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The Impact of Standards-Based Technology Professional Development

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In an effort to meet local, state and federal demands for education reform, school leaders are scrambling to identify effective strategies for delivering and reporting on technology professional development and how it impacts school reform. School leaders nationwide are critically evaluating their return on investment as it relates to technology professional development. A vast array of programs, benchmarks and professional development designs have been created to meet the demands of No Child Left Behind, as well as a multitude of state and local reform initiatives.

We set out to create a study on the impact of focused standards-based professional development, including the use and implementation of ISTE's National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) in the classroom, as well as the need for data-based decision-making when providing district technology professional development. The study consisted of five phases: information gathering, identifying research-supported staff development criteria, creating the professional development plan, selecting a school corporation to implement the professional development plan, and data analysis.

In the information gathering stage, we identified that the assessable benchmarks in NETS have the basic criteria used in the MyTarget Web-based self-assessment measurement and analysis tool, which is created by iAssessment (online at http://mytarget.iassessment.org). MyTarget provides anytime accessibility, user anonymity and the ability to identify a variety of user technology skill strengths and weaknesses.

MyTarget consists of easy-to-interpret information that an educator can use to set personal technology implementation goals, assist an administrator in setting technology implementation goals, and aggregate data reports to gauge district progress in technology competency. NETS were our choice for standardized benchmark criteria and MyTarget was our assessment tool of choice.

After researching staff development criteria, we concluded that our plan should include site-based initiatives, time for collaboration and reflection, a commitment of resources, and opportunities for teachers to explore and apply new technology strategies in the classroom. With these criteria in mind, we identified Bloomfield's four stages of technology professional development as an excellent foundation (Crystal 2001):

  • Teacher buy-in — gaining cooperation from the beginning;
  • Assessment — using data to establish district teacher technology skill baselines for pre- and post-professional development assessment;
  • Creating differentiated training opportunities to accommodate adult learning and working styles; and
  • Time for collaborative follow-up and support.

Technology Coaches

During the planning phase of the project, we decided to select a school district with a manageably sized teacher population and a district willing to commit resources to technology professional development, so we chose Brownsburg Community School Corp. as our test site. Located outside of Indianapolis, Ind., Brownsburg Community School Corp. has about 5,400 students in its five elementary schools, one junior high, one high school and one alternative high school. It is also supported predominantly by property tax dollars. Its leaders support technology hardware equitability in all buildings and consistently evaluate the technology plan to ensure that all buildings have equitable equipment and connectivity.

Our professional development design included cross-curricular collaboration and a comprehensive professional development plan honoring differentiated learning styles. We were careful to align professional development opportunities with monetary resources and school improvement plans. It included pre- and post-data collection using the MyTarget online survey, on-site workshop opportunities and support from the district technology trainer.

In addition to the district technology trainer, 10 technology coaches were designated as building technology leaders. One coach was at each of the five elementary buildings, two each at the junior high and high school, and one at the alternative education building. Each technology coach received focused NETS training from the district technology trainer. The technology coaches, who were also classroom teachers, were responsible for the following extracurricular responsibilities beyond the regular classroom:

  • Facilitating 10 technology professional development workshops for building staff per year;
  • Attending four out-of-district technology workshops per year;
  • Observing three workshops provided by fellow technology coaches;
  • Providing technology support for teachers in the classroom; and
  • Promoting the use and integration of technology in the curriculum.

In return for their extracurricular responsibilities, each coach was provided district-supported incentives.

Workshop Opportunities

At the beginning of the project, baseline data was collected from each teacher as he or she completed the MyTarget survey within a specified two-week time frame. The data was aggregated by building and disseminated to the building principals. Using the data, the technology trainer and the technology coaches created 10 building-based workshop opportunities. Six of the 10 workshops used NETS and followed the monthly training session format. The additional four workshops were created based upon the building technology needs identified in the MyTarget survey. In addition to the technology coach workshops, the district technology trainer offered individual classroom technology integration support and also districtwide professional development workshops.

One of the most successful workshops used the intracampus distance learning equipment to deliver the content. During the districtwide workshop, teachers were given a variety of examples of technology and curriculum integrated lesson plans. Using the workshop examples, the teachers divided into grade levels and used work time to produce at least one grade-level focused lesson plan integrating Indiana Curricular Standards and NETS. To begin building a professional learning community and support network, the teachers shared the lesson plans produced that day. The district technology trainer placed each lesson plan onto a common network drive for equitable access and teachers were encouraged to use and/or adapt the lessons in their classrooms.

Technology Trends

In the spring, after several months of focused technology professional development, each teacher repeated the MyTarget survey and completed a supplemental survey to identify teacher technology usage in the classroom. The supplemental survey provided direct teacher input about the integration and incorporation of NETS into the daily classroom environment. In addition, a student survey provided student perceptions of technology usage in the daily classroom environment. The three data collection components provided a unique opportunity to correlate the ability and skills data from the two MyTarget assessments: the teacher and the student surveys.

End-of-project data indicated that focused professional development efforts resulted in increased usage and implementation of NETS by district teachers in the classroom. The MyTarget assessment results indicated all buildings showed improvement in the skill areas of basic concepts, personal and professional productivity, classroom instruction, and educational leadership. Minute corporation growth was reflected in assessment and evaluation, as well as in ethical use of intellectual property.

Upon in-depth analyses of the teacher and student survey data, we discovered some interesting trends. Although the secondary teachers responded positively to the questions about integrating the NETS standards in the learning environment, the secondary student perception was much different. In fact, secondary students indicated they would like to see more technology experiences included in the daily classroom learning environment. Interestingly, elementary students indicated a perception of a balanced use of technology between creative writing, report writing and skill-based practice. Also noteworthy was the fact that third-graders perceived that most technology usage was in the area of skill-based practice (i.e., math drills, grammar usage, etc.). But as the grade level increased, students stated that they were using technology for research-based activities.

Conclusions

We cannot discount the impact that district leadership had upon this project. Recognition of the project's value and connection to school-improvement initiatives communicated a level of commitment and high-performance expectations from district leaders to all staff. School leaders received the data and are reviewing the study to identify future plans for the district. We contend that a combination of focused professional development supported by the strength of visionary district leadership is crucial to sustain current — and modify future — systemic growth in the area of technology integration. Data is a critical component for trend identification, focused budgetary allocations and purposeful reporting for delivering school improvement information to stakeholders. The findings of the study supported the supposition that dollars spent on technology professional development increased a teacher's integration of technology into the classroom.

Reference

Crystal, J. 2001. "Building from Within: Two Professional Development Models That Work." Technology & Learning 22 (2).


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

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