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Austin, TX. – With apps for everything from annotating poetry to understanding literature through hip hop, it might have seemed teachers in attendance at the sprawling South by (SXSW) festival last week were hungry for new tools and technology.

Technology training for teachers
Tim Thomas (Hereford MS Library Media Specialist) and Lisa Dai Venker (Golden Ring MS Library Media Specialist)at a professional development meeting for middle school library media specialists in Baltimore County.

After all, a dizzying menu of new classroom technology prevailed; there was even an interactive playground to try it all out.

The RobotsLab was on hand to demonstrate math and science concepts using what else? Robots.

New products like ClassroomIQ promised to give teachers their time back by helping them grade. From Berlin came a new way to learn languages called Unlock Your Brain.

Yet many teachers instead are clamoring for training on how to use this new technology to do what they do best – teach.

In a new nationwide survey of more than 600 K-12 teachers, 50 percent reported inadequate assistance when using technology in the classroom, according to a survey from digedu, a Chicago company that partners with schools to integrate technology in classrooms.

Some have reported feeling left out of the debate around the role of technology to improve teaching and learning.

“Teachers show up at large, industry-driven conferences feeling more than a little like middle school students at their first dance. They want to be there so badly but they are completely confused as to how they fit in and what role they should adopt,’’ Shawn Rubin of EdSurge wrote in a column after last year’s festival.

It should come as no surprise that in a new nationwide survey of more than 600 K-12 teachers, 50 percent reported inadequate assistance when using technology in the classroom.

Something of a backlash followed. As my colleague Anya Kamanetz points out, the SXSW festival this year not only drew more teachers, but also had plenty of students.

I found many teachers with lots of questions and strong opinions. In one panel entitled “When Does Ed Tech Just Become Education,” an audience member stood up and angrily denounced the absence of a teacher on the panel. The crowd cheered.

I couldn’t help wondering how teachers are adopting to a whole new way of delivering education known as “convergence,’’ – a phrase describing the transition to digitally focused classrooms that Miami-Dade County Schools Albert Carvalho spoke passionately about in a keynote address.

Teachers also must adapt to new devices and techniques like blended learning, aimed at giving students more control over where, how and when they learn – often partly online.

Some schools offer incentives for teachers; I also heard a lot about “blended learning coaches,’’ to help with digital transitions.

But what happen if teachers are resistant? The question came up during a panel entitled “Go Big or Go Home: Scaling Personalized Learning.’’

A reply came quickly from Kenneth Eastwood, superintendent of schools in Middletown, who has been recognized as one of the “Top Ten Tech Savvy Superintendents,” by eSchool News.

“Teachers who use technology will replace those who don’t,” he replied.

It’s a lot more complicated, of course, as Benjamin Herold of Ed Week notes in his recent story on the challenges school districts face when they want to run or replicate schools with a technology-based focus.

After the conference was over, I put in a call to S. Dallas Dance, another tech-savvy superintendent who is immersed in the digital world and wants make sure teachers are ready to meet students in it.

In Baltimore County, he’s pushing the district of 174 schools (he’s visited all of them) toward a digital conversion; he’s also identified specialists “who have to be fully knowledgeable about instruction and [have] a willingness to learn how to imbed technology’’ into classrooms, he said.

Dance acknowledged that some teachers are resistant, but more are enthusiastic.  He added that it helps to keep the focus on curriculum and training – especially in a district where all students will soon have a digital tablet to bring to school.

“Curriculum drives it; not the device,’’ Dance said. “The sticking point is training to make it work.  If [school systems] think of it as a device, things will get dicey. It is what you are trying to do through the device that counts.”

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  1. While serving as the director of technology for a large urban/rural school district I purchased SmartBoards for every school and held extensive training using train the trainer model. The intent was for the trained teachers to go back to their schools and train their colleagues. I retired in 2009. I came back to be an elementary principal in the same district. I found the smart board I had purchased hiding in a closet, the cables missing, and the projector in use in a classroom with a document camera. This is typical of what happened with the smart boards throughout the district. I told my staff yesterday that we will be purchasing items to fill their technology needs, but I was reluctant to purchase smart boards as I did not see them being used effectively. A teacher asked, “Was there ever any training done on how to use the Smart Board?”
    The training provided did not make it back to the school, and training opportunities are difficult to find. Mandated training is resented, and voluntary training is poorly attended. Yet teachers complain that the do not have the latest technology!

