Critical Issue: Providing Professional Development for Effective Technology Use

ISSUE: Whether technology should be used in schools is no longer the issue in education. Instead, the current emphasis is ensuring that technology is used effectively to create new opportunities for learning and to promote student achievement. Educational technology is not, and never will be, transformative on its own, however. It requires the assistance of educators who integrate technology into the curriculum, align it with student learning goals, and use it for engaged learning projects. "Teacher quality is the factor that matters most for student learning," note Darling-Hammond and Berry (1998). Therefore,
professional development for teachers becomes the key issue in using technology to improve the quality of learning in the classroom.

Lack of professional development for technology use is one of the most serious obstacles to fully integrating technology into the curriculum (Fatemi, 1999; Office of Technology Assessment, 1995; Panel on Educational Technology, 1997). But traditional sit-and-get training sessions or one-time-only workshops have not been effective in making teachers comfortable with using technology or adept at integrating it into their lesson plans. Instead, a well-planned, ongoing professional development program that is tied to the school's curriculum goals, designed with built-in evaluation, and sustained by adequate financial and staff support is essential if teachers are to use technology appropriately to promote learning for all students in the classroom.

Overview | Goals | Action Options | Pitfalls | Different Viewpoints | Cases | Contacts

OVERVIEW: The role of the classroom teacher is the crucial factor in the full development and use of technology in the schools (Office of Technology Assessment, 1995; Trotter, 1999). "The transformation of classroom technology from hardware, software, and connections into tools for teaching and learning depends on knowledgeable and enthusiastic teachers who are motivated and prepared to put technology to work on behalf of their students," notes the CEO Forum on Education and Technology (1999). Yet, many teachers do not have the technical knowledge or skills to recognize the potential for technology in teaching and learning. Just knowing how to use a computer is not enough. Instead, teachers must become knowledgeable about technology and self-confident enough to integrate it effectively in the classroom. Teachers, in other words, must become "fearless in their use of technology" and empowered by the many opportunities it offers (Illinois State Board of Education, n.d.). Most teachers want to learn to use educational technology effectively, but they lack the time, access, and support necessary to do so (Guhlin, 1996).

Joellen Killion, director of special projects for the National Staff Development Council, describes professional development in technology as an important intervention but emphasizes that in order to improve student learning, teachers have to implement their technology knowledge and experience effectively in the classroom [1.5MB audio file]. Excerpted from a videotaped presentation by Joellen Killion at the Technology Leadership Team Institute, July 1999, in Leesburg, VA (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1999).

To reach the goal of preparing teachers for effective technology use, a well-designed professional development program is essential.
Professional development in a technological age requires new definitions and new resources. It cannot take the traditional forms of individual workshops or one-time training sessions. Instead, it must be viewed as an ongoing and integral part of teachers' professional lives.

How can schools and districts provide the type of professional development that will promote teachers' effective use of technology in the classroom? How can this professional development inspire teachers to use technology to create new learning opportunities that will have a positive impact on student achievement? Two requirements help ensure the success of professional development for effective technology use. First, the professional development should be an integral part of the school technology plan or overall school-improvement plan. Second, the professional development should contain all the necessary components that research has found to be important.

Professional Development as an Integral Part of the School Technology Plan

Professional development for technology use should be an integral part of the school technology plan or an overall school-improvement plan, not just an add-on. Initial inclusion in the technology plan ensures that professional development is considered an essential factor in using technology to improve teaching and learning. (For additional information on school technology plans, refer to the Critical Issue "
Developing a School or District Technology Plan.")

The technology plan, with its important professional development component, is written by a
technology planning committee or team. The group approach ensures that all stakeholders support the integration of technology into the curriculum as well as sustained professional development in technology use for all teachers and administrators. The technology planning team ensures that the professional development component of the technology plan is research based and meets high standards for effective staff development (Lockwood, 1999). Sources of professional development standards include the five tenets outlined in the Policy Position paper, developed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and the Standards for Staff Development, developed by the National Staff Development Council. The technology planning team has important things to think about when reviewing the professional development section of a technology plan, such as the following: How do instructional and technological goals affect professional development? What is expected from the staff as a result of their professional development? Who will manage, design, and deliver the professional development?

