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The State of Technology Part 1: How Does Your School Measure Up?


A few years ago, most school technology coordinators were classroom teachers, drafted to take on a school's tech duties because they were the first ones to figure out how to start -- and restart -- the school's Apple 2GS's. Unpaid and overworked, they struggled to share their hard-won technical knowledge with colleagues and to convince administrators of the importance of those efforts. Times certainly have changed! Or have they? Learn what the Education World Tech Team has to say about the state of technology in U.S. schools today. Included: Educational technology experts from Alabama, California, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, and Massachusetts provide an insider's look at the wide range of technology support available in schools today.

Three years ago, when Education World published its first Tech Team feature, the terms technology coordinator, technology integration specialist, or technology trainer were virtually unheard of. In fact, most schools were lucky if even one teacher in the building was tech savvy enough -- and willing enough to sacrifice lunch breaks and planning time -- to troubleshoot minor technical problems or provide on-the-run curriculum integration advice to his or her peers. Few school technology "experts" were formally trained to do the job thrust upon them; even fewer were paid for their efforts.

Today, although overall the level of technology support in U.S. schools has improved dramatically, it's clear that technology resources -- both technical and practical -- still vary greatly from state to state and from district to district. To find out how much those resources vary, and to help you determine how your school or district compares with others across the country, we asked members of the Education World Tech Team to tell us about their jobs and responsibilities; to describe the resources they provide and the resources provided to them. Is technology valued and supported -- both with money and with personnel -- in your district, we asked, or is it an annoying 'stepchild' that's supported only minimally and grudgingly?

Because so many of our Tech Team members responded to the question so passionately and so informatively, we've divided their comments into two articles. This week, you'll hear from 10 technology experts in Alabama, California, Indiana, Florida, Maryland, and Massachusetts. Next week's article will report on the state of technology in Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.

We begin our tech tour in...

Brenda Moxley is an instructional technology resource specialist in Birmingham, Alabama. I am employed at the district level," Moxley told Education World. "I do not maintain equipment; I instruct teachers and other school staff in the use of technology for personal productivity and in how to integrate technology into their curricula. Two of us, plus a supervisor, serve 5,000 employees -- in 38 schools, as well as district-level staff -- working daily with building level technology personnel. With one exception (discussed below), we have no building level technology integration specialists."

"The technicians who maintain our equipment and network are also district based, rather than building based (again with one exception)," Moxley added. "Some technicians also are employed on a contract basis."

"At the school level," Moxley said, "most tech coordinators are teachers drafted to take on the school's tech duties. Sometimes the coordinators are chosen for abilities and interest in the position. Others are chosen because they are librarians or computer lab teachers who can go to coordinator meetings without requiring substitutes. Still others are drafted because no one else will do the job. The one exception is our new high school, where the instructional technology resource specialist also is the technology coordinator, serving only that one school."

"In our system," Moxley noted, "the technology teachers who work with students are Career Tech teachers in the high schools and middle schools and, most often, Writing to Read teachers in the elementary schools. We also have a few computer lab teachers who just teach computer skills."

"Things have changed in the last few years," Moxley said. "We have much more equipment, and every classroom is networked and online. We are a large district so, in some areas, technology is valued and supported; in others it is definitely the curricular stepchild. All districts, however, are beginning to recognize the necessity of supporting technology, so things are improving everywhere."

"First and foremost, I am a teacher," said Wally Fuller, a technology teacher in Upper Lake, California. "The fact that the word technology precedes teacher doesn't change what I love to do most. When the word history is attached to the word teacher, no one questions what your primary functions are and where they are performed. The same can be said for other curricular titles. When education attaches the word technology to the word teacher, however, the primary functions become a bit mystifying, especially in small schools and districts."

"I teach technology to 6-8 grade students in a media technology center," Fuller told Education World. "I also train staff on how to integrate technology into their curriculum. I keep the LAN running smoothly. I advise the district on technology purchases. I help troubleshoot computer problems. I instruct students and staff on how to operate video cameras, scanners, VCRs, laser disc players, printers, digital cameras, projectors and any other piece of equipment that falls into the category of 'technology.'"

