Logo of ICEVI-Europe and link to the Home Page

2nd Workshop
Training of Teachers of the Visually Impaired in Europe

[ Previous Topic ] [ Table of Contents ] [ Next Topic ]

11. Theme 4: Access to information

By Mr Steve McCall



(Information provided by the facilitators: Kerstin Fellenius and Peter Rodney)

The participants had each received preparatory papers in the course reader. The papers selected by the faciltiators addressed the issues relating to how technology can be used in training teachers of children with a visual impairment.

Paper 1

IST and Competence Development in Special Education
Peter Rodney (unpublished paper)

Peter Rodney argued that the development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has profound implications for both research and teacher training. He saw ICT as a means of breaking down the barriers between educational praxis and theory, directly linking work in the classroom with research and training.

Staff and mangement in special education required continuous training and development using methods which bring regular opportunities to reflect on and develop their practice. Managers in educational settings need to see their staff as contibutors to, and developers of, the collective knowledge of the institution. This can only be achieved if a clear information policy is in place.

Training needs to be available as staff need it, and not just when it is convenient to the institution to provide it. This flexibility is something that Web based training can provide. The full text of this key paper is provided at the end of this section.

Paper 2 Braille through Remote Learning

To demonstrate the ways in which ICT is currently being used to deliver training in braille in the USA, the reader contained information about the Shodor Education Foundation's Website: http://www.shodor.org/braille/

This website includes the following sections:

Paper 3 Learning Space

The final research paper described "Learning Space", a "distributed" learning environment which provides a technological platform for distance learning. The learning environment has been recently developed by the Lotus Institute and will be brought to the market by Lotus Education and IBM. The first section of the paper describes the rising demand for part-time continuing education. The second section describes the need for flexible access to, and delivery of, continuing education. The third section defines distance and distributed learning and presents a framework for categorising existing solutions with respect to the integration of learning objectives, instructional models and technology. The fourth section is concerned with the product and service known as 'Learning Space' and provides examples of how it might be used by a student and instructor and the fifth section describes some of the possible future ways in which the product might. The full text of the paper is available on:

Paper 1 Full Text
Information Society Technologies and competence development in special education

The terms around new net technologies can be very confusing. In the area of teaching and education, these terms and the discussion about them often lead to debates between colleagues and co-workers. There are often very different opinions about these matters. It is my argument that some of these differences are due to misunderstandings of what the terms cover.

I see 3 categories of explanations.

To most peoples ears, the term "distant learning" is probably the most common. I see that as a problem, because this term often creates an image where the student sits in his remote study all by himself. He does not have any contact with the teacher, except when he either receives or sends mail. It's understandable that a situation like that is hard to consider as education in the sense that we would like to see it.

I do understand why many teachers may se distant learning like this, because this is often how the net based education is carried out.

I plead for a different understanding of the possibilities that exist within these net technologies. But to approach these new fields I would like to quote the researchers at the CTU - Denmark's national information centre for technology supported learning. They asked a lot of teachers about their attitude toward new technology in the school system.

CTU found 2 main groups:

Besides that, the inquiry uncovered 2 minor groups:

How can education via new net technologies be more that distant learning? The answer requires that we look into different methods of teaching (horizontal) combined with different goals for learning (vertical).

Changing of mental processes, reflection     X
Training of skills   X  
Information transfer X    
  Teacher centred Student centred Team centred

Here it's obvious to see that teacher centred and information transfer are linked, and so on. But if we put the net technologies into this table, then it's clear how the technologies link to different ways of teaching.

Changing of mental processes, reflection     Collaborative education
Training of skills   Interactive education  
Information transfer Distributed education    
  Teacher centred Student centred Team centred

Examples of net technologies:

Distributed education

Interactive education:

Collaborative education:

If the training of teachers moves towards these methods, what will happen to the role of the teacher? The main purpose of the teacher will be to:

The consequences for the training college or university

A net based approach means that the working method must be integrated in the institution itself, in such a way that learning and development of competence can be part of more complex learning environments in other educational systems. The education must be available when the need for development occurs in the field of practice. The education must be flexible so it can be offered throughout life, and it must be aimed at several different levels. It must be an integrated part of the institution, not just something for students in rule areas. (In the USA, you can see that up to 80% of the net based education is used by student who are on campus)

This is a challenge to us all, but in my opinion the most difficult task exists in our own beliefs. I'll illustrate that with a quote by Seymour Papert "The real enemy we have to fight is the idea, that you just install computers in an unchanged environment - and then start out into the technology wonderland" This is why a workshop like this is important. It can chan-ge our ways of thinking.

