Affordable Access to High-Quality: Project T.E.A.C.H. &emdash; Technology Enrichment And Curriculum

One of the most difficult tasks in the creation of21st century classrooms may be training teachers to appropriatelyincorporate computers in the classroom and make meaningful use oftechnology as an instructional tool. Committees can make selectionsand acquire hardware and software. Contractors can perform siteupgrades. However, the guided and systematic use of computers inclassrooms for teaching and learning requires computer-competentteachers. Such teachers not only understand content, but they alsohave the ability to appropriately incorporate technology into thelesson. A computer-competent teacher is one who has made thatheuristic leap from classroom sage to student guide.

To create such a teacher takes time. One reason isthat teachers must acquire new knowledge. Another is that oftenteacher beliefs and attitudes, and certainly teacher instructionalbehaviors need to be changed as well. Far too often, school districtsare not able to initiate, let alone sustain, long-term commitments tofocused staff-development projects because of such reasons asteacher, board and administrative turnover; the educationalenvironment, which seems to generate fads faster than next season'sfashions; and, of course, money.

Initial Training

The Camden School District, which is composed ofabout 97% minority students, is located in Camden, N.J., one of themost depressed cities in the nation. The Camden School District beganoffering in-service training on computers to its teachers in 1985.The training program came about as a result of grants from theWilliam Penn Foundation and the RCA Foundation. The grants paid for15 graduate credit hours towards an 18 credit-hour post-baccalaureatecertificate in computers-in-education from Glassboro State College(now Rowan University), together with all books and software for theteachers, and mileage expenses for the professors to come intoCamden.

Our training model was based on the belief thatin-service training should be conducted to give teachers newknowledge in order to augment their instructional repertoire andchange their instructional behavior. We further believed that: (1) inorder to garner teacher commitment to the training, teachers need anexternal reward and (2) change in instructional behavior requires along-term commitment from the board and administration.

In our initial training program, the externalreward came about as a result of contractual salary increments forevery 15 graduate credits beyond the bachelor's degree. Thein-service training program consisted of five graduate-level coursesover two years; thus we provided for a long-term commitment from theteachers through a built-in pay raise. The fact that the project wasfunded by a grant assured commitment from our Board of Education. Thecourses were selected to provide a process through which teacherswere:

  • Taught new knowledge and skills about using computers in the classroom;
  • Given the opportunity to personally experience the application of those skills;
  • Able to receive feedback as they tried the new skills over and over until mastered; and
  • Able to demonstrate that the skills were incorporated into their instructional repertoire.

Teachers were selected on a competitive basis. Anapplication with the teacher's name, grade or subject taught, andschool were located on the front of the application and a series ofquestions on the back. In this way, the front and back would beassigned the same number, but only the back given to a selectioncommittee, thereby minimizing politics. The committee did not knowwhom they were selecting. We wanted teachers who had a commitment tothe Camden Schools. We ascertained commitment by length of employmentin the school district; professional activism, as measured bymembership in professional organizations and District and schoolcommittee participation; ability to teach adults, as measured bynumber of times the individual taught a District in-service course;teacher attendance, and principal and supervisorrecommendations.

Using Apple IIe and IIc computers in a makeshiftlab, the District sent 50 teachers back to college, after-schoolhours. The teachers were divided into four groups of 12 to 13teachers each. As the courses progressed, the teachers acted asmentors for each other and classroom visitations were made by theprofessors. Forty-eight of the original 50 teachers finished theprogram. All participants received a horizontal-step raise. About adozen teachers spent their own money to obtain the last three creditsfor a certificate. In addition, a number of teachers bought apersonal computer. All teachers who completed the program were usingthe computer in the classroom, and the District paid some of theseteachers to conduct computer classes for other teachers.

Peer-Based Program

As computers became more powerful, the Districtmoved to the Macintosh platform. Training was now offered throughProject T.E.A.C.H., a peer-based training program that modeled itselfafter the university-based program. The initial instructors wereseveral graduates of our original training program, who had movedinto the Office of Technology as supervisors or helping teachers andwere experienced with the Macintosh computer.

Once again, training was provided in order tochange the instructional behavior of teachers. The externalmotivation was that all graduates of Project T.E.A.C.H., although notpaid while taking the classes, would receive a Macintosh computer forthe classroom about half way through the program. This computer wouldremain with the teacher, even if the teacher moved to another room oranother school.