"The remarkable thing about teaching technology," Fuller added, "is that you are never 'going it alone.' Support comes in the form of tech-savvy parents, community members, and colleagues. We can always find someone who is ready, willing, and able to answer questions or solve problems."

"Our district has maintained a technology vision and plan," Fuller said. "This has led to funding support over a long period of time. Continuing those funds is critical, although there will always be some resistance -- as well there should be. Acquiring and maintaining equipment is an expensive proposition. That is the point at which philosophy and reality need to merge.

"I have used the signature 'SODOTO' (See one. Do one. Teach one.) in my correspondence for a number of years," Fuller pointed out. "I maintain the idea that, along with the knowledge of history, math, science, language arts, fine arts, and other curriculum areas, teachers must demonstrate the ability to use hardware, software, and peripherals for technology integration. That also is an essential part of their primary function. When that is true, technology teachers are able to do what they do best: learn and teach.

"My title is 'technology specialist,' " said Lori Sanborn of Livermore, California. "I am not a certificated teacher. Although I have attended various workshops and training sessions in the past five years, prior to being hired in 1997 I had had no formal computer training, except a college class in Basic 25 years ago."

"My primary duties," Sanborn told Education World, "are keeping the computers in my school up and running, and managing the computer lab, where I provide instruction to 24 classes of K-5 students each week. Because teachers come to the lab with their students, I also am able to provide one-on-one training to the teachers when students are engaged in their work."

"In addition," Sanborn said, "I upgrade, troubleshoot, and repair computer hardware and printers. I upgrade and install computer software. I design, update, and maintain the school Web site. I maintain hardware and software inventories."

"I develop and instruct staff development at my school, to increase technology skills and help teachers integrate technology into their curriculum," Sanborn added. "I also head up the technology committee. I am the only tech person at my site, but I have 5-7 teachers (tech buddies) who help with minor technical problems."

"My salary is paid partly by the district and partly by site funds," Sanborn said. "Consultants are hired by the district for technical needs at the district level, but not at the school level. School-based funds are allocated on a case-by-case basis for specific needs. Until three years ago, our district supported technology with funds for hardware purchases based on enrollment. On average, we received about $13,000 for an elementary school of 550 students. With the needs of our district to upgrade infrastructure, e-mail, network, and reporting systems, site hardware money has been discontinued, however. Some districts and administrators see technology as a money pit because you keep throwing money into it constantly -- and everyone wants a piece of the pie."

"Technology is supported at our school, especially by the teachers who want it to work so they can e-mail, print, and access the Internet," said Sanborn. "Many teachers see the value in technology. They see the benefits of an integrated curriculum, in which students are excited about learning using the Internet and multimedia. Technology brings a dimension to learning that reflects todays advances and generates the enthusiasm of learning that is sometimes lost."

"When I was first hired to teach technology, I was promised that my classroom would be PC-based and that I would be able to set up the room as I wished," recalled Lomita, California, computer teacher Sith Nip. "When I walked into my classroom a week before school started, however, it was filled with iMacs, stationed (grounded to poles that powered them) in 4 rows. Broken PowerPCs were laying on one side of the room, along with a small screen for a projector. I thought of walking out and declining the job, but decided to stay because it was my first contracted teaching job. Instead I started fixing the PowerPCs. Eventually, I got 15 of them to work, hoping to accommodate 15 extra students in my classroom. By the end of the first week, those PowerPCs had gone to other classrooms."

"I had to write all my lessons from scratch because there were no books or guidelines to use," Nip noted. "I also took charge of the Accelerated Reading Program -- making sure that students were added, modified, removed, tested, and so on -- because I was the only person available who knew how to run the system."

"Because I was the computer teacher," Nip added, "fellow staff members constantly came to me for help with their classroom computers. 'My computer won't work,' most of them would say. 'It needs to registered,' or 'What's the password?,' or frequently just 'Could you...?' Those requests required me to travel around the campus during breaks, troubleshooting, and helping out. At times, I would be conducting a class when teachers sent kids to my room for 'research.' The students were very good, but they often interrupted my lectures. I even ended up giving up my lunch break to help out. Fortunately, aside from a few unhappy teachers, I enjoy teaching and I enjoy taking some responsibility beyond my official position."

