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April 1, 1994
Vol. 51
No. 7

Teaching Technology to Teachers

If teachers are to use technology effectively in their classrooms, we must give them adequate inservice training programs. Here are some suggestions how.

My 2-year-old sits engrossed in his mathematics software, deftly dragging three colorful, electronic balloons with the mouse into a box with two other balloons. “Five!” Logan announces, moments before the computer echoes “Five. Very good!” I watch, amazed by my son's command of the machine. When he starts school in a few years, will his teachers possess the mastery of technology he will have?
I firmly believe that computer technology can never replace teachers. As a colleague recently told me, computers are nothing more than a new kind of chalkboard, a tool to help teachers make their instruction more effective and learning more inviting for a generation weaned on Nintendo, VCRs, and home PCs. But enticing teachers to chuck the chalk and pick up the mouse is not always simple. If teachers are to use technology effectively in their classrooms, we must meet their needs for adequate inservice training programs.
Over the past few years, I've talked with hundreds of teachers and principals about technology and the training they've received. Teachers reported that their inservice training in technology had been positive, but too short and infrequent. School personnel believe they do not have as much knowledge about how to use technology as their contemporaries in the community, and they expressed a need for on-going, flexible inservice training that can be individualized. They want more than traditional “one-shot” programs (Hurst and Bradley 1993). The most successful programs reported were those that involved teachers and principals in the planning.
The technology inservice program we designed for McNairy Central High School in Selmer, Tennessee, where I was principal, addressed four specific questions: What are the core skills school personnel should be familiar with? How do teachers and administrators best learn these skills? Where does this learning best take place? How will we know if the inservice program is effective?

Determining Core Skills

Developing technology literacy for faculty, staff, and students is critical to a successful technology program. Someone—preferably the teachers and administrators within each school—must determine what users in the system need to know and be able to do with technology.
At our school, several faculty members reflected on teachers' day-to-day tasks in order to determine what core skills were needed. After reviewing suggestions from articles on technology use for teachers (see Ray and Davis 1991), we determined that teachers should be proficient in three tools: word processing, databases, and spreadsheets. Today, I would suggest that teachers also have skills in desktop publishing, electronic communication, and integrated media (multimedia). When teachers become comfortable with these applications, technology becomes less frightening, more useful, and more integrated into their daily routines.

How to Deliver Training

That inservice training be ongoing is probably the single most important factor in developing a successful technology program. An intensive, one-day inservice the day before students arrive for fall classes is not the best approach, and yet I see this happening year after year in school systems across the nation. Technology inservices will be far more effective when teachers have access to them as needed.
Possible? Of course, if you select materials and methods carefully. Consider using the “extension agent” model for inservice training, a method that allows teachers to seek the information they need instead of having information pushed at them (Strother 1991). This system might include commercial training programs (with videotapes and workbooks) or homemade modules developed by teachers already proficient in a certain area of technology. Teachers training one another in short sessions throughout the year using modules they had developed was the method used most successfully in our school.
Because technology in many cases is task specific, inservices should reflect that specificity. Indeed, why should a language arts teacher endure an inservice program on using graphing calculators in advanced algebra? A bit absurd, perhaps, but I have weathered countless inservice programs that had little relevance to me. A more useful inservice for the language arts teacher might focus on using databases for student research papers.
We also found that because teachers and administrators varied in their readiness to learn particular types of technology, training needed to be available to them on their “grade level.” Packaged programs used in conjunction with a personal development plan, a sort of “technology IEP,” can address different learning styles and allow teachers to learn at their own pace.

A Place for Learning

The teachers I talked to often raised questions about where they should do technology inservices. At first this puzzled me, but upon reflection, I became aware of two problems. First, technology-filled classrooms are not available when teachers have the time to use them, or a particular technology may not be available at all. Students are often using the classrooms that house computers and other technology when teachers have planning time, and frequently before and after school as well. And learning to use a computer in a lecture setting is ludicrous.
The second problem was more surprising. Teachers wanted a nonthreatening environment in which to pursue their learning. When I asked teachers about this, they replied, “Well sure! When I work on the computer, I don't want to look like an idiot to the student who's standing behind me.” At McNairy, we originally began holding our training sessions in classrooms. Students were often present, working on other projects or “hanging around.” Teachers did not feel comfortable demonstrating their lack of skill on a device that seemed so natural to their students, and many teachers also felt intimidated by their colleagues who possessed more advanced computer skills.
To solve these problems, we created a small room dedicated to continuous technology inservice. We put all the materials teachers needed (computers, printers, workbooks, manuals) as well as one of every piece of technology available in the school into this room—a sort of Noah's ark for technology. No students were allowed to use the room. Our room was large enough to hold our technology mini-sessions, where one teacher instructed three or four others in a specific skill. Additionally, teachers were free to use the center to discover new ways technology could enhance their instructional skills or reduce their administrative load.
I have helped implement this concept in more than 50 schools now, elementary through high school, large and small. Teachers use the technology centers most when they are located at the school site, rather than at the district's central office. One school, pressed for space, converted a large janitor's closet into a technology room for teachers. Even there, teachers responded enthusiastically.

Evaluating the Program

A quality technology inservice program must be maintained through constant evaluation. Evaluation can range from a suggestion box to a formal survey measuring teachers' responses to inservice activities. A survey might also be used to measure changes in students' satisfaction with classes that utilize technology. Other evaluative methods I have seen schools and districts use successfully include keeping logs on teachers' technology use, collecting data from technology audits (an inventory of hardware and software available to school personnel throughout the district), and classroom observations. From classroom observers, teachers gain suggestions for improving and adding to their uses of technology.
For any inservice training program to be successful, it must be institutionalized; teachers must view the training program as a matter of course. Institutionalizing technology training not only makes knowledge accessible to teachers, but it also implies the administration's commitment to technology.
The battle over the value of technology in education will probably rage for some time, but technology will become an increasingly integral part of our daily school routines. If teachers are to make the most effective use of the powerful tools technology has to offer, inservice training programs tailored to their needs as well as to the idiosyncrasies of technology must be developed in every school. Then my future 1st grader won't say to his teacher, “I can, why can't you?”

Hurst, D. S., and T. Bradley. (March 1993). “Targeting Specific Strategies for Effective Integration of Technology.” Paper presented at the Tenth Tennessee Technology Conference, Nashville, Tenn.

Ray, J., and L. Davis. (1991). Computers in Educational Administration. Watsonville, Calif.: Mitchell McGraw-Hill.

Strother, D. B. (April 1991). “Balancing Efficiency and Wisdom: An Interview With Jack Turner.” Phi Delta Kappan 72: 636–639.

David S. Hurst has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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