TAPping into Technology
Gadsden Middle School is wired, ready, and waiting. The school's principal anddistrict administrators are dedicated to getting teachers to use technology, many of the classrooms have computers, and technology and curriculum teams are in place. However, like many rural schools, this Anthony, NM school is awaitinge-rate funding and support from local telecommunications companies. Until then, the school has no Internet access.
Gadsden's situation is an example of one of the many challenges that schools anddistricts face once they decide to bring technology into the classroom.
The first challenges schools and districts encounter are most likely thoserelated to facilities planning. The facilities issues may range from inadequate electrical wiring and outlets, to wiring for networks, to having sufficient space for a computer lab, or making room for one or more computers in a 700-square-foot classroom already crowded with 22 students.
Raising money for technology investment is a primary concern, of course, withsome administrators resorting to general obligation bonds to get the necessarycapital. Others, like principal Claudia Tousek at Bernice Hart Elementary in Austin, discover they must network and pool resources to get the technology-richenvironment they want for their schools. At Hart there are multiple computers ineach classroom. Each classroom also has a direct Internet connection and globalemail. Each teacher has a phone with voicemail, and the classes have access tolaser printers, LCD projectors, scanners, camcorders, and digital cameras. To obtain the level of technology she envisioned, Tousek planned a technologyprogram that relies on Apple Computers, the RGK Foundation, and SEDL for externalassistance.
As daunting as obtaining the financial resources may be, the real challenge comesafter a school has computers. As many educators and administrators have found, itis one thing to put a computer in every classroom, but quite another to bring theworld to the classroom through technology.
Not only does the latter require more careful facilities planning and investmentin modems and Internet access, but most importantly, integrating the technologyinto instruction in a meaningful way. And perhaps this is what frustrates GadsdenMiddle School most about not having Internet access. Twenty-nine teachers at theschool have already started training to incorporate technology into theircurricula by participating in SEDL's "Applying Technology to Restructuring andLearning" project through the Technology Assistance Program (TAP).
Bernice Hart Elementary School in northeast Austin, Texas.
SEDL program specialist Jackie Burniske says the two-year project will trainteachers to work in a student-centered way. "We're showing teachers how tointegrate technology into a theme-based curriculum, how to apply technology torestructure learning," she says. "We model a student-centered classroom for theteachers where students are engaged and the teacher works as a facilitator."
Thinking of schools as places where knowledge is actively built - as knowledge construction organizations - is key to our information and technology age, according to Professor Francis P. Hunkins of the University of Washington's Department of Curriculum and Instruction. He says, "Knowledge which is obtained from processing information is the new economic, social, and political capital ofthis new age."
Technology is a wonderful tool for helping students construct knowledge, but onlyone-fifth of teachers nationwide use computers in teaching. Many teachers havereceived no training on using computers in the classroom and much of the trainingthey have received deals with using specific software packages. SEDL's professional development goes beyond that.
The SEDL team models activities that teachers can take back to the classroom andworks with teachers to incorporate technology into lesson plans.
Teachers at the newly-built Bernice Hart Elementary School get ready for the school year with hands-on training from SEDL's Technology Assistance Program.
The team conducts formal professional development sessions with 25 to 30 facultymembers at each of the schools six times during the first year of the project. Inaddition to these scheduled sessions, team members will work with individualteachers between sessions, observe classrooms, discuss issues on the project'selectronic bulletin board, and model activities with students at the schools.
The teachers adopt constructivist methods and use technology at their own rates,however. Burniske notes, "It is up to the teachers what steps they will take toimplement what they learn during professional development."
"We know that changing teaching practices requires on-going support andassistance," says program manager Vicki Dimock. "Our aim is to build capacity ateach site to improve learning by supporting a community of teachers who haveconfidence using technological tools."
Each site has at least one participant who will work with SEDL staff in thedesign and presentation of the staff development. This "master trainer" will thenprovide on-going support to the teachers participating in the project and teachothers how to incorporate technology into the classroom.
The local support is important because the technology and learning environmentsin place at the participating schools are as diverse as the cultures of the areaswhere they are located. Program associate Mary Burns, who is working withCarencro Middle School in Carencro, Louisiana, in the heart of Acadiana, saysthat although most of the teachers there teach in very traditional ways, theschool is "really eager to integrate technology in a student-centered way." Abouthalf of the classroom teachers at the school are participating in the program andthese 25 are getting computers in their classrooms.
In Pocahontas, Arkansas, program specialist Sharon Adams is working at a schoolthat already has a good technology infrastructure. When pocahontas High Schoolserved as a pilot school with the Arkansas Public School Computer Network in1993, a group of dedicated teachers, community volunteers, and students helpedbuild the school's network, initially linking 19 computers to the Internet. Thatbeginning effort has grown to a systemwide network that provides Internet accessto teachers throughout the district. Adams observes that there are a few stellarexamples of technology integration at the school, including Ivy Pfeffer's Spanishclassroom which connects and converses with other foreign language students viathe classroom's CU-SeeMe camera.
When students at Carencro Middle School, Carencro, Louisiana, return to school this fall, they will find many of their teachers integrating technology into their lesson plans.
Program associate Jim Zuhn is working with a consortium of five schools in Cherokee County, Oklahoma. Although these schools have relatively small student populations, all have already been networked or are in the process of being networked. Most have a computer in every classroom and at least one computer lab for the entire school. Zuhn reports that all of these schools are very open to new methodologies and paradigms. "They are very innovative people, making good use of their resources," he notes.
Local universities are involved with the "Applying Technology to Restructuring Learning" project, too. Although the university representatives are working withthe schools in a variety of ways, they will carry project activities and ideas toother schools in their communities. "This is another way of local capacitybuilding," acknowledges Burns.
The Technology Assistance Program includes a web site now under construction andan electronic bulletin board so that participating schools can communicate witheach other on-line. The program has produced a video that demonstrates classroomactivities: "Engaged Discoverers: Kids Constructing Knowledge with Technology"will soon be available from SEDL. The project is also creating a professionaldevelopment portfolio and descriptions of the technology integration models usedin classrooms at the site schools for others interested in setting up a similarprogram. Professional development such as that provided by TAP can transformtechnology from a facilities-equipment issue to a curriculum issue. With properteacher training and interactive projects, technology can become the effectiveteaching tool lit should be
"The participants understand that putting a computer in every classroom is not apanacea for improving teaching and learning," says program associate MarilynHeath, who is working with Gadsden. "TAP is providing a process for helping themmove along that path."
Leslie Blair is a SEDL communications associate and editor of SEDLetter.
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