Need for Teacher Technology Training
Today, more than ever, we are living in a technological world, a digital world. A freshman in college today is the first of a generation of digital natives that has grown up in world of interactive and communication technology. However, teachers of these digital natives are more like digital immigrants. When immigrants learn a new language, they generally have some type of accent. As immigrants, teachers don’t think and speak like their students (Prensky, 2001). Prensky feels that “students today process information differently than their predecessors” (2001). He points to work by a doctor at Baylor College of Medicine who feels that the differences go far beyond the “differences in processing, their brains may be fundamentally different because of these experiences” (2001). This might imply that we need to entertain the possibility of these differences and alter our teaching methods to increase the probability of success for students who are comfortable learning in a digital world.
Continually evolving technology constantly presents teachers with additional challenges requiring them to craft new uses in their practice. Historically, teachers have been slow to embrace the use of technology as an element of change in their practice. Change as a result of technology has created problems related to teacher training, retraining and curriculum integration (Westbrook, 1993 as cited by Valovich, 1996). The fact that computers were accessible to students before teachers had the opportunity to master them places teachers at a disadvantage (Valovich, 1996). This again highlights the difference between the digital native and the digital immigrant.
The question then becomes how to best help teachers develop their technology skills so they are comfortable enough to effectively utilize technology with their instruction (Valovich, 1996). Technology professional development in schools should be context based rather than generic. Training is often generic in nature and focused on basic application skills (Valovich, 1996). It has been found that effective training for teachers utilizes modalities that link the skills to classrooms and instruction rather than software specific skills (Meehan, 2002; Anderson, 2002).
With a teacher’s time being a premium, any trainer must be cogent of teacher’s time commitments. This means that programs that are able to provide “just in time” and “on demand” (Meehan, 2002; Anderson, 2002) training may be more effective with the more generic types of training.
Teaching is recognized by many as a difficult profession with limited financial rewards. As a profession, “teaching has also traditionally been characterized as an occupation with high levels of attrition, especially among beginners (Grissmer & Kirby 1987, 1997, cited in Ingersol & Smith, 2004). Fifty percent of new teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years of entering (Huling-Austin 1990; Ingersoll & Smith, 2003, cited in Ingersoll & Smith, 2004; Darling-Hammond & Sykes, 2003, cited in Wong, 2004).
While a teachers’ education focuses on the construction of knowledge in some subject area, it has little to do with the profession of teaching. So what makes a teacher and how do you retain them in the profession? Teachers are developed over a period of years through structured professional development programs (Wong, 2004). One way to accomplish this is through a well structured induction program.
Teacher Induction Program
Induction is a system wide, coherent, comprehensive training and support process that continues for 2 to 3 years then seamlessly becomes part of the lifelong professional development program of the district to keep new teachers teaching and improving toward increasing their effectiveness (Wong, 2004, p. 42).
Induction programs are often for all new employees to a school whether it is their first year teaching or have been teaching for years (Ingersoll & Smith, 2004).
There is often confusion regarding the structure of an induction program. While mentoring is an important part of induction, it is not in itself induction. Mentoring can be described as an action whereas induction is more process oriented (Wong, 2004). Mentoring by itself has not been shown to be very effective. Wong writes, “Principals and new teachers rated mentoring the least effective way to help new teachers” (2004). In contrast, a well designed induction program has the ability to increase retention of new teachers to the profession and develop expertise. You could describe induction as a comprehensive professional development program where “new and veteran teachers interact through collaboration” (Wong, 2004). They are or can develop into a community of practice where “apprentices, young masters with apprentices and masters some of whose apprentices have themselves become masters” [practice] (Lave & Wenger, 2003).
A typical induction program might include a 4 to 5 day program before the start of school where new employees would be introduced to the school culture and begin a process of forming a cohesive group. The program would be tailored to specific needs, monitored leading to structured and systematic professional development spanning 2 to 3 years providing mentoring, professional dialogue, and networking to help build community and the construction of knowledge through learning circles and community of practice (Wong, 2004).
One aspect of a successful induction program that is of particular interest is that of professional portfolios.
An electronic portfolio is a collection of work captured by electronic means that serves as an exhibit of individual efforts, progress, and achievements in one or more areas (Weidmer, 1998, cited in Capraro, 2003).
These portfolios should be reflective of the teaching and learning experiences of the teacher in the induction program. The desire would be to establish a pattern of collecting reflective artifacts relating to the individuals practice of teaching. The portfolio would contain authentic teaching and training experiences where products of these experiences are captured illustrating levels of proficiency and they should be reflective in nature (Valovich, 1996; Capraro, 2003; Meehan, Obler, Schiorring, Serban, 2002).