  2. It has been my experience as a teacher that sending a few teachers to any training, whether it’s technology or curriculum training, with the hope that the teacher will come back and train others, almost always fails. I believe this is because those who attended the training are not themselves experts, or trainers, and they really have limited incentive to take that extra time to train others (most teachers are not given any extra off time to do training of peers). “Train the trainer” programs are rarely effective because those who head “home” to train their peers rarely have the necessary expertise, or tools (such as full presentations, handouts, books and the such). Mediocre training results if attempted at all. Also, there can be an element (conscious or not) of some teachers not wanting to share the bounty of knowledge acquired. Realistically teachers are no different than anyone else–they want to shine better than the next person.

    Regarding SMART Boards being underutilized. I’m a SMART Board trainer and I see this all too often. Again, teachers are lucky if they get a few hours of training (often not even hands-on), and the expectation is they will soar with the tool. I usually get called a year or two after the installation when the administration realizes that staff are using the board as glorified projectors or not at all (Should it have taken that long to figure out?) In my opinion, the responsibility for the success of any technology integration lies with the leadership. Leadership has to be realistic and provide multiple learning opportunities for teachers to grow. Ideally annual expert training for each tool should be provided. We spend so much time singularly focused on the latest “push” (i.e. CCSS and the like) that everything else falls to the wayside. Many excellent tech tools can help teachers reach those other goals–leaders need to adequately fund the costs for proper and regular training in order to reap the success of the integration.

    Technology coaches can be a great resource if they go in to every classroom on a regular basis and problem solve on the spot. I’ve done this in some schools and it is very powerful. Teachers get the boost they need to move forward when their concerns and questions are answered. Don’t wait for them to come to the IT department, go to them! 🙂

  3. The most effective training model we have used in my district is the following:

    1) Make the receipt of technology (such as a teacher laptop, SmartBoard, projection systems, etc. OPTIONAL.
    2) When teachers elect to receive new technology, they know that the training on how to use the technology for teaching and learning is REQUIRED, and is provided during released time. If we say it is important, it should be important enough to provide released time to accomplish.
    3) The same teachers are also REQUIRED to attend a “sharing session” later in the school year, to share an activity they used in their classroom, as a result of the training they received. These sharing sessions are cross-grade level, cross-curricular, and cross-training topic. From these sharing sessions, we get a great diversity of teacher examples that seed our summer OPTIONAL training sessions with teachers who request staff development, based on something they observed during the sharing sessions!

    This model is low cost with VERY HIGH Return on Investment.

  4. When I read this article I couldn’t help but think that “training” is an outmoded way of thinking when it comes to tech. If we want teachers to use tech tools, then leaders need to model using them during meetings of all kinds, as ways to solve real problems and increase productivity in the school. As a PD provider, I rarely do “Tech Training” but I ALWAYS try to integrate new tech into the content we’re working with. Training on tech for it’s own sake is usually a waste- but show someone how to use tech to magnify the power of the teaching and learning process and you’ll have them hooked.

  5. As a computer resource teacher, I’m hungry for new tools and technology. I love change. I’ve been in this position for almost 4 years, previously teaching upper grades for almost 13 years. I received no training for my SMART Board, Lumens, 30 Chrome Books, SBAC, or the Insight program I use to control all computers in my lab. I simply found the resources I needed online, taught myself, and allowed for some trial and error.

    What amazed me were the number of outstanding educational resources I discovered, the kind of resources that make lessons engaging for kids and lesson assessment efficient for teachers. Why hadn’t my district made some of this known? What amazed me further were the number of people who turned a deaf ear when I brought these resources to their attention. I’m talking about colleagues. There was limited desire to switch to digital resources to better meet the needs of students. Pencil and paper ruled. What’s complicated about standing over a copier to prints 100’s of worksheets?

    I don’t think the parents or the public have a clue about how most educators–especially those at the elementary level, are so severely lacking in tech skills. Yes, there is a serious lack of PD from districts, but free PD is available all over the Internet: Edweb, Intel, Hewlitt Packard, YouTube, Google.

    Weeks ago I began preparing kids for the Smarter Balanced assessments. I received no specialized training from my district. My principal sent out an email advising teachers to stay with their students to learn more about the new Chrome Books and the design of the test. Some of the teachers never entered the lab or disappeared immediately after the kids sat down. The attitude seems to be “If it’s in an electronic format, it doesn’t concern me.” If some of these educators weren’t protected by tenure, they’d be out the door.

    In answer to the question: “But what happens if teachers are resistant?” Answer: “Their students suffer.” They remain stuck in the mud.

    I hope Kenneth Eastwood is correct when he says, “Teachers who use technology will replace those who don’t.” But, realistically, those teachers will remain on the payroll until they retire.

    Abdicating responsibility for learning how to integrate technology is unprofessional and certainly not the example to set. Real educators are life-long learners, and students are digital natives who’ve been chomping at the bit to move forward with tech yet remain hobbled by the very people empowered to propel them forward.

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