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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
May 1, 2000
Vol. 57
No. 8

The Power of Owning Technology

An innovative grant in California empowers educators to invest, both professionally and personally, in bringing technology into their homes and classrooms.

Teachers who use technology in innovative ways talk about transformational changes in their teaching practices. But years of research on the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow show that teachers follow a progression—from initially using technology to accomplish teaching objectives to transforming their practices after many years of teaching with technology (Sandholtz, Ringstaff, & Dwyer, 1997). In a recent survey, many teachers who reported substantial shifts in their teaching to a more student-centered, constructivist approach attributed their changed practices to new understandings about how children learn rather than to the use of computers. However, the teachers who made these changes reported an increased use of technology both in and out of the classroom (Ravitz, Wong, & Becker, 1999).
Clearly, the casual use of technology does not lead to transformational change. Change is the possible, but not the inevitable, outcome of extensive experience in settings that provide intellectual and technical support (Ravitz, Wong, & Becker, 1999). Yet in many U.S. classrooms, teachers who are asked to direct student learning with technology have only minimal personal experience with technology. How do teachers progress from having minimal to optimal experience? Ownership is an important first step.

The Challenge

Placing computers in classrooms without the necessary support does not lead to exciting uses of technology. Because of the economics of large, districtwide purchasing and the need to provide effective technical support districtwide, districts often make the technology decisions. But district-level choices rarely satisfy all teachers. New technology often just appears in the classroom, and the teachers know little about the particular machine or the reasons for choosing it. Restricted-use policies make this situation worse.
To use networked computers efficiently, teachers need extensive familiarity with computers. This knowledge comes from the personal, everyday use of technology at home and at school. But how do we create a climate for teachers to explore technology and gain a necessary level of comfort and expertise?
One often recommended strategy is to have teachers take the technology home over the summer months or during vacations. Although this gives teachers time away from students to explore the tools, this use is only temporary; teachers have no real motivation to save information on a computer that is on loan. In addition, in many urban school sites, students attend school year-round to make maximum use of limited school resources, and, therefore, equipment is inaccessible.
Another recommendation is to provide teachers with dual-use, portable laptop computers that can be transported between home and school. Although laptop computers may serve teachers' personal needs, they do not make good classroom computers. The angle of the LCD panel makes it difficult to share the display, and portable computers are hard to keep secure and expensive to replace or repair.

A New Strategy

The school, community, and university partnership called the Anaheim City School District Technology Literacy Challenge (TLC) grant has helped teachers develop a deep understanding of technology. This four-year grant, funded in April 1998, gives every classroom in two urban schools, Edison and Jefferson Elementary Schools, up to four new, multimedia computers with Internet access. The grant addressed the question, How do we create a learning context that leads to innovative uses of this technology by teachers, many of whom have had little previous experience with technology?
Giving teachers the technology, even providing technology workshops on the mechanics of hardware and software, will not lead to this learning context. The teachers need to play a leadership role in bringing the technology into the classroom and shaping its use with their knowledge of students and their curriculum. The puzzle was how to design a plan in which teachers developed a strong sense of ownership over the technology.
Project teachers received a one-time, advanced stipend for active participation in training, staff development workshops, and curriculum projects that were consistent with the goals of the grant. The stipend also gave teachers the resources to purchase technology for home use. In the Staff Development and Involvement Agreement, teachers and site administrators committed to use these funds to purchase instructional technology tools and materials. By signing the agreement, teachers and site administrators also committed to 140 hours of technology staff development during noncontract hours.

