Teaching the teachers...about using technology in the classroom
A director of technology at a school or a district must wear many hats. Some of the jobs that they have to do include budgeting and planning, dealing with many aspects of the computers for administrators,faculty and staff members, network administration and desktop support. But what about training personnel on the use of the equipment? It is important to remember that just because a school has lots of cool technology, not everyone is going to use it. Teachers may feel uncomfortable with their level of technology skill or perhaps they are unfamiliar with the equipment and don't know where to start. Some teachers regularly use technology in the classroom but they need (and want) refreshers on what is new and how can it be used.
Teachers like most people when they encounter a new way of doing things or a new technology will embrace or adopt it is in different ways. Everett Rogers in his book Diffusion of Innovations presented the concept of Adopter Categories in 1962. These five categories:innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards can easily be applied to the adoption of technology in a school. Innovators and to a lesser extent, early adopters have jumped into technology use headfirst and will need little if any training. Some of them may even be able to assist in training initiatives. Users in the remaining three categories are the ones who will probably need assistance with the integration of technology into their lessons or their work.
The Tech Director's Role
The tech director is in an excellent position to deliver training to a school's faculty or administrators. After all, he or she probably researched and installed most of the hardware and software used at the school and has probably communicated with the vendors so they will probably know a great deal about it. This makes them an excellent in house source of information on most of the software and hardware devices that the organization purchases and also an excellent individual to train end users on how to use the tools.
Everyone involved in technology training in a school should remember a few important things. IT trainers must remember why schools have expensive technology and an IT staff in the first place. Both are to support the teachers in their quest to educate the students. Teachers must be aware that technology will not make a bad lesson good, and that good classroom management is crucial to technology use in the classroom. Patience from both parties is important too.
In 2007, Pennsylvania rolled out the Classrooms for the Future Initiative (CFF). CFF drastically increases the level of technology available to Pennsylvania teachers and students thus setting the stage for more effective preparation of students for modern high tech careers. Pennsylvania policy makers felt that if Pennsylvania workers are prepared for these careers, businesses that need employees like this will move their facilities to their state. One approach to preparing students for high tech jobs is Authentic Instruction.
The CFF initiative also has an intense professional development program designed to modify teaching methods to accommodate the new technology in the classrooms. Through this training, teachers develop skills needed to transform their traditional classrooms into authentic learning environments. Authentic instruction features real-world application of key concepts. It is more meaningful and relevant using real-world problems with the teacher acting more like a facilitator or a coach who supports the students as they learn. The computer along with other classroom technology is a crucial component in this process because in the authentic learning model, there is a heavy concentration on research of the real-world problems and analysis of data with a final presentation of the young researchers findings.
Authentic Instruction is just one example of many models teachers may follow in their quest to improve their student's twenty first century skills, but whatever model they use, it is crucial that teachers know and understand how technology can be used in their classroom. They also need to be innovative in the use of the technology and confident in their technology skills and this is where the director of technology can play an important role, assuring that the educators in the institution know and understand the equipment and software they have access to.
How to do it
Because it is not always so obvious where the users stand in the adoption continuum, it may be wise to have them complete a survey. There are plenty of free tools available on the Web that can be used to determine skill levels of the users. In the survey, it may be best to ask questions like "can you copy and paste information from a Word Document into a PowerPoint" or "Can you make a movie using Windows MovieMaker." Those taking the survey should be given a range of answers to choose from. With this information, the Tech Director can pin point who needs the most help, and who can wait. A focus group could provide valuable insights to the skill levels of the teaching staff also.
It may also be a good idea to not necessarily offer a training on a particular tool, like Microsoft Word or Excel. It might be better to offer training on using technology within a particular subject area like Language Arts or social studies. The trainer could even ask for a typical topic and create a lesson which demonstrates several tools like a Wiki for collaboration. Copyright friendly images could be selected using search techniques and the Web. These images will address different learning styles and another tool like Glogster could be used to display them. Websites could be saved and shared using a tool like Diigo or Delcious or they can be rated and commented upon using a tool like Dweeber. This approach will also direct future initiatives as the trainer can determine where the learner's interests are and target future lessons appropriately.
It is also wise to demonstrate the integration of other subjects into training programs. For instance, why not perform an analysis on a historic primary source document using methods more commonly used by Language arts teachers. A virtual discussion of the source could take place using a blogging tool. Another idea could be to demonstrate math concepts and perform statistical analysis and graph/chart creation using election data or census data.
This is how technology should be used in the classroom and this is how training should be delivered and targeted.
