Search form


The State of Technology Part 2: How Does Your School Measure Up?


I've seen the attitude of school districts regarding technology, says instructional technology consultant Jamye Swinford. Most place a lot of emphasis on equipment, but have technology coordinators who are not educators. It seems as though they put the equipment first and the education second. Is she right? Discover what Swinford and nine other Tech Team members have to say about the state of technology in schools today. Included: Ten technology experts-- from Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin -- provide an insider's look at the technology support available in U.S. schools.

Not so long ago, Education World's Tech Team members were primarily classroom teachers; self-taught technology enthusiasts who volunteered to troubleshoot minor technical problems or provide on-the-run curriculum integration advice to their peers -- and to our readers. Today, our Tech Team is composed primarily of full time tech experts and classroom teachers with recognized technology training and credentials. It's easy to assume, therefore, that the overall level of tech support in our nations schools has increased as well. But has it? Has our Tech Teams high level of training been matched by adequate funding and staffing, by administrative support, by teacher enthusiasm?

To find out -- and to help you determine how your school or district compares with others across the country -- we asked our 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 divided their comments into two articles. This week, you'll hear from ten technology experts in Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin. For comments from teachers in Alabama, California, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, and Massachusetts, see The State of Technology Part 1: How Does Your School Measure Up?.

Jim Leishman, who worked with instructional technology in the corporate community for ten years, is currently a technology-training specialist for the Intermediate School District in Port Huron, Michigan. "Two of us handle technology training for all K-12 schools in seven school districts," Leishman told Education World. "Our responsibilities are to instruct teachers in the use of technology and in integrating it into their classrooms. That entails training teachers to use 40 to 50 different software packages, working with teachers whose skill levels run the gamut from never having touched a mouse to highly proficient, troubleshooting hardware and software issues, and just generally picking up the slack for whatever the individual district's instructional technology department can't handle.

"We work with both students and teachers," Leishman added. "Typically, we meet first with a teacher to discuss lesson plans he or she might use that include some form of technology. If the teacher is not comfortable instructing the students in how to use the software program, we take the students into a lab setting and show them how to use the technology to complete the assignment; then we remain available throughout the assignment to troubleshoot any issues that occur. We also do professional development training sessions for teachers, ranging from one-on-one sessions to sessions with groups of 50 teachers.

"The teachers' attitudes toward technology vary, Leishman noted. "Some people are gung-ho for anything new; some won't even use a computer to take attendance. The age of the teachers doesn't seem to have anything to do with their attitude toward technology, however; some of my most proficient users are older teachers.

"The attitude toward technology among administrators varies as well," Leishman said. For example, a district might buy 50 new computers and not allocate any funds for installation, upkeep, or repair. Technology expenditures often are looked at as a one-time cash outlay, and that's not the way it works.

"All in all, I love my job," Leishman concluded. "I do something different every day; I'm always meeting new people; and they actually pay me for it!"

"My main focus is to assist teachers in technology integration," said Janetta Garton, a technology curriculum director in Willard, Missouri. "I work in all six buildings in our district -- which includes five elementary schools, a middle and high school -- conducting group and individual training sessions and assisting teachers in their classrooms during lessons involving technology. I also facilitate the writing and processing of our district's technology plan. Two other members of the technology department deal with hardware, software, installation, maintenance, and troubleshooting.

"This is the first year for my position," said Garton, who has a master's degree in elementary education, but no special certification in technology. "The job was created to meet a need recognized by our superintendent and principals, and I feel a lot of support from the administration (even though money is tight and that makes it challenging.) The teachers demonstrate a mix of emotions, however. Some are very excited and thankful to have me available. Others just want me to go away -- along with technology in the classroom."

Fred Holmes, LAN manager and webmaster in the Osceola (Nebraska) school system, began his teaching -- and technology -- careers as a social studies teacher. "Until a few years ago, I had no formal training in computers," Holmes told Education World. "I was a social studies teacher who became interested in computers. When the administration decided they wanted me to teach students to do what I had taught myself to do, I ended up teaching computers as well.

