courtesy of eSchool
training for teachers: A better way
Everyone believes teachers have to understand technology before they use it
in their classrooms, and professional development is the preferred method to
grow that understanding. The U.S. invested $40 billion in educational technology1 in
the ten years between 1993 and 2003.2 But teacher use counts more
than hardware installation. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) reserves 25
percent of all technology expenditures for "high quality professional
development to integrate technology into instruction.3
How, typically, does
professional development happen? Instead of using technology
to teach about technology, every school jurisdiction deploys
the same in service workshops, demonstration lessons, and peer
modeling that have been the supposed levers of innovation for
the last 50 years. The stolid reliance on face to-face methods
is reminiscent of bank managers in the 1960s who could not imagine
that customers would be better served by ATMs than by standing
in line to speak to a teller. When the National Staff Development
Council convened a working group about the digital delivery of
professional development, "participants made a running joke
of whether certain individuals were 'face-to-face bigots,' educators
who simply didn't believe that online learning could ever equal
learning in a traditional classroom."4
To take an ironic example,
the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's "State Challenge
Grants for Leadership Development" are remarkable for their
de facto endorsement of the status quo ante (Microsoft) in adult
learning. Yes, PowerPoint has replaced overhead transparencies,
but the foundation's technology leadership development activities
still rely on convening educators face to face—school people
as passive spectators in a delivery mode older than DOS.
national analysis in 2000 documented that: (1) 99 percent of
all teachers are exposed to "professional development";
but (2) only a third report that professional development is
connected to classroom applications and (3) more than a third
of all teachers (35 percent) never get any peer-to-peer professional
That inattention to practical support persists despite the 1988 research of
Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers. They documented that if teachers were presented
with 11 concepts and theories," there was a 10 percent chance they would
follow through with anything different in their classrooms. But if the help
was packaged as "coaching in a work setting," the likelihood of classroom
application went up to 80 percent.6 For technology integration in
classrooms, we have self reports and scattered, inconsistent, and intermittent
observations of classrooms7—but we lack evidence that professional
development results in professional improvement.
The Education Commission
of the States measured compliance with NCLB's "high quality
professional development" requirement: two states are OK
(Connecticut and Indiana); eight are semi-OK; and 40 states are "off-track" (in
red; see map at right), the worst record, by the states, in connection
with any of the NCLB mandates.
Conventional professional development is expensive and widely derided by teachers
as irrelevant, ineffective, too late, or too far removed from the reality of
classrooms. But, without an alternative, people who care about adding technology
to teaching are left to reconcile themselves to a melancholy reality: Conventional
practice may not work very well, but what else is there?
TeachNet in New York City
TeachNet was designed by Teachers Network in order to add digital networking
to face-to-face (f2f) networking. New York City is a legendarily tough place
to teach. In addition to all the other pressures, the city's schools seem to
be moving toward testing every child in every subject every day. State standards
and the city's newly instituted "consistent" curriculum compete with
anything different or new, including technology. For example, "...[O]ne
third of the teachers in 'high stakes' tests [schools] reported that their
school did not use or prohibited the use of computers in teaching writing,
since the state writing test requires handwritten responses."8 That
is why the experience of these teachers is so important. What they develop
must meet the toughest test—urban school practicality.
In a test of this mixed
model approach to professional development, 15 TeachNet participants
were compared with a control group of 24 teachers who were enrolled
in graduate level instruction in educational technology.9 The
TeachNet group created a number of online projects for students,
from "Rebuilding the World Trade Center Site: a 9/11 Tribute" to "Elvis
The TeachNet participants
were emphatic that they design web-based curriculum units intended
to maximize active student participation; the control group teachers
were much less likely to do that. In a direct measure of the
quality of its preparation, the TeachNet group assigned higher
ratings to their professional development than did the university-connected
We asked teachers to
estimate their mastery of 34 productivity functions involving
computers, such as creating web pages, using search engines,
and inserting pictures and graphics in documents. The TeachNet
participants were more confident in their rating of their mastery
than the control group teachers in 28 of the 34 areas.
And when compared with
the student related outcomes from other teachers in advanced
training, the TeachNet group encouraged students to:
- use word processors
in writing assignments;
- add graphics and
images to their written assignments;
- use spreadsheets
for data management and analysis (a skill not many of the teachers
themselves had); and
- use eMail to communicate
with each other and with expert sources of information.
