Computers are in the schools. Whether they are in labs, in the library, in mobile pods, or in individual classrooms, the computers are there. But what will it take to ensure that these computers are used as high quality learning tools?
Today’s high-tech innovations will have little effect on education if schools adopt them without building “human infrastructure” that includes adequate training for teachers, proclaims the Benton Foundation in their recent report, The Learning Connection. Schools in the Information Age. So just what is “adequate training” for teachers?
According to more than 10 years of Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow research, to effectively integrate technology in education, teachers need to learn not only how to use computers, but specifically how to use computers for teaching and learning. At the same time the learning experiences being created by these educators must be re-examined, as technology changes both what is possible in the classroom, as well as what will be required of students when they graduate and join the workforce.
In 1991 the US Department of Labor issued What Work Requires of Schools, a SCANS Report for America 2000, The Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, defining the skills and attributes essential for workforce success. To the traditional basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic, the report added listening and speaking, as well as decision making and problem solving. Beyond these basic skills, the report sited as vital the ability to identify, organize, plan, and allocate resources; to acquire, evaluate, and organize information; to work well with others; to understand complex inter-relationships; and to work with a variety of technologies.
Not only do educators need to learn to use computers, but they need to learn to integrate them into the learning experience in a way that fosters the development of this higher order skill set. In many cases, this requires fundamental changes in classroom practice. Seating students in rows and having them complete drill and practice exercises, whether on the computer or on a ditto page, is unlikely to accomplish the ambitious goals implied by the SCANS Report.
The vast majority of technology staff development programs have as their focus learning how to use individual software applications. Educators who have experienced this type of application training report that it does not have a significant impact on how they use technology in their teaching. That is, learning about the application itself does not translate into changing classroom practices, and thus has little or no impact on student learning.
When learning about technology is firmly rooted in the context of teaching, however, the results are quite promising. Using a technology staff development model created as a result of more than 10 years of research through the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT), many school districts are seeing what happens when teachers are able to transfer their learning from the staff development experience into classroom practice.
In order to have a significant impact on classroom practice and ensure effective technology integration, schools and districts must make a significant investment in a coordinated approach to staff development like the model based on the ACOT research. Real change requires providing educators with a sequenced program of quality staff development experiences, along with followup and ongoing administrative support.
In Fulton County, Georgia, where they are in the second year of their technology staff development program based on the ACOT model, vanguard teams of teachers are serving as mentors within their schools, providing a model of effective technology integration for other teachers to follow. During the first year of the program these vanguard teachers participated in either four or six days of technology integration training offered through Apple Staff Development.
During the two-day training sessions the vanguard team members experienced firsthand what it is like to engage in an integrated lesson with technology, while the course facilitator modeled an effective style of teaching in a technology-enriched, engaged learning environment. Technology skills were acquired in context. The learners (in this case the teachers in the staff development course, but it could as easily have been a group of students) were highly motivated to learn the technology skills to complete their projects, and the relevance of the technology learning was immediately evident.
Building on the experience of participating in an effective lesson, the vanguard team members reflected on what they had learned and how they could apply their insights to designing integrated lessons of their own. On the second day, they were given the opportunity to redesign a favorite unit of instruction, integrating technology. Upon returning to their classrooms, these redesigned units provided an initial opportunity to experience integrating technology in their teaching. As they experienced the effectiveness of this new way of teaching, the redesign of other units followed.
Over the course of the first year of the program, these vanguard team members became increasingly comfortable with integrating technology within their own classrooms and prepared themselves to serve as role models to other teachers. Now in the second year of the program, Fulton County is both expanding its vanguard team by providing the integration training to additional teachers, while at the same time empowering the trained vanguard teachers to share what they have learned with their colleagues.
This seeding approach, having at least two teachers in every school who can serve as mentors to their peers on site, has proven effective in motivating teachers to take the risk and make the personal investment required to effectively integrate technology into the classroom.
The CEO Forum on Education and Technology’s Star Chart establishes a “target technology” level for all schools to strive for that would give students regular and consistent access to technology to use as needed to support their learning endeavors, and have educators using technology to access information, communicate with students and parents, and for administrative tasks. They challenge all schools to achieve this target level by the year 2005.
We won’t get there simply by putting computers in schools, nor by training teachers on how to use software applications. True technology integration requires supporting and training educators in instructional models that effectively integrate technology. It requires that teachers have professional development programs in which they can experience effective use of technology in service of teaching and learning, and that they receive the support required to modify their own teaching practices to replicate these models. Once the majority of teachers have their students using technology to gather, analyze and publish information, as well as collaborate on projects, we will know that technology is truly a tool for teaching and learning. At this point we will be taking advantage of the opportunity technology presents to prepare our students to become successful knowledge workers of the future.