Oct 12 2006

Teaching the Teacher: Savvy Cyber Teachers

Backed by the U.S. Department of Education and the Technology Innovation Challenge Grant, the Alliance+ project trains teachers to integrate technology into their curricula.

National program helps educators help themselves to technology

FROM WEB-BASED COLLABORATION TO REAL-TIME DATA ACCESS for research, the Internet offers an enormous range of educational possibilities. The question remains, however, whether teachers are ready or able to utilize this resource in an effective way. Alliance+, a non-profit professional development project, is stepping up to meet the challenge.

Supported by a five-year, $9.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Technology Innovation Challenge Grant—a major grant program to fund large-scale, national teacher technology training programs—Alliance+ has trained close to 8,000 teachers in the cities of Phoenix, Cleveland and Miami.

Click HereThe Stevens Institute of Technology in N.J. serves as the Alliance+ project’s lead agency. Adapted from a successful teacher-training model in N.J., the Alliance+ project focuses on improving teacher content knowledge and enhancing student learning. The Stevens Institute now directs the Alliance+ teacher-training programs, leads development of training materials, and acts as an administrative and advisory hub.

With the Alliance+ project’s Department of Education funding scheduled to run out later this year, Stevens is considering implementation of a fee-based model for some of their courses to help cover costs. Currently, however, the courses remain free to school districts and teachers as fresh grants are sought.

“The task that we were faced with when we got funded seemed rather impossible,” says Joshua Baron, associate director for instructional technology for Alliance+ at the Stevens Institute. “We were told that we needed to train close to eight thousand teachers in three cities in five years and it seemed like we would never accomplish that goal.”

Alliance+ met that goal, and Baron attributes the success to the quality of the training and support received from school district community colleges. Community colleges provided an additional $10 million worth of in-kind contributions to support the project, such as paying substitute teachers and teachers’ stipends.


With participating faculty from Phoenix’s Maricopa Community Colleges, Cleveland’s Cuyahoga Community College and Miami-Dade Community College, the Stevens Institute provides onsite and online special training courses that prepare teachers to train “mentor teachers” from their corresponding local school districts. These mentor teachers, in turn, use Alliance+ resources to provide training for colleagues in their home schools. The result is an expansive, collaborative network of Internet-ready teachers, supported by online resources, including listservs and archived materials.

Although the Alliance+ project provides teachers with basic technology skills, such as Web browsing, the projects true value is educating teachers on how best to integrate the Internet with how they teach. “Over the last five years, the teaching population in the United States has mastered many basic technology skills,” Baron says. “Now they come to us with relatively strong basic skills and technology knowledge. The weakest area —and this is where we focus most of our professional development work—is in how to integrate technology knowledge and skills with teaching practices.”

“It’s a big step for teachers to use the Internet as an instructional tool in the same fashion as they would use the traditional blackboard, textbook or piece of lab equipment. That’s not an easy thing to do because it goes beyond just learning a new skill. It’s changing their behavior and how they teach,” Baron says.

“For a lot of teachers technology is just an add-on,” he explains. “They’re sending kids down to the computer lab to do technology stuff but not really doing much of it in the classroom. Teachers use computers a lot for their own work-such as electronic grade books, student worksheets and observation notes-but they don’t integrate technology into how they’re teaching, and don’t use it as an instructional tool.”

Miami-Dade’s Savvy Cyber Teachers

The heart of the Alliance+ project is the Savvy Cyber Teacher (SCT) workshops series—three 30-hour in-service courses (one each at K-5, 6-8, and 9-12 grade levels) that address progressive applications of the Internet in K-12 education. Almost 2,000 teachers have participated in the Alliance+ SCT workshops in Miami-Dade.

“I think the most important idea that Alliance+ stresses is that we can use the Internet for unique and compelling ideas and projects,” says Teresa Casal, an Alliance+ mentor teacher in Miami-Dade, who leads SCT instruction and provides assistance to teachers who have completed the workshop. “The value of the Alliance+ project is that it helps us see the Internet as more than a basic, bare-bones research tool.”

Some of the Internet applications supported by Alliance+ are student Web publishing, real-time data projects (such as tracking ships at sea) and collaboration with international students on large-scale educational projects.

