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Helping Educators Bridge the Technology Gap

Candace Hackett Shively was helping teachers maximize technology before anyone had even coined the title, "technology education integrator." The year was 2000, and Shively had already spent several years figuring out ways to bridge the gap between rapidly evolving technological applications and the educational field.

"When I told people my job title nine years ago, no one had a clue what I meant," said Shively, a former teacher who today is director of K-12 initiatives for The Source for Learning, a Reston, VA-based not-for-profit company that compiles Web-based learning resources for teachers, students, and parents. "For years, I just told people that I was a 'teacher for teachers.'"

Remembering back to those pioneering days, Shively said what teachers needed most was help figuring out how the Internet fit with their teaching styles and lesson plans. Because the Web was less user-friendly, she said, educators had a hard time wrapping their minds around how it could serve as an asset in their classrooms.

"A lot of them wanted to get into it, but weren't sure how to go about it," said Shively, who added that some teachers are still facing the same challenges, even in 2009. "There are still some who aren't automatically envisioning the Web as part of their teaching toolbox."

For them, The Source for Learning--combined with Shively's hands-on assistance and 27 years of experience as a teacher--provides resources designed to make that vision clearer. Since 1998, for example, the organization has built TeachersFirst into a 10,000-strong collection of lessons, units and Web resources designed to save teachers time by delivering information to them in a convenient, user-friendly and ad-free format.

The resource reviews include not only descriptions and highlights of each resource, but practical suggestions for implementation in the classroom. All reviews are available, sorted by subject and grade level, at teachersfirst.com/matrix.cfm, or searchable by keyword at teachersfirst.com/search.cfm.

The site encompasses proprietary professional and classroom-ready content, as well as thousands of reviewed Web resources that offer a variety of content for all subjects in grades K through 12. According to Shively, TeachersFirst has thousands of members in 50 countries and averages more than 50,000 page views daily.

"We add about two dozen new resources every week," said Shively. "Some are created by TeachersFirst staff, and the rest are selected existing Web sites that are not only education-oriented, but also general interest sites that will add value in the classroom."

Most recently, for example, TeachersFirst added Woices to its lineup. The service allows students and teachers to create sound recordings keyed to geographic locations. The recordings, available worldwide on the Internet, provide curriculum connections for a wide variety of subjects and ages.

To make sure students and their parents stay in the "educational zone" this summer, TeachersFirst.com recently pulled together a list of "Summer Sparklers," or Web sites that students and parents can use to keep the learning going, even during vacation. Shively said the organization's editors reviewed many candidates before selecting the sites on the list, which covers all K-12 grades.

The Source for Learning's other online resources include PreschoolFirst, TeachersandFamilies, and the upcoming GrowUpLearning, which will launch this year.

Shively, whose certifications include secondary English, business computer and information technology, instructional technology specialist, and gifted program specialist, credited the latter with helping her make the transition into technology educator. "Gifted often leads the way as far as trying new things," she explained. "It's also project-based, much like technology."

In 2006, Shively said a new "TeachersFirst Edge" section was added to the site with the intention of helping educators adopt and use Web 2.0 tools. "This is a big hurdle for teachers right now," said Shively, who sees the use of blogs, voice threads, and online intuitive tools as challenging for teachers, particularly when it comes to following policies and maintaining a safe online environment for students.

"Every school has different policies when it comes to Internet use--such as, can a student use his or her e-mail address to join specific online portals?--and we have all of those rules compiled in our database," said Shively. "We also give educators strategies for working with the Web 2.0 technology while staying within those policies."

Shively said she sees technology continuing to play a key role in education over the coming years, but voiced her concern over teachers' ability to "keep up" with the fast-moving innovations that are coming at them from different directions.

"There are so many new gadgets and technology that students could be using but simply not enough time to adopt them all," said Shively, who said she'll continue on her quest to help those educators use technology to work smarter, better and faster. "My goal is to continue supporting that individual teacher who is motivated enough to want to improve."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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