing. In a two day meeting at the University of Birmingham in January 2002, we analysed the problem and identified two key conditions for success:

Narrowing the Focus

We concluded that the on-line delivery of teaching materials should not be a goal in itself. The general training needs of teachers of the VI could be better met through conventional delivery systems. In a Europe with so many languages and such economic diversity, no single on-line programme could meet the requirements of everyone.

We felt that the advantages of web based delivery are best suited in areas where there is specialist need. VI is a low-incidence disability and the population of children with a visual impairment is a diverse one. There are some specialist areas where information is not readily available. Expertise and resources in these areas are scarce and where teachers have training needs which are very specific and specialised. Some of these needs can only be met through co-operation across Europe

An example would be in the area of autism and blindness.

It is difficult to acquire information about how to work with children with autism and blindness because:

Other specialist areas where web-based learning might offer a solution include:

We therefore propose that the aim of the initiative will be to develop on line teaching resources in specialist areas. These resources will take the form of "Expert" or "Masterclass" modules.

Resourcing the Initiative

The EU commission is the most likely source of funding for the a trans-European initiative of this nature. However when the EU funding bodies invite tenders for funding, they set narrow targets with tight deadlines for responses. Establishing partners for initiatives such as we propose takes time and this makes the preparation of successful bids very difficult.

So we feel that we need to establish a well-defined bid, devised and agreed by a number of partners in advance which will be ready to submit as soon as an appropriate programme is announced by the EU. In other words we decided that the best strategy was not to shape a hasty bid in response to calls for proposals from the EU, but to identify our needs first, then prepare a considered bid with partners who are already committed and wait for a call which fits the bid.

Preparing the Bid

Establishing the need

Our proposal is that we could use the ICEVI Warsaw conference to present our ideas, either through a seminar session or through questionnaires and receive feedback which would help us gauge the demand for such modules, identify partners willing to cooperate and to refine the plan. We would encourage all participants at the conference to:

Other general information to be collected would include information about the language of delivery eg If English was the only language for the delivery of these modules how would this affect their response?
We would also want to find out who in each country is responsible for training teachers of the VI and where this training takes place etc.

Establishing the Target group

At present we anticipate that the most likely target group for these expert (masterclass) modules will be:

  1. Teachers already on specialist training programmes in visual impairment.
  2. Qualified and experienced teachers of the VI who need to update their professional knowledge, understanding and skills in the specific area.
  3. Other professionals eg physiotherapists wishing to gain information in the specific area.
  4. Teacher trainers themselves.

Developing the Expert (Masterclass) Modules Organisation

We anticipate that on receipt of funding, responsibility for the preparation of expert modules would be given to existing educational institutions which have recognised expertise in the specific area (eg Cortical Visual Impairment ) or which are well placed to develop such expertise. These educational institutions may bring in other partners by dividing the task into work packages user organisations, NGOs etc.

Materials would be commissioned, guidelines for authors would be established, and the first drafts of teaching materials would be written initially by the institution.

The materials would be edited by elearning distance education experts to ensure they were appropriate for online delivery. A chosen Elearning provider would be identified who would host the materials on a dedicated elearning server. We propose two forms of delivery of these masterclass modules:

A. Formal Delivery

Students would be registered at the institution which had developed the masterclass module. The module could be taken either as part of an existing programme or separately as a one-off module.

Students would pay the fees to that institution and be assessed according to the institution's own examination rules. The award would be a Euro award worth 9 credits.

On line materials would normally be supplemented by face to face teaching at compulsory residential seminars, study groups and perhaps practical sessions. Seminars could be delivered outside the institution (perhaps in another country) according to demand and economic considerations.

Entry to the programme would be at the discretion of the programme tutor and be in accordance with the expert institution's entry requirements.

B. Informal Delivery

There would be an online version of the elearning materials developed for each masterclass module. This would be available only to persons who registered with the server. The purpose of this registration would be to help build up a network which would encourage the establishing of contacts and local discussion groups and local learning partnerships.
The service would be free. It would not be necessary to register with the expert university. The materials could be used by individuals and by institutions (eg classteachers, parents, schools, teacher training institutions). Copyright would be held by the EU in accordance with their regulations relating to research grants.)

Final Thoughts

We see the possible benefits of this strategy as

  1. Bringing together in a collaborative enterprise the major teacher training institutions in VI across Europe paving the way for future collaboration on the development of curriculum resources.
  2. Establishing a set of high quality materials which will be continuously developed and maintained and which will be openly accessible to any professional working with children and young people with a visual impairment.

The Authors

Peter Rodney
Institute for the Blind and Partially Sighted in Denmark

Tarja Hannikainen
Jyvaskylan, Finland

Steve McCall
University of Birmingham, England

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