Organizing the Training
Scheduling training at times and in the form which will benefit the most teachers is often a tremendous challenge. With papers to grade and lessons to write, a teacher's time is always at a premium. It is also important to note that once and done training is generally ineffective, so training and assistance in the use of IT in the classroom should be ongoing. Collaboration between teachers in the use of technology in the classroom is quite effective too, especially when teachers share their best practices with one another. So an appropriate tool and a procedure on its use should be set up to help the learners share their training ideas. Below are some other approaches which a tech director may want to consider when developing a training program for teachers.
The workshop model of training offered either during in-service days or after school is the traditional way of providing professional development for teachers. During an in-service day, a larger time period can be provided for teacher learning about technology and time can also be offered to teachers for collaboration, sharing and brainstorming. The difficulty is that there are always many other training or administrative topics competing for in-service time. Scheduling a workshop for some time after school is an option that may better suit busy schedules. In either case, outsiders can be brought in to conduct the training, but this may be prohibitively expensive. It would probably be a better idea to identify teaching or IT staff members who would be willing to conduct training, and then later, take on the role of coach or mentor for the teachers who can then follow up later and provide guidance as the teachers implement the technology into their lessons.
What ever method that may be selected by a school, it is important to remember that training cannot be effective when it is executed on a once and done basis. It may also be a good idea to conduct some sort of survey in order to pinpoint what should be covered and who should be invited to attend training, especially when training funds are limited.
Coach or mentor model
A coaching or mentoring program is another option which a school could choose. Technology coaching is part of the Pennsylvania CFF program and it has proven to be very successful for the schools who have received these technology funds. The CFF coaches carry a reduced class load and many do receive extra pay for the extra IT and training work that they do. Coaches should help teachers plan and execute lessons that incorporate technology. They should critique and if possible team teach with teachers in an effort to build confidence in the use of technology in the classroom. These coaches should be knowledgeable and outgoing. They must be highly motivated and eager to implement the change in teaching styles that technology in the classroom requires.
Tech expert on each wing Teacher comfort and confidence could be bolstered by the presence of a technology expert who works nearby. The tech expert would be the go to person on that wing or in that section of the building, to whom a teacher could go to if questions arise when lessons are being written or if an issue arises in the middle of a lesson.
Some schools actually place students into this role as well. In fact a program called Gen YES started in Olympia, Washington in 1996 is actually organized as a class or club in the school and the students provide assistance to teachers as they plan and implement technology into their lessons. At this time, the program has spread to 1200 schools in 47 states and it provides student run helpdesk support and students gain technology and organizational skills and most importantly take charge of their own learning.
Technology Wiki Establishing a way for teachers to share and post useful websites could encourage more collaboration between members of the teaching staff. A Wiki would be the obvious choice for this task. Teachers often are frustrated by restrictions placed upon them by firewall software which is necessarily in place to satisfy Federal CIPA requirements. To these teachers it may seem like all of the good sites that they need are blocked when in reality, other teachers in the same institution have found, and successfully used websites which would fulfill that very same need. These same teachers who posted websites they have used in class could briefly discuss the pros and cons of the use of the site and otherwise prepare new users for their first time experience. After all, not all sites do what they are supposed to do and knowledge about any issues associated with the website would prove valuable to new users.
Another section of the Wiki could be set up for teachers to share their success stories and tips that may prove valuable for those teachers who are not so tech savvy.
Quick Reference cards While it is best to demonstrate the use of tools within a subject area, some novice users or those who yet lack confidence may benefit from a quick reference card which show the highlights of how to use a particular tool. These are usually not very deep in their discussion of a tool and it's use, but they serve the purpose of refreshing the memory on how to use the tool or do some minor trouble shooting when problems arise.
Good communication between IT and teachers
An attitude of openness and mutual respect should exist between teachers and IT personnel. This includes good communications between both parties. Both have the same ultimate goal, preparing young people for a useful and productive life as good citizens, so both parties should be working towards that end. Good communication includes plain language and not IT jargon from the tech people, and prompt reporting of problems or issues with technology by teachers with the inclusion of as many useful details as possible when something goes wrong with equipment. When teachers have an upcoming event which may put extraordinary demands on equipment or the network such an in school election or a video conference event, they should give the IT staff plenty of advance notice so that they can prepare and schedule effectively.
Administration buy in
Administration buy in is crucial to the success of any training initiative. Teachers are going to have to change the way they do things in their classrooms and this change will not take place unless the school's administration is completely on board with the training program. In the past, training initiatives in schools have often been once and done events. That is, things are taught and not revisisted or reviewed in any way ever again. IT training for teachers must be ongoing and principals must work to be sure that teachers are implementing what they learned. It may be a good idea for principals to collect artifacts of technology implementation such as student generated products and lesson plans. Good lesson plans which utilize technology should be shared and celebrated, while poor lesson plans should be adjusted to be more effective.