Training Teachers Using Computers
It started with a phone call. Bob Frander, a computer coordinator, contacted me over the phone in my office and asked whether I would be interested in doing computer training for teachers in his elementary school in Guam. The school proposed a number of yearlong training courses. Saying that I was recommended as the best person for him to contact, Bob tried to convince me that his school had made a serious commitment to teachers professional development. I had had experience conducting training workshops in local schools, but had never had a yearlong involvement with teachers. After checking with Bob about the available hardware and software in his school, and hearing all the nice words he said about me, I agreed.
The Training Model
Having accepted the training task, I started searching for information on inservice technology training. What should I cover in this training? Were there any training models I could adopt? Surprisingly, my search of literature yielded little information on the topic. Bailey (1997) was to the point when he stated, Even though there is considerable information about the general characteristics of effective staff-development practices, there have been minimal amounts of information specific to technology staff-development programs.
One paper, though, did catch my attention. The paper was titled Infusing Educational Technology into Mainstream Educational Computing (Lloyd and Welliver 1989). Though not specifically about teacher training, the paper delineated a model for successful implementation of computing in school settings. I was particularly interested in the three phases presented in the model: familiarization, utilization and integration. These three phases could form a framework to conceptualize and structure my training courses. However, developed a decade ago, the definitions of the three phases were outdated and needed to be redefined.
I. Hardware Components
II. Software Components
Central processing unit
|A. Operating Environment|
|B. Application skills|
Familiarization: Getting Acquainted with the Computing Environment
Familiarization is a process of acquainting teachers with a computing environment. Basic computer terminology and computer skills were introduced at this phase. Computer terminology focused on the different functional components of the computer system most often used by teachers, such as CPU, memory, desktop, input devices and output devices. Basic computer skills were taught so that teachers were able to manage the desktop working environment: for example, utilizing the mouse and keyboard, manipulating windows, finding application programs, and organizing information by folders. Simpletext (a simple word processor that comes with all Macintosh computers) was used to teach basic operations common to most software, such as open, cut, copy, paste, delete and save. Table 1 summarizes the content of the first phase training.
At this phase, I focused on extending teachers comfort zone and helping them overcome their fear. Staff development must consider the feelings, fears and anxiety of the learners (McKenzie 1993). The majority of participating teachers had a great fear of the computer to the point that they were afraid to break it if they punched a wrong key. This fear would be crippling if it persisted. Teachers need to feel comfortable with the computer in order to use it.
To undo teachers fear, it was necessary to rip away the mystery wrapped around the computer. To demystify the computer, I brought to the class pieces of computer hardware: hard disk drive, floppy disk drive, floppy disks, motherboards, computer chips (ICs Integrated Circuits), and CPUs all the junk I stored in my office. I passed these items to the teachers and asked them to actually feel and touch these pieces. To further familiarize them and desensitize their technophobias, I passed around some damaged floppy disks to show them and to have them feel the thin plastic disk inside, which rotates and stores the information. If they could lay their hands on the inside parts of the computer, what is the big deal with punching a key?
It was equally important to provide teachers moral support. I did not pose as a technology expert, and actually I am not. I went through all the fears these teachers were experiencing. I acknowledged the teachers fears and assured them that it was a feeling most beginners had. They were not alone in feeling intimidated by technology. I shared my personal experience with the teachers the fear I had when I first started learning the computer and the stupid things I did. (The first time I put a label on a disk, I wrapped it around the shutter! It took me quite a while to get it off.) I could tell that the teachers started to relax.
Sandra Perl (1994) likens teaching to fishing: I cast out a line and see, first of all, if it stays poised on the surface or if it sinks. Is there a bite? I like this comparison and found myself asking: How could I get the teachers hooked?
In order to get teachers hooked, training needs to stimulate teachers curiosity and engage them cognitively. People are naturally curious. They are born learners (Shor 1992). At this stage, teachers enjoyed step-by-step demonstrations of computer skills and detailed handouts. It was important to make sure that the teachers learned concepts rather than passively memorizing commands. While explaining computer terminology, I was careful not to use jargon. Analogies proved to be a great help for teachers to grasp difficult concepts. For example, the CPU is the brain of the computer. RAM is the working memory (short-term memory) of a computer, like that of a human being. Disks (hard disk, floppy disk, etc.) are long-term memory. If data has not been transferred from the short-term memory (RAM) to the long-term memory (disks), it gets lost when the computer shuts down. Teachers were becoming excited that they could understand these difficult concepts. They were being drawn into the learning process.
