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Factors that Affect the Effective Use of Technology for Teaching and Learning
Lessons Learned from the SEIR*TEC Intensive Site Schools

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Over the past three years, SEIR*TEC has been providing substantial levels of technical assistance and professional development to fourteen resource poor schools across the Southeast and Islands. Typically, the on-site work entails a member of the SEIR*TEC staff spending three or four days per month in a school, working on various aspects of technology integration. The nature and extent of the staff development and technical assistance are determined in large measure by the needs and exigencies of the local teachers and administrators.

Our work in the intensive site schools has served as a rich opportunity to study the way technology is, or is not, successfully integrated into teaching and learning. The following narrative represents some of our observations and lessons learned thus far.

Table of Contents

  1. Leadership is the key ingredient.

  2. If you dont know where youre going, youll end up someplace else.

  3. Technology integration is a s-l-o-w process.

  4. No matter how many computers are available or how much training teachers have had, there are still substantial numbers who are "talking the talk" but not "walking the walk.

  5. Effective use of technology requires changes in teaching, and the adoption of a new teaching strategy can be a catalyst for technology integration.

  6. Each school needs easy access to professionals with expertise in technology and pedagogy.

  7. While many of the barriers to using technology to support learning are the same for all poor communities, some populations have some additional issues.

  8. In some schools, infrastructure remains a serious barrier to technology adoption.

  9. Educators can benefit from tools that help them gauge the progress of technology integration over time.

  1. Leadership is the key ingredient.

Our experiences in working with the intensive sites confirm what the research literature says, that leadership is the single most important factor affecting the successful integration of technology. This is true at the state level and at the school level. For example, the states with the most successful technology programs are those that have had visionary governors, legislators, and DOE staff who are committed to the use of technology as a tool for teaching and learning. Similarly, the schools who have made the most progress, including our intensive sites, are those with energetic and committed leaders. Here are some more specifics.

The Vision Thing - It is especially important at the school level for the principal to have a vision of what is possible through the use of technology, and be able to work with others to achieve the vision. Without this vision, and the translation of the vision into action, lasting school improvement is almost impossible. We notice time and time again that the schools in which we are having the greatest impact, such as Booneville Middle School, are the ones with the strongest leaders - leaders who are committed to helping their teachers and students use technology effectively.

Leading by Example Effective principals lead by example. They have a clear idea about how technology can support best practices in instruction and assessment, they use technology fluently, and they participate actively in professional development opportunities. The leader who expects to see technology used in the classroom but does not know how to use e-mail sends, at best, a mixed message.

Supporting the Faculty - In addition to modeling the use of technology, supportive school principals highlight the efforts of teachers who attempt to use technology to improve teaching and learning. Effective leaders also attend professional development sessions with their teaching staff.

No Reform of the Month Clubs - Faculty who are bombarded with new initiatives to be implemented each month quickly become overwhelmed and resentful. Why invest much time and energy in this month's reform when a new one will be unveiled in a few weeks?

Shared Leadership - School technology committees can serve an important role in making decisions that reflect the needs of a total school community. School leaders facilitate this happening by showing both interest and trust in decisions that the group makes. Committee members should be those who are representative of the total faculty and staff and selected by a method other than principal-appointed. Committee meetings should not begin with the principal or technology coordinator announcing his or her software decision and who will get the new computers that just arrived. Shared input and decisions are critical for committee members to feel that they serve a real role and to reduce the chances that decisions will be sabotaged.

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  1. If you dont know where youre going, youll end up someplace else.

Each organization, whether it be a district or an individual school, needs to spend time developing and updating a comprehensive plan -- starting with its vision, mission and goals. Every decision made should be one that supports the organization's vision. The degree of success that a school has in implementing technology will depend, in part, on the quality and maturity of its technology plan. A technology plan that reads like a shopping list cannot guide a school in making its hardest decisions. A useful plan reflects the ideas of an entire school community and is connected to overall school goals. A look at school-level technology plans reveals that many of our schools need assistance, not only in writing a plan, but in learning how to carry out the process of developing one that includes stakeholder buy-in.