"Today, I teach three computer classes and three social studies classes, supervise a study hall, and coach three sports," Holmes noted. "The computer classes I teach include computer applications and advanced computer applications and they involve working with video, sound, presentations, and Web pages. I also do some teacher training. In addition, I'm responsible for computer set up, maintenance, and security at the high school, and for the district's network and Internet connections. And I work on the PCs at our elementary school. Right now, I'm also working with our service unit (which provides support in a number of areas, including making computers available to area schools) on a security issue for those schools.

"Technology is important to our school," said Holmes, who currently is working on his master's degree in educational technology. "Teachers are constantly coming into my classroom asking for help. Unfortunately, I can't always provide it when needed. But with state budget cuts, it's hard to hire another teacher."

New Jersey
"The Linden Public School District can justifiably boast of its educational technology program," instructional computer support specialist Sally Stevens told Education World. "Our information technology department supports the districts network, while the media/technology department is responsible for technology integration. Training administrators and teachers to learn to use technology is a simple task; teaching them to use technology to learn is more difficult. To accomplish that goal, the district has developed the position of instructional computer support specialist (ICSS).

"An ICSS must have a bachelor's degree, successful elementary classroom teaching experience, and an appropriate instructional certificate," Stevens noted. "He or she also must possess a working knowledge of multimedia computers, Internet and Intranet systems, network technology, elementary curriculum, and applications software.

"The role of the ICSS," Stevens continued, "is to create 'tech-knowledgeable,' 'tech-comfortable' teachers. We use a variety of strategies to provide direct technological support to staff. Those include introducing and reviewing software, Internet resources, and other appropriate materials, and making the information available to staff; coordinating computer usage in projects and activities within, across, and between curricula and schools; working with classroom teachers, individually and in grade level teams, to plan, organize and implement the use of technology through such activities as demonstration lessons, team teaching, and joint planning; providing both building-based and district-wide staff development at faculty meetings, district professional development days, and after-school and summer workshops; and keeping abreast of current technologies by attending conferences and workshops on a regular basis.

"At the present time," Stevens noted, "two instructional computer support specialists provide support for eight elementary schools; an ICSS is assigned to each school one day per week. On the scheduled day, the ICSS is available to provide teachers with assistance in technical skills and classroom management techniques, and to help them gain the confidence that is necessary for successful curriculum integration."

North Carolina
"My paid job is teacher of a self-contained K-4 hearing impaired class," Debbie Thompson told Education World. "My unpaid job is school computer contact. I started out in that position four to five years ago, as a trainer in our district's Train-the-Trainer program. We received technology training and then had to go back to our schools and teach the rest of the staff. As the program developed, trainers were given laptops for personal use in return for providing a minimum of 25 hours a year of staff development in their schools. Most years, however, I provide anywhere from 30 to 50 hours of staff development.

"I am also the technology troubleshooter," Thompson added, "which means that any computer problems come to me first. If I can't fix them, I send in a work order to district tech support. Over the years, however, our techs have taught me how to do much of the maintenance on the computers, so they really only have to come out for the big problems. Recently, a security program was put on our computers to help prevent viruses and I am the only person with the password to bypass that security. Now, anything that needs to be done on the network, including loading software, must be done by me.

"In addition," Thompson said, "I am the school webmaster, responsible for maintaining the school Web site and monitoring classroom Web sites to make sure they adhere to district policy. I keep track of all release forms for the school (for use of students pictures and work, for example) and send out forms to new students. And I do all the computer work for the school; anything that needs to be done on a computer -- school improvement plan, SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) accreditation, and so on -- comes to me because they know it will be done quickly and correctly.

"I enjoy working with technology," Thomson told Education World, "and I have the knowledge and skills to do so. I don't have the credentials, though. So now I am in a graduate program in instructional technology. Ultimately, I would like to be a technology coordinator for our district, helping teachers integrate technology into instruction. Because of our state's budget crunch, however, that position is not funded at this time.

"As much as I've tried to help our teachers integrate technology, the majority still seem to think they are using technology if their students use Accelerated Reader on the computer," Thompson noted. "Only a few have been willing to participate in an activity such as a collaborative Internet project. I hosted a project last year, for example, in which 125 classes nationwide participated. The only way I could convince some of the teachers in my own school to participate was to forgive a homework assignment in their technology staff development classes. Even then, they sent me the information on a piece of paper rather than e-mailing it!"

