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Training Teachers Who Are Terrorized by Technology

How often do I need to save my work? How do I make time to work technology into the curriculum? Why do I need to understand the computer? Where did my file go? What if I break the computer? How can I learn this application well enough to help my students?

Those are just a few of the questions that members of Education World's Technology Team hear over and over and over again.

Our Tech Team members' practiced responses prove, once and for all, that technology teachers possess patience in abundance. And they must! Patient responses to commonly asked questions -- well thought-out or misguided -- are the building blocks that will transform a reluctant teacher into one who is comfortable using technology in tangible and truly worthwhile ways.


"How am I going to find time to 'do' technology in my classroom? I already don't have time to do all that is expected of me. What do I give up?"

For Kathy Campbell, teacher facilitator of technology for the St. Charles Parish (Louisiana) Schools, that question is as common as flies at a picnic.

"Technology needs to become a tool for learning, not another subject to teach," Campbell patiently explained.

"At first, many teachers don't know what to ask or how to ask a question," said Tech Team member Libby Adams. "They begin asking questions when they begin to feel comfortable using technology."

"As a teacher, your primary goal is to use technology to supplement learning -- rather than teaching technology in isolation," Campbell continued. "The use of computers should be so infused that the students think that technology is part of the natural learning process."

Don't give up on proven strategies and practices just to insert technology, Campbell added. Instead, seek ways to insert technology where it enhances student learning.

"I begin by looking at the core curriculum with the staff at my school," added Libby Adams, computer resource teacher at Troost Academy in Kansas City, Missouri. "We talk about what teachers are presently teaching and then we talk about how we might integrate technology. We look at appropriate software applications. We talk about how the Internet might be used. We check the readability of [Web] sites to make sure they are age-appropriate and that students can use them independently."

Stew Pruslin -- a third-grade teacher and technology specialist at J.T. Hood School in North Reading, Massachusetts -- hears the "time question" from time to time too.

"My role is more behind the scenes and maintenance," noted Pruslin, who would like to see a person in his school whose full time job would be dedicated to helping teachers work technology into their classrooms and their curricula.

"I would like to see a building technology integration specialist, much like a reading specialist, who comes around, works in classrooms, helps with special projects, 'gets the ball rolling, ...'" said Pruslin. "Right now, we have one such specialist for the five schools in our district, but one per building would be better."


So you're ready to start infusing technology, you've found valuable ways to make it an integral -- and integrated -- part of the curriculum, but now you wonder how you can ever manage when you have two computers for 22 kids?

Susan Myers is an integration specialist in the Lockport (New York) School District. Planning ways to manage the integration of technology is a large part of her job.

"Classroom management is a big issue," said Myers, "and I usually suggest a center approach. The computers are one of the centers, and the students rotate to that center in groups. In that way, every student can have access to technology every day."

Many teachers worry about managing computers because they are not secure in their own knowledge of them. That lack of knowledge can be very disconcerting for a teacher who is use to being organized, hands-on, and goal-oriented.

"The teacher doesn't always have to know the application well enough to help students," said Myers. "Often I train the students and the teacher at the same time in the classroom. I may present a 20-minute lesson on an application. After the lesson, many students just pick it up naturally and problem-solve on their own. ... The students will help each other, and the teacher will learn from them as they learn."

The next time that application is used, the teacher might know as much as the students do. And soon after that, the teacher might begin to get really creative with the application. ... That's how reluctant teachers become true technology infusers!


Susan Myers isn't the only one who has found that students can be a tremendous help by taking on some computer training responsibilities. Katy Wonnacott has had a similar experience at Signal Hill School in Belleville, Illinois.

"Many of the teachers in our school are still relatively new at technology integration," said Wonnacott, a social studies teacher who often serves as an impromptu technology coordinator. And, like many technology coordinators, she is frequently asked how the computer might be used to individualize instruction for students, especially bright students.

If Wonnacott doesn't know which software packages or Web sites to recommend to a teacher, she will often search for information online. Then she passes that information -- and the software, if she has it or can purchase it -- along to the teacher to use with the student. Often, the student will end up teaching herself or himself how to use the Web site or the software.

"Though I don't approve of using the computer as a baby-sitter, I deviously know that I am also planting a resource in the classroom in the form of that student," added Wonnacott. Once the child explores the Web site or learns the software, that child can aid the rest of the class -- and the teacher -- by serving as an instructor and by solving problems as they come up.

