Bringing Teachers and Technology Together
in the Classroom: An Overview

Linda Jewell
Michael Manning
Graduate School
Graduate School
Educational Leadership
Journalism and Mass Communication
University of North Carolina

at Chapel Hill
University of North Carolina

at Chapel Hill

Defining the issue:

"Learning on-line must not become a new fault line in American education."

-Richard Riley, U.S. Secretary of Education

(New York Times, February 18, 1996)

In the 1996 State of the Union address, President Clinton challenged the nation to ensure that every classroom in the country is connected to the Internet by the year 2000. A year later, the President again used the State of the Union to address the issue of technology in the classroom, vowing to work toward the goal of educating every 12-year old in America to use the Internet and the World Wide Web. In an attempt to meet these lofty goals, the federal government has pledged $200 million in grants for 1997 alone to help bring the power of the "Information Age" to American school children (Barr, 1997). Why is the federal government allocating so many resources to this issue? Information technology skills have quickly become important ones for workers to possess, skills that high school graduates will need in the near future. It has been estimated that by the year 2000, 60 percent of the new jobs in America will require advanced technological skills (Gore, 1996 ), a pattern of growth that is likely to continue.

To address this coming trend, the Clinton Administration has formed an Educational Technology Initiative, a special task-force to help ensure that these goals are met and to address a number of obstacles that stand in their way. One of these obstacles, or questions regarding the use of the Internet in the classroom has little to do with computers or cables or bandwidth. Instead, it revolves primarily around people, specifically teachers. Many educators and citizens alike remain skeptical about the value of infomration technology. Why, they ask, are we devoting time and fiscal resources toward computer skills and technology when we have school children that need to learn to read and write? This can be a compelling argument, but it is one that fails to accept the realities of the future. Computers and information technology have become important components of American society, and are likely to remain so for years to come. Faced with this scenario, it is crucial that our educational system begin to teach not just literacy in the sense of reading and writing, but "computer literacy" and perhaps even "media literacy" as well (Cortes, 1992). Teaching students how to manipulate, manage, and understand computers effectively and efficiently means providing them with skills and methods that can help prepare them, not only for the future, but for the present as well.

Before we can provide students with the technology skills they need, however, it is first necessary to address the technology skills, experience, and attitudes of the current teacher workforce. Simply put, merely bringing the Internet into every classroom is only a first step; in many cases teachers have to be educated themselves before they can effectively teach their students.

What are some of the obstacles that might prevent teachers from learning how to use the Internet and the World Wide Web effectively? How can they be remedied? These are key questions that this analysis will attempt to address.

A small, but recent, survey of 500 K-12 teachers found that over half of America's teachers favor using the Internet in their classrooms, and that just under a third of them are currently using some form of information technology to support their teaching (McGillian, 1997). Although these numbers may sound encouraging, the small sample size and lack of supporting data demonstrates that the questions surrounding teacher training and use of information technology are far from resolved. It follows that the training of teachers will play a crucial role in the ultimate success or failure of the plan to bring the power of information technology to every classroom. Thus, it is an issue that deserves a closer look.

Background of the issue:

The Internet, a system of linked or networked computers, has been in existence since 1969 (Gates, 1996). The World Wide Web, a user-friendly, graphic-intensive application that uses the Internet, was introduced to the public in 1992 (Gates, 1996). In barely five years, the Web has helped spark an explosion in Internet use and helped make it a recognized part of our contemporary culture. Industry figures vary widely, but it is believed that anywhere from 10 million to 35 million people were "online" at the end of 1996, and these figures are expected to increase (Internet World, 1996). While the "average" user profile reveals that white men, approximately 33 years old and with at least 4 years of college and a yearly salary of over $59,000, are most prevalent on the Internet, this profile is only an average. While there is no reliable way to break down the overall user figures into sub-groups, there is little doubt that among the millions of other people online across the country a good number of them are students.

In order to accommodate and facilitate all of these students, schools have been acquiring computers in recent years. But with the rush to integrate computer and information technology into the classroom has come the realization that simply providing the machines and the wires is not enough. Powerful as they are, computers are still no more than educational tools, and students need to be taught how to use them effectively and efficiently. In most cases, though, the same can be said for teachers-in order to help students access the vast array of resources available to them on the Internet, teachers first need to know how to use the technology themselves. The importance of "educating the educators" has been recognized for a number of years now. It is really an intuitive concept; in order to improve their own teaching, teachers need to be trained themselves. But while a number of studies have identified teachers as the key link to increasing the use and effectiveness of technology in education, the goal of improved teacher training has proven difficult to accomplish in practice.

