Last year, members of the Education World Tech Team reported on what they felt were the major roadblocks to full-scale technology integration in their schools. This year, they report on the progress -- or lack of progress -- they've seen during the past 12 months.
A year ago this month, we asked the Education World Tech Team to tell us what they saw as the greatest impediments to successful technology integration in our nation's classrooms. In the article How Can We Eliminate Roadblocks to the Information Highway? our experts indicated that a lack of time, training, and reliable hardware and software as well as a text-based mindset and a lack of motivation among teachers and administrators were some of the most serious impediments to technology integration.
We wondered whether anything had changed in the past year. Had some of those impediments been eliminated or reduced? Were teachers integrating technology into their curricula more successfully? Our experts' responses were mixed. Some saw real progress -- or, at the very least, the signs of real progress. Others still struggle with the same challenges they faced a year ago.
"At this point," Julia Timmons told Education World, "little has changed in the challenges I face in technology integration.
"Objectively, the biggest impediment to my getting my job done is still too little technical support for the amount of equipment I have in my school," said Timmons. She is an instructional technology specialist at Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School for Innovation in Lynchburg, Virginia. "We have 375 computers in a school of 725 students. Each classroom has a printer; the four labs, the library, and the central office each have two printers. Each classroom has a 34-inch monitor attached to the computer and cable system. When it comes to equipment, we are truly state of the art.
"My frustration," Timmons explained, "is that I spend all my time trouble-shooting, fixing, and installing. In addition, we recently converted from a Mac to a Windows environment, which resulted in many software issues -- leaving a number of network programs sitting on the shelf, waiting to be installed and implemented. Our teachers have had a great deal of 'how-to' training on the Windows platform, but I have not had the time to work with them on integration. We are sorely lacking in support personnel, and there are no funds to support them.
"Now our division is taking a hard look at the funds put into technology and the impact -- or lack thereof -- on learning," Timmons noted. "It's difficult for technology to have an impact on learning when we don't have enough support personnel to work with teachers!"
"Pleasantdale has once again provided an innovative solution to teacher training," said Beth Gregor, elementary technology coordinator at Pleasantdale Elementary School in La Grange, Illinois. "We've paid for subscriptions for each staff member to take online training from ACT (Academy for Computer Training) Now! "We have our own district ACT Now! Web site with individual sign-in. Each teacher selects a topic, takes a pre-test, and determines the areas in which he or she needs training. After teachers complete the course, they take a post-test and get credit for their training.
"This month, we're starting an Institute Day," Gregor told Education World. "Each staff member will be issued a CD-ROM with performance tests on it. The CDs can be installed in classroom computers or at home. Many titles are available, so staff members at any level can choose what they want to learn at the level they need. The coursework will count toward re-certification credits. We hope that this will satisfy the need for staff training at all ability levels.
"The district continues to train staff in as many ways as possible," Gregor added. "We have dedicated a considerable amount of money to technology and want everyone on the staff to know how to use it. This allows teachers to continue to integrate technology in their classrooms."
At the school level, Gregor creates WebQuests related to specific grade-level curricula or timely events, and she allows teachers to sign up to use the computer lab during class time. "This takes some of the burden off the classroom teachers and allows me to spend more time with the students," she said. "I've also continued to pass along Web sites and information that I find at such listservs as Classroom Connect and the Learning Company. Resources from other teachers are invaluable. They save me time and help classroom teachers with their lesson planning."
"More money is being put into computers," said Fred Holmes, Webmaster for the Osceola (Nebraska) Public Schools. "Teachers are becoming more comfortable using computers, and I'm seeing more and more teachers using computers with their students. But," Holmes noted, "the problem of staff training persists. Teachers must still learn to use technology on their own time.
"In Nebraska," Holmes told Education World, "we are told to implement writing assessments, math assessments, science assessments, English assessments, and social studies assessment into our curriculum. Add the technology assessment, which is voluntary, and teachers find themselves overwhelmed. Because technology is not yet a required assessment, teachers find themselves having to spend more time working on the assessments that are required. This leaves little time to learn to use technology to its fullest extent."
"In the Kansas City (Missouri) district, we've seen a renewed emphasis on technology during the past year," said Libby Adams, computer resource teacher at Troost Academy. "Last spring, a well-thought-out district technology plan was adopted that provides new incentives for schools and teachers. Each elementary school in the district is receiving a new updated lab; the middle schools and high schools are getting two or three labs each.