"It's especially gratifying when that child is one who might be struggling in school," added Wonnacott. "That child becomes a computer 'guru,' and the success that occurs often adds to that child's self-esteem."

Libby Adams also tries to train students as technology teachers. "We try to develop student 'mavens' who are pros on different pieces of software," says Adams, who serves as the students' trainer. "The mavens then go into the classroom and teach two students in the room the application. Those students then work with others in the room, and the teaching continues.

"Another strategy that has been very helpful is that our teachers attend the computer lab with their students," added Adams. In the lab, teachers have several choices. "If I'm teaching a new program or about a new Web site, they take the role of a student. [Otherwise] the time can be used to look at appropriate software or Web sites they might use.

"Most teachers develop a system in their classrooms to rotate students on their computers," said Adams, adding, "computers are never used for reward or punishment. They are learning tools to be used by all students. Once that is understood by all students, the management system seems to fall into place."


Another common fear (or excuse?) expressed by teachers reluctant to use technology is the fear of what lurks on the Internet. Most of Education World's Tech Team members have heard that worry voiced in one way or another.

"Many teachers -- and parents -- who have never dealt with the Internet are quite convinced that somehow a student can be tracked down very easily through a school Web site, or any other Web site for that matter," said John Simeone, Webmaster and an instrumental music teacher at Beach Street Middle School in West Islip, New York. "I try to assure them that it is safe for a school to be online and that we never post names and pictures together.

"It's funny," added Simeone, "we have posted names, addresses, and pictures of kids for years in local newspapers and school newspapers, and that has never scared anyone. ... I assure [parents] that we built our school Web site with safety in mind, and we go out of our way to ensure that safety."


Technology teachers know when they have finally turned the corner with a teacher who is reluctant to use technology in the classroom. It's that moment when the teacher doesn't panic if something goes wrong -- that moment when the teacher finally realizes that a computer glitch doesn't mean "I've broken it!"

Education World's Tech Team members are constantly encouraging novice technology users to experiment, to make mistakes. Sooner or later, those teachers will make most of the common mistakes. Once a teacher realizes that a "broken" computer is a really an opportunity to learn something more about how computers operate, they've overcome a huge hurdle.

"How did you learn all this?" is a question Corrie Rosetti hears all the time as he's teaching teachers the fine points of computer use. "My answer is 'I just played,'" said Rosetti, a language arts and technology teacher at Lincoln Middle School in Clarkston, Washington. "There isn't much you are going to do from the keyboard that is going to cause major damage to your system," he tells teachers, challenging them to "Give it a try and see what happens."

A hands-on approach to learning is what most technology teachers suggest. And it's the approach most use to solve problems too.

"I believe in a hands-on approach to teaching," said Fred Holmes, Webmaster for the Osceola Public Schools in Nebraska. "I talk teachers through the steps as they do it for themselves." Mistakes are corrected as they go along. "I tell them I learned by trial and error," said Bill Bagley, co-Webmaster and social studies teacher at Cullman High School in Alabama. "I tell them I learn best if I just dig in and see what happens." If a teacher responds with a fearful look and comments about being afraid to "tear up my computer," then he offers this advice: "Most new computers are very simple to use ... so enjoy your computer, and don't worry about all the stories that you have heard about how easy they are to crash. They are also very easy to fix."


When Jennifer Wagner hears the question "What if I break the computer?" she knows she's dealing with a teacher who hasn't attended one of the afternoon or evening training sessions she's offered. "The teachers who have attended know that the [blank] blue screen does not mean death to the computer, it just means to call for the technician," says Wagner, computer coordinator at Crossroads Christian School in Corona, California.

Other common questions Wagner hears include "Why do I need to understand the computer?" and "Where did the file go that I saved on the computer yesterday?"

"Again, lack of training leads to lack of understanding," said Wagner, adding with a smile, "What I like most is that the question about saving files is usually followed with the comment, 'The computer must have eaten it.' I continually tell my staff that the computer is not human and it does not randomly delete files just to frustrate teachers, but alas, they don't believe me!"

But it's true! Ask any member of Education World's Tech Team. They'll tell you that dedicated training followed by "playing" and "trial and error" -- and by calling for technical support when the computer "breaks" or when a file is "eaten" -- is the way that every technology pro has learned. Once computer novices understand those things -- really understand them -- then they can move forward. Then they're novices no longer!


Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® 
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Updated 01/28/2013