Internet-Based Training Empowers Alamo Heights ISD Teachers to Increase Technology Use
Many school districts nationwide share a common dilemma: a critical need for technology training and a critical shortage of appropriate training resources. Districts typically lack qualified trainers, and K-12 teachers usually lack the time to learn new technical skills. But at the Alamo Heights Independent School District (AHISD) in San Antonio, Texas, we have solved this problem by developing and delivering Internet-based learning modules that teachers can access on their own time. We are finding that teachers who are reluctant or somewhat challenged in their technology skills are more willing to do the Web-based tutorials than to participate in other forms of training.
Within a 9.4-square-mile radius, a four-person instructional technology team serves five AHISD campuses, including hundreds of K-12 teachers, paraprofessionals and administrative staff. The instructional technology team is using Macromedia Breeze to simplify and streamline staff training. The technology enables the team to create and deliver multimedia training and instructional content to both staff and students online.
The modules have a standard structure — opening, objective, instruction and practice — so that learners know what to expect. Breeze also automatically provides the option of flexible navigation in lessons, so learners can easily control their progress through a lesson. This allows students to skip content they know and jump directly to what they want to learn, saving precious time.
In addition, all of the district's campuses feature "Technology Happy Hours," which are 45-minute face-to-face training sessions based on specific needs. AHISD's technology staff provides a blend of in-person technology integration training, as well as online training and support. As a result, more educators are participating in professional development — with more than 85% of the district's faculty having used the online training.
Breeze enhances an already familiar format — the Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. Therefore, users can turn simple presentations into interactive multimedia content for presentations and lessons by using wizards from the Breeze menu right within PowerPoint. They can also add highly synchronized narrations, quiz and survey questions, animations, and Flash videos.
Subsequently, users can publish their learning content to the Breeze server, converting the slides and multimedia into the Flash format for access via standard Web browsers. Since the Flash Player is already embedded in 98% of Web browsers, virtually anyone can access these multimedia presentations without having to download a large file or plug-in.
Since the process is fast and versatile, a user can identify a problem and have a training presentation ready in just a few hours. An instructional technology specialist at one of the district's campuses can publish the presentation on the Internet and immediately send teachers an e-mail telling them what it is and where to find it. It is even possible to monitor which teachers and staff members have completed the training.
Our district's instructional technology staff is also using Breeze to develop "e-videos" — short tutorials on how to use district applications for attendance and grades. Faculty may view the tutorials from home, the classroom or anywhere they have Web access. They can also repeat the instruction as much as they need or jump to specific sections to quickly refresh their memory. In addition, learners don't need broadband Web access since the files are small and Flash-based, which increases the level of teacher acceptance.
For example, AHISD's IT staff created four tutorials for GradeSpeed.NET, the district's online gradebook and attendance program. The Web tutorials provide a step-by-step guide for teachers using animated screenshots accompanied by audio instructions. Besides a comprehensive overview on how to use GradeSpeed.NET for grading, the tutorials cover how to submit daily attendance, delete students who have dropped the class, and enter standards for AHISD's elementary report cards. Other Breeze -based tutorials include how to update Microsoft Outlook contacts; how to access e-mail via the district's Web mail application; and how to access Course Insite, AHISD's online learning management system.
Supplementary Learning for Students
Our IT staff has also worked with teachers districtwide to create core curriculum modules to supplement instruction. Together they identified the specific Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) standards with which district students were struggling, while the teacher developers selected objectives that matched their teaching strengths. Because many teachers were already familiar with PowerPoint, they were able to begin creating their learning modules right away. The online remedial curriculum was available to teachers districtwide within a few weeks of reviewing their TAKS results.
This ability to use input from a variety of teachers addresses equity issues. Obviously, it's impossible for each student to get in-person access to the best teachers in every subject. With Breeze delivery, however, students can access supplementary online instruction from a wide variety of teachers. For example, first- and second-grade tutorials for math cover telling time and choosing the correct operation for solving problems; while tutorials for grades 3-5 include teaching students subtraction by using regrouping (math), sequencing events in a story (reading), and the characteristics of the sun (science). Each tutorial begins by identifying the specific learning objective (standard), then moves to step-by-step instruction, concluding with a review. Some of the tutorials include a built-in quiz, while others, like the subtraction tutorial, provide a link to external Web sites where students can continue to practice the skills.
Build Once and Share
Since users build Breeze content within PowerPoint 's familiar interface, it is very easy for teachers and others to get up to speed with the application. Once teachers discover the potential in delivering content via the Web, I find that many will use Breeze to enhance their own instructional delivery. The quiz and survey functions help seal the deal for teachers. Instructors also like the notion of being able to use materials their colleagues create — the "build once and share" concept.
In the course of three 45-minute after-school sessions, my staff and I have trained 25 K-12 educators (23 teachers and two technology coordinators) in the use of Breeze for creating content. These educators gladly assisted others by sharing tips and feedback among all five campuses. In addition, teacher developers now feel empowered by the district technology rather than intimidated by it, and look forward to collaborating with other teachers in the district and throughout the state.
The greatest advantage of Breeze is that it gets the technology out of the way and lets teachers do what they do best: teach. In the future, we will focus on updating the district's other online K-12 course materials with more engaging and effective multimedia content. We want to modernize content in-line with our students' expectations. We also anticipate more frequent creation of staff-training tutorials on an as-needed basis. Later this year, however, students will have access to author and deliver content created in Breeze.
— Rick Martinez
This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.