"My title is technology coordinator," said California computer coordinator Jennifer Wagner, "but my job description is 'if it has to do with computers, call Jennifer.' " Wagner, who has a degree in education, also has MOUS (Microsoft Office User Specialist) certificates in Excel, Word, and PowerPoint, and more than 100 CEUs (Continuing Education Units) in computer oriented in-services and seminars. She hopes to be able to get a masters degree in educational technology in the near future.

"My primary responsibilities," Wagner said, "are to teach computer skills to K-8 students and to keep the computer lab maintained -- with routine scans, defrags, and so on. I also evaluate the technology needs of the school when we are deciding how to spend the $15,000+ we make each year from our magazine sale fundraiser. Last year, in addition to computer software and hardware, we purchased a TV/VCR for each classroom and video cards that allow the computer to display to the TV. Finally, I maintain the database of our software licensing."

"My non-primary responsibilities -- but school expectations -- are to be available if anything goes wrong," Wagner added, "and to not cringe when teachers say 'How do I do this?' after they have chosen not to attend an in-service I've given. We have many computer users; most are just not completely computer literate yet. I also maintain the school Web site, although I'm training someone to take it over. I'm also expected to have an after-school computer club and to oversee the adult educational lab at night."

"Finally, my self-directed responsibilities are my online projects and the seminars I promote to help teachers become more involved in using technology in the classroom," Wagner said.

"I am the only tech person at our school," Wagner noted. "If there are hardware or network issues I can't resolve, an outside company comes in to help. We also have a parent who has volunteered this year to help maintain classroom computers."

"The attitude toward technology is slowly changing at my school," Wagner told Education World. "Teachers are becoming more excited about using computers; several now have their own Web pages and e-mail addresses. We also had 100 percent school participation in our Skittles Online Project last year, and several teachers plan to participate in online projects this year as well."

"Our technology department is supported 100 percent by our annual magazine fundraising sale," Wagner noted. "Little by little, however, the proceeds are being channeled into other areas. We have a new administrator this year, and I don't know yet if I'll have to beg for money. I am pretty frugal, though, so when I say that I need something, if the price isn't too outrageous, I usually can purchase it."

"Recently, I read an article about the need for administration to embrace technology in order to make it work," Wagner said. "Our technology department has been in existence for five years, and slowly the school board and administration are seeing that it is an important part of the school. I feel as though we are still taking baby steps; however, it should be said that our school started with 8 computers five years ago and now we have 84 -- all with printers -- and our lab has doubled in size and added DSL connectivity, so all in all, I think we are going in the right direction."

"I am not a tech coordinator," Sheree Rensel told Education World. "I am an art teacher at a special ed school for severely emotionally disturbed students. Ironically, the reason I am so 'tech-knowledgeable' is because I saw the writing on the wall, so to speak, many years ago. Although our school did have an official tech coordinator, she didn't know much about the technology requirements pertinent to art and graphics. Also, her time and energy was already taken up by the volume of work she was required to do. It was then that I realized that if I wanted to integrate technology into my curriculum, I needed to learn all the aspects of technology myself."

"For the most part," Rensel continued, "I continue to act as my own technology coordinator today. I've worked out a system to make my art room a self-contained technology lab. With the exception of using the network to 'WebWhack' Web sites and to get information from the Internet, my students use hardware and software available in my room only. I find that it's just too much of a risk to trust the school network when it comes to needing lesson material at a moment's notice. This is not to say our current tech coordinator is inept. On the contrary, we have the best coordinator any school could have. However, the chances of the network being down or of another teacher using a single-use software program when I need it is just too great."

"Our tech coordinator, who is assigned exclusively to our school, works with both students and teachers," Rensel noted. "Teachers sign up for computer lab time on a posted schedule and the tech coordinator is there for support. Both the tech coordinator and the technology committee members (who are teachers) provide teacher training. We also have a district technology department, which provides support technicians for hardware problems. Otherwise, there is minimal tech support staff available at the district level."

"Most of the school-based technology coordinators who are already in position don't have specialized training other than the training offered by the district," Rensel pointed out. "As time goes by, however, requirements for tech coordinators are becoming more rigid and specific. Now, coordinators are required to have course work in educational technology."