"Technology in my school can be looked at from a variety of perspectives," said John Tiffany, a high school science teacher in Wauseon, Ohio. "Teachers are not sure what to think about technology. Some don't know anything about it, so they don't use it unless they're forced to. Some want to use it, but are frustrated by a lack of resources and support. The technology department is frustrated by the lack of time to do what is required. There just aren't enough of them to service what they have to service. The administration says it values technology, but fails to supply the necessary equipment and the personnel to service it. We need training and support to be able to utilize technology effectively.

"I've just acquired a master's degree in classroom technology," Tiffany noted, "and I feel very positive about the uses and benefits of technology in today's classrooms. I am supportive of the administration's stated desire to see it used more. And I'm appreciative of what the technology department goes through on a daily basis. It is still frustrating, however, to see how the technology needs of the classroom teacher are treated."

Angela Perritt is an educational technologist for the Northwest Ohio Computer Association (NWOCA), an organization that provides computer services to 40 public schools and more than 50 non-public schools in northwestern Ohio. Perritt, a former fifth grade teacher with a bachelor's degree in elementary education, is currently working on a master's degree in educational technology.

"Our organization offers teachers three types of training," Perritt told Education World. [These include] sessions at our site, which include opportunities to use PCs and/or Macs, and such state-of-the-art equipment as Smartboards and video conferencing tools; individualized school-based training, which introduces teachers to the hardware and software available at their own schools; and resource visits, in which trainers provide modeling and hands-on help with technology integration activities in the teachers' own classrooms.

"I am one of six people on our instructional team," Perritt noted. "My primary responsibilities include training teachers in a variety of software programs and helping them to integrate those programs into their curriculum. My focus is not just on training teachers in Word, Excel, KidPix, and so on, but on helping them see how those programs can be useful in their classrooms. Instead of simply teaching Excel, for example, I might have teachers create timelines using some of Excels special alignment features. I also like to broaden teachers ideas of what certain programs are capable of. Many computer programs are like untouched canvases waiting for the 'artist' to make a masterpiece. When teachers work with computers, they tend to group certain programs into certain categories, such as 'math and science,' for example. That's rarely the case, however. Kids are better than adults at seeing the multi-subject possibilities of programs and not placing subject labels on them.

"In my position," Perritt said, "I see a wide variety of different attitudes toward technology. Some districts totally embrace it, while others try to ignore it. The most important key to getting schools to integrate technology is having an administration that encourages teachers to experiment with ways to integrate technology into their own classrooms."

Educational technology specialist Robin Smith is one of six people working in the instructional technology department of a school district of about 4,000 K-12 students. Smith told Education World, Im in charge of the budget, ordering equipment, scheduling installations with the network administrator, the district technology committee, department planning, network technology implementations, the Act 48 tracking program, district-wide e-mail, and the district Web site. I also work with department chairmen to help them integrate technology into their curricula, meet with grant writers to secure funding, attend various meeting with administrators, teachers, and vendors. I assign logins and passwords for e-mail, the Act 48 tracking system, and the grading system. I am also in charge of setting up district wide technology teacher training. We run a three-week technology institute in the summer and provide before and after school in-services for teachers throughout the school year. I am sure there are many duties I have not listed. Other members of my department include a technology lead teacher, a network administrator, two repair technicians, and a part-time secretary. For large projects we sometimes call in consultants.

Three years ago, Smith, a classroom teacher with a business education background, became a technology lead teacher in charge of technology integration and staff development. This summer, the technology department was restructured, and her current position was created. It is basically a computer coordinator position with a different name, Smith noted. In Pennsylvania, my position requires an instructional technology specialist certificate. Districts that employ uncertified instructional technology personnel are fined.

In our district, Smith said, technology is valued a great deal and is supported with funds from the general budget and from grants. For the past three years, our school board has supported level funding, which has allowed us to operate in a timely manner in regard to scheduling upgrades and so on. We are significantly understaffed for the amount of computers and teachers we service, however. We really need a full time secretary, at least one more technician, and a technology lead teacher for each building. Although money is available to buy equipment, staffing is considered an ongoing cost and is much harder to get approved. Even though we are doing more and more all the time, administration hesitates to hire technology staff when teachers are being cut in other areas.