Before defining the focus of processional development activities, the technology planning team should determine the school's current level of technology use. Materials such as the
Seven Dimensions for Gauging Progress of Technology in the Schools, developed by the Milken Exchange on Educational Technology, and the Learning with Technology Profile Tool, developed by North Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium, can be used to assess the school or district's current technology practice and provide a point of comparison. The team also may wish to conduct both informal and formal needs assessments to determine priorities for professional development activities. Finally, the professional development component of the technology plan should include a fair and equitable system for assessing each individual teacher's level of technology competency. Tools such as the Recommended Foundations in Technology for All Teachers, developed by the International Society for Technology in Education, and the Professional Competency Continuum, developed by the Milken Exchange on Educational Technology, can be used to determine the skill level of individual teachers and their needs for professional development. Such assessment provides data that can be used for future planning and development of strategies for coaching teachers at different skill levels. Use of Internet skills rubrics and similar tools can help educators chart their progress in acquiring technology skills. All this information helps the technology planning team establish professional development goals for using technology to promote engaged learning.

Components of Effective Professional Development for Technology Use

Professional development for technology use should contain essential components that research has found to be important. These components include the following: a connection to student learning, hands-on technology use, variety of learning experiences, curriculum-specific applications, new roles for teachers, collegial learning, active participation of teachers, ongoing process, sufficient time, technical assistance and support, administrative support, adequate resources, continuous funding, and built-in evaluation.

Connection to Student Learning. The ultimate goal of professional development is to improve student learning (Speck, 1996). A study by the National Institute for the Improvement of Education (Renyi, 1996) found that 73 percent of surveyed teachers cited improved student achievement as the most important reason for participating in professional development activities. "Teachers value increased student achievement as an outcome of professional development more than any other variable and judge the value of their professional development activities by how much they see a leap in student learning," notes Lockwood (1999, p. 13). "Schools should provide teachers with abundant opportunities to become fluent in using technology to bolster instruction and help students develop higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills," notes the National Staff Development Council (1999). As a result, the use of technology enables teachers to implement new teaching techniques, to help students work collaboratively and develop higher-order
thinking skills, to encourage students to be engaged in the learning process, to assist students who have various learning styles and special needs, and to expose students to a broad range of information and experts.

Hands-On Technology Use.Recent research has shown the importance of current professional development emphasizing hands-on technology use. "Teachers who received technology training in the past year are more likely than teachers who hadn't to say they feel 'better prepared' to integrate technology into their classroom lessons," notes Fatemi (1999). "They also are more likely to use and rely on digital content for instruction, and to spend more time trying out software and searching for Web sites to use in class."

Initially, teachers will need to acquire
core technology competencies and skills; but during these initial experiences, teachers should be thinking in terms of how the technology can enhance student learning and how it can be used in different content areas. Hands-on technology use at school and at home allows teachers to develop confidence in their skills and a comfort level with the technology. When teachers are accustomed to using the equipment to boost their own productivity, they "are more likely to see ways in which similar uses could support the projects they want their students to do," notes the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (1994).

Variety of Learning Experiences. "To help teachers incorporate technology in ways that support powerful instruction requires an array of professional development experiences quite different from traditional workshops and how-to training sessions," notes David (1996, p. 238). Professional development for effective technology use can come in a variety of forms, such as mentoring, modeling, ongoing workshops, special courses, structured observations, and summer institutes (David, 1996; Guhlin, 1996). Whatever the format, effective professional development utilizes key points from
adult learning theory. Adults require relevant, concrete experiences with adequate support, appropriate feedback, and long-term follow-up (Speck, 1996). This type of professional development is very different from traditional one-time teacher workshops. Research indicates that teachers learn and incorporate new information best when it is presented over a long time frame instead of a single session.