"The greatest irony in our district," Rensel said, "is that technology is held in high regard and teachers are encouraged to use it as a teaching tool and as a resource. In the past year, however, the number of technology coordinators in our district has been cut drastically. In fact, only a handful of schools now have a tech coordinator; teacher volunteers have picked up the slack. Of course, money is the reason behind the cuts. Yet, it is quite interesting -- and confusing -- as to what the district's true attitude toward technology is. Thousands and thousands of dollars have been spent in the past five years to buy equipment, wire schools, and train teachers. Now, though, we feel as though the rug has been pulled from under our feet."

"First of all," Indiana teacher Michael Hutchison told Education World, "I am a social studies teacher. At least that's what it says on my contract. Like many other teachers on the Tech Team, however, I'm also one of the people others go to when things don't work or don't work well. Most of the time, it doesn't make any difference whether I'm in class, testing, or whatever. If someone has a technology problem, they come to see me. (A couple of years ago, I even had a teacher insist that I fix his e-mail problem while the assistant principal was in my room evaluating me.)

"I've also done tech training," Hutchison added, "although my district doesn't push training all that much. In fact, I haven't seen a schedule for professional training in about two years. Some of that is because teachers can't or won't agree to be trainers. We pay a very small stipend for participating in training, and the trainers get exactly the same stipend as the trainees. In addition, if tech training is done during the school day, the trainers don't get anything extra. (Despite the fact that they have to prepare a lesson to teach the teachers, as well as get things ready for a substitute and get things back to normal after the sub leaves.)"

"In my district," Hutchison said, "technology is somewhat the neglected stepchild. We have a technology coordinator with a support staff for the district, but little school-based staffing. Our district also has what I like to call the 'drop the box' syndrome. Six years ago, the district placed computers in most elementary, middle, and high school classrooms. (Some of those machines are still being used by teachers.) But no one ever told the teachers how to use them or what to use them for. They just 'dropped the box' in each classroom and expected teachers to be able to self-train on using the machines effectively."

"The district tech coordinator is somewhat supportive, but he has a limited budget, and of course, a lot of demands on it," Hutchison pointed out. As for the administration, the support has been lukewarm. For example, I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to attend the NECC (National Educational Computing Conference) last June in San Antonio, Texas. It was a great conference, and something I've wanted to do ever since I became involved in classroom technology. ISTE provided some of the funds to attend, but most of the rest of the cost I picked up myself. When I met with my superintendent to tell him I was going to go, he appreciated the fact I was going but told me that I would lose four days of summer school pay because there was no provision for summer leave. In other words, it would cost me approximately $1000 more to go to NECC. Fortunately my technology coordinator stepped in and provided professional development funds, but here was an instance where I was to be recognized at a major technology conference and my district was actually going to dock me pay to go! (Editor's Note: Hutchison was named the 2002 ISTE Outstanding Technology-Using Educator.) This, however, was unusual. More frequently, the district simply hasn't acknowledged anything I've done in the classroom."

"In my view," Hutchison concluded, "if districts expect teachers to use technology, they have to support it more completely with funding, training, and support. Where can this come from? One way is for districts to create technology peer-mentor programs. In other words, provide funding for teachers successful in using technology to either work full-time or part-time assisting other teachers who want to use technology, but need training handholding, or just an extra set of hands, ears, and eyes while students do a project."

"My title is library media specialist/teacher," Diane Mentzer told Education World, "although recently the job of technology coordinator was added to the library media specialist job description. Most of the library media specialists also had been doing the technology coordinator job voluntarily; when we began to ask for compensation or extra time, the Board of Education dealt with the problem by making the voluntary job part of our job requirements."

"I am at an elementary school and see each class for 60 minutes a week for library media skills instruction," Mentzer explained. "I provide training and professional development for teachers and am responsible for computer lab maintenance. I also am responsible for troubleshooting. If the problem is something I can fix, and if I have time, I will fix it; if not I send in a work order. I have no formal training or certification in this area; I have learned everything through self-training and district in-service training. I am blessed, however, with a fellow teacher who is gifted in troubleshooting. Together we can take care of almost anything that comes up."

