The Power of Partnering

JAMES A. BERNAUER, Adjunct Professor Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf Pittsburgh, Pa. Although not all studies are unanimous in showing the effectiveness of technology for improving student achievement, teachers at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Pittsburgh, Pa. found the idea of integrating technology with instruction to be especially compelling since its visual nature seemed perfectly suited to the learning styles of deaf students. Consequently, during school year 1992-93, a high school science teacher and language arts teacher began to explore the use of interactive multimedia in their classrooms. Even though anecdotal evidence from these early projects supported the notion that technology seemed to improve student motivation and learning, time and cost restraints prevented further exploration or expansion within the school. It soon became apparent that without extra support and funding for technology, for the teachers’ released-time needed to develop and adapt materials, and for the training required to develop expertise among other teachers, the benefits observed from these pilot projects would more than likely be short-lived and of little value for school-level improvement. The Need for Partnering Needing additional support, we applied for a three-year $190,000 grant from the Buhl Foundation during the summer of 1993. In addition to equipment, the proposal stressed the need for shared teacher released-time to enable teachers to be able to experiment with the technology and to develop applications across the curriculum. Also, both Duquesne University and the Carnegie Science Center of Pittsburgh exhibited an early interest in our work and we began to explore possible cooperative activities. We were very excited to learn that we had been awarded the grant beginning with school year 1993-94. Later, we found out that we received the grant because our board, superintendent and principal had made a solid commitment to support technology infusion, and that we had a practical plan for achieving our goals. In addition, the fact that we had begun a collegial relationship with Duquesne University and the Carnegie Science Center was viewed as an important strength of our proposal since it provided us with additional expertise. Avoiding Pitfalls Some of the problems associated with attempts to introduce technology into schools is that it is often unused, underused, or seen by teachers and students as irrelevant to teaching and learning. Numerous instances have been reported in the literature "where teachers did not integrate [technology] into the curriculum and where learners did not make the promised gains."[1] Therefore, it was recognized from the beginning of the project that the key to success was teachers’ involvement and that their engagement would be dependent on their having shared daily released-time for exploration and development. Schedules were adjusted and released-time provided so teachers had an opportunity to work together during the day. They developed technology applications and planned for their integration into the curriculum. A full-time substitute teacher was hired so that released-teacher time would not compromise student learning. To ensure continuity from one year to the next, the science teacher, who had the most technology expertise, was designated as the lead teacher during the first year. The given responsibility was to train the other science teachers, as well as the language arts teacher who would become lead teacher in the second year. That teacher would then train the social studies teacher who would become lead teacher for the third year (fall of 1995). This plan has worked quite well and we found that skills such as video capture, QuickTime movie development, scanning, and hypermedia development occurred at a much faster rate than initially anticipated. Our Tools of Trade An Interactive Technology Lab (ITL) was established by the third month of the project in a room close to both the principal’s office as well as the lead science teacher’s classroom. During the first school year, six Interactive Technology Workstations (ITWs) were purchased and placed in the lab. Each ITW is a complete unit for software development and learning. It comprises a videodisc player, a Macintosh computer, a TV monitor, appropriate software, and video equipment for developing multimedia. Each of these workstations is mobile so that they can be moved around the school. One workstation (Quadra 840) is more powerful than the student workstations (Mac 660AVs) and is reserved specifically for teacher development of multimedia applications. All workstations are networked together as well as to the rooms of the lead science, language arts and social studies teachers to facilitate communication and curriculum development among teachers and students. We have recently begun to upgrade these computers with Power Macs and developed a plan for placing these older (yet still very useful) machines in individual teacher classrooms and in a newly created lab to serve the needs of primary and elementary students. Technology Integration The development team worked closely with the other high school science teachers to be sure that their work reflected the most important curricular goals. Initially, it was thought that the largest percentage of teacher time would be spent "re-mastering" videodiscs to make them more consistent with the language needs of deaf students; however, it was found that because of the high level of enthusiasm among students, "development" was a shared