Logging on to Staff Development

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Enhancing your teachers’ knowledge and use of educational technology through online professional development.

A growing body of research indicates that information and communication technologies make teachers’ lessons more interesting, more enjoyable, and more important to their students (Margaret J. Cox, “The Effects of Attitudes, Pedagogical Practices, and Teachers’ Roles on the Incorporation of ICT into the School Curriculum,” Information and Communication Technology and the Teacher of the Future,Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003). Specifically, the use of computers in a classroom can accommodate Via Teachers Discovering Computers, Mobile County teachers get up to speedstudents’ individual rates of learning and development, which in turn helps learners become proficient at accessing, evaluating, and communicating information. These technological learning resources will not be fully available to students, however, unless teachers are well-versed in ways to incorporate them into the classroom curriculum.

The value of integrating technology into class curriculum is emphasized in Title II-D of the No Child Left Behind Act, which calls for the combining of technology resources and systems with educator training and curriculum development to fulfill the primary goal of enhancing learning and increasing student achievement. A secondary goal of this federal initiative is to cross the digital divide by ensuring that all students are technologically literate by the end of eighth grade (Quick Key No. 3: Understanding the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001: Technology Integration, North Central Regional Laboratory, 2002, www.org/tech/qkey3/qktech.pdf).

State Mandate for Educational Technology

Mobile County Public School System in Alabama is one of the 100 largest school districts in the United States. The district, which is composed of urban, suburban, and rural areas, covers an entire county (encompassing more than 1,238 square miles) and serves 103 schools with more than 65,000 students. Given the geographic scope and diversity of the district, providing professional development to its educators presents several challenges, including encouraging all teachers to participate, ensuring uniformity in the training content, and acquiring funding.

Fortunately, the district’s funding challenge was resolved in 2002-2003 when the Alabama Department of Education awarded Mobile County Public School System $441,293 via an Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) federal grant. While the funds were designated for improving student academic success, including technology literacy, the money also had to be used to improve the capacity of the district’s teachers to integrate technology effectively into curriculum and instruction. In fact, all EETT recipients must comply with a mandate to use at least 25 percent of the funds to provide “ongoing, sustained, and intensive high-quality professional development” for their teachers (“Enhancing Education Through Technology Awards” news release, Alabama Department of Education, 2004).

The district’s EETT grant proposal was based on benchmarks located in the district’s technology plan. Those benchmarks were based on the goals cited in the state’s IMPACT (Indicators for Measuring Progress in Advancing Classroom Technology) plan, which has six main goals:

  1. Encourage learning that is relevant and authentic through the use of technology.

  2. Align technology with local, state, and national content standards and curricula to enhance learning and enrich teaching.

  3. Provide professional development that enables staff to become and remain proficient in the use of technology to improve learning.

  4. Cultivate lifelong learning communities in which the tools of technology support knowledge.

  5. Give every learner the technological tools to access and process information.

  6. Fund Technical support, maintenance, and emerging technologies to improve learning. the technological tools to access and process information.

While the benchmarks in MobileCounty’s technology plan focus mainly onthe first four goals, some do cover theremaining two goals. In addition, the goalof technology literacy for all students isech'ed in the Alabama Course of Study:Technology Education, which cites K-12state standards and mandates that technologybe integrated into contentcurriculum.

Online Staff Development

Complying with these state mandates—and ensuring that Mobile County teachersare proficient in using and teaching technology—means that the district not onlyneeds educators skilled in the use of technologyfor learning, but also has to provideconsistent access to professional developmentthat supports the use of technologyin teaching and learning. Mobile County isalso required to have sufficient personnelto provide technical assistance in maintainingand using the technology(Alabama IMPACT–Phase II: AlabamaTechnology Plan for K-12 Education,Alabama Department of Education, 2002).

To meet these provisions, MobileCounty’s technology division has threemain departments. The ManagementInformation System (MIS) departmentoffers services from programming to centraloffice support. Its Microcomputer Services(MCS) department provides services suchas networking, hardware repair, and softwaretraining to district schools and supportstaff. Finally, the Instructional Technologydepartment, which is in the same location asMCS, supports teachers and administratorsin using technology in the classroom.

This technology division keeps incontact with schools to ensure that teachersare aware of these resources and internaltraining. However, because the district hasabout 4,000 teachers with widely dispersedlocations and availability, the technology division decided that making an onlinecomputer training course available wouldprovide the uniformity needed to achievethe state’s directive. An added benefit wasthat online staff development would allowparticipants to take advantage of self-pacedstudy that was available anytime, anywhere.

We were looking for a course thatwould not only help novices, but wouldalso offer intermediate instruction forteachers who already had some experiencewith computers. We wanted a wellroundedcurriculum that would not onlyexplain general topics such as hardware,software, networking, and the Internet,but would also touch on more advancedsubjects like educational applications,integrating multimedia software, Webauthoring, Internet searches, planninglessons and curriculum with technology,as well as security and legal issues.

Finally, since knowing how to use acomputer is not the same as being able touse a computer as a learning tool, wewanted a course that emphasized actualclassroom applications of technology onceteachers had achieved basic computercompetency. Therefore, we selected theTeachers Discovering Computers coursefrom the Teacher Education Institute (TEI;teachereducation.com), and the firstgroup of teachers began their lessons inspring 2003.

