Solutions to Teacher Technology Training

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Each holding a graphing calculator, a group of twenty math and science teachers munched on bagels and talked excitedly in small groups during a summer workshop about using newfound skills in their classrooms. At the front of the large, airy room, a veteran teacher from another New Jersey district, who had just presented the training session, chatted with the training site’s director. A copy of New Jersey’s Core Curriculum Content Standards sat on the table in front of him along with a jar of M&M candies. In answer to how the session was going, one of the math teachers told a visitor, "This is the best inservice I’ve ever had."

This training session, one of many offered during the summer of 1999, took place at the Camden County (NJ) Educational Technology Training Center. The ETTC, as it is known locally, is one of twenty-one educational training locations in New Jersey, each targeted to serve one of the state’s counties. Funded through Federal Goals 2000 legislation, the New Jersey ETTCs were started in the fall of 1997 to provide dedicated sites for school teachers, staff and administrators for training on combining technology with classroom instruction. Disadvantaged school districts are a special focus of the ETTCs, along with programming grounded in New Jersey’s statewide curriculum standards.

Camden County’s ETTC

Each ETTC is run through a local school district, serves a specific county, and — except for a few that are located on college campuses — most are positioned in school buildings. The Camden County ETTC is staffed by a full-time director, technician and help desk assistant, all funded through the original grant. Full-time and part-time trainers come from local school districts, partner businesses, other private and public training providers, grants associated with the center, and Rowan University. Starting their third year in September 1999, New Jersey’s ETTCs are reaching their goal of becoming self-supporting through revenues generated by workshop fees, associated grants, business/school partnerships and in-kind support from school districts.

The Camden County ETTC is the largest and among the most successful of New Jersey’s twenty-one centers, having trained over 5,400 teachers and other school staff members since opening its doors in October 1997. Located on one of the campuses of the Camden County Technical Schools (CCTS), the ETTC is in a district that takes its technology leadership role in the region seriously. The district has a 2:1 ratio of computers to students with over 1,500 computers linked through both wide-area and local-area networks connecting two campuses that are about twenty miles apart. The district’s technology resources have been developed around a five-year plan and are funded almost entirely through grants rather than local resources.

The district’s computer network supports both PC and Mac environments and has 24-hour, high-speed access to the Internet from every computer via cable modem. The network is designed like those at bank automated teller machines: users can go anywhere in the district and have access to all personal files and data from any one of the 1,500 computers. Students store all their work centrally and can retrieve it from any classroom, library or lab they use during the school day.

District software is administered centrally using a set of tightly structured, specific desktop models, allowing for cost-efficient technology management. Six employees manage all 1,500 computers, related peripherals, servers and software. Software access is customized for each student or staff member based on a profile related to the courses or needs of that particular user.

The technology capacity of the school district gave it the edge in competing to be the local district to house the county’s ETTC. In addition, the board of education provided a small, underutilized building (6,548 square feet) to house the center. The building was designed in the 1970s as an "open" facility. The lack of walls and continuous flow of one space to the other has made it an ideal setting for Mac and PC computer labs, a distance learning area, meeting spaces, and hardware/software demo sites.

The interaction made possible by the building’s open design allows the teachers who use it to move freely to see the latest Mac and PC hardware, talk to other teachers in the state through portable distance learning devices, observe a working local area network, and review the latest versions of classroom software. A small kitchen in the building remains from its original use, making it self-contained for providing snacks, lunch and beverages for the workshops held there.

Partnerships Are Key

Although having good food helps, finance and funding are the engines that drive any kind of teacher training. From its beginning, the ETTC involved corporate and business partners to offset the costs of training and provide teachers with the technology to deliver instruction to students. During its start-up year, almost $100,000 in donated corporate support in the form of hardware, software, infrastructure, discounts and services helped the Camden County ETTC assure its own success.

Initial business partners included American Telephone Wiring, Apple, Banyan, Compaq, Evertech, Garden State Cable and 3Com. The district worked closely with each of these partners in the development of its network. The partners provided written commitment to a continuing relationship with the ETTC in its grant application.

Partners made donations in a variety of ways: 3Com provided its latest hubs and routers as demo units; both Apple and Compaq provided file servers that are still being used to link the ETTC’s computers; and American Telephone Wiring added one network drop for each one the district purchased (about 40 free drops at the center). Banyan Vines gave and has updated network software; Evertech, a local hardware vendor, donated new computer systems, a computer image projector and servers; Apple gave discounted training; and Garden State Cable provided a free Internet connection.

Corporate partnerships have evolved successfully because business representatives were included in the ETTC’s planning stage. As district personnel wrote the initial grant application, business partners were involved in designing the facility and defining services and training. They walked through the facility with school partners as the grant was being developed, giving suggestions and visualizing how their companies could be represented. Business partners were featured in the ETTC’s opening ceremonies and have had a place in continuing activities.

Stewardship of the business partners and continued outreach to additional businesses by the ETTC and district personnel brought more partners on board as the training center’s programs have expanded. The relationship that CCTS established with Texas Instruments started in September 1998 when a representative from the company visited the Camden County ETTC. It has evolved into a statewide partnership for training math and science teachers in using hand-held technology.

