Support for the Supporters: Staying Current with the Latest Tech

IT staff needs professional development too 3/26/2015 3:02:00 PM

Want to keep your technology support fresh and current? Keep learning! There is no better way to ensure tech is being used efficiently than through an approach of continuous professional development. Below is a sampling of ways you can do this collaboratively and continuously without spending a fortune.

ONLINE TUTORIALS

YouTube and other video-sharing sites provide many crowd-sourced tutorials for supporting Google Apps for Education (GAFE) implementation, configuring active directories by department, student information system customizations, and much more. Reviewing teacher-specific uses of innovative technologies on these sites may provide more concrete examples of implications for teaching and learning. If you are focusing on a specific product, reviewing content from the manufacturer will continue to increase user expertise. Online subscription services such as Lynda.com or enterprisetraining.com provide self-paced courses.

As you find new online content to these offerings, begin to curate these resources so that new staff members have access to relevant and effective learning opportunities. Consider creating a Web site or a wiki where staff can document and share the variety of online learning opportunities.

PROFESSIONAL LEARNING COMMUNITIES

In addition to working in small groups and teams, the Professional Learning Community (PLC) approach provides the needed access to follow-up discussions, collegial activities, greater interaction with like-minded learners, and a natural setting for idea generation.

One surefire approach to a PLC format can be found in TechTalks. Weekly or bi-weekly online TechTalks, which are gatherings of IT staff district-wide or even regionally, are designed to allow staff to share best practices in management systems, instructional technology, hardware, and more. Sessions can be tailored to meet the needs of staff, dependent on new initiatives, challenges encountered, or the timing in the school year. For example, as districts head toward benchmarks or state testing, an emphasis on modifications for special needs students, hardware access, and connectivity issues might be most pressing.

Topics of interest can be submitted for consideration or shared in an open agenda format. Likewise, individuals with a special expertise should be recognized and their learning highlighted, to be used as a resource for others.

JOB-EMBEDDED TRAINING

IT staff can observe teachers and even work with teachers in the development of IT-infused lessons to provide a concrete experience and first-person portrayal of how the tools that are supported by IT are utilized for instructional purposes. This approach helps IT staff see firsthand what happens in the classroom, and how things like filtered sites, automatic updates, lack of device administrator privileges, slow Internet, and other obstacles can affect a lesson.

Newer IT staff can shadow their veteran counterparts to observe, record data through note-taking and images, and provide reflection time. Resource-sharing across a team, site, district, region, or state can provide valuable on-demand support and answers. Creating and engaging in an online community of practice to grow and continue to develop a PLC will provide relevant resources and on-demand learning.

PERSONALIZED COACHING

Are there individuals or small groups who focus on specific aspects of systems or pedagogy in their roles? If so, personalized coaching may be the way to go to address the highly customized needs of staff to expand skill sets, deepen learning, and minimize irrelevant training that might not apply to all staff.

What do your vendors provide? When establishing new contracts, build in as many free or discounted trainings and support opportunities as possible so that, over the duration of the contract, updates are provided to current staff and new staff can be brought up to speed on products.

Certification programs, such as the Microsoft IT Academy or CISCO Academies, are highly regarded, consistent approaches to trainings that can standardize practices and provide staff with the necessary skills for deeper learning.

These continuous learning opportunities will ensure that everyone in the district is on the same pedagogical page.

Dr. Lisa Gonzales is superintendent in the Portola Valley School District and a member of the California TICAL cadre. Jason Borgen is program director of the TICAL Project at the Santa Cruz County Office of Education.

BIG IDEAS

❉ Support for training and use starts at the top

Dedicate adequate resources and continuous funding for ongoing technical needs and professional development

Create virtual communities of practice for collaboration

Research online groups and resources

Train the IT staff as leaders to empower those they serve

Learn about and use the support and training provided by your vendors as part of your contract

TIPS FOR STRUCTURING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Provide ongoing support. Coaching and PLC ’s should be highly customized for deeper understanding.

■ Promote understanding of technology pedagogical practices. IT staff need to have a working understanding of how the tech they support can improve instruction and effectiveness.

■ Provide coaching and mentoring. If research shows that 85% of teachers who receive coaching implement new methods (compared to 15% without coaching), imagine the success with IT staff.

■ Provide access to online information repositories. Hosting resources online allows staff to access and search as needed.

■ Create a school environment that supports professional development. Policies, practices, culture, and funding must facilitate the effective use and    integration of educational technology supported at the district level.

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