As we have been helping schools implement their plans, we have noticed that there tend to be three areas of weakness. The first is a tendency for one individual or a few people to write the plan, a practice that flies in the face of the notion of stakeholder buy-in and community involvement. A second is that many plans lack a detailed component or plan for professional development that covers the broad range of skills teachers and administrators need. The third common problem is that most plans lack a component for evaluating the success and effectiveness of the program. The omission of components usually stems not from a lack of interest but perhaps from a lack of expertise in how to set up an effective professional development program in technology or how to conduct an evaluation that will yield meaningful and useful results.

Implementing the plans also requires working together in groups, devising new patterns for staffing and many other organizational changes that are brought on by the use of technology.

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  1. Technology integration is a s-l-o-w process.

Truly integrating technology into teaching and learning is a slow, time-consuming process that requires substantial levels of support and encouragement for educators. The Apple Classroom of Tomorrow studies (Dwyer et. al, 1991) of what happens in technology rich environments have shown that teachers go through predictable stages in their use of technology and that this process takes from three to five years. We have found that in technology poor schools, the process takes even longer. In our intensive sites, we have also started to notice that there seems to be a correlation between the amount and level of technical assistance we provide and movement along the continuum of technology integration; i.e., the schools that receive the most attention are making the most progress.

Unfortunately, in most of the schools in the region, teachers have only had access to the basic types of training in which they learned to use a single application. Follow-up and support are the exception rather than the rule.

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  1. No matter how many computers are available or how much training teachers have had, there are still substantial numbers who are "talking the talk" but not "walking the walk."

When you consider the fact that microcomputers have been in schools for almost twenty years, and considering that most teachers have participated in some type of professional development, it is still surprising to see how many teachers there are who do not use technology at all. We know and appreciate that there are a variety of reasons, some of which we cannot do anything about, and others that we can do something about. For example, there are a few research studies (c.f., Macro, 1995), that indicate that some teachers have a natural proclivity toward using technologies in general and computers in particular, while others do not. And, like the general population, there are some teachers who embrace change, while others resist it. On the other hand, there are some research-based practices and common sense strategies we can implement that enhance the likelihood that teachers will begin using technology.

  1. Begin with teaching and learning, not with hardware and software.

As technology-oriented professionals, we have a tendency to frame professional development and technical assistance around technology tools, such as word processing and databases. We tell teachers, "Now what you need to do is integrate word processing into your lesson plans," which can work with motivated teachers, but not those who need a lot of support (or a gentle shove). In short, teachers have a difficult time applying technology skills in the classroom unless there is a direct linkage with the curriculum, teaching strategies, or improvements in achievement.

Professional development tends to have a stronger impact when we frame it like this - "Lets look at what students are learning this year and then see how technology can make it more effective."

  1. The training-of-trainers model means more than providing a workshop to a few people and expecting them to train their colleagues on what they learned.

The training-of-trainers model for professional development might just be the most misunderstood or misrepresented model in education. Quite often it is interpreted as one or two people delivering a workshop in which the participants are supposed to acquire the content knowledge and training skills needed for conducting turn-around training. Unfortunately, this seldom works because (a) the content is too complex to be mastered in a one-shot workshop and there is no follow-up accommodation for the wouldbe trainers to become proficient, (b) there is no support for turn-around training, or (c) the would-be trainers are inexperienced trainers. For the model to work, all three barriers must be overcome.

  1. Its a waste of time and energy to provide technology training when teachers dont have the resources, opportunity, and support needed to apply their new knowledge and skills.

It should go without saying that it makes absolutely no sense to provide training on technology applications when teachers dont have access to appropriate hardware and software. Unfortunately, however, some school leaders continue to follow the tradition of sending teachers to workshops when its convenient rather than when its logical, such as during the summer (even though they wont have the resources or time to practice and experiment until January), or when a project like SEIR*TEC is providing training for free.

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  1. Effective use of technology requires changes in teaching, and the adoption of a new teaching strategy can be a catalyst for technology integration.

While legislators often expect to see a direct correlation between the amount of money spent on computers and students scores on standardized achievement tests, we have observed that there is an intervening variable teacher behavior. Effective use of technology requires improvements in teaching. Its the combined effect of effective teaching and pedagogically sound technologies that lead to improvements in learning.