The long-term commitment was achieved through theapproximate 100 hours of instruction (about one and a half years)required to graduate. Once again, the selection was competitive. Only24 teachers were taken at a time, using the selection processdescribed above. The teachers were then divided into two groups of12. The teachers came after school one day a week for two hours andhalf days during one summer for a week. The courses were:

  • Introduction to the Macintosh;
  • Introduction to Word Processing;
  • Introduction to Database and Spreadsheet;
  • Using Computer Peripherals;
  • Introduction to Multimedia;
  • Computers in the Curriculum; and
  • Introduction to Hypermedia.
  • In the ensuing years, we lengthened the program to 125 hours and added:
  • Introduction to the Internet;
  • Introduction to Web Page Development; and
  • Advanced Internet.

As a result of this training, the District now hasmore than 250 T.E.A.C.H. graduates out of about 1750 teachers. TheDistrict realized that some teachers have obligations after workhours and may be prohibited from applying for a Project T.E.A.C.H.position. Therefore, the District now offers to all staff (teachers,instructional assistants, secretaries, security guards, etc.) everycourse offered to T.E.A.C.H. teachers, but on a first-come,first-served basis and without the promise of a computer for theclassroom. During the 1996-97 school year, for example, 436 teachersand 265 non-teachers enrolled in one or more of 14 different coursesin 73 sections.

Computer Labs Opened

One consequence of Project T.E.A.C.H. was that theDistrict was able to open a computer lab in each of its 34 schools,filling most of the jobs of computer teacher and computer lab aidefrom its own ranks. As the schedule allows, students in our schools,most of whom are minority students, now receive project-basedcomputer instruction from an expert in the computer lab. They aretaught the operation of the computer, application software, and theuse of computer peripherals, and are given access to theInternet.

An open-ended survey was sent to all T.E.A.C.H.graduates in order to determine the effects of the program on theirpersonal and professional lives. We learned that Project T.E.A.C.H.had a profound effect on the personal lives of the graduates. Theteachers told us that this program was among the best educationalexperiences that they ever had. For example, they now possess arepertoire of technology solutions that they would not have had wereit not for this program.

Their self-esteem is enhanced, because theircolleagues come to them for advice. They recognize that they are nowlife-long learners. Some of our graduates even returned to school toobtain their master's degree in education with a concentration incomputer technology. The program gave them the skills and confidenceto learn new applications and try new hardware. One graduate saidthat her knowledge allowed her to become an online tutor for AmericaOnline. Another sent five different back issues of the high schoolnewspaper, of which he is the advisor, with the comment, "Enclosedplease find copies of the Castle Crier; without the T.E.A.C.H.Program they would have been impossible to produce." Several teacherssaid that the program allowed them to change careers &emdash; fromclassroom teacher to computer teacher.

The teachers told us that this program inspiredthem to purchase a home computer and an Internet account. Some of thegraduates have moved from the teaching ranks into administration.These individuals wrote that they employ the computer as anadministrative tool and often advise untrained teachers to try usingtechnology in the classroom. In the words of one respondent,"Computers are an important part of my life and there's hardly a daythat g'es by that I don't use the technology skills that began withT.E.A.C.H."

Classroom Integration

In addition to computer labs, what about the useof technology in the classroom? The respondents told us that theymake great use of the technology there. Indeed, for most T.E.A.C.H.graduates, it appears that computers are employed in the classroom ona daily basis. For example, computers are used to supplement directinstruction. Some of the T.E.A.C.H. graduates create their ownHyperCard stacks and other instructional materials related to thecontent areas in which they teach. They stated that computers arebeing used by students for such things as writing activities thatincorporate graphics in the document, for math centers, as researchtools, as part of an accelerated reading program, and for SATpreparation. Students are using computers to maintain a database ofthe books in the classroom library. Many respondents said that manydifferent types of software are being incorporated into theinstructional process, for remedial work, for enrichment, and tosupport the curriculum.

The survey showed that, as the District is wiringclassrooms, the Internet is becoming an important instructional tool.This includes the sending and receiving of e-mail. Digital camerasand scanners are regular fixtures in these classrooms. Also, manyrespondents told us that they use computers for classroom management;that is, for maintaining grades, to retain records of pertinentinformation about students, to produce and save lesson plans, and tosend memos to their colleagues. In short, classroom instruction isbecoming technology-rich.

The surveys also contained unsolicited complaints.The graduates told us that there were not enough computers orInternet connections in the classrooms, and the equipment that wasavailable to them was getting old. Some even gave us a list of thenew equipment that they wanted for their classroom. 

Did Project T.E.A.C.H. fulfill its goal ofproviding teachers with new knowledge in order to direct classroominstructional behaviors for the classroom? We think so. In the wordsof one graduate, "It has enabled me to become a facilitator andguide...instead of being purely pedantic." We believe that this modelhas provided the Camden School District with a critical mass oftrained teachers who can lead the way in restructuring for 21stcentury instruction with technology. 

Dr. Fred Reiss is Director of Research, Planning and Technology forthe Camden School District in Camden, N.J. E-mail: [email protected]

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.