“We can use the Internet to take our children beyond the classroom walls and even remove geographic boundaries,” Casal says. “This is a great equalizer in education because you have many children who don’t have the opportunity to travel to other places, or talk to people from other places.”

In her five years with Alliance+, Casal has trained teachers of all types, from those who are “really scared of technology and have to be taken from step one” to teachers already familiar with Internet and operating system basics.

“Some teachers were able to use 100 percent of the Cyber Savvy course material,” she explains. “Some were able to use only 70 percent. But they all benefited because SCT allowed them to experience the many different applications of technology in education, and in ways they didn’t anticipate.”

Teachers interested in a more advanced version of the CST program can take the Alliance+ course. In the advanced course, teachers focus on their own subject area and design specialized Web sites in their subjects.


Like at Miami-Dade, about 2,000 of Cleveland’s teachers from some 200 schools have taken advantage of Alliance+ training.

“Alliance+ is all about teachers changing their behavior in the classroom and looking towards the benefits of project-based learning,” John Perrin, Cleveland’s Alliance+ project manager, says. “Through our course, teachers see that they can really change their approach to the teaching and learning processes. With Alliance+, student-driven learning in the presence of technology becomes the norm rather than the exception, like the basic traditional versus constructivist orientation.”

Perrin hopes to narrow Cleveland’s digital divide by involving urban students in collaborative, online projects that develop 21st century workplace skills.

The program also brings teachers from different schools closer together. “We’ve found that we may have a Cleveland municipal school and a Catholic diocese school on the same street but the faculty of those two schools don’t have any perception of what’s happening within the walls of each other’s schools,” Perrin says. “Through this program, people find that they have implementation of technology in the classroom as a common interest, if nothing else, and we see collaborations among those teachers and those schools growing from this effort.”


In five years, 2,530 teachers, administrators, instructional support personnel and community college faculty from 65 school districts successfully completed the CST courses, says Dr. Cheri St. Arnauld, national director of teacher education at Phoenix’s Maricopa Community College.

As a result of the CST’s success, the courses are being modified for teacher training centers.

“Due to the success of the project at the K-12 level, the Stevens Institute, with the help of community colleges, has initiated a new project called the ‘Savvy Cyber Professor,’ says Arnauld, who has 15 years of experience as a teacher and administrator in Arizona’s Mesa School District. “We are very excited about this project at Maricopa and have supported the training of a number of our math and science faculty.”

Maricopa Community Colleges recently created a National Center for Teacher Education to improve teacher quality and training. “We’re using Alliance+ as a model for the caliber of training we would like to accomplish with teachers at the K-12 and community college levels,” Arnauld says.

Career Guidance

Bernard Tilley, the guidance counselor at Glenwood High School in New Boston, Ohio, explains the importance of courses like Alliance+. “It’s very important for teachers to upgrade their skills throughout their careers,” he says. “Teachers need to stay abreast of the technology innovations happening in the world today. Technology changes so fast that by the time computers are put into classrooms they may already be obsolete.”

According to Tilley, the technology training needed by teachers varies depending on subject and grade.

“If you’re teaching a kindergarten class or at some of the elementary levels, for example, I don’t think you have to be an Internet expert,” Tilley explains. “It’s always helpful, but doesn’t become essential until you’re in one of the higher-level technology programs. However, if teachers want to go on to another position, it’s definitely good to be qualified and well-versed in technology.”

As the number of schools using the Internet in the classroom increases, training in technology becomes more important. Programs with a technology emphasis, like Alliance+, can help teachers develop and nurture career-enhancing skills on an on-going basis, bringing benefits to teachers and students alike.

Getting your school involved in the Alliance+ program:

1. Begin by talking with someone at your district level to get involved in Alliance+. The program focuses on creating widespread change on how educators integrate technology with teaching, so they prefer to work with school districts, rather than individual teachers.

2. Request the information packet that describes the project, the training model and program acceptance requirements, such as having a specified number of training sessions and an adequately equipped computer lab.

3. Prepare a proposal to Alliance+ that details your districts goals and available program resources, including funding. Alliance+ customizes programs to each school district, and the proposal serves as a baseline for discussion.