New Technology Training Method Brings Ga. Educators Out of the Dark

When the DeKalb County School System(Decatur, GA) experienced rapid growth in the early 1990s, theexisting technology training program failed to keep pace, leavingmany instructors in the dark. Even though DeKalb spent nearly $1.6million each year to teach staff personal computer skills, only 8% ofthe population became competent in all the applications, whichincluded a word processor, database and spreadsheet. In the summer of1995, a committee met to discuss DeKalb's strategy for implementingnew technologies. A major goal was that teachers, students,administrators and parents would achieve a minimum proficiency in theuse of computers.

A Flexible Solution

Foremost, committee members recognized a need toreach a greater number of teachers in a shorter amount of time.Secondly, they sought a method for training that would be readilyavailable at all times, since most instructors could not afford toleave their classrooms during the day. In addition, the method wouldhave to be self-paced, as group members would have varying levels ofknowledge and experience.

The solution came from Industrial TrainingCorp. (ITC), of Atlanta, Georgia. Partnering withAchieve, Inc., ITC supplied all the necessary courseware,facilitation and hotline support services required byDeKalb.

The training project began Sept. 25, 1995 at threeelementary schools: Austin, Hawthorne andMainstreet. Each of the original 108 participants received adesktop computer, which he or she could take home. An additional 60notebook computers supported off-site training. ITC'sPC-Skills Activ Learning Library solutions were loadedonto each machine.

The ITC package comprised Using PersonalComputers, Windows Basics and Intermediate, WordPerfect 6.1 Basics,PowerPoint 4.0 Basics, Excel 5.0 Basics and Microsoft AccessBasics.

After 15 weeks of multimedia training, 83% of theparticipants believed they were competent in all the applications.Both novice and veteran teachers praised the new training method."This type of training is less intimidating than being in a regularclassroom where everyone knows when you don't know something," saidone teacher.

Phase II Expands Reach

The second project, conducted in the spring 1996quarter, targeted administrative staff at 30 high schools. Trainingsessions were held in three labs at DeKalb's Rehoboth InstructionalCenter. The 550 participants ranged from principals andcounselors to bookkeepers and secretaries. Staff members weremandated to acquire 32 hours of personal computer training by the endof the fall quarter. Spending extra hours in the lab, many peoplecompleted their training in the spring rather than waiting until thenext school year.

Participants in both projects learned how tomaneuver the mouse and navigate through Windows. They also learnedhow to create, save, open, close, edit and print documents in all theapplication software. For the PowerPoint course, many teacherscreated slideshow presentations that they then used in theirclassrooms. And after the WordPerfect course, more staff membersstarted to produce memos, calendars and newsletters on theirPC.

As a result of these successful projects, DeKalb'ssuperintendent and board of education agreed to obtain and implement8,400 ITC courses throughout the school system andcommunity-at-large. The Basic Skills Library, forexample, addresses reading and writing, and suits adult literacyefforts, while the Technical Skills Library contains100 titles on electronics, pipefitting, troubleshooting, etc. forvocational training.

Centers to Involve Parents

The training resources provide specific supportover a four-year period. As part of the plan, DeKalb will establishFamily Resource Centers at several sites to allowstudents and parents to learn side-by-side. Convinced that ITC'straining methods work, administrators hope that these centers willfoster life-long learning and help bridge the gap between schools andsurrounding communities.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.