Subjects for discussion:


Peter Rodney (Denmark)
Kerstin Fellenius (Sweden)
Christina Kovacs (Hungary)
Steve McCall (UK)
Marie Renee Hector (France)
Vitas Purlys (Lithuania)
Frans Meyer (Netherlands)
Mirela Arion (Romania)
Harry Svensson (Sweden)
Martina Kobolkova (Slovak Republic)

Access to Information and Information Technology can be seen as a key one for the development of both children with a visual impairment and their teachers. Technology can improve children's access to the curriculum at school and later to compete for employment in the workplace. Teachers therefore need to develop their own competencies in technology in order to enable children to maximise their opportunities in school and afterwards.

Information technology also affords opportunities for teacher trainers. It can help them deliver training more efficiently. It allows them to train more teachers cheaply and efficiently. Teacher trainers can communicate with their colleagues in other countries, exchange ideas, course materials and texts. It enables teachers who are in training to exchange ideas and learn from their trainers and each other without travelling to meetings.

It was the second of these aspects that the group was to explore - the potential for using internet technology to improve the training of teachers across Europe.

The facilitators, chair and secretary met before the start of the workshop. The question to be addressed was agreed "How can we offer better training to our students in teacher training through technology?"

The planners felt that some participants might expect that the workshop would address issues relating to the use of technology by children, so it was agreed that the scope of the workshop should be clarified from the start.



A range of techniques developed to encourage interactive learning were adopted during the two days. For most sessions, participants were asked to work in pairs and to reflect back to the group their partner's views rather than their own. Participants were encouraged to draw upon their own experiences with technology and to examine their student's attitudes towards it. Brainstorming was used to investigate issues such as the nature of Distance Education.

The group used the conference centre's screen projection system to investigate websites on-line in real time. Further information about the processes adopted by the group is provided in the accounts of the sessions below.



The facilitator began by emphasising that teacher preparation was the concern of the workshop. He outlined the debate that had taken place in the planning process.

The definition of technology for the purposes of the workshop was "computers".
He defined 3 ways that learning and computers could be considered:

  1. Learning about computers
  2. Learning with computers
  3. Learning through computers

The workshop was concerned with 3) - Learning through computers.

The participants were asked to analyse their own attitudes to computers, the attitudes they found among the teachers they were training and then they were invited to consider how their own attitudes to learning affected the way they think about the use of computers in education.

Personal attitudes to computers

Three questions were defined

  1. For what purposes do you use computers in your daily work in teacher training?
  2. How did you develop your own skills?
  3. How have your attitudes changed?


It was clear that everyone in the group made extensive use of computers in their teacher training. Uses included:

The older members of the group remembered their first contacts with computers. These were usually large industrial computers that used Fortran and recorded information on cards. They never imagined that they could be used for anything other than data processing.
Younger members first met computers (early PCs) in school where they were already being used to promote learning.

The members of the group now all made extensive use of computers in their work. This had generally developed from initial use for personal word processing eg preparing reports, writing timetables to gradually more sophisticated uses involving the delivery of learning through the internet. Most of the group were largely self taught and had attended very few training courses.


The advent of the internet had a profound effect on some participants " It was the most important day in my life, the world changed for ever".
Others felt that computers were helpful aids which helped them to do the same work they did before but more efficiently.

Peter Rodney presented information on research in Denmark into the attitudes of schoolteachers towards technology.
There were 4 broad categories. Teachers who:

80% of the teachers in the study in Denmark were equally distributed between categories 1 or 2.
In our group, 2 of the participants categorised themselves under the third category, 6 in the fourth category.

Most people felt that it was difficult to categorise their own students because attitudes constantly changed. There were certainly some teachers who found computers very threatening and avoided using them but it was clear that many teachers appreciated their potential as learning tools.

It was clear that the future of teacher training would increasingly involve computer-based learning. It was likely to run alongside face-to face learning.

Distance Learning

A brainstorming session presented different views of Distance Learning. Its great strengths were in the flexibility it offered to learners, instant access to a wide range of information from databases, on-line training courses, freedom in the timing and location of study. It was a cheap and efficient method of delivering training to large numbers of teachers.

