'Learning communities' are emerging to meet the professional-development needs of teachers.
Teachers in Klein, Texas, are swapping online resources and technology tips through collaborative learning communities. Educators in Overland Park, Kan., are embedding technology into the district’s academic-curriculum revisions. And schools in Chicago are being encouraged to fill a new position—instructional technology specialist—that is specifically designed to help teachers with the technical aspects of integrating technology into learning.
These efforts are examples of how school districts are upgrading their professional development to keep teachers, and their students, on the cusp of the latest educational technology.
“Historically and traditionally, the teacher had all the information,” says Ann McMullan, the executive director for educational technology in the 38,600-student Klein Independent School Distirct. “Now we live in a world where information abounds everywhere, and it requires a different skill set.”
The change has shifted the role of the teacher from “the deliverer of content” to “the facilitator of learning,” says McMullan. And that change requires teachers to become students once again, often seeking help from other teachers, and even their own students, to implement technology effectively in the classroom.
To gear up for a new one-to-one middle school campus where each student will receive a laptop, opening in the Klein district this fall, teachers are being encouraged to form online professional-development communities with colleagues that they can use to seek technology advice, share online resources, and exchange tips.
This learning-community model has already been put in place in one of the district’s smaller schools—a 150-student dropout-prevention program—with positive results.
“It has become a natural part of the day for teachers,” McMullan says of the learning communities. They have helped schools gather support for new technology initiatives and ensured that all teachers have the resources to become technology-savvy, she adds.
Lynn N. Nolan, the senior director of education leadership at the Washington-based International Society for Technology in Education, agrees that collaborative-learning communities are a key component of incorporating technology into the classroom.
“It’s important for teachers to be a part of a community,” she says. “Not so long ago, teachers would go into their classrooms, close the door, teach independently, and go home without talking to another adult. In this increasingly digital world, we have so many opportunities to connect.”
Having professional learning communities in place at schools can also encourage younger teachers, who may be more comfortable with using technology, to help their veteran colleagues integrate new tools into the classroom to enhance learning and better engage students.
1. Encourage teachers to familiarize themselves with the Internet by signing up for e-newsletters, reading blogs, or building a Web site. The more comfortable they become with the Internet, the more likely they will be to incorporate it into their lessons.
2. Suggest that teachers establish learning communities with their colleagues to share resources and tips. Pooling online resources will save teachers time and give them a foothold when they begin searching for information.
3. Have an on-site staff member available to help teachers with new technology. Teachers are more likely to use the techniques they’ve learned during professional-development classes if they have a mentor to encourage them.
4. Provide strong leadership and a clear vision of what the role of technology should be in the classroom. Without a goal in mind, technology often becomes an obstacle rather than a helpful tool.
5. Embed technology into the curriculum, rather than using it as an add-on to pre-existing lesson plans. Technology should be used when it fits with the lesson, not just for its own sake.
6. Assure teachers not to be intimidated by students, or younger teachers, who may know more about technology than they do. Instead, encourage them to treat this knowledge as a learning opportunity for the whole class or faculty.
But learning how to use the technology is only the beginning, Nolan cautions. The real focus shouldn’t be on how the technology works, but how it can be harnessed to help students learn.
Robert Gravina, the chief technology officer for California’s 33,000-student Poway Unified School District, explains: “We’ve moved past teaching our teachers how to use e-mail. How to integrate technology into [their] lessons so it’s effective and engaging—that’s really the skill that teachers need to learn now.”
For instance, Lynne Harvey, a 4th grade teacher at the 740-student Monterey Ridge Elementary School in the Poway district, uses live Web cameras in her classroom near San Diego to observe a peregrine falcon’s nest on the windowsill of an office building in Cleveland. For the past six years, Harvey has led online chats with other schools about the project, connected with researchers from across the country through an Internet forum, and helped her students create podcasts detailing their research on the birds.
Transforming the role of technology from a mere addition to a lesson plan to an integral part of the curriculum is a shift Bob Moore, the executive director of information technology services for Kansas’ 20,000-student Blue Valley school district in Overland Park, emphasizes.
As he explains in an e-mail interview: “We embed technology integration into curriculum training. So, for example, when we revise the math curriculum, we include technology as part of that revision, and when teachers are trained to implement the new curriculum, the technology integration is just part of it. By including technology use as part of the curriculum plan, … technology integration becomes natural, rather than an add-on.”
Stacey A. Campo, an instructional technology specialist for the Poway Unified schools, teaches after-school training sessions for teachers and organizes skill-based technology workshops throughout the year, on topics such as searching the Internet and creating audio files. Her main focus is training educators to be comfortable with the Web.
“Teachers need to have a Web presence,” she says. “They should have the skill set to have a voice on the Internet.”
To familiarize teachers with the Internet, Campo suggests that each educator build a Web site, start a blog, or create a podcast. Once teachers can navigate their way around the Web, they have the potential to use their skills for collaborative efforts between classrooms, schools, and countries, Campo believes.
But perhaps what is most important to ensuring the success of technology in education is the support of administrators, she says.
“If our administrators don’t know what to look for, don’t know what to implement, don’t have a vision,” she says, “then they won’t be able to provide the resources for our teachers to implement it.”
Sharnell S. Jackson, the chief e-learning officer for the 421,000-student Chicago public schools, shares Campo’s view. The systemic change needed to integrate technology effectively into education requires strong leadership, she says.
“What really matters is that principals have a vision for technology,” Jackson says. “When they have a vision, that’s when it can happen.”
In addition to support from administrators, having ongoing support from instructional technology specialists at each school can boost teachers’ technology use. Jackson recently approved such school-based technology positions for her district and is encouraging schools to provide the service to teachers.
“A classroom teacher can’t handle supporting instructional technology,” she says. “[The position has] become a necessity.”
Vol. 01, Issue Fall 2007, Pages 22-23