Learn to Earn

The actual design and implementation of the program became the first tasks of the members of the grant steering team, an initial group of 10 teachers from the two schools. To begin, the educators at the two schools received technology advances of $1,400 at the beginning of the grant period to be repaid by 140 hours of professional development over three years.
The teachers received their stipend in their November 1998 paycheck to purchase technology for home use by March 15, 1999. To stretch the value of this advance, a major computer chain agreed to open its local store before and after hours on four occasions. This invitation-only event was exclusively for the teachers in the Anaheim City School District. Teachers could purchase anything in the store at 5 percent over wholesale cost.
At the Computer Open House sale in late November, teachers and administrators from both schools purchased technology. The average sales receipt was $1,533—demonstrating a substantial personal investment as well. When people make their own decisions about buying and using technology to support their own and their family's learning needs, they become more personally aware of technology's value.
The second stage of the plan was to offer workshops and seminars to help teachers use their recently purchased hardware and software. Educators would repay the technology advance by attending or teaching workshops, participating in grant-related meetings or activities, and designing new ways to teach with technology. A rate of $10 an hour was set for the time devoted to professional development; this amount was deducted from the technology advance. Teachers felt that this was fair because some tasks included in the professional development were activities that they had to do anyway as part of their job, such as planning a lesson with technology or helping other teachers teach.
Group workshops, such as The Care and Feeding of Your New Computer, helped teachers learn to use the specific technology that they were introducing into their classrooms. Each multimedia computer came with software applications, and workshops at the schools and at the district technology center demonstrated the software packages.
Teachers could also request workshops on topics of their choice or take courses offered by local universities or by the district, all with the focus of moving from basic technology knowledge to the integration of technology into the curriculum. If these experiences occurred while classes were in session, the grant money paid for the substitute teacher; if they occurred out of school, teachers accrued the $10-an-hour rate toward their technology advance. All grant meetings and activities also helped teachers reduce the amount of their technology advance. The teachers had flexibility in how they designed their professional development.
One hundred nineteen teachers (100 percent of teachers and administrators at the project schools) have participated in technology training classes offered through the TLC grant programs. This represents 7,586 hours—or an average of 64 hours for each teacher—of technology learning time. Eighty-eight teachers (85 percent) participated in the seven-hour Module 2 training, Beginning Windows 95. All the teachers have taken district classes in various software programs, and most (88 percent) have taken TLC grant training for various types of hardware.
All the TLC grant teachers have already received Saturday or noncontract-hour training. Approximately half the teachers have participated in more than 60 hours of training outside regular contract hours, and one-quarter of all teachers have earned more than 100 hours of training credit. Increasingly, teachers are offering the workshops themselves, and the course content caters to the curriculum-integration needs of the project teachers.
The steering team defined professional development to include informal meetings of teachers to plan new uses for technology in their classroom. The team worked out a system in which teachers are given "learning hours" for innovative uses of technology in the classroom. To receive credit for these hours, teachers write a short description of their project and add their project to a showcase of new ideas that serves as a learning tool for other teachers. So far, 32 teachers have submitted curriculum projects, many of them more than one. In this way, the schools are building their own collective wisdom.

The TLC Steering Team

The members of the steering team have been involved in more projects and conferences to help provide leadership in the schools. Twenty of the 23 steering-team members have participated in multimedia academies and seminars. The percentage of participation has increased from 58 percent (November 1998) to 87 percent (March 2000). Examples of such academies include the Cox Multimedia Academy at the Joe Rindone Regional Technology Center, San Diego, California; the Technology Assistance Project academies; and the 1999 Computer-Using Educators conference.
To meet the grant goals, software programs and multimedia technologies support state mathematics and language arts standards. The focus is on curriculum related to a technology-integration approach. The steering-team members create classroom examples to support appropriate state standards and teach numerous classes to enhance teaching and learning through a technology-infused curriculum.
Two members of the steering team, Amy Hitt from Edison and Lynda Ruiz from Jefferson, volunteered to write weekly journals on the use of technology at the school sites. The purposes of the journal are to share technology-integration ideas, to build a collection of technology resources, to develop teachers as resources, and to share the progress of classroom technology. Both teachers completed their 140 hours of professional development within their first year and have recently joined the TLC grant project as mentor teachers on assignment to facilitate the integration of technology with curriculum in the grant classrooms.

Owning Technology

At the beginning of the grant project, fewer than one-third of the teachers reported regularly using computers in their classroom. In fall 1999, most teachers (86 percent) reported regular weekly use of computers by their students, and almost half the teachers reported daily computer use by their students. In a U.S. study of computer use by elementary teachers, only 43 percent of teachers report this level of use (Becker, Ravitz, & Wong, 1999).
This project has empowered teachers at Thomas Edison and Thomas Jefferson Elementary Schools to take ownership of their professional development and of the process of school renewal—in addition to becoming proficient in the latest technologies. By building personal ownership and then training teachers to be comfortable and creative users of technology, the grant helps teachers make innovative transformations in their classrooms.

Becker, H. J., Ravitz, J., & Wong, Y. (1999). Teacher and teacher-directed student use of computers and software: Teaching, learning and computing. Irvine, CA: Center for Research on Information Technology and Organizations.

Ravitz, J., Wong, Y., & Becker, H. J. (1999). Report to participants: Teaching, learning and computing. Irvine, CA: Center for Research on Information Technology and Organizations.

Sandholtz, J. H., Ringstaff, C., & Dwyer, D. C. (1997). Teaching with technology: Creating student-centered classrooms. New York: Teachers College Press.

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