Induction as a Community of Practice
Induction programs that are well designed have many of the characteristics of a community of practice. According to Wong, teachers in these programs must not feel
isolated. Rather, there should be a climate that encourages the “collegial” exchange of ideas. The qualities below are common among successful induction programs:
- Have networks that create learning communities
- Treat every colleague as a potential valuable contributor
- Turn ownership of learning over to the learners in study groups
- Create Learning communities where everyone, new teachers as well as veteran teachers, gains knowledge
- Demonstrate that quality teaching becomes not just an individual responsibility, but a group responsibility as well (Wong, 2004, 51)
The call for scholarly exchange of ideas and interaction between new and veteran teachers, echo through much of the literature. It would also appear that Zone of Proximal Development plays an important role in group dynamics of community and individual construction of knowledge. Social interaction between the members of the community, both new and veteran, functions as cognitive apprenticeships when knowledge is situated in the context of the community of practice (Nyikos & Hashimoto, 1997).
Social interaction is a condition indispensable for the function of apprenticeship and scaffolding….One primary observation arising from this study is that without a strongly supportive social component, the potential for learning (or ZPD), for both the individual and the group was radically undermined (Nyiko & Hashimoto, 1997).
It is also noted in the literature, that tutor and learner, interacting with each other, must reach a consensus about goals and possible approaches to solutions to problems.
This is a feature common to Vygostvy’s zone of proximal development and speaks to the community of learning and community of practice that creates new identities and the role of scaffolding in creating those identities (Cheyne & Tarulli, need date).
Prior Experience and Learning
While context is paramount in learning and remembering, the context itself can be key to how an individual will learn and develop. While knowledge is connected to past experiences, “individual knowledge has feeling connected with it… pleasant facts and unpleasant facts, appealing ideas and offensive ideas” (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1993). Bereiter and Scaradamalia refer to this as impressionistic knowledge. They argue that in some cases, strong impressionistic knowledge is required for the development of formal knowledge. Teachers that have had a difficult time with technology in the past may have developed strong feelings and as a result, have learned that they want nothing to do with technology in their practice. Other teachers may have had wonderful experiences with technology in their practice and embrace what it has to offer.
Considering impressionistic and prior knowledge when designing a professional development program will maximize the individual growth of the participants. By considering participants prior experience with technology training programs can be tailored to the individuals improving their effectiveness.
Teachers embody the spirit of education and examples of life-long learning. By practicing continual learning in their discipline and craft, teachers will develop a greater commitment to the school and their practice. Learning occurs in social constructs with teachers sharing their knowledge and experience of the craft with other educators. This community of practice fosters collaboration leading to further development of individual’s practices. As teachers are engaged in authentic personal professional development, they develop a …( insert bridge here).
With the rapid changes in technology, there will always be the need for continual professional development to assist teachers to remain current. Because of the ability of technology to aid in the collaborative process of learning in a community, it is a natural tool to use within a community of practice. There is a real need in schools for programs that will increase the success of new teachers. Teachers new and veteran can benefit from such programs.
Possible Solution to the Problem
One possible solution might be to develop a training program for new faculty and staff. This would change the focus of technology training from the current faculty and staff where we are well aware of their abilities to the new faculty and staff. This program would start with a basic introduction to technology at Greenhill starting with the current model. However, there would be a formal assessment that included self assessment as well as outside assessment of the technology skills and needs of these new employees. At the school, we often refer to these employees as the “rookie class” and a sense of community is already being established. Building off this sense of community, the data from the assessments is then collected and analyzed determining the technology training needs for the “rookie class” of faculty and staff. A custom program is then developed to meet these needs by first focusing on bring each employee up to a basic level of competency in technology and familiarity of technology resources at Greenhill School. We then focus on growing these skills past basic literacy fulfilling specific needs of the rookie class. Methods of delivery for the training would include small group training, tech tips and clips, one-on-one training, quick tip workshops, topic specific workshops for in depth training in specific applications and integration and on-line delivery of technology training.
The rookie class would also team up with members of their departments that are strong in their technology skills and can serve as a resource. At the end of the year, the rookie class should complete a new survey to assess their current level of technology skills and determine further training opportunities. The goal would be to develop a new employee base that is stronger in technology thereby increasing the over-all technology literacy of the employees at Greenhill School.
Successful induction programs share many characteristics with communities of learning and communities of practice. If a community of practice can be situated so that learning in the community is contextual with the practice and authentic, real growth and change will occur.
Successful technology training programs have been found to model elements of induction, communities of practice and communities of learning. It has been reported that programs that train in the context of the practice are more successful. Authentic instruction that is tailored to the specific needs of the community is more effective. A desirable technology training program would be unique and comprehensive moving teachers beyond mouse clicks to a deeper understanding of the possibilities and turning eyes toward their own practice and collection of artifacts with critical reflection followed by action that generates change and the construction of knowledge. To that end, a multi modal technology training program that is tightly integrated in an induction program for new employees leading to ongoing development of individuals and community of practice is a worthy goal for any school.
How will the development of a formal professional development program addressing specific technology needs of employees of the school affect change in the use of technology in classrooms, offices, and the exchange of dialogue related to pedagogy or technology integration?