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Professional Development and Technology

A Conversation with FOB...

Professional Development and Technology

NCSALL and the National Dissemination Center for Career and Technical Education Center on Education and Training for Employment (NCCTE), are working to help build linkages between the adult basic education system and career and vocational education programs. To this end, we will be publishing occasional articles in Focus on Basics by career and vocational education professionals. We begin this series with a discussion with Ron Stammen, Director of the North Dakota Teacher Support Center and a professor of educational leadership at the School of Education, College of Human Development and Education, North Dakota State University. Ron has been involved for more than 20 years in training teachers to use technology in their vocational education programs. We spoke to him about what it takes to help teachers use technology in their classes.

FOB: What advice do you have for professional developers in planning for professional development in the area of technology?

RS: Support after training is key to ensuring that knowledge and skills gained in training become an integral part of a teacher's practice. It's what I refer to as sustainability.

FOB: What made you realize this was important?

RS: During the early 1980s, I was teaching adults how to use a spreadsheet program. Computers were new to almost everyone involved and the participants became excited as the hands-on instruction progressed. They began brainstorming ways to use their new-found knowledge and skills at home or in their workplaces. 

Their printouts documented that they met the measurable objectives of the course. At the end of the course, I urged them to call each other or me for support whenever they needed it. Some did; most didn't. 

I found that, after the course ended, some of the participants used the spreadsheet program extensively. Others, who had been equally motivated and successful during the course, never put their new skills to work. Motivation during the training and the need to use the technology on the job weren't enough. Resources and time seemed to be barriers. I started thinking about this and eventually focused my work on countering the technical, structural, and attitudinal barriers that confront many people who are learning computer-based technology.

FOB: How did you test out your ideas about these barriers?

RS: I worked on implementing a statewide computer network for K-12 schools in North Dakota. One reason it was successful, I think, was because teachers in each school were designated as building representatives for the network. These folks provided immediate support to their colleagues.

Continuous professional development activities held regionally or on-site upon request were also important to its success. The evaluations found that participants were successful when they had a purpose for their technology, and when they were able to collaborate with trainers and peers on a continuing basis. The technology trainers were teachers first and technologists second. They constantly promoted the idea that you need a continuing lifeline. They were asked questions that were both technical and instructional.

A similar activity held over a wider geographical area gave similar results. Participants noted that collaboration and on-going training helped them to implement what they learned.

FOB: What about institutional support? How should that be designed to ensure that teachers who are trained to use technology really do use it?

RS: Make sure there is a leadership plan that enables leaders and followers to really understand the purpose [of the use of the technology]. They need to know what's in it for them. The purpose must be simple, and all involved must have ownership.

The difficult part is where the leadership should lie. For example, we used a system that had a representative for each group of 10 people in a [school] building. The representatives are the designated leaders. Sometimes they're appointed, sometimes they're identified according to their interest, and more often the latter.

The reps have to be continually supported. The school principal should be one of the other 10 people [in a group] and must be supportive of the building representative. So the training needs to extend beyond the teachers to the organizational systems. In fact, the systems work has to precede the teacher training. 

FOB: Can you tell us a little more about this?

RS: School principals-in adult education, program directors-have to be willing, for example, to buy the technology, not just train people on it. In a lot of situations, people get trained, but there isn't enough equipment to go around. Five teachers can't use one overhead projector, for example.

All the details that go into implementation must be considered, as well: equipment purchase, on-going training, time for planning, on-going costs. If the principal is one of the trainees, you're more likely to see support for teachers. In all this, planning and development are done first with the administrators.

FOB: How do you know if the use of technology is a success?

RS: The core question is: How do we really know that this is making people learn better? We had an example of a teacher who really delved into learning how to take technology and make it flash on the wall. He used all sorts of good communications techniques but found that students were bored. He had created something that left the students passive, only passive in a different way. You have to ask why? Why are you using technology? If it serves the purpose, use it. If a good discussion serves the purpose better, stick with that.