"Integration of technology is the focus in the schools, with an updated technology-integration document due within the next couple of months," Adams told Education World. "Each school is presently completing a technology plan describing how the district plan will be implemented in that school, and many schools have technology study groups that address the needs of the staff through training.
"Renewed emphasis on training is taking place, both at the district and school level," Adams added. "A technology academy is being planned, which is causing excitement among staff members. When a teacher completes the academy training, a teacher station and five computers will be placed in his or her classroom.
"Finally," Adams noted, "the community has become involved through an urban technology task force, which is providing assistance and lending expertise to the district. In my estimation, thanks to the efforts of many people, we've come a long way from where we were a year ago. Our job now is to keep the enthusiasm high and provide all the assistance possible to teachers so they have the time to see the value of technology in contributing to the academic success of their students."
In last year's article, Art Lader, Webmaster at Aiken High School in South Carolina, said, "The single most-significant obstacle to integrating technology into the classroom is the lack of a well-articulated, compelling reason to do so."
According to Jennifer Wagner, technology coordinator at Crossroads Christian School in Corona, California, "... that remains true -- perhaps even more true -- today. It is my belief that most schools have at least one computer available in each classroom. Many schools boast that they have three or more computers in each classroom. The question is 'How are they being used?' or sadly 'Are they being used?'
"Teachers need training on how to implement technology seamlessly into their curriculum," Wagner told Education World. "It is my strong belief that if a teacher can pop in a videotape and teach a lesson, there is no reason why that teacher cannot do the same with a floppy disk or a computer program. Some don't know how to do it -- and many refuse to do it. We are left with computers that are no more than expensive calculators and decks of cards for solitaire -- and we call that using computers in the classroom.
"Money can't buy enthusiasm -- so what we have done at our school is cheerlead the teachers who are using technologies," Wagner noted. "This year, I have two fourth-grade classes who are sponsoring online projects! Next year we are requiring that teachers have e-mail accounts. The addresses will be available to parents and staff. This year we added mailboxes to the teachers' phone lines. Next year, we will eliminate voice mail and install e-mail instead. Because e-mail will be the only means of communication, teachers will be forced to use it. Will there be opposition? Oh, my -- yes! Will there be 100 percent participation? Yes, indeed!"
"What changes have I seen in the past year?" asked Patrick Greene, a professor of educational technology at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Meyers. "Little or none! In fact, the federal government seems to have given up on classroom teachers -- especially the experienced ones. The new PT3 (Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology) grants target only pre-service teachers. The Department of Education appears to be saying 'Trying to train in-service teachers is too problematic; therefore, let's just train the new teachers.'"
"I don't know a lot about baseball, but I know the colorful characters of my childhood flirtation with the game," said Eve Datisman, library media specialist at Forks High School in Forks, Washington. "My favorite was the Yankees catcher Yogi Berra -- first because of his name, second because he always looked like he was having fun, even during the rough games. Most of all, however, Yogi was my favorite because of the wonderful things he said. Yogi's words about baseball work for technology integration too. 'The future,' he said, 'ain't what it used to be.'"
According to Datisman, we still need, as Kathy Campbell, teacher-facilitator of technology for St. Charles Parish Public Schools in Luling, Louisiana, said in last year's article, these things: time, training, and support.
"These are complex needs," Datisman pointed out, "not likely to go away soon. This is not a 60-minute sitcom in which our heroes grapple with a problem and in the course of 44 minutes (The sponsors get 16!) come to a resolution. There is no quick fix. There is no catchy theme song. Most of all, there is no deux ex machina to lift us out of a plot too complicated to resolve in 44 minutes. One of the biggest problems with technology -- and one of its greatest pluses -- is that in 44 minutes, there can be a whole new beta version to learn and test. In 44 minutes, a bug can be fixed and an application will run a little smoother.
"It's pretty clear," said Datisman, "that the problems, frustrations, and benefits of grappling with issues surrounding technology are here to stay."
Note: For more Yogi-isms, Datisman recommends that you check out his book I Really Didn't Say Everything I Said or visit the official Yogi Berra Web site.
Article by Linda Starr
Copyright © 2001 Education World