Fulfilling the Need for a Technology Integration Specialist
School-based technology specialists go by many names: technology coordinators, technology integration specialists, technology support specialists, instructional technology coordinators, technology mentor teachers, curriculum technology partners, educational technologists, coaches, expert trainers, technology support coordinators, and site-based technology facilitators - to name just a few. Their job descriptions also vary and range from being primarily computer lab teachers to full-time teacher consultants. For the purposes of this article, we define technology coordinators as school- or district-based coordinators or directors who have the responsibility of overseeing infrastructure, equipment, purchases and integration. We define a technology integration specialist as a school-based position whose primary concern is empowering teachers to harness the power of technology integration for student learning.
The Current Role of a Technology Coordinator
A massive effort has been undertaken to bring technology into schools. In fact, many advocates have promised a technological revolution in the way students learn and teachers teach. To support this proposed shift, K-12 schools are currently making an investment of more than $7 billion a year in technology (QED 2001). However, while the number of computers accessible in schools and Internet access rose dramatically in the mid- to late 1990s, computer usage by students in schools only saw a modest increase (Williams 2000).
Cuban (2000) notes: “Two decades after the introduction of personal computers in the nation, with more and more schools being wired and billions of dollars being spent, less than two of every 10 teachers are serious users of computers in their classrooms (several times a week). Three to four are occasional users (about once a month). The rest - four to five teachers of every 10 teachers - never use the machines for instruction.”
In a national survey of more than 4,000 teachers from grades 4-12, Becker (2001) corroborates this assertion, noting that students most frequently encounter computers in schools in four contexts: separate courses in computer education, vocational education, exploratory uses in elementary school classes, and the use of word processing to prepare assignments. Beyond these areas, technology use is spotty at best.
Increased access to technology in schools has clearly not yet transformed teaching and learning. And even where technology is frequently used, it is most often used for skill-and-drill work, which usually only benefits lower-performing students (Becker 2001; Mann 1999; Reeves 1998; Schacter 1999). Moreover, limiting the use of computer technology to these types of programs misses powerful opportunities to support higher-order thinking skills through constructivist activities (Becker 2001).
However, using technology in more student-centered, constructivist ways can be a daunting challenge for many classroom teachers. For example, engaging students in inquiry projects using Web-based resources, computer simulation activities, digital probes and other tools requires substantial technical and pedagogical support. Teachers need assistance in knowing which software, technology or interactive tool supports each specific educational goal, as well as which ones provide support in using technology effectively on a daily basis.
Teachers need both technical and pedagogical support to effectively use technology. This pedagogical support is typically offered by existing technology coordinators or by other technology-savvy teachers. As schools have become more technologically sophisticated, the responsibilities of the technology coordinator have increased as well. The technology coordinator can easily get caught up in the hardware part of his or her job (e.g., wiring, setting up labs, troubleshooting), rather than showing teachers how to use the equipment and how to incorporate it into their instruction. These diverse responsibilities make it difficult, if not impossible, for the technology coordinators to offer direct instruction to teachers and staff.
Innovative, tech-savvy teachers frequently offer great advice and examples to other teachers for implementing technology in learning, but are challenged with meeting their own teaching obligations. Further, such teachers may not be able to provide wide-reaching support to all grades and content areas. The proposed technology integration specialist can supplement current technical support positions by addressing the pedagogical needs of teachers.
The Need for a New Role
Spending on hardware and software generally dominates K-12 technology budgets, while money for support, training and professional development d'es not keep pace. Therefore, computers remain on the periphery of the classroom experience - not used to their full potential and offering little impact on learning.
School technology integration specialists can change this pattern by partnering and consulting with teachers. This technology integration specialist is a member of a technology support team that includes individuals who maintain hardware, administer the network, oversee the Web site, and obtain funding through grants and partnerships. Currently, 16% of schools in the nation are making use of this model for teacher support and staff development (Kleiner and Farris 2002). Since these positions are relatively new in the schools, the literature is more descriptive than research based.
The proposed technology integration specialist position is closely aligned with the desires of school districts nationwide. For instance, the “2003-2009 Educational Technology Plan for Virginia” describes the role of instructional technologists as those who “work with teachers, other staff members, and students to enhance instruction through the use of technology in the classroom. These support people help teachers integrate technology into classrooms, train teachers to use technology and electronic software effectively, help with curriculum and content development that utilizes educational technology resources, aid with classroom management, co-teach using technology, create training aids, participate in the selection of appropriate educational software to augment class content, and assist students with technology-related activities or projects. They are experienced, licensed educators who possess a combination of good academic and technical knowledge.”
Position in Practice
A recent study reviewed a school district using technology integration specialists in most of its schools. In each case, the technology integration specialist fulfilled a number of roles (Scot 2004). The position in implementation became more than just a person who helped to advance technology use; these teachers became global leaders in the schools and change agents for curricular and pedagogical renewal. In addition, they fulfilled an important role in policy implementation, acting as communication conduits from the superintendent, through the central office, through the school administration, to the classroom teachers, and back again in the other direction.
Several factors influence their ability to become global leaders. The first is that they have unencumbered time during the day. They set their own schedules and are able to be flexible to meet the needs of teachers as they arise. Technology integration teachers meet directly with many grade-level teams for curriculum planning. They also work with students when invited, consult with teachers on an as-requested basis, plan and deliver staff development workshops, as well as work on grants and other whole-school endeavors.
