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Assessing Staff Technology Needs: Do the Current Tools Work?

The need to implement computer technology efficiently and successfully has quickly become a priority in our schools. For many administrators, the key to successful implementation is knowing how to maximize the technological skill of their teachers. In this article, educator and computer guru Ted Nellen offers suggestions on how to quickly and accurately assess staff skills and determine staff development needs.

"In the field of education, we gather lots of data and spend a great deal of time assessing. We often spend too little time actually doing. When it comes to technology, the best way to accomplish assessment and begin the process of staff development is to just jump in and do it!"

-- Ted Nellen

The use of technology in the classroom has a long history. During the past 20 years in particular -- largely because of the rapid growth and enormous potential of the Internet -- classroom technology use has garnered extraordinary attention. Many people see the use of the Internet in the classroom as the great democratizer. The Internet provides students with access to primary, secondary, and tertiary resources that are generally unavailable in school libraries, public and private libraries, and even in bookstores. In addition, the Internet provides better opportunities for authentic assessment -- allowing student work to be more widely published, disseminated, and evaluated than is possible in school literary magazines, yearbooks, portfolios, and other forms of traditional print media.

For those reasons, the need to implement computer technology in the classroom successfully, efficiently, and quickly has become a priority for school administrators.

One of the most pressing concerns for administrators is determining the technological readiness and needs of their teachers, assessing what the staff already knows, and preparing people to use technology more effectively.

The traditional method of evaluating technology needs has been to create an assessment tool that determines the technology skill levels of the teachers and then to somehow determine what skills those teachers still need. Many tools for Assessing Staff for Technology are available. Although the tools may be helpful for gathering data, they provide little help in acting on the data collected.

At best, assessment tools merely refine identifying which staff members have very specific skills. At worst, they provide misleading information; technology neophytes are not the best judges of their own skills and needs, and their responses to survey questions are often inaccurate or incomplete.

In either event, survey tools provide very little real assessment of staff skills and needs, and they are absolutely useless when it comes to helping teachers find good pedagogical uses for technology.

Perhaps a different approach is needed?


One method that I have found successful is to open up the computer lab and invite teachers to come in and see how computer technology can enhance their pedagogy. At first glance, this method may seem to involve a slower process than a simple assessment survey, but skills and needs data is actually gathered very quickly in the lab setting. In addition, the data is more valid and more useful than data obtained through written surveys.

In order to encourage staff to participate in the lab program, I started an after-school computer club. In no time at all, teachers with a perceived need to learn to use technology began to come in. In the lab setting, I could watch them use the computer, learn whether they had e-mail, and assess their degree of knowledge almost instantly.

Instead of approaching staff assessment in traditional ways, I approached it through play -- play that was determined by the needs of the teachers. Instead of reading a survey that told me who owned a computer, the club allowed me to see how each teacher used the computer, handled the mouse, and navigated applications. I used Internet search engines to determine surfing skills, set up e-mail accounts or helped teachers access their existing accounts, and provided instruction and support for using computer applications to create homework work sheets, quizzes, tests, grade books, and so on.

Soon, teachers began to bring in other teachers who had initially been reluctant to attend. In a very short time, I was able to work with many staff members, form teams, and begin need-based staff development.

By semester's end, I had a solid core of technology-savvy teachers.


Another problem with assessment surveys -- which are individual in nature -- is that they further isolate the technology "newbies" from those who use technology successfully.

A better assessment method is to have teachers visit classes in which technology is already being used. In this way, cyber-savvy teachers can assess the skills and needs of their colleagues. Matching teachers of similar disciplines makes assessment and staff development more meaningful and more effective. Showing teachers how the technology is -- and can be -- used also helps alleviate staff techno-phobia.

In the field of education, we gather lots of data and spend a great deal of time assessing. We often spend too little time actually doing. When it comes to technology, the best way to accomplish assessment and begin the process of staff development is to just jump in and do it!

Editor's Note:
Twice named teacher of the year for the New York City schools, Ted Nellen is currently an adjunct professor at Fordham University and New School University, a guide and teaching assistant for Connected University, and cybrarian for TaskStream. A detailed list of his publications, presentations, education, and honors can be found in his online resume.

Article by Ted Nellen
Education World®
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