The reasons for this difficulty are numerous. Along with students, teachers are the human part of the technological equation in the classroom, and as such, there any number of reasons why obtaining further training is an unpredictable process at best. Even with the wide range of obstacles to teacher training, though, it is possible to group some of them broadly into the following areas:

It is widely accepted that teachers are often already overburdened with the full plate of teaching and testing requirements for students that they already face without the added challenges inherent in introducing a new area such as technology to the classroom. It is understandable that technology is not a priority for many teachers, particularly experienced ones. While some teachers have been able to effectively utilize and integrate technology, for many others simply contending with the day-to-day data and information about students and what they do or do not learn can be overwhelming (Brandt, 1995, p.5). Additionally, as noted technology scholar Alvin Toffler has pointed out, the pace at which technology progresses continues to increase at an explosive rate, a fact that makes it easy for even the best teachers to get left behind (Toffler, 1970). To make matters worse, in the over twenty-five years since Toffler first made this observation, t he pace of technology has quickened dramatically.

The daily schedules of most public school teachers simply do not allow them to receive technology training on their own, let alone collaborate and learn from other teachers. This lack of time at school means that already overworked teachers often have to be willing to invest extra time during evenings or weekends to acquire the needed computer training. As O'Neil has pointed out, "the biggest barrier to technology is the use of time: time for training, time for teachers to try out technology in their classrooms, time to talk to other teachers about technology" (1995, p. 11).

Most teachers rely heavily on their peers, or students, for information about technology. While many teachers are willing to share technological skills, others are a bit reluctant (Gibbons& Butler). Again, conflicting teacher schedules and isolating school environments can also help contribute to work against teachers training other teachers.

Teachers that are technologically skilled are often faced with facilities, computers or software that are out-dated, antiquated, or even non-existent (Hoffman, 1996). This can create additional barriers for teachers to overcome in order to integrate technology into their curriculum, barriers that are often nearly impossible to overcome.
Nearly all of the problems listed above have been identified in a number of recent, mostly government-sponsored studies and publications concerning teachers and technology in the classroom. For example, a recent survey of America's teachers supported the picture that at least demographically some teachers could be ill-prepared to deal with the coming flood of technology. The study contends that of the slightly more than 2.6 million public school teachers in the country, 64% for differences of them had at least 10 years of experience. In addition, 20% of teachers were found to be 50 years of age or older (Glennan and Melmed, 1996). Combining these two statistics, it is possible to hypothesize that there are currently a significant number of experienced teachers in the workforce, teachers who do not fit the demographic model established for typical Internet users. Does this mean we can assume that a good number of older teachers could well be content to retain comfortable teaching methods, ones that do not incorporate any form of new information technology? A large assumption perhaps, but one that could possibly apply to some teachers.

More concretely, a study sponsored by the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment also concluded that most teachers are poorly prepared to handle the coming influx of technology in the classroom. For instance, in traditional school district budgets, the vast majority of funds for technology have been spent on equipment, leaving teachers to fend for themselves when it comes to training. School districts allocated less than 15% of their technology budgets to teacher training and support. While some states expressed a desire to raise this figure to nearly 30% of the technology budgets, few actually followed through. Further, the study reported that not only did a majority of teachers describe themselves as inadequately supported or prepared to effectively utilize computer-based technology, but that many of them were not even fully aware of some of the advantages that new information technologies could offer. Finally, a recent survey of 500 K-12 teachers, sponsored by Sun Microsystems, found that 72% of those surveyed rated their technology knowledge as either average ("C") or below average (McGillian, 1997). While the relatively small sample size prevents us from drawing too many conclusions from this result, it does serve to support the likelihood that many teachers are not comfortable with their own technology use and teaching abilities.

Where is the issue going?

The U.S. Department of Education has recognized the difficulty of incorporating teachers into the expansion of information technology. In May, 1996, Education Secretary Richard Riley announced a volunteer-based plan to train half a million teachers in the use of computer technology. Riley helped organize 11 of the largest professional teacher organizations in the country, including the National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the national Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), to coordinate teacher training. All told, these eleven groups have promised to raise a combined total of 100,000 teachers who will volunteer to become technologically proficient and serve as a teaching corps. In turn, these teachers will then commit to training five co-workers or fellow teachers, bringing the total number of trained teachers to the desired goal of half a million. The plan not only sounds simple, but it appears to actually be simple as well. When asked for details of the plan, specifically when teachers were going to find the time to receive this additional training, Riley replied, "that's kind of up to them. It's a volunteer program. These organizations are volunteering to do that. And how they do it is really up to them" (Department of Education, 1996).

