Teaching the Teachers
Even as educators rush to usher U.S. schools into the online revolution,a gap is growing between students' access to the technology and the teacherswho are familiar with all the new hardware and software.
Now that 80 percent of the nation's schools have Internet access and theinstalled base of computers in schools has grown to 6 million, educationexperts are calling for school districts to launch professional developmentcourses so that teachers can ensure a healthy return on the investment forthe technology tools.
The gap between access to information technology and its effective usewithin classrooms is significant, according to a recent report by the CEOForum on Education and Technology. Last year, schools projected they wouldspend $5.65 per student on computer training for teachers. However, theyalso expected to spend $88.19 per student on instructional hardware, softwareand connectivity, according to the report. Only 20 percent of teachers feltwell-prepared to integrate education technology into classroom, the reportsays.Overall, the topic has not been widely addressed in K-12 schools, said MarkRoot, project director at CEO Forum. "Schools have just been in a catch-upmode," he said. "They've been more focused on getting the hardware and connectivityissues taken care of. You can go and teach teachers how to use technology,but unless they have it, it's worthless."
The report calls for school districts to allocate one-third of theirentire technology budgets to teacher training. Root calls it a radical wake-upcall. Schools had never considered investing that kind of money in teachertraining, he said.
Wade Sayer, director of the 21st Century Teachers Network, which isworking to support teachers trying to incorporate technology into the classroomthrough its interactive World Wide Web site and newly forming state chapters,said the technology is too new in many schools for teachers to have masteredit.
Most teachers have access to computers at home and have access to theInternet, Sayer said. But they don't know how to use those skills to createassignments and lessons in the classrooms.
Dara Feldman, early childhood instructional technology specialist atMaryland's Montgomery County Schools, said she did not receive adequatetechnology training as a kindergarten teacher and resorted to learning theskills on her own.
"It shouldn't be that they have to go above and beyond to teach themselves,"Feldman said. "Without teacher training, computers sit there, and the CD-ROMholders get used as coffee cup holders."Heeding the Training Call
Despite the national gap between access to information technology inschools and teacher expertise in incorporating its use into the classroom,several school districts recently have launched technology training programsfor teachers. Because of the historical lack of money allocated by schooldistricts to training, many are dependent upon federal grants. There areadditional challenges, such as education policies that do not mandate technologytraining, and teacher resistance to incorporating the technology into theclassroom.
The McCormick County school district in southwestern South Carolinawas one of 11 grant recipients chosen this year to receive grants for technologytraining as part of the Education Department's Technology Innovative ChallengeGrant Program. This program is designed to support educators, industry partners,communities, parents and others who are using new technologies to increasethe quality of education.
Called the Teacher's 21st Century Chalkboard, this five-year, $6.5 millionprogram requires South Carolina teachers from three rural school districtsto meet four competency levels in technology use and integration into theclassroom, said Betty Jo Hall, director of the project. Five full-time trainerswill work with educators, and a mobile technology center will float betweenthe district's schools to provide technology access. As teachers meet theirrequired competency levels, they will receive a laptop computer loaded withnetwork cards and modems.
"Technology in a teacher's classroom is as important as a chalkboardwas in the past 50 years," Hall said. "Rather than technology being a separatesubject area, the key is to have it integrated throughout the curriculum.You can always do word processing and some spreadsheets...[but] when youhave to learn how to do a science class incorporating live video and theInternet...that's when you get into help with the instruction."
The county is requiring all teachers to meet the competencies outlinedin the grant, and the state eventually will require teachers to take certaintechnology classes before receiving recertification.
When South Carolina incorporates technology requirements into its recertificationprocess, it will become only the fourth state to require technology trainingas a prerequisite for license renewal, according to the CEO Forum report.As for new hires, only two states — North Carolina and Vermont — requireteaching candidates to have a portfolio that shows they can use technology.
For example, Maine schools rank among the highest in the nation forconnectivity, but as a local-control state, school districts are free fromstate policy requiring technology training for teachers, said Jenifer VanDeusen, educational consultant at the Maine Center for Educational Services.Although most local districts have provided basic training — including howto turn on a computer — there is little official policy for advanced technologytraining in the state, she said.
