If you hadn’t already noticed, education is in the midst of a turning point: Today’s learning environment looks nothing like it did five years ago, and there’s no doubt in my mind that it will look completely different in another five years.
Technology, of course, drives this ongoing transformation.
Expanding connectivity, the rise of one-to-one computing, new developments in personalized learning software and the adoption of hands-on classroom technologies provide students with new and exciting learning opportunities. Teachers benefit, too, as new innovations streamline their workloads, provide real-time insights into student performance and empower collaboration among educators — or at least that’s what we’d like to think.
In many cases, students and teachers miss out on some of these important advantages. In the race to stay up to date on all the latest and greatest technologies, some school and district administrators forget two very important pieces of the puzzle: professional development and training.
The Problems with “Professional Development”
Educators put a lot of stock in, well, education. According to an infographic from Samsung Electronics America and market research giant GfK, 91 percent of teachers believe their success in the classroom depends heavily on having access to technology training. Unfortunately, 60 percent of teachers don’t feel adequately prepared to integrate technology into their lessons.
The reasons behind these sentiments are probably a bit mixed. I imagine that, in some instances, the teachers surveyed wished they had more technical training on the features and functions of different applications and devices. That style of programming is often positioned as, and confused with, professional development — when in fact it simply addresses the “how” of using technology.
I also find it likely that most teachers who responded to the Samsung and GfK survey recognized the larger problem: Schools and districts often prioritize the basic training I just described and do not spend ample time explaining the implications for learning, or the “why” that is driving the educational technology rollout. This misstep can increase teacher resistance and negate the power of technology implementations.
How to Improve Outcomes
So what’s the solution? Tom Daccord is the director and co-founder of EdTechTeacher, a professional development company he helped launch in 2008 dedicated to helping teachers effectively incorporate technology into the classroom. In an essay penned last September, Daccord suggests that technology-focused professional development must be built around a “meaningful pedagogical framework.” He explains:
A defining trait of effective technology programs is a well-defined, actionable, and motivating vision of technology-aided teaching and learning. If teachers understand, accept, and embrace an educational goal, it can become a focal point for a change in practice.
Beyond defining teachers’ learning goals at the start of each training program, schools and districts can research, vet and provide science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) lesson plans and other materials that give teachers a clear picture of how technology implementation might look. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that 80 percent of the teachers surveyed by Samsung and GfK said they would appreciate having access to these sorts of ready-made lesson plans.
To account for the fact that each teacher absorbs information differently, schools and districts might want to consider providing a variety of professional development options, including in-person and online training programs, as well as just-in-time training videos and other on-demand resources. And because stand-alone programs simply can’t have the same impact as ongoing education, administrators should offer continual professional development and training opportunities, even after a hardware or software rollout ends.
Finally, I suggest that schools set aside time during the strategic planning process to create attainable benchmarks for teachers. It is important to involve stakeholders in this discussion to gauge their needs related to both the “why” and the “how” of technology deployments. Doing so will not only improve grassroots acceptance throughout the process but also help ensure the sustainability of schools’ curriculum and technology initiatives.
This article is part of the “Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology” series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.