Saturday, June 14, 2008

Access, Adequacy, and Equity in Education Technology

In order for teachers to integrate technology into the curriculum, schools must provide them with the tools they need to accomplish this task. Providing a teacher with a computer, be it a laptop or a desktop, does not result in the teachers immediate use for teaching within the school day. Professional Development is a necessary component to the overall effectiveness of technology integration. But, that is not all that is needed. Teachers need to realize themselves that the time put in to developing an integration plan for a lesson is time well spent since students overall engagement in what is being taught will increase which, ultimately, results in higher achievement.

Sound simple? But it isn't. Schools have not been able to keep up with the technology influx of the 21st century learner. Each day, students are exposed to some new technology, and because this is how they are learning, they adapt more quickly than the teacher. Furthermore, schools are having a difficult time finding the money to provide the students with these new technologies.

Four the past four years, I have been the Technology Coordinator/Teacher in a private, parochial school in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. Being a private school, money for technology must come from the tuition received. Grant opportunities are not as readily available as they are to the public schools.

The school has a faculty of thirty teachers with an average of 15 years teaching experience at the school and a current enrollment of about 450 students. Last year the school adopted an online grade book which created attendance lists and computer generated report cards. Prior to this, these tasks were done by hand (paper and pencil).

Upon accepting the job, I approached the teachers and suggested that any time they wanted my assistance in creating lessons incorporating technology, I would be more than happy to help them. Unfortunately, two things soon became clear. My teaching time would only be about 25% pf my job, with the other 75% spent on maintenance and network management.

The school had about 120 computers, 34 located in one lab for the students in grades 4 through 8, 20 located in another lab for students in grades K through 3, and the rest spread out throughout the school building. The lab computers were all the Windows xp Professional operating system while the classroom computers were variations of Windows 95 through Windows 2000. To add to the mess, the computer were all different types and configured differently. It appeared that some were just put in the room and left there. And, I was instructed that my ability to work with the consultant would be limited because there was no money in the budget. This was a nightmare that, fortunately, only lasted one year.

The administration changed during the next three years and, together, we developed a budget that allowed for purchases of updated equipment, laptops for the teachers, and time for professional development during faculty meetings. The school now has one platform (Windows xp Professional). all desktop computers are the same manufacturer and model type (although different model number), and configured in the same way. Software has been added to the server to monitor and deploy updates to the networked computers.

Each classroom has a minimum of two desktop computers which are in constant use throughout the school day. Due to the limited time I need the lab for instruction, it is open for the teachers to bring in the students at all other times. Unfortunately, it seems that the times the teachers need the lab are often the same. The school could use a cart of laptops and, probably, two. It appears that this configuration is more often the norm than not. Providing up to date equipment, while not nearly enough, was not the issue.

The professional development delivered at the faculty meetings, while well intentioned, was met with resistance. Due to the limited computer instruction the teachers themselves had received, it was difficult to assist them in creating lessons that would involve sophisticated technologies with the students. Fear of not knowing kept most away from even trying. This is tragic because the school was making the investment in the equipment but the teachers weren't buying into the program.

How can educational technology be improved for next year? I, unfortunately, will not be involved as I have taken on a new position in another school. In the new school, I am being hired specifically as the Technology Coordinator/Technology Integration Specialist. One of my main responsibilities is staff development. This school has not had a technology teacher for the past two years so the classroom teachers have been bringing the students into the lab. While actual instruction has been limited, the use of technology has not. In the few times I have been at the school, the lab has been filled with students working on collaborative projects and the teacher facilitating their learning. The teachers I have spoken with are excited to have me on board to provide assistance in integrating technology into their lessons. A new Media Resource Center is currently being created and this will become my home. Providing the staff with the resources they need and the ability to share the ever increasing knowledge of resources I have gathered with a faculty that is so eager to learn will make me the envy of my peers.