Technology Skills for Teachers

For ten years, we've known that teachers need professional development to use technology. Integrating technology into the classroom is a K-12, higher education and training necessity.

Schools of education have been asked to add courses, but continue to graduate technologically unprepared teachers. Their new districts become responsible for their technology development. New teachers are historically overwhelmed the first year they teach. They shouldn't have to spend the first year learning technology as well. Yet, most schools of education have few courses where technology integration is taught or modeled by professors. It's hard to be a role model when you have the same problems as the people you're instructing (no equipment or professional development).

District superintendents and county offices of education have tried to provide the professional development for new and experienced teachers, but there is not enough funding for technology and sufficient professional development.

Why is professional development for teachers our lowest educational priority?

How can new teachers, experienced teachers, and professors develop the skills that they need?

The problems are obvious, but the magnitude increases.

New reports are routinely released saying that teachers need to receive massive instruction in technology use. Recently, the US Department of Education awarded millions to train 400,000 new teachers in classroom technology use. The per head amount is about the cost of a three credit hour course at a land grant university. That's not much given estimates that schools will hire 2.2 million new teachers over the next five years. That leaves 1.8 million new teachers without the proper training. That's progress.

The reason that teachers need training has been pointed up in recent evaluations conducted by TEC across the nation. Teachers are comfortable using word processing applications in front of students, but they aren't comfortable with presentation programs, databases, spreadsheets and other content application programs.

Reports and evaluations have consistently shown that classroom technology is not used if the teacher has not had minimal training. This goes for chalk, posters, and overhead projectors which were once "technology." Teachers are comfortable with word processing because they've had the most experience with it. They use the applications with which they're the most comfortable in front of students.

That makes sense, no one wants to be embarrassed in front of students. Why are teachers embarrassed? Because the teaching model is still traditional and that model requires the teacher to know everything. If the teaching model is facilitative, the necessity to know everything diminishes. It becomes acceptable for students to help classmates and even the teacher as they collaborate and learn together.

While reports show that 88 percent of schools have internet connections and computer ratios are dropping to 5.9 students per computer, that still translates to a classroom with thirty students using five computers. Do the math. Five students can use the computers; 25 students cannot use the computers.

Teachers face a new set of classroom management problems; what do you do with the 25 who aren't on the computer, or for that matter, the five who are? How do you put lesson plans together that make this a better learning environment? It was easier when there was only one computer

When teachers do receive the massive professional development they need, it inundates them with information (the core dump method of instruction), and too little time is left for computer skill development, Internet exploring, and lesson writing with peers. The one and two week summer seminars are necessary, but the most useful professional development takes places over a period of time such as Wednesday afternoons or Saturday mornings for ten weeks. Teachers need the time to learn the content, process the information, apply it with their students, and assess what they need to learn next. Then they return for more and go through the same process. That is the way adults learn best (kids too). Think of it as just-in-time training for teachers.

What is going to make a difference? One of the best ideas we've seen that has produced validated results is the mentor/coach who is on call to help teachers. It's built on the idea of just-in-time training. The teacher wants to do something for the class, calls the coach, discusses the content. The coach can coach on the phone, through e-mail, or go to the school for a one-on-one with the teacher. It gives the teacher a second chance at perfecting skills that don't sink in the first time (not everyone intuitively knows how to run slide presentation software). The coach can provide guidance in finding Internet resources, lesson plans, ideas that students like and try to meet the student needs that the teacher has identified.

Another method that works well is the faculty development area with the technology to produce multiple media. A technology coach/ mentor runs the center and helps instructors convert traditional lessons to mediated lessons.

Teachers ask for time to plan together to develop full lessons that meet district curriculum frameworks. Since each teacher is presumably doing this alone now, one wonders why teachers haven't banded together across schools to do this. The coach can organize this as an e-mail collaboration and role model how to do it.

A major problem for low-income districts is teacher attrition. The district hires new teachers, invests in their technology professional development, and two years later the teacher moves to a more affluent district. Many technology directors believe they can stop this if the level of technology, professional development, and coaching is substantial. If it can reduce the high turnover that plagues the poorer districts, it would be a real win for the students. It seems simple, but it's difficult to accomplish as most teachers feel that the technology and support should be a given. Maybe they're right.


from "Prism on the Future," Teleconference Magazine, September 10, 1999, by Carla Lane, Ed.D.