Technology Tempest

Copyright 1996 Miguel Guhlin
Tidal waves. Seasonal changes. Squalls and tempests. All have much in common with integrating technology, especially computers, into the curriculum. Technology, in itself, has been seen as a catalyst for change. Even though technology is always changing, its use as a tool for change impacts all levels of administration. Yet, as a tool for curriculum enhancement, its use in the classroom often goes unnoticed.
The classroom teacher and her students float and ride the swells of the tidal waves, never going below the surface. We know that for technology integration to impact student achievement, teachers are the ones that must be empowered. To empower teachers, administration must provide teachers with extensive technology staff development, distinguish in training between drill & practice/tutorial programs and tools/simulations software, allow teachers to write their own campus technology plans linked to campus instructional goals, district technology plans that support campus goals, all linked to instructional goals. Finally, experienced, campus-level teachers who have learned how to bind technology curriculum objectives must train less experienced teachers. When this happens, teachers must assume ownership. This ownership results in teachers using technology to change the way they teach and, ultimately, how students learn. Instead of focusing on simple math skills, students focus on comprehending and communicating the Pythagorean Theorem using hypermedia tools (i.e. HyperStudio).
Students have not failed to learn the simple skills; they have learned them in the context of gathering and communicating practical knowledge and demonstrating the application of knowledge. Moving teachers beyond the initial levels of using technology as a productivity tool, integration of lessons and software into content areas to redesigning the teaching process and planning lessons which allow for students to acquire, comprehend and communicate information is extremely challenging. This type of challenge means making the use of technology transparent. It means blending curriculum and technology objectives where the goal is student achievement. To do this, teachers must be both confident and proficient in technology use. These two factors will allow the classroom teacher the freedom to realize new, higher levels of teaching impossible without the technology. In this scenario, technology becomes a means of arriving at the objective. In terms of our simple analogy, technology is the ship teachers use to navigate on an ocean of information. This type of change requires a lot of work on the part of instructional technology specialists (technologists)--yet there is a "formula." Although most are rightly skeptical of formulaic approaches to technology integration, doing these things has resulted in technology integration in the three districts I have worked in. I offer these proven campus and district-level technology initiatives.
Campus-wide initiatives eventually lead to systemic change. They occur at the most important level--in the classroom, at the site where technology integration must occur. Initiatives at this level include:
1) Increased Peer Training: Training should be provided by the teacher next door. While district technology trainers can provide training for campus technology trainers, their training is not as effective as a teacher's peer down the hall. Classroom, grade-level teachers know what their peers need. More importantly, their peers are comfortable in asking for their help.
2) SuperSubs: Use the super-substitute model. Teachers who integrate technology go into another teacher's classroom and do activities related to instructional goals (i.e. curriculum objectives). The activities are, of course, facilitated by the use of technology.
3) Write a Campus Technology Plan:Emphasizes the use of technology as a tool to gather, facilitate comprehension and communication of information, and manage cooperative learning groups in real life simulations.
4) Parents' Technology Institute: Start a class for parents that shows them how technology use in school teaches, not only computer literacy, but also, higher order thinking skills. Do the same activities with the parents that you do with students, and invite the students to be present.
5) Kids' Technology Institute: An extremely successful venture is the Kids' Technology Institute. Theme-centered, content-driven use of technology allows students to employ multimedia/hypermedia authoring tools (i.e. Kid Pix Studio or HyperStudio), and other information management tools (word processor, spreadsheet, database) in a fun way on Saturdays during the year. The introductory training begins during the summer, continuing throughout the year. Student participants also serve as "classroom technology facilitators."
