Creating Strategies for Improved Teaching and Learning


Developing Highly Qualified TeachersIowa relies on technology totackle problems with teacherquality and student achievement.

“Rural districts faced challenges in meeting student proficiencygoals and implementing teacher qualification requirements of[the No Child Left Behind Act] and faced some of them to agreater extent than nonrural districts.”*

Like so many other states, Iowa facesthe acute challenge of improvingteacher quality. To address thisproblem, the state has been conducting andprocuring a system over the last two yearsthat will move Iowa into compliance withNo Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requirementsin the areas of teacher quality andthe core subjects of reading, mathematics,and science.

Building on experiences and lessonslearned from previous state efforts, Iowa isnow focusing on teaching pedagogy and bestpractices in the previously mentionedacademic areas, teacher technology support,and the creation of learning communities.Specifically, the state is attempting to:

  • Address the NCLB requirements withinthe context of the federal government’seducational entitlement programs as arural state
  • Discuss the problem of evaluating theeffectiveness of technology and teacherfidelity in implementing pedagogy inmeeting the NCLB requirements
  • Develop and evaluate a communicationplan and support system in order todisseminate effective strategies and best practices to other schools both withinand outside of Iowa

Changing Approaches toProfessional Development

The central purpose of Iowa’s efforts has beento focus on the academic needs of students byimproving its instructors’ repertoire ofteacher strategies so they can reach allstudents. And because it is difficult for a stateto contact individual teachers at the campuslevel, Iowa relies on the Iowa Area EducationAgencies ( to provideservices to its local education agencies. In thepast, the area education agencies have beeninstrumental in the area of professionaldevelopment and in supporting the implementationof teacher strategies.

The problem was that once professionaldevelopment was conducted, no one monitoredor supported the fidelity of implementationof the strategies in the classroom.In many cases, the teachers did notreceive follow-up support, or theprincipal/curriculum director did notcompletely understand the strategy.

The result was that teachers mutated thestrategies, did not use them for the correct duration, or never evaluated them to see ifthe strategies were having an impact onstudent achievement. Thus, many strategieswere either abandoned because teacherslost faith in their ability to perform themcorrectly, or strategies that had been provedeffective were inadvertently modified.

Technology Impact on Student Learning

This current effort, however,targets professional developmentto student needs, providesongoing support, as well asevaluates the impact of professional development on teachers andstudent performance. The combination oftechnology and the greater involvement ofadministrators has played a central role inchanging the previous cycle of ineffectivenessto one that makes a real difference.Following the basic premise of the IowaProfessional Development Model (IPDM;, the state’s teachers arelearning through understanding thetheory of the strategy, having it demonstrated,and practicing how to implementthe strategy in their classroom.

What’s different in this project is thatsome administrators are being encouragedto participate in the professional developmentso they can support teachers in theclassroom. There has also been a heavyreliance on technology to support theteachers. This is especially importantbecause Iowa is a rural state, and establishingany kind of teacher learningcommunity is difficult. Previously, teachershave used the Web for filing journals, blogging,surveys, and monthly meetings viathe Iowa Communications Network(, which promotesgroup discussions of the strategies.

However, one of the biggest changes inthis approach to professional developmentis the use of IP video conferencing for theevaluation of fidelity (i.e., the extent towhich teachers implement the teachingstrategy as it was taught to them) andsupport of the classroom teacher. Usingrubrics developed for each strategy, professionaldevelopment content experts orformer administrators viewed teachers(with their permission and understanding)for fidelity and frequency of implementation.The video units have also been used toestablish learning communities of onceisolated teachers. In some consortia, thesecommunities have been called “IP buddies,”and allow instructors to meet, discuss, andsupport each other in the deployment ofthe teaching strategy.

Examining Project Results

It is important to examine two sets ofresults from this project. The first concernshow technology affected the ongoingsupport of teachers in the program, andhow it ensured they implemented thestrategies appropriately. As noted above,relying on just one discussion or demonstrationof a teaching strategy and thenexpecting teachers to execute that strategyperfectly was not effective in the past.Instead, it is more successful when teachersimplement the IPDM of learning astrategy’s theory, seeing a demonstration,and practicing the strategy. It is also importantto monitor the strategy in a teacher’sclassroom and provide feedback. In addition,the project has found that there is astrong connection between the strategiessupported by the IPDM within the scaffoldingof the technology support network.

The role of video conferencing. Thevideo conferencing units have been evaluatedto be effective in supporting the implementationof the strategies teachers havebeen taught. During the study of the IPvideo conferencing units, the external evaluatorof the project, Gary Phye, director ofIowa State University’s Psychology inEducation Research Lab (PERL) and one ofthe authors of this article, found that therewas an 86 percent inter-rater reliabilitybetween those observations done on-siteand those done via the video units.

The advantages of the remote site observationsincluded a reduction in travel timeand costs, and an increase in the numberof observations per day. Disadvantagesincluded camera placement (e.g., being outof view) and no opportunity to interact with students (Classroom ObservationalData Collection: Do We Physically Have tobe in the Classroom? PERL, 2005, The technologyalso provided a great networkingopportunity because it helped the teachersconnect with other schools for ideas onwhat works.

Impact on student learning. The secondset of results that PERL found concerns theimpact on student learning. The graph onthe preceding page shows an example of theimpact on student learning for problemsolving in fourth-grade math. The NCLBrequires states to focus on or give preferenceto those schools that were in need ofassistance or had a high number of studentsin economically disadvantaged situations.

In this example,the experimental (treatment)group was made up of students witha low soci'economic status or who had notpreviously performed well in math, whichaccounts for the large difference betweenstarting points for the two groups. From thechart, one can conclude that the treatmentgroup experienced a much greaterimprovement rate than the control group.Other groups of students who were measuredin reading and math at fourth andeighth grades showed similar results.

As with any study, we wanted to findout what caused the change in studentperformance, and the extent to which theprofessional development model andtechnology affected the change. Theprofessional development and technologyvariables’ range of impact upon the fidelityand frequency of implementation of theteaching strategies was consistentthroughout all teaching strategies monitoredin reading and math at grades 4 and 8,and algebra at grades 7 through 9. Thespecific results are in the chart below,where, for example, R2 = means thatstudents’ prior knowledge + IPDM + technologyaccount for 63.6 percent of variancein the improvement of reading scores forfourth-grade reading comprehension.

Fighting a never-ending battle. It isreally a shame that just as the NCLB Title II Dprogram is starting to show the effects oftechnology to support change in teacherbehavior and improve student achievementin Iowa, President Bush has proposedzeroing out this funding source. The USDepartment of Education is saying thatother funds can be used for this purpose;however, these additional funds are beingused to support different efforts in schools.While technology and its role in Iowa willnot go away, it will take the state longer tocreate the change that everyone expects.

John O’Connell is an instructional technologyconsultant for the Iowa Departmentof Education. Gary Phye, PhD, is director ofthe Psychology in Education ResearchLaboratory at Iowa State University. Heis also a professor in the university’sDepartment of Psychology and Departmentof Curriculum and Instruction.

Technology & Professional Development=Improved Achievement

* US Government Accountability Office (No Child Left Behind Act: Additional Assistance and Research on EffectiveStrategies Would Help Small Rural Districts, 2004,

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.