The empirical evidence
indicates that TeachNet is doing what it is designed to do—recruit
and retain teachers in a network of professionals committed to
adding learning technology to the classroom curriculum.
In contrast to the "90-10" rule (that 90 percent of users access
only 10 percent of an application's functions), TeachNet's f2f plus digital
networking procedures grows a long list of expert functions in its participants—and
they apply those new skills to classroom instruction and student learning.
TeachNet mixed model suggests that there is an alternative. In
the conventional mode, it takes 32 or more hours of professional
development on the use of computers in classrooms to get teachers
to conclude that they are "well prepared" yet only
12 percent of teachers have had that support.10 Among
teachers new to the profession, only 42 percent feel "very" or "well" prepared
to use computers in instruction.11
a more efficient choice. If ten members of a school faculty
each choose one project from the hundreds now cataloged on
the TeachNet web site (http://TeachersNetwork.org),
then face-to-face sessions—six hours at the beginning
of the school year and six hours at the end—can be
supplemented with (1) online, on demand help; (2) a CD ROM;
and (3) print resources, all in support of technology integration
into classroom instruction.
Thirty percent of private
sector training was online as early as 2000. Some districts are
moving to harness the strengths of f2f and online experiences.
Clark County, Nevada, offers mixed model, 15-hour courses that
convene school centered team of teachers around collaborative
lesson planning.12 By adding online interaction to
f2f experiences, TeachNet increases technology integration into
classroom instruction; encourages new, standards based lesson
preparation; and connects good teachers with each other as sources
of practical, classroom improvement.
1. Benton Foundation and Education Development Center Inc., Center for Children
and Technology, The Sustainability Challenge: Taking Ed tech to the Next
Level, Washington, DC., Benton Foundation 2003, P. 10.
2. $7 billion in federal expenditures over the life of the eRate program is
half of what families spend on their children's back to school wardrobe in
a single season. See Tracie Rozhon and Ruth La Ferla, "Trying on the Familiar
and Liking It", New York Times, August 15, 2003, p. C2.
3. Despite the federal injunction, districts allocate between 1% and 5% of
their budgets to staff development. (National Staff Development Council, 2001
Member Survey Results, 13 August 2003, http://nsdc.org/connect/projects/elwhatworks.pdf.)
4. Joan Richardson, "Online Professional Development," The School
Administrator, v. 58, n. 9, October 2001, p. 39. "E Learning for
Educators: Implementing the Standards for Staff Development' is available from
the National Staff Development Council: http://nsdc.org/library/authors/e-learning.pdf.
5. U.S. Department of Education, NCES. Fast Response Survey System, "Survey
of Professional Development and Training in U.S. Public Schools" FRSS
6. Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers, Student Achievement Through Staff Development,
New York: Longman, 1988.
7. Elizabeth Bryom, "Tips for Writing an Evaluation Plan for a Technology
Grant," SEIR TEC News Wire, v. 5, n. 3, 2002, p. 2.
8. James Bosco, "Toward a Balanced Appraisal of Educational Technology
in U.S. Schools and a Recognition of Seven Leadership Challenges," Washington,
D.C., Consortium for School Networking. February 2003, p. 11.
9. Data were collected by a self report web survey at the end of the TeachNet
year and at the end of the university course. Teachers were asked about the
extent of their agreement that they were, for example, expert in, a certain
computer function. Responses were coded on Likert scales and are reported as
average or mean scores for each group. In addition to tests of statistical
significance, we used eta2 as a measure of practical significance. The technical
report Dale Mann, "Teacher Technology Training: A New Delivery Method
from Teachers Network," Interactive Inc., September 2003 is available
10. U.S. Department of Education, NCES, Fast Response Survey System, "Public
School Teachers' Use of Computers and the Internet," FRSS 70,1999.
11. S.E. Ansell and J. Park, "Tracking Tech Trends," Education
Week's "Technology Counts" May 2003, v.22, n. 35, pp. 58 59.
12. Richardson, "Online Professional Development," ibid., P. 42.
Dale Mann, PhD., is a professor at Teachers College of Columbia University
and managing director of Interactive Inc., a group of researchers and public
policy advocates committed to advancing learning and educational equity for