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Final Project: Professional Development for Effective Technology Integration in Education

Posted on: April 4, 2011

 

Why is Teacher Professional Development (PD) for technology use important?

          Having computers in classrooms is pointless if teachers do not have the time to experiment with the programs and implement new practices in the classroom. (Cunningham, 2003) It is a waste of time, money and resources if the technology is placed in classrooms without the PD to support effective use of such PD (Carlson and Gadio, 2002). 

          There is a need for teacher Professional Development (referred to as PD for the rest of paper) on technology because without the PD teachers may continue to use the new technology in the same manner as the old, just with newer equipment. I have encountered several teachers who simply use their LCD projector / smart board as a high tech projector by simply typing the notes that they would have used for their overhead projector. Without proper info or training, teachers are left to their own devices and for some, this does not positively impact or improve student learning, the whole reason for using technology in the classroom in the first place.

          In our increasingly busy world, we as teachers are faced every day with the daunting task of trying to prepare our students for the unknown future. We are trying to teach our students skill sets that can be applied to new situations and the ever changing workforce. As school boards and departments of education implement programs for students to use and have access to technology, it is all too often forgotten that teachers, those who are introducing and continuing the students’ education on this new hardware, software or concept, are the ones who also need to have the confidence and the ‘know how’ to effectively use the technology.  It is difficult perhaps for policy makers and budget makers to envision the importance of teacher PD but while the purchase of ‘x’ amount of dollars may look impressive to the public, the end result is that without proper instruction and preparation to use the technology, the funding has been wasted.         Verdisco & Navarro (2000) suggests PD funding should equal half of every dollar of hardware/ software that is brought into the schools.  This amount can be further adjusted once those teachers who received the initial PD pass on the information to others in their school or implement small group sessions. In Verdisco & Narvarro’s Costa Rican Experiment, it was interesting to see that how over time, the cost of providing PD to teachers became more and more feasible as more teachers were trained.  Participant schools in this well- funded experiment (half of the technology funds went towards PD) were able to very successfully integrate technology into their students’ learning.

          One of the biggest problems for effectively incorporating technology into a teachers’ everyday practice is the lack of teacher knowledge (Fatemi, 1999).  PD can quickly and efficiently address this problem and make it no longer an obstacle to teaching with technology. We have to remember that our teachers, unlike are students have not always lived in a world that is connected 24/7. For some of our teachers, texting, web 2.0 and blogging are foreign languages! In order for teachers to see the potential in these and other forms of technology we need to educate our entire workforce. At an in-service recently through the Halifax Regional School Board, it was said that our teaching population in the schools spanned across four decades of teachers. That is a vast difference in exposure to technology. This is not to imply use or knowledge of technology is solely based on age but it does shed some light on the need for common PD and experiences in order for teachers to have an equal opportunity to learn how to use technology and to keep current with new equipment and advancements.  

          The whole point of using technology to teach is to improve students’ performance in skills acquisition as well as content. This can only be done with effective use of technology by a well prepared and comfortable teacher who knows the technology well enough to adjust and use the key features of said technology to reach all of his / her students (Carlson and Gadio, 2002). We want teachers to be able to put the technology to use, not for the sake of using the technology but to help all students have an opportunity for genuine learning in the most efficient and effective way. Self-taught methods and reading a user manual may not lead to these outcomes. If a teacher is not seen as confident in the technology use, it is safe to say their creativity in using the technology to tailor to individual students’ learning needs will be limited.

          It is also imperative that students see all teachers; male female, younger, older using the technology confidently and effectively. As role models to students, this could create some unintended biases in our students and their thoughts about who can and cannot use technology.

          According to Cunningham (2003), one of the most important ways to ensure that incorporating technology into the classroom is a success is to make sure that there is a ‘culture’ of technology fostered throughout the school, the school board and amongst any other key players such as a Department of Education or State District.  A technology culture is something that needs to be developed through long and short term goals that are mapped out clearly for all to see. The details of how technology will be implemented, a timeframe for the placement of technology  and the learning goals this technology will meet is all included in the vision map from the beginning.  Also, the support and focus on technology cannot be limited to a few selected pockets or people. For the culture of technology, and therefore the technology use and integration of the technology to be successful, everyone throughout the board, from the most senior administration to the teachers and support staff must be ‘on board’ with the initiative.” In my personal experience of 10 years of teaching in a variety of schools, I can agree with this statement wholeheartedly. If the current administration of the school does not view technology use as important, then the technology that is present is often underused and acquiring new technology is often an afterthought.  

