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Encouraging Teachers
To Use Your School's Network

By guest editor Kerry Fraser


Technology in the Classroom Center"Encouraging Teachers to Use Your School's Network," by Kerry Fraser, is reprinted from the July 2000 issue of the Fraser Report on K-12 Technology, a newsletter designed to help administrators and technology coordinators guide and support their teachers' use of technology. The article looks at strategies to encourage teachers to exploit all the opportunities a network creates.

Schools train teachers to use a computer but spend little or no time teaching them to use a network. They learn the basics -- how to use e-mail, access the Internet, and transfer files back and forth -- but little more. They rarely exploit the network's full potential.

"Teachers often end up using their computers as if they were stand-alone machines that just happen to be on a network. They don't think about using the network, and they don't tap into the power of collaborative work spaces," says Cindy Etchison, the technology resource specialist for Virginia's Loudoun County School District. Loudoun has invested heavily in school networks, which it configures to promote collaboration.

Etchison and Lynn McNally, the technology resource teacher in Loudoun's Little River Elementary, who worked closely with network designers to create collaborative spaces, train teachers to use them. They recommend the following steps to encourage your faculty to use your network:

  • Train teachers in network basics.
At the start of each school year, Loudoun County's new teachers receive six hours of training, which is provided in each school by the school's technology people. Topics include an orientation to the network, as well as instruction in e-mail, Internet access, and file management. File management covers how to use the network's shared folders and how to put files where others can use them. To make the training more interesting, McNally recommends organizing a network scavenger hunt and having teachers search the school for network components, such as hubs, routers, switches, and cables. "It's fun for the teachers, and they learn about some of the components of the network. It's a good way to demystify the network," says McNally.

  • Give teachers a network map.
They have to know what's available on the school network in order to use it. Teachers may go for weeks, even months, without using some of the network's resources and then forget what's available. A map that's stored on the network is easy to access, but few people will remember it when they need it. Paper is better. Teachers can keep it by their computers. Distribute a new one when necessary.

  • Train technology support staff.
Be sure they understand what your teachers are doing on the network.

  • Put useful resources on the network.
Your technology specialist can put widely used clip art and photo collections in a network folder that all teachers and students can access. Loudoun's Harper Park Middle School has a collection of animal photos and one of photos for Black History Month in its global shared folder. Students use the images to illustrate their work; teachers use them in their lessons.

  • Put links to Web sites in shared folders.
At Loudoun County High School, technology resource teacher Sam Brenizer keeps an eye on what his teachers are teaching in class. When he finds a Web site that might be useful, he puts a link in the teacher's folder. At Harper Park Middle School, files containing teachers' bookmarked Web sites are kept in shared folders where students can use them as well.

  • Help teachers set up templates on the network.
A template, which Mac users also call a stationary file, is easily created and is useful for repeated activities. It is simply a special computer file. When the file is opened, the computer automatically creates a copy with the text, formatting, and graphics of the original. Users work on the copy and the original remains untouched, ready for the next person. The way a template is created depends on the software used. With most software, however, it usually takes just a couple of mouse clicks.

The uses of templates on the network are virtually endless. For example, when a teacher creates a lesson plan or instructional material on the computer, it can be shared with other teachers via a template. The original file is saved as a template and put in a folder that other teachers can access.

What About Security?
by Kerry Fraser

To allow activities such as those described in this article, a network must be open and flexible. Such flexibility increases security risks, however.

"Schools where the technology people are empowered tend to have networks that are locked down and don't work effectively to support education.

Schools where instructional people are empowered have networks that are very open but full of security holes," says Lynn McNally, technology resource teacher at Little River Elementary in Loudoun, Virginia.

A balance must be found!

When second graders in a Loudoun County school studied frogs, they observed them in the classroom, watched them lay eggs, and examined the tadpoles. Students then wrote about what they saw and drew pictures to illustrate their work. To organize what they had learned, the teacher created a template that contained spaces for text and drawings and put the template in a network folder that her students could access. Using the template as a guide, they wrote with a word processor and drew with a paint program in the appropriate spaces. She also put the template in a network folder where second graders in other classes could use it, and students' work was posted to the network for all to see.

Templates can also replace paper handouts. For example, a teacher can create a computer file with practice math problems, turn the file into a template, and put the template in a folder shared by students. Students can open the template and do the work on the computer. If there are enough computers, perhaps in a lab, students can all work on the exercise at the same time. Otherwise, a few students can work on it at a time, while the others work on different activities. Templates can also be used for class tests and quizzes, report cards, letters to parents, etc.

McNally uses the creation of a template for a parent newsletter as an opportunity for teacher training. She introduces teachers to the software they will use to design the newsletter and works closely with them as they construct a newsletter template. By the time the teachers are done, they have a template they can use to write the newsletter and they have enough experience to start using the software with their students -- although they will likely still require some help from McNally. The template is saved in a shared folder where all the teachers can access it. Often teachers have students collaborate on the newsletter. Some write stories. Some do illustrations. They leave a copy of their work in a shared folder for the teacher to edit. If students' computer skills are up to it, they can lay out the material too.

  • Help teachers develop collaborative projects that use the network's shared folders and e-mail.
McNally recounts the experience of an English teacher who used a template to teach students how to change a "tell" sentence into a "show" sentence. Every week, the teacher wrote a boring "tell" sentence on a template in a shared network folder her class could access. Students opened the template, rewrote the sentence, and left their work in a shared network folder. The teacher copied their sentences into one file, color-coded the different parts of speech in each sentence, and gave each student a copy. Students had to evaluate the sentences. Which had the best verb? The best adjective? The color-coding made it easy. Over time, the students' writing improved and an exercise that would have been slow on paper was made quicker and easier by using shared space on the network.

Kerry M Fraser
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World

Kerry Fraser is the publisher and editor of the Fraser Report on K-12 Technology, a newsletter designed to help administrators and technology coordinators guide and support teachers' use of technology.

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Updated 05/14/2009