Tech Reality Check
Tech reviews can help schools see the big integration picture.
Principal Holly Hawthorne wanted to know whether the technology that had been implemented at Arlington Traditional School in Virginia was enhancing education to its fullest extent. In April 2006, she was about to find out.
At her invitation, the district’s Instructional Technology Services Group sent a team of experts to spend a day at the school, interview staff, sit in on classes and then develop a list of recommendations to improve technology integration.
In its report, the six-member team suggested, among other things, that the school’s technology coordinator meet with each grade-level team to identify subjects that are the hardest to teach or with the fewest resources. Then educators should integrate technology to strengthen that unit and pique students’ interest.
The team also identified as a best practice having technology at teachers’ fingertips any time. So the school deployed portable presentation carts for each grade level that include a notebook computer and a projector, so teachers can easily show online video or Web content on large screens.
The technology review “gave us a good baseline of where we were with the integration of technology, as well as summarized our strengths and weaknesses,” Hawthorne says.
Nationwide, the need is growing for these technology reality checks. “Schools are beginning to realize they’ve invested a lot of money in hardware, software and infrastructure and still they’re not seeing really strong tech integration in the classroom. They’re trying to figure out why,” says Kathi Lengel, a technology integration specialist at the Massachusetts Elementary School Principals Association (www.mespa.org), which performs technology audits. “Before the next round of strategicplans, they want to know what’s going on in their districts.”
Checklist for that Technology Review
- Enlist district resources, educational consultants or nonprofit organizations to conduct the review.
- Define best practices that conform to state and district guidelines.
- Meet with district leaders early to win support for the plan.
- Survey or interview teachers, students, parents and administrators.
- Dig deeper with focus groups.
- Stick with predefined objectives when developing recommendations.
- Meet with teachers and administrators to discuss the review findings.
- Follow up to assist in implementing the findings.
Steps for coordinating a technology review:
In the Arlington school district, principals must invite review teams and include focus groups with school administrators, teachers, school support staff and the school’s technology committee.
Other districts may hire an educational consulting firm or a nonprofit education organization for the project.
The Review Team
At Arlington, each technology review requires a team of six or seven central office tech personnel. The team includes supervisors for instructional technology services and library media services, special projects, instructional technology design and evaluation, instructional media integration, distance learning and a rotating school-based instructional technology coordinator.
Prior to conducting a review, the coordinator identifies logistical requirements. These include identifying administrators, teachers and support staff who are willing to take part in a focus group, as well as teachers willing to be observed.
Defining Best Practices
Districts must identify a method for defining goals and measuring performance.
Arlington Public Schools use their own Integration Observation Tool, developed by Dr. Sheryl Asen, an instructional design and evaluation specialist. The tool to conduct teacher observations is based in part on the Levels of Technology Implementation framework developed by Dr. Christopher Moersch of the National Business Education Alliance.
The tool has six levels that define technology implementation using a series of indicators. Each level dovetails with specific pedagogy and includes both teacher and student roles and responsibilities. Reviewers check all descriptors that are demonstrated by the teacher during the lesson. An overall rating is based on the pedagogy used and the level of technology implementation observed.
Other schools use similar tools to define best practices for integrating technology into education. At Belmont Public Schools in Massachusetts, an outside group used a combination of the state’s School Technology and Readiness chart to define state standards, and the enGauge model, a nationally recognized, research-driven framework that gave the district practical implementation guidelines for those standards. The North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (engauge.ncrel.org) and the Metiri Group developed enGauge.
Interviews and Surveys
Both school districts interviewed or surveyed teachers, parents and/or students to gauge their thoughts on technology in the schools. Arlington held group interviews with teachers at each grade level, as well as with tech personnel and the district’s technology committee.
Interviewers posed questions such as: What are the strengths of the school’s technology program and the countywide technology program? What areas of the tech program need to be strengthened? And what are three major technology initiatives you would like to see implemented in the next two or three years?
The focus group meetings typically take 30 minutes and involve any staff member willing to participate, with groups organized by grade level, team or discipline depending on the type of school.
Afterward, the review team observes teachers using technology in the classroom.
Belmont conducted online surveys of 1,876 parents, teachers and students using SurveyMonkey.com, an online service, which made it easier to tabulate survey results, says Dr. Lee McCanne, the school’s director of technology. Based on the initial results, the team held focus groups to delve deeper into the respondents’ ideas and concerns, which culminated in a final report.
MESPA, which conducted the review, credits the survey’s huge response to the full support of the school administration. “We met with leadership first to define the project and put it on their radar screen,” Lengel says.
The Final Report
At Arlington, once the technology review has been completed, each team member drafts summaries of the focus groups’ and teachers’ observations. The review team then meets to discuss and create a list of the strengths of the school’s technology program, identify weaknesses and make recommendations regarding how to address the weaknesses. Individual summaries and group recommendations make up the final report.
At Belmont, “this report really helps us explain to the school community at large that it’s not just me saying, ‘We need this.’ It’s based on national standards and best practices,” McCanne says. In his next round of technology planning, McCanne plans to include more student access to equipment and the addition of integration support in the classroom to help teachers integrate tech tools into their instruction — with the written backing of the technology audit.
Dr. James Carroll is special projects administrator with Arlington Public Schools in Virginia.
Common Roadblocks: Access and Training
The two most common problems with integrating technology in education are limited access to computers and lack of time for teacher training, says Kathi Lengel, a technology integration specialist at the Massachusetts Elementary School Principals Association.
Many schools spend thousands of dollars on computers but then place this equipment in a lab where teachers have to wait to use it, she says. “Access means anytime, anyplace — reaching out to a computer like you reach out for a marker or a book.”
Teachers also need time and space to learn how to use technology tools as part of their curriculum, Lengel says. “If teachers don’t have the tools in their own hands 24x7, the chance of incorporating them into their curriculum is pretty slim.”