Scott R. Laleman
Changing the Status Quo of Technology Staff Development
When the computer boom hit schools, hardware, software, and network infrastructures were where all the money went. However, without adequate training and technical support, technology is just another thing to sit in the classroom collecting dust. Teachers don't want to have the burden of doing their own tech support, and if no one shows them how to use the machines, they end up being just another thing a teacher is supposed to do that they don't have time to deal with (Painter, 2002).
Research has shown that personal use of computers by teachers leads to an increased use of computers in their classrooms. (Riel, Schwarz & Peterson, 1999). Therefore, technology training should take on a more personal approach, showing teachers how to use technology for themselves to make their lives easier, or help them further explore a subject or hobby they are passionate about (Tenbusch, 1998). This article explores the successes and pitfalls of the technology staff development program implemented at Lindop School District 92 in Broadview, Illinois.
When Lindop School decided it needed to get on the technology bandwagon in 1998, it did so without the benefit of full time tech support or training. It outsourced its tech support, and left training up to the technology teacher, who also had to teach a full load of classes. Until the 2002-2003 school year, this was the norm. The computer teacher was responsible for either fixing computer and network problems, or calling the outsourced tech. The computer teacher was also responsible for any technology staff development in the school. In July 2002, the district created a full time technology coordinator position, which took over these responsibilities.
Lindop School is a one-school district in the near western suburbs of Chicago. It serves approximately 500 students in grades K-8. The school uses Apple Macintosh computers, and each classroom has 4 machines ranging in age from 5 years to 1 year old. There is one computer lab with thirty iMac G3s leased in 2002 and one mobile lab of twenty-threee iBook computers purchased in 2002. In all, there are just over 200 machines in the school.
Traditionally, technology staff development had been done in the days before school started, during half day teacher institutes, or during the summer. This type of staff development was generally a 'one size fits all' approach with teachers from many different grade levels and subjects all learning the same thing at the same time, even though it may not have applied to all of the teachers present (McKenzie, 2001). These sessions also mainly focused on computer skills, and mastering a particular software application, but didn't show teachers how to integrate the software into their curriculum (Williams, 1993). The timing of these types of sessions also led to teachers having to be re-taught when they actually wanted to use the technology (Hutchinson, 2002).
Changing Technology Staff Development
With the creation of the technology coordinator position at Lindop School, I was given a unique opportunity to change the way staff development was done. Since I no longer had classes to teach, I could focus all of my energy on tech support and just in time training. I took what I had learned from teaching teachers in San Antonio, Texas and applied it to my new position at Lindop School.
In San Antonio, where I taught Social Studies, Math, and Computers over the course of 5 years, there was little participation by our staff in the district provided technology training. Our technology committee posed the question, 'what if the training sessions were conducted by in-house staff members who already had a level of familiarity with those taking the classes?' When we implemented this type of training, we found that our sessions were well attended, and that our staff really wanted to learn how to use the computers. They even came on Saturdays to learn the basics, and how to use them to make their lives and their teaching easier. What we found was that they preferred our training to the district training because they knew that the people who taught them would be there to answer their questions in the days and weeks following the session.
While talking to the assistant superintendent about the plans for this type of training, she said I should come up with a catchy name. The name Tech Camp was decided on because it made technology training sound fun, which it should be. Originally, Tech Camp sessions were planned for Tuesday mornings and Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons.
Input from the staff was the key to everything. Their input allowed me to plan each session according to what the teachers wanted to learn, what they were afraid of, and their level of comfort in using the computers (Bray, 1999). The first class was held at the request of the middle school teachers. They wanted a more in-depth session on the computer based grade book I had introduced during a staff development day before school started. Most of the middle school teachers attended, and asked very good and in-depth questions. They also helped each other with setting up classes, importing students, and importing assignments into each of their classes. The session was planned to last one hour, but ended up going almost ninety minutes. The teachers requested a follow up session the next week so they could resolve any questions they had after they played with the grade book. The specials teachers (computers, library, art, music, and PE) heard about this session and requested one of their own. As word began to spread about Tech Camp, I received more and more requests for sessions. The entire month of September and October were filled.
The ability to keep teachers coming to Tech Camp was the result of planning sessions that were relevant to what they were doing in their classrooms, and sessions about technology that would make their lives easier (Wang, 2000). This required some advertising. Email announcements had been sent to the staff each week to let them know what Tech Camp sessions had been planned, but as they year went on, I found it was helpful if the announcements included a detailed description of what each session would cover, since some teachers were unaware what a particular application could help them do.
While Tech Camp was booming, something else interesting happened; the makeup of help calls changed. The year before Tech Camp started and during the first few weeks of the school year, almost 80% of the help calls and emails were about problems with machines not working, or "it doesn't work" calls. After two months of Tech Camp, those type of calls only made up about 60% of the calls received. The remainder of the calls fit into the "how to" category, questions about specific machine or software functions which shows greater understanding by the user of what the computer can do for them.