Preferably, new strategies are modeled during routine school days in the classroom (Guhlin, 1996; Sparks & Hirsh, 1997; Yocam, 1996). Such practical demonstrations encourage teachers to accept and use the new strategies in their own classrooms. Sparks (1998) calls for 15 live or videotaped demonstrations "for a modest-size change in practice" (p. 34). Teachers then need opportunities for hands-on experience in using the new skill, developing a unit, and implementing it (Guhlin, 1996; Sparks, 1998; Yocam, 1996). Finally, follow-up support as well as opportunities for ongoing discussion and reflection on the new procedures are essential in ensuring change (Yocam, 1996). Practice logs can promote these helpful activities. Such logs can show how often teachers use a new practice, how it worked, what problems occurred, and what help they needed (Sparks, 1998).

Curriculum-Specific Applications.If technology is to be used to produce improvements in student achievement, teachers must see a direct link between the technology and the curriculum for which they are responsible (Byrom, 1998). Professional development for technology use should demonstrate projects in specific curriculum areas and help teachers integrate technology into the content. In particular, professional development activities should enhance teachers'
curriculum, learning, and assessment competencies and skills as well as classroom and instructional management competencies and skills. Specific content can help teachers analyze, synthesize, and structure ideas into projects that they can use in their classrooms (Center for Applied Special Technology, 1996).

A good professional development program is job embedded and tied to learning goals: It provides activities in the context of practice. The best integration training for teachers does not simply show them how to add technology to their what they are doing. "It helps them learn how to select digital content based on the needs and learning styles of their students, and infuse it into the curriculum rather than making it an end in itself," notes Fatemi (1999). "Using technology effectively also requires having a wide repertoire of teaching approaches."

New Roles for Teachers.Technology encourages teachers to take on new and expanded roles, both inside and outside of the classroom. Within the classroom, technology supports student-centered instruction. The teacher assumes the role of coach or facilitator while students work collaboratively (Jones, Valdez, Nowakowski, & Rasmussen, 1995; Kupperstein, Gentile, & Zwier, 1999). Outside of the classroom, technology supports teacher collaboration. Instead of working in isolation, teachers can work together on schoolwide programs. They can help find solutions to problems, act as peer advisors to provide information and feedback, and collect data to test hypotheses (Lieberman, 1996; Little, 1982). Their new roles may involve distance collaboration with cross-school peer groups and study groups through telecommunications (Kosakowski, 1998). Professional development for technology use provides opportunities for teachers to become comfortable and effective in these new roles.


NSDC's Standards for Staff Development

(Revised, 2001)

Context Standards

Staff development that improves the learning of all students:

•Organizes adults into learning communities whose goals are aligned with those of the school and district. (Learning Communities)

•Requires skillful school and district leaders who guide continuous instructional improvement. (Leadership)

•Requires resources to support adult learning and collaboration. (Resources)

Process Standards

Staff development that improves the learning of all students:

•Uses disaggregated student data to determine adult learning priorities, monitor progress, and help sustain continuous improvement. (Data-Driven)

•Uses multiple sources of information to guide improvement and demonstrate its impact. (Evaluation)

•Prepares educators to apply research to decision making. (Research-Based)

•Uses learning strategies appropriate to the intended goal. (Design)

•Applies knowledge about human learning and change. (Learning)

•Provides educators with the knowledge and skills to collaborate. (Collaboration)

Content Standards

Staff development that improves the learning of all students:

•Prepares educators to understand and appreciate all students, create safe, orderly and supportive learning environments, and hold high expectations for their academic achievement. (Equity)

•Deepens educators' content knowledge, provides them with research-based instructional strategies to assist students in meeting rigorous academic standards, and prepares them to use various types of classroom assessments appropriately. (Quality Teaching)

•Provides educators with knowledge and skills to involve families and other stakeholders appropriately. (Family Involvement)

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