Technology integration specialists are a somewhat disruptive force in the normal way of teaching in the school: they are change agents. The specialists suggest new ways of teaching, demonstrate new equipment, bring in new resources and create new policies. They use their credibility as a classroom teacher and their knowledge of teaching strategies to help design lessons and plan projects with the teachers. These specialists also use their position to make technology visible. Understanding the global impact of this position should influence hiring decisions. The need for possessing excellent people skills, flexibility and a global perspective far outweigh the need for technology expertise.
Beattie (2000) states: “The job description of the IT specialist is, indeed, evolving, and schools may not be fully conscious of what they are looking for, preferring the judicious approach of ‘we’ll know it when we see it.’ ” This proposal leaves many questions unanswered. What budget justification can be used to support a new faculty member? Where can technology integration specialists be found? How can teachers and media specialists be trained to fulfill this new role? These are all important and challenging questions. The first step is to identify the role, moving beyond the “we’ll know it when we see it” approach.
In addition, Beattie stresses that the job market will provide IT specialists with this new skill set if the schools offer the leadership and demand it. Similarly, justification will come in making the money spent on education technology worthwhile as teachers feel more comfortable having a partner to guide them in their use of technology.
The creation of this new position is not the final answer. It will, however, tie technology closer to curriculum, provide teachers the support they need to change their instruction, and tap into the potential of technology to enhance teaching and learning.
Wanted: Technology Integration Specialist
For schools wishing to employ a Technology Integration Specialist, a sample job description has been provided that can be used in “position description” announcements:
School district seeks Technology Integration Specialists to assist teachers in elementary, middle and high schools enhance learning through improved integration of technology. The primary focus of the Technology Integration Specialist is to enrich and support teaching and learning while strengthening the technology skills of students, teachers and staff. Ideal candidates should work well with others, be skilled in team management, have a background in instructional design, and have clear goals and strategies for integrating technology into instruction. Teaching experience is also required.
This is a 12-month position and reports directly to the principal. The position has some administrative responsibilities in coordinating teams, consulting on technology budgets, supervising training activities, establishing technology policies, and proposing learning objectives for staff as they relate to technology. Successful candidates will not be responsible for maintaining the school or district Web site, monitoring and troubleshooting computer labs, maintaining computer networks, or providing technical support to schools or districts.
- Collaborate with teachers to support their use of technology in delivery of curricula through a variety of instructional methods. In partnership, the Technology Integration Specialist and the teacher will work toward integrating the use of hardware, software and Internet resources in support of student learning and assisting teachers in meeting state and national standards for subject-area and technology-learning objectives.
- Create learning resources for teachers, staff and students. These may include Web sites, tutorials, interactive programs and databases that support teachers in integrating technology. Ideally, teachers will be guided and encouraged to develop their own resources, while the Technology Integration Specialist will support these efforts by providing additional support as needed.
- Structure the technology education of teachers. Though the Technology Integration Specialist may not directly conduct all training, lab work or classes regarding computer use, he or she will coordinate instruction to meet technology proficiency goals. Additional instruction of parents or community members may also strengthen students’ technology skills.
- Consult on the technology budget for computer resources, including hardware, software, learning resources and training needs.
- Recommend and, in some cases, purchase hardware, software and related resources.
- Identify trends in software, curriculum, teaching strategies and other educational areas.
- Assess technology skill levels of students, teachers and staff.
- Create, maintain and oversee integration of the school’s technology plan with a technology committee.
In addition to experience in related responsibilities, the applicant should have:
- Teaching experience.
- An understanding of key learning theories and methods of instruction, and their relation to technology integration.
- Familiarity with methods for integrating technology into the curriculum such as WebQuests, online resources, digital portfolios and other forms of assessment.
- Experience with effective technology teaching strategies in teaching software and hardware skills.
- Technology skills in up-to-date computer software, including word processing, database, spreadsheet, Web page development, presentation, digital video and audio editing, image processing, and graphics applications.
Beattie, R. 2000. “The Truth About Tech Support.” Electronic School, September. Online: http://www.electronic-school.com/2000/09/0900f3.html.
Becker, H. 2001. “How Are Teachers Using Computers in Instruction?” Paper presented at the 2001 Meetings of the American Educational Research Association. April. Online: http://www.crito.uci.edu/tlc/findings/conferences-pdf/how_are_teachers_using.pdf.
Commonwealth of Virginia Board of Education. 2003. “Educational Technology Plan for Virginia 2003-09.” 29 April. Online: http://www.pen.k12.va.us/VD'E/Technology/plan2003-09.pdf.
Cuban, L. 2000. “So Much High-Tech Money Invested, So Little Use and Change in Practice: How Come?” Paper prepared for the Council of Chief State School Officers’ annual Technology Leadership Conference. Washington, D.C. January.
Kleiner A. and E. Farris. 2002 “Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994-2001.” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Online: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2000/2000086.pdf.
Mann, D. 1999. “Documenting the Effects of Instructional Technology: A Fly-Over of Policy Questions.” The Secretary’s Conference on Educational Technology – 1999. Online: http://www.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/techconf99/whitepapers/paper6.html.
Quality Education Data (QED). 2001. “School Market Trends: District Technology Forecast 2001-2002.” Denver.
Reeves, T. 1998. “The Impact of Media and Technology in Schools.” A research report prepared for The Bertelsmann Foundation. Online: http://www.athensacademy.org/instruct/media_tech/reeves0.html.
Schacter, J. 1999. “The Impact of Education Technology on Student Achievement: What the Most Current Research Has to Say.” Santa Monica, CA: Milken Foundation on Education Technology.
Scot, T.P. 2004. “Conditions, Processes and Consequences of Technology Integration: Policy to Practice. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Virginia.
Williams, C. “Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994-1999.” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Online: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2002/2002018.pdf.
This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.