6) Computer Club: Classroom technology facilitators form a peer-training group that focus on using technology and training other students. The key here is sharing how to use technology to accomplish their personal goals, whether it be graphic design or downloading a graphic or game off the Internet. As you can see, these activities at the campus level, thrown into the mix all at once, will cause immediate changes. The impact of increased community and student use of technology will begin movement towards creating a critical mass. Teachers will feel the pressure as their peers, students and their parents begin to use technology. In a short period, half a year, teachers will begin to ask for more opportunities for technology training. At this critical moment, district and campus administration must intensify their efforts to get out of the way and provide teachers with the needed information and training. Administrators must also allow computer-take home programs that let teachers take technology home over long breaks. Here are some of the minimum things that districts need to do to support campus technology efforts.
The greatest obstacle to technology integration is not students, parents, or even, teachers. Rather, it is administration. Often, administrators see technology in the classroom as a toy, as an expensive add-on. And, while some administrators are supportive, they often attempt to hold the reins to technology integration in their hands. And, that's exactly the wrong thing to do. Plugging up the leaks in the boat, finding the money to keep things going makes administrators an asset, not another shark to avoid as you navigate technology waters. Here some ways to do that:
1) Establish a District Technology Committee composed of two *classroom* teachers from each campus that meets monthly after-school to discuss the following issues:
a) Current research on integrating technology into the curriculum. Some great resources include TECHNOLOGY CONNECTION, TECHNOLOGY & LEARNING, ISTE'S various publications, ELECTRONIC LEARNING.
b) Providing training on modelling the use of instructional technology in the classroom.
c) Focus on one-computer classroom methodology that emphasizes using the computer as a cooperative learning group manager, and allowing the teacher to enhance group interaction. The quote that best summarizes this approach is: HARDWARE WITHOUT SOFTWARE IS JUST JUNK, BUT SOFTWARE WITHOUT TEACHING IS JUST NOISE.
d) Focus on the use of technology as a tool. This approach is best summarized in the quote which I always share with my trainees: ASK NOT WHAT COMPUTERS CAN DO WITH STUDENTS, BUT RATHER, WHAT STUDENTS CAN DO WITH COMPUTERS.
2) Invite campus administrators to participate in instructional technology university classes, as well as provide "scholarships" for teachers from each campus to attend.
3) Allow student projects to be published on the Internet. Even without a direct connection to the Internet, some Internet Service Providers will give you space to develop your own web page and publish student work. My current school district, Mt. Pleasant ISD at the time I wrote this, gave out release forms for publishing on the World Wide Web in English and Spanish. It is not difficult to set up your own World Wide Web page using shareware products available on the Internet.
4) Establish district-wide computer take-home guidelines so that teachers can learn how to use computers at home. Offer a three hour class that covers the essentials of caring for a computer, from hardware to software troubleshooting. If you have them, send modems home with them and give them specific handouts on how to access the Internet from home. When they return, have them share how they used their computer over the summer via e-mail to a district-wide list.
5) Emphasize how technology can be integrated across specific content areas (i.e. Math, Language Arts, Reading, Social Studies/History, Science).
6) Subscribe district technology committee members to research magazines, such as the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) various publications, and other free instructional technology journals such as SYLLABUS, T.H.E. Journal.
7) Find a way to communicate interactively with teachers in your district. You can do this through your state's Internet Service Provider (i.e. Texas Education Network (TENET)), a school-run computer bulletin board, and/or a local computer bulletin board that is willing to set up a special interest area for teachers from your district. Once on the list, teachers can send messages to everyone on the list regarding specific topics that come up. My district (Mt. Pleasant ISD, at the time this was written) uses this as an efficient way to share information and discuss issues prior to meetings. Campus technology coordinators can help their campuses reach "critical mass." My preferred metaphor for technology awareness and integration is that of a tidal wave, growing silently in strength, then falling with an unstoppable roar upon those who paid no attention or showed little interest. Once this happens, district level staff must pay attention.
After all, despite their brilliant administrative ability, administrators have given up the excitement of diving for sunken treasure to steering the ship and finding the money for to pay for the technology. And, since they have chosen this for themselves, they long to see you and your students discover the hidden treasures of the mind.