ISIS 2000 On-line Conference paper
Sue is a mid-career elementary school classroom teacher. Because of both increasing demands made by her administration and her own desire to improve her teaching performance, she has decided she needs to become more computer literate. She knows she must to be able to use her building’s automated progress report and wants to improve her word processing skills to make more professional looking documents to use with her students and to send home to parents. Sue has a great deal of apprehension about using these mysterious devices.Few educators will dismiss the importance and need for teachers to have training that will help them successfully use technology for both professional productivity and to improve student learning. Yet as the examples above show, the scope of the needs of different teachers for training can be very broad and teachers need ongoing support and training throughout their careers.
Mike is a first year teacher high school teacher of mathematics. While he feels comfortable using the computer for professional productivity (writing tests, illustrating lectures with computerized slide shows, keeping an electronic gradebook, and sending email to parents), he feels that there must be some educational software and Internet sites that can help him challenge his most advanced students and assist his struggling students. Mike would also like to experiment with a class website that would provide information to both his students and their parents.
Beth has been using technology with her middle school social studies students for a number of years. Hypermedia programs, desktop published newspapers, and student-created webpages are an integral part of her curriculum. While her students seem comfortable with using the technology itself, often getting it to do more than even she thought possible, Beth is often disappointed with the content of the projects her students turn in. There seems to be little originality in the students’ conclusions about their topic and she worries that some of what is turned in has been plagiarized.
If a school is to develop a comprehensive plan to make sure all its teachers can continue to improve their teaching abilities through the thoughtful use of technology, it needs to answer four basic questions:
- Why is it important that the teachers in our district use technology?
- What are the specific skills we believe our teachers should have?
- How can we provide effective staff development opportunities for our teachers?
- Who should provide the training?
Why is it important that the teachers in our district use technology?
The United States is doing a poor job of teaching teachers to be productive users of technology. Only one-third of all teachers report feeling “well-prepared1”. New teachers are not coming into the profession any better prepared2.
Despite such a dismal track record, both research and the observed experiences of schools with technology savvy teachers know that there are major benefits
- To improve teacher’s professional productivity by automating routine administrative tasks and improve communications
- To reach, challenge, remediate, and motivate exceptional students through the use of educational software targeted to specific learning objectives
- To master skills taught to students to complete project-based units that rely on technology for research and presentation
- To facilitate active, student-centered, constructivist learning
The decade-long ACOT studies have long reported positive changes of a transformational nature in the classrooms of teachers who have entered the “appropriation” or “invention” stages of computer use3. The findings tell us among other things that these teachers expect more from students, spend more time with individual students, are more comfortable using groups, spend less time lecturing, are more willing to take risks, and collaborate with other in ways that improve learning opportunities.
Schools looking for ways to improve the total educational environment so that more students perform at higher levels see that the long term benefit of teacher technology use will be in facilitating constructivist classrooms that use project-based learning experiences that require problem-solving and higher level thinking skills.
What are the specific skills we believe teachers should have?
While most administrators and parents when asked would say they’d like all teachers to be technologically-literate, my sense is that few of these folks can define what being “technologically-literate” actually means.
The National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers4 is the latest effort of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) to help provide the definition of what a teacher needs to know and be able to do with technology. ISTE breaks the competencies into six broad categories including planning and designing learning environments and experiences; productivity and professional practice; and social, ethical, legal, and human issues
Individual districts like Mankato Area Public Schools have developed their own sets of competencies based on earlier versions of ISTE teacher technology standards. Beginning in 1992, we began using the Beginning CODE 77 Rubrics5 to help guide teachers in their skill acquisition and to help evaluate our training program6. These rubrics help measure how well teachers have mastered basic computer use including using productivity programs such as word processors, spreadsheets, databases, and online tools to improve their professional work. Subsequently, we developed the CODE 77 Internet Rubrics7 for teachers who wanted additional instruction using online resources.
Even teachers who know all the fundamentals of computer use, need help and guidance if they are to use the technology to fundamentally change the way they deliver instruction to assist all students and improve the degree to which problem-solving and high level thinking is asked of students. “Information literacy” skills that rely on the effective use of technology are rapidly gaining prominence as the most important, whole-life skill that schools can teach8. To help teachers create professional development plans that help them learn to use technology in new ways, we wrote The Advanced CODE 77 Rubrics9. Instead of being taught in a classroom setting, these skill sets are long-term goals reached through the successful completion of a variety of collaboratively planned and authentically assessed activities over the course of a school year10.