          Learning technology is like many other skills. It is not something that is immediate or long lasting after one attempt (Cunningham, 2003). We need technology PD that is accessible to teachers on an on- going basis and that the teachers have access to someone with answers on technology related problems. In some cases, teachers who aren’t as excited about using technology could be even more ‘out of the loop’ because they may not even know what kind of technology options are out there for them to seek! Once teachers know the ins and outs, the limitations and the commonly used applications about a given technology, it would be less demanding for teachers to incorporate it into their daily practice rather than be one more thing added on to what they are already tasked with teaching.

          Teachers are worked to their maximums as it is. When you add together planning for lessons, communicating with their students and parents regarding various issues as well as the required Planning for Improvement meetings and Professional Learning Community meetings, that leaves little time for individualized initiatives to seek out / discover and learn to use new technology, software and the like.  According to Killion (1999) to create teachers that are confident and excited to use technology to better teach their given subject, two key components must be considered when developing a professional development opportunity. The first requirement is that the professional development needs to be established alongside of the technology integration plan. One cannot work without the other and therefore both need to be given the same amount of careful consideration. PD should be an integral part of the school technology plan or overall school-improvement plan. The second key component is that the PD needs to support best practices of teaching. Concepts such as helping students make connections, offering a variety of learning experiences, and have direct application to curriculum are imperative for successful technology PD. 

          Carlson and Gadio argue that the PD for technology needs to be implemented in 3 key stages. The first stage focuses on pre-service teachers and a strong foundation of teaching practices which would include technology, not focus on technology. The second step would include in-service teachers and focussing on new teaching skills, content and technology skills that are not simply for the teachers own use but that are linked to their certifications. The third step would involve ongoing technological and pedagogical support for teachers.

          PD opportunities allow for valuable time spent talking with other teachers of how they incorporate this technology into their daily lessons and what problems/ answers they have found with this technology.  This is a welcome time for many teachers because due to any host of reasons, teachers often are not motivated enough to seek out opportunities for PD on their own time. It has been noted that in order to aid teachers in getting excited for technology PD (albeit perhaps any PD) that there should be incentives offered for teachers, just as their often are for employees within the private sector. There has been some success in this area in the United States by using extrinsic motivators (recognition by districts, financial gain for training completed, hardware in your classroom after completing a specific course, etc.) By comparison, I have not heard of any similar incentives being available in my school board or in others throughout the province. I’m still evaluating whether or not I think this would be a positive thing.  I do worry about the public’s perception if such an incentive was offered because we as professionals should seek out what we don’t know and should try to keep abreast of the current needs to do our job. However, in some respects I do think this could be a valid initiative simply because it sometimes seems in our union driven nature of teaching as opposed to our much more competitive neighbours to the south, that there seems to be little reasoning to push oneself to become a better teacher with the exception of the personal belief that doing ones job well is important.  Perhaps this is one area that could be examined further once a ‘technology culture’ has been established in our province.

          The use of technology properly can bring learning to life for students. This type of hands on, real life, high interest, problem solving opportunities allow students to interact and gain many social skills which are highly sought after in today’s workplace (Carlson and Gadio, 2002).  The opportunities that can be captured by using technology in an educational setting are unlimited, as long as the technology is being used to its full potential.

          Whatever technology PD is to look like in the future, what has been established is that the PD does indeed need to exist. Ideally, the PD would be in a format that meets most teachers where they are, technologically speaking, and moves their knowledge to where they need to be. The PD must be grounded in good practice, be practical and allow teachers to feel validated in some way for their extra efforts. In order for the PD that is offered to not be wasteful, a more active, on-going and systematic commitment to teacher’s learning technology must be established .

References

Carlson, Sam and Gadio, Cheick Tidiane (2002) . Teacher Professional    Development in the Use of Technology.           http://www.ictinedtoolkit.org/usere/library/tech_for_ed_chapters/08.pdf

Cunningham, Joan (2003). Between Technology and Teacher Effectiveness:           Professional Development . Tech and Learning          http://www.techlearning.com/article/1110)

Fatemi, E. (1999, September 23). Building the digital curriculum. Education Week      on the Web [Online]. Available:         http://www.edweek.org/sreports/tc99/articles/summary.htm

Killion, Joellen (1999). Technology Leadership Team Institute, July 1999 in      Leesburg, VA (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory).          http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/methods/technlgy/te1000.htm

Verdisco, A., & Navarro, J.C. (November/December 2000). Costa Rica: Teacher

          Training for Education Technology

          http://www.techknowlogia.org/TKL_active_pages2/CurrentArticles/main.as         p?IssueNumber=8&FileType=HTML&ArticleID=200

 

 

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