While some might applaud the federal government for adopting a hands-off approach to teacher training, there appear to be both potential advantages and disadvantages to this strategy. On the positive side, the teachers training teachers method proposed by Riley recognizes the unique situations that often exist within school communities, and allows teachers the freedom and flexibility to address technology training by using a method that is best-suited to their own needs. However, by leaving teachers on their own, the breadth and depth of the needed technological training could well suffer. Gibbons& Butler (1996), suggested that educators are often reluctant to share technology information with peers, a notion that could severely hamper the ultimate success of Riley's plan for teacher training. According to Gibbons & Butler, this failure to share information about technology seems to be traceable to the hierarchical structures, both formal and informal, that exist within a school. Teachers or administrators who are technologically capable possess a skill that often serves to increase their relative utility or value within a school building. In short, Gibbons & Butler's results seem to suggest that people in a position of relative power based on their technological skills are often reluctant to share these skills with other teachers or administrators, a move that could ultimately diminish their status within the school community.

Whether teachers are willing to share technological knowledge or not, the continued support and funding of the Clinton Administration should ensure that the spread of Internet technology into schools will only continue to grow. The government is not the only source of funding either. A grass-roots volunteer group known as NetDay was founded with backing from Sun Microsystems, PBS and a number of other corporate sponsors in 1995. The goal of NetDay is work in conjunction with the government to help bring the Internet to each of the over 130,000 public and private K-12 schools in America. The organization supervised a number of state-wide "Net Days" in 1996 in states such as California, New Jersey and Maine. These Net Day events used volunteer labor to help physically install the proper wiring and cables needed to allow schools to network their computers and connect them to the Internet. By the close of 1996, NetDay estimates that it had wired more than 50,000 classrooms in more than 40 states around the country (see NetDay)While these are impressive numbers, a recent Sun Microsystems survey estimates that only 11 percent of the nation's classrooms currently enjoy Internet access (McGillian, 1997), a figure that demonstrates that there is still a great deal of work to do. With that in mind, NetDay has declared April 19, 1997 to be NetDay National Wiring Day in an attempt to conduct an all-out, nation-wide wiring effort in an attempt to create at least one Internet link in every K-12 school in the country.

What are the implications of this issue for public education in the United States?

It is argued that teaching both with and about technology, teachers implicate their students in the larger problem of social justice, in the sense that technologically trained students are likely to be among the privileged as they move through life (Soukup, 1996). While there are some that may take issue with this line of reasoning, it is clear that the need to improve teacher training in the area of information technology will comprise a crucial part of any future educational policy planning. When equipped with the proper training, a teacher has an almost limitless range of ways in which technology can be integrated into the curriculum. Elementary school students can use word processing programs to "publish" their own stories; secondary school teachers in virtually every subject can utilize the researching and problem-solving capabilities of the Internet and other computer software programs to create higher levels of student interest, participation and learning. Studies have demonstrated that using information technology as part of the learning process can indeed result in greater understanding and higher levels of achievement for many students (Getting America's Students Ready for the 21st Century: Meeting the Technology Literacy Challenge, June 1996).

Obviously, students play a vital role in the improvement process, but teachers play a key role as well. Especially when confronted with an unfamiliar computer, or with new software, students turn to teachers in search of guidance and instruction. If the teachers are not properly trained, there is no way for student performance levels to improve on a consistent basis. Therefore, in order to both maintain and cultivate student achievement through computer-assisted learning, continuing technology training for teachers will remain a crucial issue.

Others have highlighted the classroom benefits that accompany technologically proficient teachers. For example, Dusen and Worthen point out that technology offers the opportunity for educators to use a "constructivist view of learning by providing a rich learning environment" (1995, p.29). While the traditional teacher-student relationship is often based around the premise of one individual instructing a large group, the involvement of technology can serve to change that relationship. Once a level of comfort and skill have been acquired on the part of both the instructor and the students, the teacher is better able to interact successfully with individuals or small groups. Technology frees the teacher to customize the lesson to the specific needs of the student, to guide students as they learn to process information and make choices. In some cases technology also allows students to customize a lesson for themselves, to pursue a subject or a path to an answer that is most logical and understandable to them. This may be particularly applicable to exercises involving the Web, where students can employ the hypertext system of exploration to find information in any number of ways.

Schools that allow dedicated, motivated and technologically-trained teachers to incorporate technology into the classroom often meet with success. Resourceful and creative teachers have proven time and time again that they can overcome technological deficiencies or funding problems, evidence that teachers are still the most important part of the technology equation. Some of the more recent examples of teachers integrating technology into the classroom were profiled in the December 2, 1996, issue of U.S. News & World Report. The thread that connects all of the schools highlighted in this article is the fact that teachers were able to incorporate computers and/or the Internet in a variety of creative ways, and the students benefited every time.