Overcoming Obstacles

Gaining user acceptance while maintainingmotivation and interest were themajor challenges for the online trainingefforts. A few teachers were apprehensivewith the concept of taking online lessons,but because our local university offersboth face-to-face and online courses,many teachers now consider online learning a viable option.

Providing incentives was also particularlyimportant since course takers quicklyrealized that the online lessons were a lotof work. For example, as they progress,participants have to complete severalprojects such as creating Web pages, storyboardinga Web site to support a lesson,planning and designing a curriculum page, and finally, developing a usableproject adapted to each participant’sspecific needs as a teacher.

As motivation, the grant rewardsteachers with a desktop computer forcompleting the course. All participants arealso able to obtain continuing educationcredit and possible re-certification,although several have actually receivedmaster’s level college credit.

Although the anytime,anywhere natureof online learning is extremely convenient,the course lasts 13 weeks and teachers havevery limited time to work on the program atwork. The majority of them access thecourse from home at night or on weekends.This means that the course competes withtheir regular home or weekend activities.The solitary nature of their study has led to another obstacle that we had to address:technology issues or other difficulties incompleting the coursework that arise whenthe district’s technology resource personnelare not available.

While participants can contact thecourse teacher, or e-mail or call the institutewith questions, we have found ithelpful for one of the InstructionalTechnology department’s technologyresource teachers to take classes alongwith the classroom teachers.That way, thetechnology resource teacher can provideimmediate assistance whenever necessary.

Without this measure, district technologypersonnel are less likely to knowthat course participants are havingtrouble, such as home computer problems,until they lag behind in completingassignments. Our solution has keptteacher learners from wasting time strugglingwith technology and becoming frustratedor discouraged.

Although technology resource teachersdo not visit the homes of classroomteachers, they work together on theironline lessons using the telephone ande-mail. If course takers have problems withtheir home computers, technologypersonnel make sure that they have aworking computer at school, and sometimesthey borrow a laptop to take home ifthey have a hardware issue.

In addition to keeping the technologyworking, the live interaction between the classroom teachers and thetechnology resource personnelfollows a best-practicemodel called the “blendedapproach” because it combinesonline learning with aninterpersonal component.The coaching and feedbackthat course takers receive fromtechnology resource teacherskeeps them involved andsuccessfully using the skillsthey are taught. Of course,it isnot always practical for technologystaff to take onlineclasses simultaneously with classroomteachers. Therefore, the Teacher EducationInstitute now provides the Mobile Countycentral office with frequent reports so thatwe can contact straggling participants andovercome problems quickly.

Conclusion

Teacher participation in any voluntary professional development program usually results in a small core of faculty becoming committed to any one method of professional development (Steven Marx, “Improving Faculty Use of Technology in a Small Campus Community,”T.H.E. Journal, 2005, www.thejournal.com/magazine/vault/A5169.cfm). This has been borne out with participation in our online courses (about 104 teachers have completed the course as of this writing). Yet, many of those participants have requested more online courses, and we’ve offered several other TEI courses with successful results.

Since teachers, like students, have different learning needs, we have not focused all our resources on online courses. However, despite being convenient in terms of time and accessibility, online courses are not for everyone. While some teachers can learn effectively via solitary study, others need more face-to-face interaction to better absorb information.

Because the delivery approach is critical in meeting the needs of teachers with widely varying levels of interest and expertise in technology (Priscilla Pardini, “Inside the Wired District,” Journal of Staff Development, 2002, www.nsdc.org/library/publications/jsd/pardini231.cfm), we’ve focused on meeting those individual learning styles through a variety of other professional development programs. These programs include specialized technology professional development for teachers, principals, and central office supervisors in summer camps, workshops, and on-site consultations at the schools. We include hardware or software incentives for many of these staff development opportunities as well. In addition, Instructional Technology and MCS work with schools on a daily basis to integrate technology in the classrooms.

The district plans to continue offering the online course because participants have reported it as an excellent introduction to technology integration as well as online learning. In our district, teachers completing Teachers Discovering Computers as a foundation course may be offered more advanced online professional development courses such as the institute’s Teachers Discovering & Integrating Microsoft Office and Teaching With WebQuests.

There has been an increased use of the Internet, multimedia software, Web authoring, and other technology among teachers overall. Since there are so many professional development outlets, the district cannot attribute these changes to any single technology course. That being said, we believe that the online courses have made a difference in the use of technology by their participants, and we plan to continue making the course available to our teachers. The Teachers Discovering Computers course presents an excellent overview of technology integration for the classroom teacher and is a wonderful course for first-time online learners.

Gloria Bush is coordinator of instructional technology and microcomputer services for the Mobile County Public School System.


4 Steps to Fostering Faculty Use of Technology

Looking to foster an environment that encourages faculty use of technology in education? Keep these four essential steps in mind:

  1. Faculty need access to the basic tools of technology such as computers, software, networks, etc.

  2. Faculty must be aware of the existence of these resources and understand the ways in which they can be applied to their work.

  3. Faculty must acquire the skills needed to use technology resources in ways that are relevant to their work.

  4. Faculty must apply the technology as appropriate.

(A.W. Bates and Rhonda Epper, Teaching Faculty How to Use Technology:Best Practices from Leading Institutions, American Council on Education/Oryx Press, 2001)

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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