When there were no Tech Camp requests for a particular day, I made sure there were still sessions planned, on the assumption teachers may not know what they want to know, and if I planned something interesting, it might catch their eye. Unfortunately, through the months of November and December, there were many days I planned sessions that no one showed up for.
Before Christmas break, I was discussing my frustration over lack of teacher participation in Tech Camp with the assistant superintendent. She suggested that having Tech Camp at set times may have been part of the problem. Keeping the schedule rigid excluded many people who had other commitments on the days that Tech Camp was held. After Christmas break, Teach Camp sessions were made available to teachers any day of the week, at any time, even during planning periods, reflecting a true 'just in time' approach (Hutchinson, 2002). Tech Camp also went from being planned every week, to being planned only when requested. This saved me the frustration of planning a session that no one showed up for.
Revelations and Frustrations
In January, I was given time during a half day institute to hold tech sessions for teachers. The session planned was "playing with iMovie." The teachers had been introduced to iMovie in December, when we had an Apple trainer come to show them the basics, but they didn't get much of a chance to play with it. Immediately after that session, requests poured in for Tech Camps. As I went back through the calendar, it occurred to me that most of the requests for Tech Camp sessions happened after I had given a session during a half day institute. I asked the assistant superintendent to be given time for tech sessions during each half day institutes through the end of the year. This request was not granted.
Providing teachers with a variety of learning opportunities will lead to more successful use and integration of technology (Hutchinson, 2002). Seeking to do that, I set up a weekly session called Tech Talk, modeled after a program of the same name at Niskayuna school district in Niskayuna, New York (Niskayuna, 2002). The purpose of this was to allow for hands on exploration of new technologies, similar to what was being done during the half day institutes, and to create a community of technology users in the school. Teachers would be encouraged to share successes with technology in the classroom, learn what other teachers were doing in their classrooms, and getting excited about and involved in the learning process (Bray, 1999). However, after four sessions and only one participant, I canceled Tech Talk.
Since there was no tech sessions during the half day institutes the remainder of the year, Tech Camp requests became non-existent. Before spring break in March, my own frustration with lack of participation became evident in the way I dealt with staff. After the computer teacher told me one of our fifth grade teachers was afraid of me, I reevaluated my leadership style and decided to make some personal changes.
I made a concerted effort to be positive and upbeat on the phone, and when people stopped me in the hall to ask "a quick question." I also made sure to take care of small problems immediately, instead of waiting until there was a full sheet of small problems that could be taken care of all at once. My priority became helping the teachers, not looking for bigger and better things to do with our servers.
While the changes didn't lead to an increase in Tech Camp requests, they did pay off in other ways. Many teachers felt more comfortable in knowing that I was available, and requests for help using the mobile lab increased. In the final month of the school year, the mobile lab was reserved almost every hour of every day. The staff also started asking more 'how to' questions, as those types of help calls made up nearly 70% of the calls during the final weeks of the school year.
The goal of Tech Camp was to see if ongoing technology training would lead to an increase in use by our teachers and students. A survey was given to twenty-five teachers in April to see where teachers were in their own use and their students' use of technology compared to the beginning of the school year. Of the nineteen who responded, fourteen (74%) said they are using technology more, or significantly more, than at the beginning of the school year. Fifteen (79%) said the same of classroom use by their students. No one said they or their students were using technology less than at the beginning of the school year.
Teachers were also asked what type of staff development they would like to see more of. An overwhelming majority (74%) said they would like to have more 'show and play' sessions during half day institutes. Fifty-eight percent said they would like to see more Tech Camp sessions or release time during the day to work on lessons with me.
Planning for the Future
Next year I am again requesting time during half day institutes to provide an open forum for teachers to explore technology and spark interest and use in their classrooms. Tech Camp will continue, but with greater support and advertisement. The technology committee will meet every 2 weeks instead of every week, which should provide them opportunities to have a say in the technology decision making process. I am also hoping to recruit more teachers to help teach Tech Camp sessions as they become more proficient with the software we use. Being the resident expert can be a burden, and having more people able to do the same job will be a benefit to the school in the long run (Hutchinson, 2002).
Personal ownership of computers leads to even greater use, and I have proposed a plan, via the technology committee, for the school district to purchase laptops for teachers to own. The teachers would repay the cost of the laptop by committing to 60-70 hours of professional development and becoming technology leaders in the school. A similar program in the Anaheim City School District in Anaheim, California saw weekly classroom use of computers by students nearly triple (Riel, Schwarz & Peterson, 1999). The school board has taken the proposal under advisement and is expected to act on it in July, 2003.
This page last updated on Sunday, July 6, 2003