However it laid the burden of responsibility for learning upon on the teacher rathr than the trainer. It could also be seesn as an isolating experience where the trainer sat at the middle of the spiders web of students controlling and monitoring everything that went on. To be successful, Peter argued, web-based learning required new instructional models to be developed.

Instructional Models for Web-Based Learning.

Peter Rodney defined 3 kinds of learning objectives: information transfer, skill acquirement, changing mental models. He also defined 3 instructional models: instructor centred, learner centred and learning team centred.
Members of the group were asked to define their own instructional styles and the type of learning objectives they were aiming for with their students. At the simplest level distance education could be used for instructor-centred information transfer, but it also had the potential to be used to build learning teams which could change mental models (such as attitudes towards disability).

Most participants felt they currently employed elements of all the above instructional methods and learning objectives. They varied according to the task they were performing, the level of knowledge of the teachers they were working with, and the environment where they were working.

Net Technologies

The participants were asked to consider the statement that

"The real enemy we are fighting against is the idea that we just install computers into an unchanged pedagogic environment and start out into the new technological wonderland".

Peter Rodney returned to the material presented in the workshop materials.

He introduced the additional consideration of the different kinds of net technologies available:

distribution technologies
- TV programmes , fax
interactive technologies
- interctive websites, interactive CD Roms where the individual interacts with the technology
collaborative technologies
- online group discussions, shared applications, online group problem solving.

The key decision is to identify the types of net technology which fits best with the different elements of the curriculum. In Denmark two thirds of the course is still face to face but the net is likely to become increasingly important.

The group was asked to consider how the different elements of the curriculum in their own programmes could be delivered using their new technologies and what problenms were foreseen.

The group did not see the new technologies replacing face-to-face training but enabling more flexible training models such as part-time training and distance learning.


Lack of technical resources: in some countries there was no access to the technology outside the major cities. The technology was very expensive and there was relatively little opportunity for training.

Lack of human resources: there was a lack of knowledge about IT and therefore resistance to the changes among some teachers and teacher trainers - teachers and teacher trainers need to be able to use and design and web pages. Attitudes of both governments and teachers needed to change. It was necessary to embed technology within training.

In some countries (eg France) the fact that most of the materials were available in English was a major consideration.

In some countries (eg Lithuania, Slovak Republic) the resources were concentrated around bases usually either in universities or schools. The role of these centres might be to introduce groups teachers to the technology and its potential. Use in theses situations might be limited to communication of information to schools using EMail.

In other countries (eg Romania) the internet could be used to develop more flexible methods of teacher training in universities. A pilot project has just begun in Romania to link the University with the local school for the blind.

4.1 The case studies

Case study 1: Denmark
Training for specialist teachers on the Internet

This session took place in the IT room. Peter Rodney demonstrated the programme he was involved in Denmark.

The project in Denmark began because there was no traditional training programme for specialist teachers. The on-line programme has been running for two years and can be viewed at http://www.dhl.dk/psyc/slu/syn/

The programme is organised around both face to face and online teaching. The teachers use the online rogramme to prepare for the face-to -face sessions and to communicate with their tutors and their felloew students. All students are expected to be computer literate and to be able to use English. The materials are accessible for both print and braille users. The on-line site is presented around themes such as braille, mobility, low vision. It contained information about the coming programme, learning materials prepared by the course tutors and links to relevant sites around the world. The site contained recommended reading, the students were asked questions and given problems to solve.

The interactive nature of the site allowed the student to communicate directly with their tutor and with each other in on-line discussion groups.

Case study 2: Sweden
In-service training for non-specialist teachers

One of the facilitators described a project which is now in its second year which is concerned with using the internet to train class teachers who are working in mainstream schools with a child with a visual impairment.

The internet was used to present on-line lectures by the facilitators and her colleagues. The internet was also used for on-line conferences chaired by the course tutor in which teachers from different schools could compare their work and share ideas.

The school enters into a contract with the University which specifies the nature and conditions of the training programme. The work on the internet is supported by face-to-face training sessions which are organised throughout the year. Further information about the programme can be obtained by contacting the website on http://www.ndu.sih.se.



Distance/Flexible/Open learning through the internet is a vital tool in the present and future development of teacher training for teachers of the VI at a European level. It serves to strengthen and complement existing face-to-face teaching and learning.

We believe that:



The following books were particularly recommended for those wishing to find out more about distance education methods based upon internet technology:

[ Previous Topic ] [ Table of Contents ] [ Next Topic ]