Integrating Productivity Tools in Primary and Secondary Education CLOUDS AND SUN

Technology Volunteers in the Classroom:
Extending Classroom Technology Capabilities and Opportunities

Nancy K. Schubert



The New Classroom

Telecommunications technology is rapidly changing how we learn and teach. Along with the new possibilities for learning come new demands upon already strained human resources.

Telecommunications technology in education is a double-edged sword. Increasingly over the past decade, educators have had to work with tighter budgets, more limited teaching materials, larger classes. With the advent of the Internet into education, instructors have gained an incredible teaching aid and, hand-in-hand, the requirement to gain a complex set of skills to master and manage that aid. Educational technology is changing so rapidly that a considerable time investment is needed to keep abreast of the wave.

How does an educator find the time and extra arms to integrate the virtual world into the classroom?

Technology and the Volunteer Resource

One important resource is volunteers: parents, grandparents, seniors, business people, students. Volunteers with an interest in and a commitment to education become partners in the educational process. Where they are welcome, volunteers aid teachers in classroom activities, assist with projects, lead small group activities.

Parents and grandparents are often the front line volunteers, having the most direct interest in their students' learning experience. However, concerned volunteers from many different quarters will step forward when presented with a satisfying project: seniors with talents, time, and a wealth of experience to contribute; business people interested in fostering savvy future employees; community service organizations seeking meaningful contribution; students with time and talents in technology.

Assisting with Internet projects is a valuable activity for volunteers with interest and skills in telecommunications technology. Individual projects generally focus on specific skills, input and outcome. Clearly defined tasks are easier to delegate to a volunteer. Volunteers with knowledge of the Internet and basic surfing skills can help manage project tasks or entire projects for teachers. Some elements, such as sending, receiving, compiling data, can even be done from home.

The Teacher-Volunteer Collaboration

The benefits. Teachers who never had the time before can now collaborate with community resources. Community understanding of the demands upon educators is enhanced by actual participation in the classroom process. More parents can become directly involved in the educational process, becoming advocates and partners in learning. Just one day per month in the classroom can heighten appreciation of the rigors of teaching today. Understanding of the students' experience also adds a dimension to family relationships. And the parents' involvement doubly reinforces the importance of education to the child.

The tasks. Depending upon school policies, instructor needs, and parent interest and capabilities, parents can:

  • Assist students in exploring/searching
  • Assist email exchanges
  • Lead discussion groups
  • Supervise student project activities
  • Compile and transmit data
  • Find and suggest projects and activities
  • Construct and manage web pages
  • Instruct students in technology skills
  • Train staff
  • Manage entire projects

Volunteer interest and comfort level, as well as staff comfort level can best determine the level of volunteer involvement and responsibilities. Because of availability of Internet access, much management work can be done from home. Actual involvement with students might be only one hour weekly, with the remainder of the project activity being done at the volunteer's convenience. Often, classroom schedules can accommodate volunteer availability. Flexible scheduling allows for participation by skilled volunteers with limited availability during the school day.

Examples of volunteer-led project can be seen on the WWW at NickNacks: Learning Together Around the World. The site was developed by a parent volunteer who telecollaborated with instructors around the globe to develop and manage global classroom projects.

The training. Parent training requires two components: classroom skills (policies, skills and procedures); and telecommunications technology. Where students are contacted, precaution is required.

  • Classroom skills training is best accomplished by school or district staff. Parents must understand and agree to follow school policies and procedures. Training might be done in one session for all school volunteers. This training also allows volunteers more security in interactions with students.
  • Technology training depends upon budget and resources, a school might:
    Send trainees to workshops (school or self paid)
    Run a school training session for trainees
    Incorporate trainees in staff training sessions
    Recruit already skilled trainees, the easiest way
    Have skilled volunteers train others
  • Effectiveness. The effectiveness of volunteer activities may be determined by: (a) student outcomes, (b) student feedback reports, (c) staff observation, announced or spontaneous, (d) volunteer feedback reports.

Student evaluation is of course the responsibility of the instructor. Therefore, students must demonstrate learning in a form which can be reviewed and evaluated by the instructor. If the program is to increase learning opportunities, it must also save staff time. Training must be cost-effective and efficient. Volunteers must be able to operate independently. Need for extensive teacher supervision will reduce the effectiveness and benefits of the program.

Recruitment of Volunteers

Volunteers who want to be involved are a highly visible, easy to access resource. The first group is often parents who come to school, call, write notes, volunteer for other activities. By starting a technology aide group with these parents, the teacher can organize a demonstration project and use it later to recruit more volunteers.

Face-to-face invitations are most effective, including:

  • Parent conferences
  • Presentations to parent-teacher groups
  • Recruitment/start-up meetings
  • Phone calls

Finding the next level of skilled, interested parents and other community members may require a little more work. Potential volunteers may be solicited by:

  • School newsletters
  • Local newspapers
  • Flyers sent home with students
  • Announcement boards
  • Local cable access
  • Letters or phone calls to local businesses and organizations

Screening of Volunteers

It is necessary to develop some method of screening parents for capability and effectiveness. Often parents will screen themselves, specifying confidence and comfort. Inviting parent participation to assist in classroom activities allows the instructor opportunity for observation and informal assessment of parents' capabilities. It also encourages parental involvement, unlike formal screening processes.

Share Your Success

Let us know about your successful volunteer technology program or ideas from other types of volunteer projects. NickNacks will post instructive reports on the WWW to help others mobilize their technology volunteers.

National Effort

The Tech Corps is a non-profit organization attempting to promote and harness technology volunteer efforts across the country by chartering chapters in every state to coordinate state-wide efforts. The organization can connect you with other interested parties, and can provide resource information.

A Call to Action

Our schools, our students, our future stand on the brink of a new age-at the edge of the information superhighway. This valuable resource awaits development-and the children, our future, deserve our best effort. The schools need volunteers to step forward today; the schools need to embrace the volunteers' efforts. Partnership enters a new stage. Responsibility for educating the children now belongs to the entire global community.

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