"In addition," Mentzer said, "three district-wide technology resource teachers help with the professional development and with students when requested. In a large district such as ours, however, scheduling them is not easy. The county also has six technicians, each assigned to specific schools. I see our technician at least once a week, unless I have an emergency. I find that in our district, although technology is considered important, follow-through is often weak. Money has been spent for hardware and software, for example, but it often stops there. Training is lacking. The technology hardware department at the Board of Education does not always seem to realize that they are there to support the teachers. It often seems as though they think they are the most important technology component and students and teachers are along for the ride!"

"We recently hired a new superintendent, who has made a lot of changes," Mentzer noted, "so this too might be changing. Under the new superintendent, the director of technology was fired; other people have had their positions changed and realigned as well. More attention seems to be placed on technology integration. Those changes have led to the hiring of additional technicians, freeing the technology coordinators so they don't have to do as much troubleshooting. They can simply send in a work order, knowing that the problem will be addressed in a week or less. That has helped. When teachers know the technology will be fixed, and that it will work consistently, they are more likely to use it."

Ken Barton, a former teacher and now a full time technology coordinator, is part of a 6-person tech team in a Bethesda, Maryland, school with a population of 660. Primarily responsible for grades 3-5, Barton splits his time evenly between working with students and with teachers. "We don't have any break-out computer classes in my district," Barton explained. "All technology is supposed to be integrated. So I work with teachers initially and then with students when they work in the lab. Altogether, about half my time is involved with professional development issues."

"In addition," Barton told Education World, "I provide the first look at technical problems, fix what I can, and refer what I can't handle. I try to do as much technical work as possible without being seen primarily as a technician."

"At my school," Barton said, "technology is valued as a tool for learning. Not all the teachers buy into it, but those who want to use technology are given all the resources and support they need."

Lydia Ann Nelson is an instructional technologist at a small Massachusetts college. Although the requirements for her position did not include certification, Nelson is a state certified instructional technology specialist with a masters degree in educational technology, and teaching experience in computer applications and business education subjects.

"The College recognized that technology use was increasing on campus and realized that someone was needed to work with faculty on how best to integrate technology tools into their teaching," Nelson told Education World. "Often the way that works is that a faculty member will discuss what they hope to achieve and I will explain the possible technology solutions available to them. As a logical extension of that effort, I sometimes work with students as well, troubleshooting or determining how best to achieve their goals. Currently, I am working with faculty in launching their fall semester Blackboard sites. Recently, I worked with students to create multimedia portfolios."

"My position also requires that I manage media services," Nelson added. "I reserve, obtain, and arrange delivery of requested equipment, from audio cassette players to computer/LCD projectors. Additionally, various media services functions -- including laminating papers, videotaping presentations, digitizing video files, and so on -- are conducted through my office. We also manage the campus-wide bulletin board broadcast from media services. That part of my role is the most frustrating; equipment fails and last-minute needs are always a crisis. But I do see it as a necessary component to instructional technology use."

For more information, see The State of Technology Part 2: How Does Your School Measure Up?, in which TechTeam members from Michigan to Wisconsin discuss the state of technology in their schools and districts.

Who Are They?

The Education World Tech Team includes more than 50 dedicated and knowledgeable educational-technology professionals who have volunteered to contribute to occasional articles that draw on their varied expertise and experience. The following Tech Team members contributed to this article:

* Ken Barton, elementary technology coordinator, Landon School, Bethesda, Maryland
* Wally Fuller, technology teacher, Upper Lake Middle School, Upper Lake, California
* Michael Hutchison, social studies teacher, Lincoln High School, Vincennes, Indiana
* Diane Mentzer, library media specialist, technology coordinator, and Webmaster, Paramount Elementary School, Hagerstown, Maryland
* Brenda Moxley, instructional technology resource, Birmingham City Schools, Birmingham, Alabama
* Lydia Ann Nelson, instructional technologist, Curry College, Milton, Massachusetts
* Sith Nip, Introduction to Computers instructor, Alexander Fleming Middle School, Lomita, California
* Sheree Rensel, K-12 special education art teacher, Hamilton Disston School, Gulfport, Florida
* Lori Sanborn, K-5 technology specialist,
Rancho Las Positas School, Livermore, California
* Jennifer Wagner, computer coordinator, Crossroads Christian School, Corona, California

Visit the TechTeam Archives to find the entire TechTeam series of articles, and to catch a glimpse of the progress of educational technology during the last three years.


Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
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