Thursday, November 20, 2008

Teacher Training

Our school district has made a substantial investment in hardware, software and other peripherals.

These are used by teachers to:

  1. Instruct students (smart boards, projectors, software to illustrate concepts),
  2. Perform administrative duties (attendance, grades, enter test scores).
  3. Communicate with other teachers and staff.

The tools are used by students to:

  1. Do research.
  2. Create reports and presentations.
  3. Practice skills

I will add to these lists though I think this captures the largest percentage of their use.

Since we began the purchase of technology we (early adopters) have been concerned about the lack of use of technology and the lack of training to promote and support the use of technology. We have moved forward in our own separate ways to experiment and implement the latest new tools. We have offered training in our own limited and isolated ways. We've supported teachers with whatever tool they adopt. We've made progress and yet all along the way, we have been unable to establish a coordinated and comprehensive method for training our teachers. We also haven't committed ourselves to an established training curriculum for teachers or provided teachers with a recommended set of tools. The outcome has been;

  1. Islands of excellence - some teachers in some schools have found ways to make technology work for them and their teachers. They have adopted methods on their own, experimented with them and developed their own instructional model.
  2. Islands of frustration - some teachers struggle to use the technology we have adopted. They are not technology natives but they do their best to use the tools given to them. They use the support staff (building and district staff) in their building to get help. Some times this help is required to actually fix something that is broken. Sometimes the support staff clears up the confusion related to the tool.
  3. Islands of non adoption - some teachers don't use technology. They may have found that, for them, it gets in the way of good instruction. It is too risky to use instructional tools that may fail. They don't want to be embarrassed in front of their students and colleagues. Teachers may choose to use technology in a very limited fashion. For instance, they use a single computer to get their administrative and communication duties done but don't use it, or let students use it, for any other activity.

It is difficult to say which of these 3 categories is most prominent in our district. I would estimate that over 70% of our teachers are in the last 2 categories. Over the years I've begun to sympathize with this 70%. Until last year they had only the volunteer support of their building technology staff and periodic visits by district technology staff. They seldom get training. They are not given direction or instruction in a set of tools they can use and seem overwhelmed with the many, many options of software and hardware. They aren't familiar with instructional methods for using technology or with engaging students with technology. So in the final analysis I think we get what would be expected.

There are very legitimate reasons why we don't provide training for our teachers. The main reason is that they are being trained on other instructional methods - in reading, writing, math, results teams, etc. They have little time (and energy) left over for technology training.

So... what to do? what to do?