Many states have opted to take the traditional workshop training path,but Maine is looking for what Van Deusen describes as lone wolves, or teacherswho have taken particularly innovative approaches to infusing technologyinto the classrooms. Through the federal technology innovation grant program,those leaders are given money to expand their work and are trained to mentorother teachers.
"We might have a teacher who has developed a unit on wildflowers...thenthey've infused the unit with digital cameras and spreadsheets," Van Deusensaid. "We'll hold that person up as a mentor. We think that the leveragepoint for school change is to liberate the energy that is present in theinnovators. Essentially, it's teachers teaching teachers. Teachers willlearn things from other teachers that they wouldn't learn from so-calledexperts."
Motivating Teachers To Learn
Some districts may find technology training policy shortfalls a hurdleto fostering professional development, but others have developed alternativemethods to transform teachers into students.
In Edwardsville, Ill., and surrounding counties, teachers participatingin a program funded via the federal technology innovation program signedand agreement to participate in nine days of technology training, said BarbColeman, proj-ect coordinator of the training program.
Teachers learn to rewrite curriculum units to integrate the use of technologyand to incorporate technology into the traditional concept of engaged learning,a theory of allowing students to become more empowered in their own learningprocess, Coleman said.
"The biggest challenge is probably the anxiety level of the teacher,"Coleman said. "They know that those kids are much more advanced with thetechnology."
In addition, each teacher is provided with a laptop and encouraged topractice the skills learned in the training.
"We thought if they could take it with them, they would use it more,"Coleman said.
Teresa Wilkins, a teacher and technology coordinator at Our Lady ofMt. Carmel in Middle River, Md., said teachers need incentives to be motivatedto participate in technology training programs.
Her school participates in a program funded by Baltimore County's schoolsystem, called the Technology Literacy Challenge, in which teachers receivepaid training. In addition, her school's technology training program providesincentives such as gift certificates, paid time off and a laptop computerfor teachers who accomplish a certain level of training.
"It's one thing to tell your teachers they need training," Wilkins said."You have to spark them to come to the training. You have to find somethinga little unusual to motivate them to do this."
Despite the five-year, $10 million federal grant to Illinois schools,Edwardsville's Coleman said the grant money will not cover the $5,800 perteacher needed for technology training. Officials hope to plant the seedwith participating teachers, who will pass their knowledge on to colleagues.
"Hopefully, if we can get one building out of that district, than thatwill bleed over to other buildings," Coleman said.
Three school districts in Arkansas City, Kansas, also will receive federalfunding totaling more than $5 million over five years for training teachersin technology.
Ron Young, director of the training program, said the districts wouldbe severely limited without the federal funding because only one percentof the district's budget is allocated for professional development.
"As far as putting lots of money into a budget for professional developmentitself, the monies just aren't put there," Young said.
However, with the federal grant, all of the approximately 410 teachersin the participating Arkansas City districts will receive three years oftraining. They will participate in a two-week summer boot camp, which willfocus on using technology in the classroom and honing teaching styles andstrategies to adapt to various technology tools.
In addition, each teacher will be required to attend 24 hours of technologytraining workshops during the school year. As the teachers progress throughthe training, they will be surveyed to assess their skill level and theworkshops will be updated to accommodate evolving capabilities, Young said.
"Our actual goal is to look at changing the way they approach classroominstruction," Young said. "Our technology training is broad-based. We coverword processing, spreadsheets and desktop presentations...we also deal withthe use of the Internet in the classroom."
In addition, roving technical support specialists will visit teachersfor an hour each week to help integrate technology into the classroom. Themost challenging part of the training is getting teachers to abandon theirresistance to change, Young said.
"In a lot of their minds...[teachers think], "Well, we'll take the kidsto the technology lab when we have time,' " Young said. "The technologyis not a separate item. It just needs to be as easy an item to use as goingto the chalkboard or the overhead projector."
Whatever approach schools take to training teachers, it is criticalto students that technology is incorporated into the process, said JamesCarroll, director of Syracuse University's Law Related Education: Goal forAmerican Leadership program. Carroll is heading a federally funded programthat aims to train 1,000 teachers in Bronx, N.Y., during the next five yearsto integrate technology into their lesson plans.
"It's a brand new medium...that's going to have unforeseen impact oneducation," Carroll said. "If [students] don't gain these skills in school,they just won't gain them." l
— Heather Harreld is a free-lance writer based in Cary, N.C.