How can we provide effective staff development opportunities for our teachers?
Technology training for teachers is done through both formal programs and in informal, individualized ways. Formal training opportunities include classes held on staff development days, through structured programs during the school and in summer technology workshops. While there are a variety of keys to successful formal programs11, a primary one is that they are assessed in ways that show they’ve increased the participants’ skill level. Our formal programs have been assessed using pre and post-training completion of the CODE 77 Rubrics, completion of portfolio of technology-generated materials, and surveys that collect anecdotal information12.
Regardless of how well formal staff development activities are structured, classroom instruction alone does not result in the kinds of the most desirable technology uses described earlier in this article13. A major portion of any professional growth plan like those used to help teachers master the Advanced CODE 77 Rubrics or more sophisticated of the NETS competencies will require ongoing, individualized, onsite instruction and support. Each of the teachers who undertake learning tasks like those in the examples at the beginning of this article requires the help of an available, trained technology “expert” who understands classrooms, children, and school operations.
Who should provide the training?
Schools have relied a variety of different individuals to provide staff training in whole or in part. As the chart below suggests, all types of trainers have their strengths and weaknesses:
Our school district among others has had wonderful success in giving our teacher-librarians responsibility for staff development in technology. And there is a long list of reasons why this has been successful:
1. TLs have a healthy attitude toward technology. I am afraid my latent sexism will show here, but the majority of our teacher-librarians are female, and females often exhibit a healthier attitude toward technology than do we males. On seeing a new box, rather than asking “How fast is the processor?” or “How big is the hard drive?”, a teacher-librarian tends to ask “What is it good for?” Good TLs are neither technophiles nor technophobes. The TL considers and teaches not just how to use technology, but why and under what circumstances it should be used. An old adage says that when your only tool is a hammer, every problem becomes a nail. For many technologists, technology can become the solution to problems that actually require traditional or human solutions. (Ever see someone spend 45 minutes using a computer to address an envelope?)
2. TLs have good teaching skills. Most teacher-librarians are skilled teachers. Unlike technicians they are more likely to use good pedagogical techniques and have more developed human relations and communication skills. They are very likely to display the seven qualities of highly effective technology trainers.14 (Appendix One) As teachers themselves, teacher-librarians can be understanding and empathetic when technologically related stress occurs in the classroom.
3. TLs understand the use of technology in the information literacy process and how it can be used to help foster higher level thinking skills. Good research assignments even before the tidal wave of technology rushed over the schools emphasized using information to arrive at original conclusions and supportable answers to real problems. Technology as viewed by TLs is just one more, extremely powerful tool that can be used by students completing information literacy projects15. As this article indicates, the support of a constructivist approach to learning is technology’s most powerful use in education, but is also its most difficult to establish in the culture of the school.
4. TLs are experienced skill integrators and collaborators. “Integration” into the classroom is the goal of every technology plan I’ve seen. Integration of research and information literacy projects has been a long-term goal of school library programs, and as a result many TLs have become excellent collaborators with classroom teaches, successfully strengthening the curriculum with information literacy projects. Schools that have most successfully integrated technology into their curricula are those which already had project-based unit supported by a TL.
5. TLs serve as models for the successful use of technology. In many schools, the TL was the first educator in the building to purposely use technology. The library’s automated library catalogs, circulation systems, electronic reference materials, and student accessible workstations all showed up well before classroom technologies. Teachers rightfully see TL as the educator with the most comfort with technology as well, which in turn bolsters their own self-confidence.
6. TLs provide in-building support. A flexibly scheduled TL is a real asset to the teacher learning to use or integrate technology. As partners, the TL can work with the teacher in the library, lab or classroom. The TL is available for questions that might otherwise derail a teacher’s application of technology. (How do you create a numbered list? How do I get a picture imported into this slide show?) I see this as a primary advantage of the TL as opposed to a classroom teacher having primary responsibility for staff development in technology.
