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Pennsylvania: Technology's Potential, Promise for Enhancing Student Learning

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Technology is a tool that has the potential to empower educational leaders at all levels - whether they are superintendents, principals, teachers, board members or state officials - as well as to redefine what education means in the 21st century. Technology provides us with more accurate information and advanced communication capabilities. We can use technology to improve management and operations systems, as well as to identify proven instructional methods.

We currently see how technology is fundamentally changing education, making the classroom more student-centered and learning more student-driven. The school day is extending beyond the classroom walls into a 24/7 educational process. Yet, the challenge for leaders is not only about recognizing the benefits technology provides, it is also about leading others to see technology's potential and its promise. Ultimately, the challenge is about helping all stakeholders use technology to transform the culture of education to enhance student performance.

Professional Development for Leaders

In order to accomplish this, leaders must become comfortable and familiar with the technology and the benefits it provides. We have been offering professional development opportunities to Pennsylvania administrators for several years through our Technology Leadership Academies (TLAs). These are a series of intensive, multifaceted, technology-rich professional development programs created in response to research findings indicating that administrators who understand the role and power of technology in education are better equipped to lead districts into technology initiatives. Superintendents, principals, business managers and school board members have been trained to be technology leaders through coursework on technology and on utilizing technology in strategic management, as well as through ongoing peer sharing and extensive practice. This program was recently expanded to include assistant superintendents and assistant principals, and we look forward to providing this opportunity to curriculum directors and technology coordinators in the near future.

While Pennsylvania principals have engaged in professional development at the TLAs - designed to promote both technology leadership and the utilization of technology in effective management practices - we are providing minigrants to assist TLA graduate principals in implementing their strategies for technology integration at the teacher and student levels. Funded projects will use handheld computers to facilitate the creation of easily replicable models that support an inexpensive and versatile technology, as well as focus on innovative applications that directly impact student performance.

In addition, we are focused on capacity building throughout the educational system. Knowledge and technology skills should be continually assessed so that professional development programs meet the immediate needs of administrators and teachers. We will also define technological expectations and continue to evaluate and monitor all staff members' progress toward technology proficiency.

A focus on educator training will be critical to the effectiveness of this technology implementation since teachers are the linchpins for technology integration in the classroom. Effective teachers who are attentive to the goal of quality instruction are using technology as a tool to get there. Therefore, we must establish programs for ongoing professional development on the applicability and benefits of technology, while sharing and supporting our successes.

Effectively Implementing Instructional Technology

In collaboration with the Pennsylvania Intermediate Units, we developed and deliver "Core Teaching Skills for an Information Age," a customizable, nine-module professional development program designed to assist commonwealth teachers in creating standards-based, technology-rich learning experiences for students. Participants focus on integrating technology into the content, grade level and school curriculum that they teach in order to gain practical skill sets, as well as to discover tools and resources specific to their needs.

A new program called "Keystones" celebrates model practices of teachers throughout Pennsylvania. With a daily discussion of "highly qualified" teachers as the baseline requirement for instructors in each classroom, we want to recognize those educators who far exceed those specifications. These teachers bring to the classroom all of the content, motivational and management expertise to capture students' imaginations and harness learning in our children. As "Keystones: Technology Integrators," these teachers use technology to foster student curiosity and creativity, as well as engage students in meaningful problem-solving activities. They share the joy of teaching with their colleagues, as well as promote collaboration and communication in their learning communities. We look to these teacher leaders to help build capacity throughout the educational system by sharing their practices and acting as mentors to colleagues.

In addition to providing resources and training to our current teachers, the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology is working in collaboration with its Office of Postsecondary and Higher Education to design a program which ensures that teacher candidates receive thorough training on how to use technology as a mechanism for improving instruction. While these efforts will include resources and training for higher education faculty, the major focus of this initiative is to assist teacher candidates in implementing instructional technology effectively, as well as using student data to assess and modify instruction.

Students as Leaders

Students also play a significant role in supporting teacher and administrator leadership. Whether done informally after class or through a more formal mechanism such as scheduled workshops, schools harness the advanced technology skills of students to develop administrative familiarity with the latest applications of technology, as well as to help teachers present technology-infused lessons that pique learners' interests.

The annual Pennsylvania High School Computer Fair provides local, regional and statewide opportunities for high school students to showcase their technological prowess and unleash their creativity. Supported by strong mentors, participants gain something invaluable - the ability to convey information more dynamically, the capacity for deeper cognitive learning, and the empowerment to strengthen their talents while expressing their own ideas.

Both state and local leaders must engage all stakeholders in the development of a shared technology vision, as well as garner the resources and support to realize that vision. The Office of Educational Technology recently teamed up with educational organizations across the commonwealth to create one comprehensive venue for everyone in the K-16 audience to discuss all issues regarding technology in the educational arena. Designed to support educators, administrators and technology professionals, the annual Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo & Conference (PETE & C) provides hands-on workshops, sessions, student showcases and vendor displays.

By first understanding and then promoting highly effective practices in technology, leaders can ensure that the technology vision and the strategic technology plan are not only communicated and implemented, but also integrated into an overall district educational vision. Without leadership and capacity building at all levels, any educational reforms we undertake will eventually fade away. Visionaries need support in order to make ideas become policies, as well as to put those policies into practice. Since technology is only one aspect of teaching and administration, we must be sure to integrate state and local technology efforts with other leadership initiatives in order to move Pennsylvania schools successfully to the vanguard of both educational and technological reform focused on the ultimate goal: student learning.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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