MOST OF US IN THE EDUCATION FIELD are familiar with the kind of professional development (PD) that consists of in-service days offered several times a year, replete with nodding heads, handouts and “expressions of newfound inspiration,” but has little lasting impact.
What may be the most frustrating phenomenon observed by those close to the work of preparing and encouraging teachers to use technology is episodic, nonsticky PD. This type of education functions as a single event, not as an integral, essential and ongoing activity in the genuine development of teachers to meet the demands of their classrooms.
According to many administrators, the most important things needed to make technology work in the classroom are: professional development, professional development and more professional development. But how accurate is this assumption—and other commonly held beliefs—about the fostering of technology integration into our classrooms through professional development?
The field of educational technology has amassed a considerable body of lessons learned over more than two decades. The experiences, both of success and failure, of professionals who contributed to that knowledge can help ensure that newer travelers down that road need not reinvent the wheel or fall prey to the many speed traps that await them along the way.
Ed Tech interviewed several highly experienced, technology-mature administrators to find out what lessons they’ve learned. Contributing to this discussion were: Dr. Joe Hairston, the superintendent of the Baltimore County Public Schools and winner of the MICCA Outstanding Technology Leader in Education award in 2005; Dr. Barbara Grohe, superintendent of the Kent, Wash., school district and the 1998 American Association of School Administrators National Superintendent of the Year; and Bev White, chief technology officer of the Wake County, N.C., Public Schools, and winner of two bronze CINDY awards from the International Association of Audio Visual Communicators.
The Right Factors
No discussion of PD designed to promote the consistent and appropriate use of technology in the classroom should be undertaken without first reflecting on the importance of PD among the many factors that affect the development of an educational technology program.
Ed Tech: Is professional development the most crucial factor in advancing an instructional technology agenda, or are there other more important factors?
Hairston: Professional development is important, but there are other factors involved as well. Effective professional development is driven by a need. When the need for technology skills is evident in the organization via instruction and daily functions, effective professional development is required.
Grohe: I am not sure that it is the crucial issue. I still think access [to technology] is equally important. The key seems to be doing as much as possible onsite at the schools and doing regular follow-up and support as strategies are implemented.
White: Professional development or sufficient instruction is essential, but I don’t agree that it is the crucial issue. I believe that the more important factors involved include addressing the real needs and giving teachers options and support.
Technology-oriented PD efforts may eclipse consideration of other key factors in a well-planned educational technology program. Consequently, they expend scarce resources on acquiring attractive content and the methodologies to deliver it. Based on the respondents’ answers, it seems that successful districts have moved beyond the days of providing technology professional development simply to satisfy the need to provide technology PD.
The Right Audience
Clearly, all teachers don’t have the same needs. Furthermore, many successful educational technology programs benefit from establishing early models of success to inform, inspire and support teachers. Identifying the proper audience for PD figures highly in a holistic planning process.
Ed Tech: What are the factors common to those teachers who are most likely to get and stay on board in using technology? Do age, assigned subject or grade level, pupil demographics and other factors affect this?
Hairston: The most common factor appears to be age. The teachers who are graduating now have grown up using technology and have seen it infused into their teacher training. They come to the profession with the understanding that technology will play a prominent role in their teaching experiences, regardless of the subject, grade level, student population or any other variables.
Grohe: Two factors seem to be key. First, the teacher has strong curriculum knowledge about the areas in which he or she is going to use the technology. Second, the teacher sees a value-add to the technology itself. More than age or experience, a sense of self-confidence and openness to new ideas tends to be a critical factor.
Staying on board is most closely tied to a feeling that the technology made a difference in either the scope or depth of the learning. In addition, the teacher must feel supported in using the technology and assessing its impact.
White: In my experience, the most common factor is attitude. I don’t know that attitude can be defined exactly, but I do know that it embodies commitment to lifelong learning and to continuous improvement, as well as to a love of children and teaching.
The variety of technology available to impact education continues to develop and get more complex, but the fact that young teachers show up tech-savvy as they enter the teaching profession helps to a degree.
However, a distinction must be made between a teacher who knows how to use technology and one who knows how to use that technology as a resource for teaching. Not having to show teachers how to turn on a computer relieves the district of part of its professional development work. It also paves a path for PD that fosters technology integration.
The Right Approach
After determining what technology requirements PD will address, how big a role it will play in the IT program and who the appropriate audience is, schools need to determine the approach that will work best for their particular needs.
Ed Tech: In helping your teachers adopt technology as a resource for teaching and learning, what has worked well? Why did it work? What are some approaches you would not use again and why?