Teachers were allowed plenty of time to practice computer skills in class. While I was teaching Simpletext, I started a story by typing on the screen Once upon a time, there was a princess living in a castle. I then asked teachers to complete the story and choose a computer voice to read the story. Teachers were surprised to hear the computer talk. They experimented with a variety of voices.
After the initial training, I met Bob in the lab. He was all smiles, telling me that teachers enjoyed the training. Teachers were excited about the new things they learned and they were talking about it all the time outside the class. One teacher was quoted as saying: I am not so scared of breaking the machine now. I learned that if you mess things up, there is a way to get out of it. Were the teachers getting hooked? Well, it was too early for me to say that. At least I knew that they smelled the bait and were interested.
Utilization: Using Computers as Personal Production Tools
Utilization is a process of teaching teachers to use computers as personal production tools. The initial training phase was successful. Nevertheless, in order to really get teachers hooked, training needs to be made relevant to teachers work. They would see the value of the computer if they could use it as a tool to make their routine work easier using word processors to create lesson plans, for instance, and spreadsheets to do students grades.
A specific piece of software, ClarisWorks, was introduced. ClarisWorks includes word processing, graphics, database, spreadsheet and telecommunication functions. Instead of teaching teachers discreet and isolated skills, training at this phase was task-oriented. Teachers were introduced to a variety of specific tasks: learning how to use computers to write lesson plans, prepare quizzes, create word puzzles, design classroom newsletters and record students grades.
The teachers were highly motivated once they experienced the computer as a useful tool. When I taught the database feature, I introduced Mail Merge. It was almost time for the class to end. Teachers were obviously looking tired after a long days work. I told teachers I would do a quick demonstration and they could practice the skill the next time the class met. However, teachers immediately saw the value of Mail Merge. Without hesitation, they all started experimenting with the feature. None of the teachers left until they were sure they learned this skill.
In order to promote the actual use of computers, I encouraged teachers to implement whatever they learned in the training in their real work. If teachers designed a newsletter, I would expect that they send it to parents, rather than merely turn it in for grades. I announced that if teachers actually implemented a course assignment in their work, they would gain extra points. Other than assignments, teachers could turn in a copy of their computer work for extra points so long as they actually used it in their work.
Teachers were getting more and more involved with the computer. They turned in copies of lesson plans, quizzes, worksheets, word puzzles, flyers, certificates, database records and grade books. Teachers were really starting to get hooked. They now demanded more access to the computer lab since they had almost all their work saved on the computers, from lesson plans to grade books. Several teachers bought computers so that they could access their work at home.
Integration: Integrating Computers into the Curriculum
The third phase of training was integration, which is defined as integrating computers into the curriculum as teaching tools. The focus at this phase should be helping teachers transfer what they learned into teaching practice to impact students learning.
To integrate computers into the curriculum, it is imperative to develop teachers awareness of the potential of the computer in teaching and learning. I made explicit to the teachers the difference between utilizing the computer as a personal production tool and integrating the computer as a teaching tool. Teachers learned how to use a spreadsheet to develop a grade book for their personal use. But, could they use the spreadsheet to teach math concepts?
There are two approaches to integrating computers as teaching tools. The computer can be integrated as a teacher-centered tool as well as a student-centered tool, depending on teachers existing teaching styles. Examples of a teacher-centered approach include teachers using computers to create course materials, present course content, and illustrate difficult concepts. When teachers use the computer as a student-centered tool, they take the role of a facilitator by getting students involved doing computer projects, such as creative writing, science projects and artistic work. I encouraged both approaches. As teachers start experimenting with technology, they will gradually develop teaching strategies to fully harness the power of the computer. At this phase, I emphasized creative and innovative uses of technology in classroom teaching.
Teachers designed spreadsheet activities to show students how to identify number patterns, to predict the gain of stock investments, to compile and analyze research data and to keep track of budgets. Several teachers designed calendars by using the spreadsheet to teach weather, vocabulary, holidays and math. One teacher asked her students to bring a favorite food label from their kitchen and graph nutrition facts. Students were surprised to see that sugar was graphed very high and fiber was the lowest. Table 2 presents some of the ideas contributed by teachers on classroom database projects.
Kid Pix Studio was the multimedia software I introduced into the third phase of training. I asked each teacher to develop ten ideas on how to integrate Kid Pix in their teaching and then to present their ideas by using the software. Teachers were fascinated with the software. For hours and hours, they worked on their projects in the lab, experimenting with a digital camera, photo scanning, music, voice input and video clips. I knew at this point that the teachers were truly hooked.