7. TLs have a whole school view. In too many schools, technology is often used exclusively in the classrooms of the early adopters and unless students have that teacher, they will not have access to a fair share of technology resources. Next to the principal, the TL has the most inclusive view of the school and its resources. The TL can make recommendation on where technology needs to be placed or upgraded as well as on what departments or teachers may need extra training and support in its use.
8. TLs are concerned about the ethical use of technology. The library profession has long viewed copyright, materials selection, and intellectual freedom as areas of important, even vital, interest to their organizations and patrons. These issues will grow in importance as the virtual world makes ethical decisions more confusing16. Students will need to have the skills to self-evaluate information; understand online copyright laws and intellectual property issues; and issues of safety and appropriate use of resources. Classroom teachers assisted by knowledgeable TLs need to make ethics instruction a part of every activity that uses technology.
9. TLs can provide the needed leadership in buildings for technology integration. As effectively argued by Mary Alice Anderson, a Minnesota TL, teacher-librarians are in a unique position to plan, direct, and lead technology efforts by keeping current with educational trends and new technologies17. As administrators are increasingly being called on to “restructure” their schools to make them higher performing, they will be looking for allied change agents to help them. The TLs can be those allies.
“Ah, but my TL demonstrates few of the attributes mentioned above,” you may say. Our profession like most has a range of quality in its members. Two things keep more TLs from being excellent technology trainers. First, we forget that those responsible for staff development must have good opportunities for training themselves. TLs can justify a need for workshops, conferences, and training sessions beyond that of the classroom teacher. Second, TLs must be viewed by both their building staff and by themselves as being the person responsible for technology staff development and support. Accompanying the extra training must be the expectation and acceptance that the knowledge and skills gained will be proactively shared with the rest of the building’s teachers.
The importance of good staff development for all teachers was brought home to me in a powerful way at school open house I attended a few years ago. A parent, recognizing me as the district’s technology director, complimented me on the technology skills of one of the 3rd grade teachers in the building. “She’s wonderful. Her room is full of projects kids used technology to complete. The kids are excited and I think the skills they are getting are import.” I smiled graciously to think he saw me as in some way helping make this happen. Then he lowered the boom by saying., “Problem is, my son is the 3rd grade room across the hall and his teacher does nothing with technology. Shouldn’t enthusiastic teachers help all children in this school learn these important skills? When are you going to something about it?”
The “something” I’ve done about it is to help create opportunities for technology training on a variety of levels taught, reinforced and supported by exemplary teacher-librarians. If all your teachers aren’t using technology well, when are you going to do something about it?
- Teacher Use of Computers and the Internet in Public Schools <http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2000090>
- Data Market Retrieval Report 1999 <http://www.schooldata.com/media1.html>
- Dwyer, David C. “Changes in Teachers’ Beliefs and Practices in Technology-Rich Classrooms,” Educational Leadership, May 1991, pp. 45-52 Volume 48, Issue 8).
- The National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers < http://cnets.iste.org/index3.html>
- The Beginning CODE 77 Rubrics <http://www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/Rubbeg.HTM>
- Johnson, Doug “What Does It Look Like? Part I: The Code 77 Rubrics,” Technology Connection, December 1997
- The Internet CODE 77 Rubrics <http://www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/Rubint.htm>
- ISTE’s National Educational Technology Standards for Students < http://cnets.iste.org/index2.html> and AASL/AECT’s “The Nine Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning,” from Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning, ALA, 1998 <http://www.ala.org/aasl/ip_nine.html>
- The Advanced CODE 77 Rubrics <http://www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/Rubadv.HTM>
- Johnson, Doug. “Now That All Teachers Know How to Word Process: Rubric-Guided Professional Growth Targets,” Leading and Learning With Technology (forthcoming November 2000, December/January 2001).
- Johnson, Doug “Learned Helplessness,” Technology Connection, May 1996 < http://www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/helplessness.html>
- Johnson, Doug. “One Step Back, Two Steps Forward.” 1994 <http://www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/code77.html>
- Teacher-Centered Staff Development. <http://www.apple.com/education/professionaldevelopment/tchrcenterstaff.html>
- Johnson, Doug “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Technology Trainers,” from The Indispensable Teacher’s Guide to Computer Skills: A Staff Development Guide. Linworth Publishing, 1998.