Finally, when viewed as part of the overall issue of using technology in education, teacher training plays a central role in the larger question of equality of access. Students that have access to the Internet, be it at home or at school, are already gaining skills and experience that will better prepare them for a future as part of the "information age." Students without this access are in danger of being left behind the technological curve, a factor that can only hurt them in the long run. It has been suggested that in the near future technology has the potential to become "a wedge" that will hasten and solidify the gap between rich and poor, and serve as a new form of literacy (Martinez, 1994). Faced with this possible scenario, teachers trained in technology will be able to provide their students with vital skills to help prepare them for their futures. Both now and in the future, teachers will do a disservice to their students if they are unable to help them learn at least basic Internet skills.

What should educational leaders do now to prepare for the issue?

Educational leaders must be prepared to deal with the issue of training teachers for technology on two fronts. On the national level, more uniform standards for teacher training are in order, while on a state or local level it is vital to continue to encourage existing teacher support programs. Obviously, these two fronts are closely related, and the interests and goals of leaders at both levels should mesh as much as possible.

On the local level, teachers need to be given every opportunity and incentive to pursue technological training. Educational leaders within an individual school can take a number of steps to help foster training and innovation when it comes to utilizing information technology. Perhaps the most important steps can come in the area of time. Schools that are able to should make every effort to hire a computer support staff person, thus freeing up teachers from having to deal with time-consuming set-up or software problems that can often plague computers that are heavily used by a variety of students and staff members. If a school is networked to the Internet (as part of NetDay for example), teacher staff rooms should be included in the networking process, and as many computers as possible installed in these staff areas. This way, teachers will have access to computers during open periods or before or after school.

Once teachers are able to gain greater physical access, access to a world of information technology teaching strategies are waiting to be discovered. Via email, the Internet will allow teachers to communicate with other educators with little regard for geographic barriers, a factor that can help combat the isolation and lack of peer support that plagues many current teachers. Teachers can subscribe to mailing lists, a tactic that will automatically bring a variety of information and issues to their email inboxes, and will allow them to contribute their own ideas and experiences as well. Perhaps more importantly, the Web is home to a myriad of resource links for teachers, including pages that serve as sources to aid teachers with professional development and support (two examples are Focus on Education and 21st Century Teachers ). Using Web pages such as these, teachers will be able to see what their colleagues are doing in other schools or other states. This exposure can serve as a valuable educating tool for teachers, allowing them to see the variety of options and uses that information technology can provide for educators.

These Web resources will continue to play a key role on the national level as well. Strong support and funding from the federal government should not and can not supplant the many of the grass-roots programs (such as NetDay) that are currently in place around the country. These programs should be promoted whenever possible, and local educational leaders encouraged to participate in NetDay type events. In many ways, these local and regional partnerships and coalitions are at the core of information technology and the advantages it can bring; ideally each community will be able to adapt the available technology to best suit their unique needs.

That said, the time has come for the creation of some minimum national standards for educational use of information technology. Some sense of national cohesion and coordination is needed in order to ensure that students and teachers across the nation are exposed to a technology that is fast becoming a vital part of the workplace. Examples of cohesive efforts are already available in some places on a state-wide level (for example Learn North Carolina ), but the quality, consistency and scope of these programs vary greatly. Programs that have attempted to integrate national resources, such as KickStart , have also met with limited success to date.

Minimum national standards will benefit both teachers and students alike. Students will gain exposure to skills that will become increasingly valuable in today's increasingly technological society. Teachers will have a clear understanding of what options are available, and what skills and information retrieval techniques they should focus on. With that in mind, some of the most important skills a student should be taught are:

In order to re-enforce the importance of these skills, the national testing systems currently in place can be revised to include a section that specifically highlights computer and information technology related knowledge. In this way, teachers, administrators and students will all be forced to regard the integration of information technology as a component of education that should not be ignored.

As explored above, steps are being taken to help teachers overcome some of the obstacles that technology in the classroom can present . Organizations such as NetDay are beginning to address the lack of facilities and infrastructure, and there are a growing number of Web sites that can assist teachers in wading through the information overload and in combating the physical isolation from their peers. Time, perhaps, remains the biggest obstacle that confronts teachers, and a fact that will likely persist. On a day-to-day basis teachers are often strapped for time by the demands of teaching and interacting with students and peers. In these situations, sitting down in front of a computer and learning new skills is often a luxury that teachers simply cannot afford. Schools that are able to provide technical or computer support staff will help alleviate these time constraints, but not eliminate them. To combat this problem, teachers and students will often have to learn together. If teachers are able to admit that they do not always know the answers, a realization that most good teachers come to grips with, then joint learning will benefit both teachers and students, helping to ensure that both parties have are actively engaged in the learning process (Rose, 1996). Thus, while teachers and students alike face a number of challenges as they move into the information age, none of them are insurmountable, especially when teachers and students are willing to learn together.

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