Technology Network for Teachers Gets Another Try
With a plea and a promise, an idea-sharing network to support teachers in the use of technology was launched last week for the third time in less than three years.
This time, proponents say, it's going to work.
"What we are announcing today is truly the beginning of a powerful network of teachers across the country," Linda G. Roberts, the director of educational technology at the Department of Education, said at the annual meeting here of the National Staff Development Council.
"I want to make this plea to all of you that you get involved; more importantly, that you think about and use technology to accomplish the goals you put in place for your kids," she said.
President Clinton announced the creation of the 21st Century Teachers Initiative in May 1996. The project was intended to recruit 100,000 technology-proficient teachers who would each help five colleagues learn how to use technology in the classroom.
Prominent groups such as the National School Boards Association, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Software Publishers Association, as well as Apple Computer Inc., endorsed the initiative. But they offered little money or staff help, and the project never got off the ground.
The McGuffey Project, a Washington-based nonprofit group, took over the effort last year, but again with minimal results.
What makes this latest relaunch different, organizers say, is that it finally has financial backing.
In January, the University of Phoenix, a for-profit institution that specializes in on-line graduate courses for adults, promised $1 million for the project over three years. The money will be used, in part, to hire a full-time fund-raiser and to pay stipends to teachers who are organizing state-level chapters in New Jersey, North Carolina, and Maryland.
Potential for Success
The initiative's Web site will offer teacher members--membership is free but required--a place to exchange advice and teaching materials that involve technology. The address is www.21ct.org.
Teachers are invited to register themselves at the Web site, indicate their interests, and communicate on-line with other teachers with similar interests.
The initiative will also coordinate activities to support staff development in technology at the state and national levels.
Despite the network's disappointing history, the idea is sound, say experts in staff development. On-line communities lessen the isolation that many teachers feel, and tools such as e-mail and Web sites let teachers tailor participation to their busy schedules.
But the initiative now appears like a Johnny-come-lately. There were other electronic networks for teachers in 1996, and there are even more now.
A network must be well-organized and accessible or it won't fly, said Gerald F. Wheeler, the executive director of the Arlington, Va.-based National Science Teachers Association, which hosts a nationwide on-line network of science teachers.
"They'll vote with their fingers," he said. "They'll leave the network if it's not paying off."
Vol. 18, Issue 16, Page 3