We have found that when professional development and technical assistance start with a particular teaching or learning strategy that the teachers believe will benefit their students, such as cross-curricular thematic units, and then help teachers discover ways technology is a tool that supports the strategy, teachers are usually eager to try both the new instructional strategy and the technology.

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  1. Each school needs easy access to professionals with expertise in technology and pedagogy.

Our experiences in the field confirm the notion that teachers need on-site and on-demand technical assistance with both the technology and the integration of technology into teaching and learning. Finding professionals who have expertise in both areas is difficult, and few schools have professionals with both. Many districts hire curriculum specialists and technology specialists and hope they work together. Sometimes they do; sometimes they dont. Resource-poor schools might have a curriculum specialist, but they seldom have access to anyone, in-house or out, with the skills to assess their hardware requirements or troubleshoot problems as they start using new hardware and software.

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  1. While many of the barriers to using technology to support learning are the same for all poor communities, some populations have some additional issues.

We know that regional efforts make resources available to the widest number and variety of programs and enable programs to build on each others work rather than continuously reinvent wheels. Since the K-12 education community has been exploring effective uses of technology for some time while, adult educators can and do benefit from opportunities to work with and/or learn from experienced, thoughtful K-12 educators. However, the adult literacy education learners and settings are different enough from K-12 that the adult educators find that they also need to take these learnings and resources and then rethink and repurpose them to create methods and materials that can be effective in their own instructional settings.

We also realize that educational software in Spanish, although abundant throughout the Spanish speaking world, is just beginning to appear in the Puerto Rico market. Until now, technology appeared for many teachers to be destined for the English teachers only, and not for teachers of other subject matter which are all taught in Spanish.

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  1. In some schools, infrastructure remains a serious barrier to technology adoption.

It is very difficult to focus on integrating technology to support learning if you cannot overcome basic technological equipment and facilities issues. Schools that serve students in economically disadvantaged areas typically have greater barriers than schools in affluent communities in getting the basics in place. The schools in Louisiana, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico are cases in point. In some instances, the buildings are so old that establishing an infrastructure is very difficult. For example, some schools in the Virgin Islands do not have access to telephone lines; there are no T1 lines to the islands. In other places, a lack of security is a problem; some of our schools will not put computers in classrooms unless there are iron bars across the windows. And, living in the Southeast, we are occasionally reminded of the impact that the weather has on schools in the region, such as hurricanes that wipe out microwave communication towers or destroy entire school facilities.

The schools in Puerto Rico also have severe access issues in part because basic electricity is not sufficient. The electrical infrastructure of many schools is unable to handle the additional load required by computer networks. These schools require major infrastructure investments that in their system can only be made by the Department of Education. There is a long waiting list of schools that need major electrical upgrades. As we said under Lesson 1, schools with effective leadership sometimes use their ingenuity and will to overcome these barriers; schools without committed leaders do not.

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  1. Educators can benefit from tools that help them gauge the progress of technology integration over time.

One of our most recent observations originated not with the intensive sites, but with some technical assistance SEIR*TEC staff provided to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI). The Department had asked for help in developing a way of collecting comparable evaluation data from 44 diverse Technology Literacy Challenge Fund (TLCF) grants. Working with DPI staff, we developed an instrument that has been adopted across the state as well as in other states. We have observed that the instrument not only serves its original purpose but also provides a non-threatening framework for gauging a schools or districts progress toward technology implementation. Administrators report that it is a tool that helps educators reflect on where they are and where they need to go with their technology initiatives.

In the belief that helping educators reflect on their progress could potentially accelerate the rate of progress, we adapted the original instrument for use in the intensive sites. Basically, the adaptation involved the identification of five domains of technology integration, principles of good practice for each domain, and indicators of progress for each principle. Staff also compared the domains and principles with other instruments such as the CEO Forums STaR Chart and the Milken Exchanges Frameworks for Technology Integration to ensure that ours covered all the bases. We just completed the first round of implementing the instrument in the intensive sites, and so far, the teachers and administrators have reported that in addition to being a useful gauge for progress in general, the instrument is a good basis for discussing specific technology initiatives across the district. It also helps them see the bigger picture of technology integration by showing principles of practice that they have not yet addressed. We will monitor the use of the instrument over the next several months and see whether it does indeed make a difference in program planning and implementation.

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