Database Activity - Ideas Generated by Teachers
Prepare a database to compare how heat, light and sound travels through various materials.
Explore planets to record history of its name, size, distance, from the sun, temperature, and special features.
Maintain a database of students' rock collection by type, composition, texture, luster, reaction to vinegar or hydrochloric acid. Invite a jeweler to speak to the class on how rocks are turned into gemstones that represent the monthly birthstone.
Study the soil on Guam to determine the color, texture, location when it is obtained (northern, central, southern Guam), and size of particles.
Use the food that's available in "Mom's kitchen," categorize the food by different food groups, nutritional information, whether it could be eaten raw or cooked and what vitamins it gives.
Arrange the class to go on a field trip to the Guam Museum. List the various displays of relics by name, when it was found, what period it was used, and its application.
Research on the various historical sites on Guam, keep a database on these historical sites by name, era, village location, relevant events and how it is used today.
After researching Gaum's History involving the various colonists who came to Guam, the students will use database to record the country, the year, their contribution, and their conflicts to our island.
Develop a database for the vocabulary children frequently encounter in their home, school, and community environments that can be taught or paired with developing reading skills.
Study the celebration of Christmas around the world. Develop a database to record the name of the country, special games, gift giving customs, how "Merry Christmas" is said in their native language.
Study popular fishes of Guam. Develop a database to record their scientific and Chamoru names, their habitat, color and some features in Chamoru language.
Students will record the levels of the ocean, the types of organisms that live in each level, the variety of habitats, how these places enable the species to survive, and how they protect themselves from predators.
TABLE 2: Database Activity - Ideas Generated by Teachers
Changes In Me as A Trainer
I carried into this training my expertise and enthusiasm as well as doubts and biases. I used to think that teachers were very resistant to change, especially to the use of technology in the classrooms. I was hoping to change teachers through this training. Unexpectedly, I found that this training changed my perception about teachers.
On the first day of the training, when I entered the lab and saw the roomful of teachers, my first thought was how many of them would drop as we moved along. A few did drop, but an overwhelming majority of teachers persisted, juggling through multiple responsibilities and successfully completing the training course. Teachers were aware of the fact that technology is here to stay and had a deep concern of somehow missing out. They were determined to learn the technology, whatever barriers they had to overcome. As a group, these teachers were motivated, devoted and creative. Many a time, I was astonished when I was viewing a teachers high quality work. This training took away my biases.
Some estimate that it will take five or six years for teachers to fully integrate computers into the curriculum (Sheingold and Hadley 1990). This training, however, demonstrates that it can take much less time for teachers to take advantage of the technology if provided with training and support. Teachers do not have to grope in the dark and struggle alone. Successful training can speed up the process.
But this is not the end. After the first round of training, I continued my involvement with the teachers, visiting their school and observing their computer use. The biggest news was that the schools grant proposal for Effective Schools was funded ($678,000) by the federal government. Ninety Apple G3 computers, along with more color scanners and printers, were purchased. Besides adding more computer equipment to the lab, the school decided to put two computers, one color scanner, and one color printer into each classroom. The school required that teachers go through training first to be eligible to have the computer equipment in their classrooms. At the moment of writing this paper, I have just completed a second round of training. Among my students were the two principals of this school.
Yu-mei Wang received her Ph.D. in Instructional Technology from the University of Oregon in 1993. She is currently Associate Professor of the College of Education, University of Guam. She also serves as the director of the Computer Lab of the College of Education.
Special thanks to Dr. Carl Swanson Jr. for his comments and critique of this manuscript.
Lloyd, P. Rieber. & Welliver, Paul W. 1989. Infusing Educational Technology into Mainstream Educational Computing, International Journal of Instructional Media, 16 (1), 21-32.
Bailey, Gerald D. 1997. What Technology Leaders Need to Know, Learning and Leading with Technology, 25 (1), September, 57-62.
McKenzie, Jamie. 1993. Creating Flexible District Technology Plans, FNO The Educational Technology Journal, 3 (6), February, 2-10.
Perl, Sondra. 1994. Composing Texts, Composing Lives, Harvard Educational Review, 64 (4), Winter, 427-449.
Shor, Ira. 1992. Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago.
Sheingold, K. & Hadley, M. 1990. Accomplished Teachers: Integrating Computers into Classroom Practice. New York: Center for Technology in Education, Bank Street College of Education.
This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.