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Effective Technology Planning for the Technology Literacy Challange (PDF)
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"Just as workers in virtually all industries find computers to be essential, a teacher (or administrator), who is in the communication business already, cannot truly claim competence if he or she does not understand how to use the new technology as a curriculum design, delivery, and assessment instrument and as a means to communicate with students, colleagues, and parents(1)."
Assessment of Staff Competencies
It is important for the district to have a clear idea about the level of staff competency in the use of technology to adequately plan for and evaluate the effectiveness of training and professional development activities(2). This calls for some manner of ongoing assessment of staff competency. To effectively guide decision-making, such assessment should also address the current manner and extent of use of technology for instructional and organizational activities.
Assessment of staff competency in the use of technology could become a political issue unless handled with care. As discussed in Performance Assessment, assessment is for the purposes of planning and evaluating the effectiveness of staff development programs, not evaluating staff. Admittedly, the use of a staff technology competency assessment tool may also be an effective way to communicate to staff the importance of expanding their level of competency in the use of technology.
Training and Professional Development
When developing strategies to address staff competency it is helpful to distinguish between training and professional development. Training relates to basic computer and network literacy skills and the use of administrative software (sort of like Driver's Ed 101). Professional development relates to the instructional uses of technology in the classroom or for high performance organizational purposes (Planning a trip, once you know how to drive).
All school staff, teachers, administrators, and classified staff, will need to gain basic computer literacy and network skills. Such skills are necessary to foster the operations of a high performance organization. As district staff gain these skills, the manner in which information is shared throughout the district will shift to the electronic medium. Anyone without technology skills will be left out. In a high performance organization it is unacceptable for members of the organization to be left out.
Beyond basic computer and network literacy, the kinds and level of computer skills required will vary by position. All staff will require expertise in basic computer literacy, and e-mail. Teachers and administrators will need expertise in web research, basic word processing, and the use the student records system. Administrators will need additional training in district productivity/ operational tools. Classified staff require training in the use of systems necessary to perform their job functions. The additional kinds of computer literacy skills required by teachers will relate more directly to their grade level and subject area -- English teachers will need advanced word processing expertise; mathematics teachers will require expertise in spreadsheets.
Professional development focuses on the integration of technology-related activities into curriculum and organizational operations. Teachers and administrators directly involved with curriculum activities will require professional development in the use of technologies for instruction. Professional development must be closely linked with curriculum and instruction directed at assisting students achieve new performance standards.
Administrators, teachers, board members, and site council members also need professional development in areas related to the effective use of technology for school operations. This includes the use of technology for performance assessment, to enhance internal and external communication, and to facilitate effective decision-making.
The reason it is helpful to distinguish these activities relates primarily to the method of delivery. Training is best accomplished through direct instruction, in person or through the use of video, audio, and computer systems, and just-in-time follow-up support. The best results are achieved if the skills are broken into segments, with no more than two hours per training session, followed by an opportunity to practice and to come back to the trainer with questions. It is critically important to recognize that training staff who do not have immediate access to a similar machine, software, and level of connectivity for in-depth practice is a waste of time and resources.
Professional development is best provided through collaborative learning opportunities. Ample time must be provided on a continuous basis to assimilate, accommodate, implement, and evaluate new instructional and operational approaches. Providing resources and professional development opportunities and the time for the key educators in the district gain new skills and understanding and then become mentors for other teachers or administrators is an effective technique for professional development.
"Professional development can no longer be viewed as an event that occurs on a particular day of the school year; rather, it must become part of the daily work life of educators. Teachers, administrators, and other school system employees need time to work in study groups, conduct action research, participate in seminars, coach one another, plan lessons together, and meet for other purposes(3)."
Many districts rely on one-shot workshops and conferences for professional development. Unfortunately, the impact of such activities in minimal unless there is effective follow-through. Follow-through strategies include teacher reports about insight gained through the experience and teacher mentoring of other teachers who did not attend the workshop or conference. It has also been found that the use of online mailing lists as a follow-up to workshops or conferences substantially increases the impact in the classroom.
Technology and Professional Development: A Two-fold Relationship
The relationship between technology and professional development is two-fold: Educators need professional development to gain skills and understanding in the use of technology for instructional and operational purposes. Technology facilitates and expands access to resources and professional development opportunities, which may or may not be related to the use of technology. The following activities can support professional development in the use of technology as well as a wide range of other professional development activities:
Providing online access to just-in-time curriculum and instruction resource materials through the district web site.
Facilitating electronic communication between educators through the establishment of district discussion groups (mailing lists and computer conferences) and by providing information about regional, state, and national discussion groups. Educators should be encouraged to forward high quality posts from external discussion groups to internal discussion groups.
Facilitating participation in online or video broadcast classes and workshops.
The key group of district educators that will require specialized training and professional development services are the school-based technology coordinators. These individuals are critically-important for the success of the district's technology plan. They are generally required to perform a wide range of activities including first-line network operations services, training and support, planning and budgeting, web site establishment and maintenance, and providing guidance in integrating technology into the curriculum. Focusing strong attention on the needs of these individuals will yield significant benefits. This group also should have their own internal mailing list where they can discuss issues that arise at their school and provide mutual support.
(1)M. Milone, 1996. Beyond bells and whistles: How to use technology to improve student learning. American Association of School Administrators.
(2)PL 103-382, Sec 3135, 20 USC 6845 (D)(i) a description of how the local educational agency will ensure ongoing, sustained professional development for teachers administrators, and school library media personnel served by the local educational agency to further the use of technology in the classroom or library media center, and (ii) a list of the source or sources of ongoing training and technical assistance available to schools, teachers and administrators served by the local educational agency, such as State technology offices, intermediate educational support units, regional educational laboratories or institutions of higher education.
(3)C.J. Cook & C. Fine. "Critical Issue: Finding Time for Professional Development" (1997) North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. (URL: www.ncrel.org/sdrs/ areas/issues/educatrs/profdevl/pd300.htm)