- Johnson, Doug “Computer Skills for Information Problem Solving.” (with Mike Eisenberg) Emergency Librarian, May 1996. <http://www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed392463.html>
- Johnson, Doug “Developing an Ethical Compass for Worlds of Learning MultiMedia Schools, November/December 1998. < http://www.infotoday.com/MMSchools/nov98/johnson.htm>
- Anderson, Mary Alice “Staff Development: Your Most Important Role” MultiMedia Schools, January/February 2000 <http://www.infotoday.com/MMSchools/jan00/anderson.htm>
Appendix: Seven qualities of highly effective technology trainers
from The Indispensable Teacher’s Guide to Computer Skills: A Staff Development Guide. Linworth Publishing, 1998.
1. The problem is on the desk, not in the chair.
When a problem arises, the best trainers assume that it is a result of a hardware or software flaw - whether an actual bug or a design in the user interface that makes the technology confusing for normal people to use. It’s sometimes tough to help people increase their knowledge without making them feel stupid or incompetent, but good teachers do. Phrases like, “My third graders can do that.” “You know it works better when you plug it in.” and “No, the other right arrow.” are not recommended.
2. No mouse touching.
Good trainers are patient. One sure sign of this saintly virtue in teachers is that they never touch a student’s mouse or keyboard. No matter how exasperating it becomes to watch that ill-coordinated teacher find and click on the correct button, good instructors’ hands stay well behind their backs, no matter how white knuckled they become.
3. Great analogies.
There is a theory that the only way we can think about a new thing is if we have some way to relate it to what we already know. Good trainers can do that by creating analogies. “Your email account is like a post office box. Your password is like your combination to get into it. Your email address is like your mailing address – it tells the electronic postmaster where to send your email.” Now here’s the catch: truly great analogists know when the comparisons break down, too. “Unlike a human postmaster, the electronic postmaster can’t make intelligent guesses about an address. The extra dot, the L instead of a 1, or a single juxtaposition of letters will keep your mail from being delivered.”
4. Clear support materials and advanced planning.
Few things are more comforting to teachers than being able to take home a “cheat sheet” that covers much of the same material that was taught in class. Until multi-step tasks are repeated several times, most of us need reminders that are more descriptive than just notes taken in class. A short menu of task steps illustrated with screen shots is a gift for most technology learners.
Just as they take time to prepare good handouts, the savvy technology teachers check out the lab or teaching area well in advance (a week is best) for potential problems with workstations, software version, projection units, security systems, and network connections. Good instructors leave little to chance.
5. Knowing what is essential and what is only confusing.
A good trainer will have a list of the skills the learners should have mastered by the end of the training. As instruction proceeds, that list will be the basis for frequent checks for understanding. As an often-random thinker, I find such a list keeps me as an instructor on track and provides a class roadmap for the learner. Now here’s the catch with this one: truly great technology teachers know what things beginning learners really need to know to make them productive and what things might be conveyed that only serve to impress a captive audience with the technologist’s superior intellect. (“The email address is comprised of the username, the domain name, the subdomain name, the computer name, all referenced in a lookup table at the NIC.” Like that.) It’s an alpha wolf thing, especially common with males. Be aware of it, and strive as an instructor instead to use charm and a caring demeanor with the pack to achieve dominance.
6. If it breaks, we’ll fix it.
Kids catch on to technology with amazing rapidity for a very good reason. They aren’t afraid to push buttons. They know if they mess something up, it’s an adult’s job to fix it. That’s one nice thing about being a kid. However we need to instill in most of our adult learners the courage to experiment. Rather than always answering direct questions about technology, good trainers will often say, “Try it and see what happens. If you mess something up, I’ll help you fix it.” We tell our new technology learners that we can repair or replace anything but their original creations. The only real worry they should have is about backing up personal files.
Many of us who work with technology do so because we love it. We play with new software on the weekends, surf the Internet deep into the evening, and show off our new gadgets like other folks show off prize winning zinnias, new powerboats, or successful children. I hesitate to use the term “abnormal,” but we are in the minority. Most teachers see technology as a sometimes helpful thing that should occupy about 1% of one’s conscious thinking time. It’s easy to lose that perspective that teachers are teachers first and technology users second – or third or fourth. Good trainers who can remember what it was like before there were computers – the green grass, the singing birds, the books to read, the parties to attend, the fishing trips, the face-to-face human communication– tend to be more empathetic. Think back, think back…