teacher-student responsibility. For example, teachers and students developed QuickTime movies (digital movie briefs transferred from a video camcorder to the computer screen) that showed students conducting actual lab experiments -- determining velocity, energy expended or pollution quotients -- and these movies were then integrated into the curriculum. By the end of school year 1993-94, teachers and students had developed a large array of hypermedia materials in science and a limited number in language arts. The science materials were fully integrated into our top-level chemistry, physics and biology classes. After students learned the fundamentals of multimedia development, we observed that they began to focus more on the planning aspect of their projects. They also demonstrated increased awareness of the design techniques needed for projects by critiquing each other’s work. Comments included their relevance to science objectives. Textbooks as well as a variety of technological resources such as CD-ROM were used by students to research their science topics and to plan ways to present their final products. Specific projects completed by students related to objectives in the following areas: Classification of Matter Structure of Matter The Chemistry of Medicine Forensic Chemistry Classification of Living Things The Human Body Systems Additional projects completed in cooperation with other science teachers related to objectives in the areas of Rocks and Minerals, Earthquakes, The Ocean; and the Physics of Sports. Through the cooperative arrangement with Duquesne University, students were able to use the Internet to access gopher sites and the World Wide Web for relevant curricular material. Students also communicated with other students across the country to discuss new ideas and research findings. Future Plans We have now finished the second year of technology integration and will focus on social studies development beginning with the 1995-96 school year. The first and second years of the project were considered very successful in terms of the development of the capacity for delivering technology-infused instruction and disseminating knowledge and skills. Our teachers have conducted professional development workshops for over 100 area teachers in cooperation with the Carnegie Science Center, both on our campus and at various school sites. In addition, another foundation has expressed interest in providing funding so that we can host a Summer Institute for area teachers and administrators. The purpose of this institute would be to provide hands-on experience for developing and integrating multimedia into curricula as well as for exploring the organizational and policy changes necessary for achieving success. From a pedagogical perspective, teachers remarked that they found themselves "standing around" as opposed to their former role of being center-stage and directing instruction. This transformation d'es not mean, however, that teachers had less work to do; rather, they reported most of their work occurred in the planning stage, not in delivering a completed curriculum. The use of multimedia integrated with instruction required teachers to spend a great deal of time "setting the stage" so their students would have problems to solve that required using print materials and live performances, as well as electronic media. As we prepare for the third year of our technology integration program, we recognize that our real goal is the continuous improvement of teaching and learning. Technology can be used to shape what is taught, how it is taught, and how learning might be assessed. We also recognize that there are areas where we have much yet to accomplish. For example, while we have begun to use alternative forms of assessment (such as performances and portfolios), we still rely too much on selected response items for measuring student achievement. While the community may be more familiar with this type of assessment, we need to further explore the relationship between emerging content standards and interactive technology and alternative methods of assessment that better match our educational goals. Partnering Breeds Success We are firmly convinced that our success has been due primarily to effective leadership, foundation and university partnering, and the teacher empowerment that has resulted. Our arrangement with Duquesne University, for example, d'es not mirror the customary one-way university-to-K-12 relationship where university experts periodically go into a school to train teachers to "fix" problems. Rather, a true reciprocal and mutually beneficial relationship has emerged and has come to be valued by both faculties. We are convinced that the achievements, enthusiasm, and positive attitudes shown by faculty and students have created an environment where technology serves as a powerful tool for creating a better teaching and learning environment. James Bernauer is a development officer and adjunct professor at Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Pittsburgh, Pa. E-mail: References & Suggested Reading: 1.Turner, T. (1993), "Adult Literacy, Technology, and the Future," NCAL Connections, pp. 5-6. 2.Bialo, E, & Sivin, J. (1990), Report on the Effectiveness of Microcomputers in Schools, Washington, DC: Software Publishers Association. Clark, R.E. (1985), "Evidence for Confounding in Computer-Based Instruction Studies: Analyzing the Meta-Analyses," Educational Communication & Technology Journal, 33(4), pp. 249-262.

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.

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