From that initial visit, Texas Instruments designed a program to be delivered to 63 "best of the best" science and math teachers in the state. The advantage to the ETTCs is that these trained teachers agreed to teach summer institutes and workshops in hand-held technology applications during the course of the following school year. This fits well with the "train the trainer" model of staff development, which is part of the ETTC’s mission. Texas Instruments also awarded several mini-grants of $4,000 to the ETTCs to host summer math/science institutes.

Raising money to support the training is an ongoing part of the ETTC director’s job. During the initial year of operation in Camden County, most training programs were free. The strategy was to offer high quality training without cost with the initial infusion of grant funds so that educators in local districts could experience the kind of training offered and would be willing to pay for a product they recognized as worthwhile in subsequent years. This has worked well. During the second year of operation, the ETTC began charging fees to cover trainer, materials and overhead costs. The grant still pays for the three personnel running the center.

Going forward, the business plan for the center projects increasing revenues to cover salaries as well. Since New Jersey is mandating ongoing training for veteran teachers starting in September 2000, the center’s director believes that the ETTC’s established reputation for providing high quality training will make it the place that local administrators and teachers will look to for training.

Diversified Training

The center functions year-round, loading as much training as possible into the summer months when teachers can freely attend. It also provides on-site and off-site training through the school year. Even in the middle of winter the ETTC is a busy place. For example, during February 1998 a partial list of the ETTC’s activities included an introduction to the Internet for two groups of teachers; training on E-rate applications for business administrators; training and a tour for a group of potential teachers from Rowan University; and a county-wide inservice for elementary, middle and high school teachers and supervisors on integrating state standards into content areas using technology.

The training provided through the ETTC targets not only teachers, but also those who support them in districts. The ETTC has provided all 37 districts in the county with classes on building local school technology plans. It has helped school technology personnel network through a series of workshops featuring a speaker followed by open discussion of local problems and solutions. When some district superintendents asked for introductory training to keep up with their staff and students, the ETTC provided a "superintendents only" workshop geared to their identified needs. Through its partnership with Rowan University, the ETTC provided technology classes for liberal arts students pursuing New Jersey’s "alternate route" to teacher certification. The center also helped several school districts in the county prepare their own successful technology grant applications.

As it has developed processes and programs to serve the needs of county schools, the ETTC has occasionally run into unforeseen obstacles. For example, in order to get word of its training into the hands of all 6,000 county teachers, the ETTC director found she could not rely on her Web site alone. The small brochure that resulted from this obstacle provides each teacher in the county with a handy annotated list of courses and the details associated with them.

In another example, the director found that by offering courses after the regular school day, on Saturdays, and loading up the summer with programs, schools were able to extend training opportunities to more than the limited number of staff they could release during the school day. In addition, she addressed the problem of release time by using a grant-funded portable laptop computer lab to take training off the CCTS campus onto other school sites.

Anticipating the funding problems associated with the end of grant support in the 2001 school year, the ETTC director has extended training to other business and governmental agencies in the county during times when the center is not used by teachers. For example, the ETTC offered workshops on Internet crime to the county’s police, federal law enforcement and school officials. Through the Cherry Hill Regional Chamber of Commerce, the ETTC will offer training to county businesses starting in September 1999. The ETTC itself will offer technical assistance to local school districts at their sites on how to set up networks, wire their schools, and troubleshoot technology problems at an hourly rate.

The success of the Camden County ETTC has provided the Technical School District with the basis for success in other competitive grants. It was awarded funding to provide e-mail service and training to all county schools in one grant that ended in the summer of 1999. In another starting about the same time, it received funding to purchase equipment, transmission capacity and software to serve as the electronic bridge connecting elementary and secondary world language classes throughout the southern New Jersey area.

"Each new source of revenue builds on our technology capacity and supports the district’s long-range technology plan," CCTS district superintendent R. Sanders Haldeman acknowledged. "Technical schools have always played a part in providing customized training to local businesses. School districts are among the most important big businesses that communities have. We’re happy to be a part of preparing schools and their personnel for the new century."

Preparation for the Future

In New Jersey, part of the preparation for the new century is the infusion of technology into all basic classroom content areas. Each county’s Educational Technology Training Center helps classroom teachers, like those in the Texas Instrument-sponsored classes, learn to model technology at the same time that they teach their students to use it. Graphing calculators, for example, enable students to visualize complicated math and science concepts. Combining these calculators with low cost supplies like M&Ms, teachers can demonstrate complicated concepts such as statistical probability both visually and memorably — after all, not all experiments can be eaten at the end of the lesson and involve chocolate!

Susan E. Smith is assistant superintendent at Camden County Technical Schools. As part of her administrative duties, she supervises the district’s technology personnel and writes grants focused on increasing technology capacity within the district’s schools.

e-mail: ssmith@ccts.tec.nj.us

 


The Web address for the Camden County ETTC is http://www.ccts-ettc.org/ettc. Links to other ETTCs within the state and to state curriculum standards are located there. The ETTC director, Patty Null, can be contacted via e-mail at pnull@ccts.tec.nj.us. Paul Williams, the district technology coordinator, can provide information on the school district’s technology capacity, design and services. His e-mail address is pwilliams@ccts.tec.nj.u.

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.

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