Technology impacts every student, teacher, staff person, and administrator, Smith noted. It is constantly changing and to stay on top of it requires time, energy and enthusiasm. Without sufficient staffing and people in the proper places in the organizational hierarchy, available technology is underused and little time is left to look at the big vision for the future.

Jamye Swinford is an instructional technology consultant for Region 18 Education Service Center in Texas. Texas is divided into 20 regions, Swinford told Education World. Each region has an education service center that provides support and services in all areas for the school districts it serves. Region 18 covers 37,553 square miles and includes 19 counties, 33 school districts, more than 6,300 educators, and approximately 81,000 students. Our service center employs six instructional technology consultants.

I have responsibilities in several areas, Swinford added. I am a resource for a software program, which helps districts disaggregate and evaluate testing data. I specialize in technology workshops and staff development to help incorporate the skills needed to successfully achieve technology integration. I also serve as a technology consultant in other areas as needed. I mainly work with teachers, but can and sometimes do, work with students as well.

I believe that integrating computers into the curriculum is one of the most important aspects of teaching with technology, said Swinford, who holds a bachelors degree in business administration, a master's degree of education in instructional technology, and certificates in several areas of technology. Ive worked with computers in some respect for 29 years -- 18 of those years involved technology-related classroom experience -- and Ive seen the attitude of school districts regarding technology; most place a lot of emphasis on equipment, but have technology coordinators who are not educators. It seems as though they put the equipment first and the education second. In most districts, the technology coordinator is supposed to do everything from maintenance to staff development to student instruction. Few districts have an instructional technology coordinator to take care of the instructional side of technology.

I believe that technology can be taught regardless of the equipment; however, the best equipment without a plan or experienced personnel, cant teach technology.

I teach programming, and deal mainly with students and with curriculum development, Dave Figi told Education World. Our city of about 60,000 has more than 10,700 students in ten elementary, three middle, and two high schools. Weve been very lucky in that our city has supported technology. In 1997, a referendum passed that allowed each school to be wired and equipped with technology in the form of computers. The original referendum passed by 36 votes. A challenge resulted in a recount. The recount showed that the referendum passed by 32 votes.

The project took three years to complete, Figi added. Today, each classroom in Janesville is equipped with computer(s) and each school has one or more computer labs. Our high school has three business labs (PCs), an English writing lab (PCs), a mathematics lab (PCs), a Mac lab for programming and art, a technology lab (PCs and Macs), and more than 70 computers (Macs and PCs) in the library. In addition, some classrooms have three to six computers for student projects. At this time, the regular budget is used to replace computer labs, which takes place every three to five years. Our district also has one full time Macintosh technician and four full time PC technicians, who work exclusively in the schools.

Marnie Boylen, our coordinator of instructional technology, has done a masterful job of overseeing Janesville's transition into technology, Figi said. Technology courses are offered through the district on a regular basis and teachers can take the courses for credit or be paid for the time. In addition, courses are held regularly to educate staff on software used in our district.

Our city has been very generous in supporting technology in the past, Figi noted. But can it continue? In Janesville, health care costs for district teachers have increased by 22 percent this year alone. Something has to give. Either people or technology or both could be cut as health care takes a larger portion of the school budget each year.


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:

* Dave Figi, 9-12 computer programming teacher, Janesville Parker High School, Janesville, Wisconsin
* Janetta Garton, technology curriculum director, Willard R2 Schools, Willard, Missouri
* Fred Holmes, High School LAN manager/Webmaster, Osceola Public Schools, Osceola, Nebraska
* Jim Leishman, technology specialist, St. Clair County Intermediate School District, Port Huron, Michigan
* Angela Perritt, educational technologist, NWOCA (Northwest Ohio Computer Association), Toledo, Ohio
* Robin Smith, technology lead teacher, Hollidaysburg Area School District, Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania
* Sally Stevens, computer support specialist, Linden Public Schools, Linden, New Jersey
* Jamye Swinford, instructional technology consultant, Region 18 Education Service Center, Midland, Texas
* Debbie Thompson, teacher K-4 hearing impaired class and technology facilitator, Tanglewood Elementary School, Lumberton, North Carolina
* John S. Tiffany, high school science teacher, Wauseon High School, Wauseon, Ohio



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®
Copyright © 2002 Education World