Hairston: We found that a phased-in approach to providing professional development to teachers—in groups based on levels of expertise—was very helpful. I knew that once we got our teachers up and running, the group with the strongest skill sets could model daily to their colleagues what could be done in the classroom with technology as a teaching and learning tool.
Grohe: We simultaneously increased access and training. There’s nothing more frustrating to teachers than to be taught a new strategy or skill and then have no opportunity to try it out with their students.
We also provided several opportunities for teachers to come with one or two of their students to learn a new skill or application. Teachers had a great time with these opportunities and used their students as “expert” advisers.
White: The best success I experienced in helping teachers to adopt technology came when the technology itself addressed specific, expressed needs of teachers; when teachers were included in envisioning the solution; and when early testers and users were identified and positioned to be champions for the product.
An approach that I wouldn’t do again would be what I call the “TA-DA” approach. That’s where we roll out in completed form what we think is a great product to address what we think is a problem in a way that we think is workable—all without involving the practitioners in any way.
In the next issue, we will follow up with discussions on PD and instructional technology, covering questions such as: Who should deliver PD services? Outside service providers? In-house staff developers? Turnkey trainers?
What’s the best way to select PD services that suit your district’s needs? Workshops, coaching, online PD?
In addition, we will view professional development and technology not as an event, but as an initiative to make a true difference in the nature of teaching and learning.
Bernard Percy is the former editor in chief of Converge Magazine and the author, with Mark Gura, of Recapturing Technology for Education: Keeping Tomorrow in Today’s Classrooms. Mark Gura, a former director of the Office of Instructional Technology of the New York City Board of Education, currently works with Fordham University’s Regional Educational Technology Center.
Myths and Misconceptions
By Mark Gura
Overcoming what some educators think they know is often a crucial step to ensuring a successful educational technology program. Here are some common myths and misconceptions, along with information that administrators can use to refute them.
Myth 1: Technology is hard to learn. In reality the skill set that most teachers need to start using technology in the classroom involves just a few easy-to-do tasks like launching a Web browser, left-clicking a mouse and doing simple searches.
Myth 2: To utilize classroom technology, teachers must create their own technology-supported curriculum and get extensive training. A wide variety of organizations have posted free curricula and instructional materials on the Web.
Myth 3: Technology is a separate, discrete subject area. The greatest value of technology for education is how it impacts core subjects such as language, math, science, social studies and the arts. In most cases, it does not require extensive professional development (PD).
Myth 4: It must be one to one—or you’re done. Technology PD can be used to support teachers in bringing technology to their favored instructional approach, such as whole-group instruction and collaborative group work. It does not force teachers to adapt to pedagogical models they would not use if it were not for technology.
Myth 5: Technology is harmful to youngsters. There are simple ways to ensure safe, developmentally and academically sound uses of technology by youngsters.
Reinvigorating Learning With Technology
The first step in getting technology into the classroom is getting educators to understand how technology can have a positive impact on the core business of teaching and learning.
Motivation: Today’s youngsters are growing up in a digital media environment. By using digital technologies in the classroom, educators can recapture the hearts and minds of their students.
Recontextualized learning and the ability to make an immediate difference: School reform and innovation in instruction are a constant in the educational landscape. Technology can create opportunities for authentic activities in which youngsters do real things in the real world.
Individualized and customized instruction: With the help of technology, content can be tailored to each student’s needs, interests and purposes, according to his or her profile.
Research: Research is a core skill and activity. The use of the World Wide Web and search-engine technology eliminates the limitations research activities presented in the past.
Improved writing through a technology-facilitated writing process: Writing is a skill that is essential to success in all fields of study and professional practice. Word processing programs, graphic organizers and content-specific software facilitate the process of learning to write.
Student publishing: Publishing is an essential and final phase in the writing process. Today’s students, under the guidance of informed teachers, can produce much the same [material] as the publishing industry.
Modeling, illustrating, simulations: A very important component of learning is to observe the reality of things for oneself. Technology makes this possible in ways never before possible.
Multiple intelligences: Because technology brings such a wide variety of possibilities into the educational experience, it can transform the classroom into a multiple-intelligence-centered learning environment.
Connecting to experts and mentors: Interaction with authors, journalists, scientists and politicians can be part of the education young people receive.
Adaptive and assistive technology: Advanced technology now allows physically, emotionally and intellectually challenged students to participate in a great many more mainstream educational activities than ever before.
Leveraging the work of others: Student activities include not just inventing new wheels, but also acknowledging the wheels created by others and extending that work. Youngsters from around the world can collaborate to produce products and understandings far beyond what was traditionally produced.
Source: Recapturing Technology for Education: Keeping Tomorrow in Today’s Classrooms by Mark Gura and Bernard Percy