Digital Resources Help Teachers Succeed

"We should challenge students to high standards by integrating quality digital content into an existing curriculum, such as allowing chemistry students to see 3-D models of molecules or history students to access artifacts from the Civil War." Former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley

Digital content includes video, Web sites, Email, threaded discussions, databases, streaming video, videoconferencing, primary sources, software, and interactive games. Around the world, people can create digital content and target unlimited sources. Anyone can produce resources for the Internet and everyone can benefit from this large library of digital content.

For classroom teachers, this digital content can also be problematic.

  • How to find resources for students?
  • How to find time in their busy day to collect and evaluate content for appropriateness and validity?

Imagine the time necessary for teachers to sift through available resources in their classroom or spending long hours searching the Internet from home. Considering all that's demanded of teachers, this is a lot to ask. We don't want to lose good teachers, especially those who take extra steps to find or create content that meets their students' needs. There is more content now that is relevant to what students need to know and do, but teachers require additional time and support to choose, collect and compile content to be accessible by their students and colleagues.

However, there is also a potential problem. Although there are more resources available and appropriate for various age levels, the validity of the content may be questionable. You may discover that a Web site that seems at first to be okay for your students was created by a third-grade class that borrowed content from unreliable sources.

Challenges for Today's Teachers

In 1997, I was part of a team in the master's program at Cal State, Hayward that developed a site on bats. I learned how to create a crossword puzzle, use Java script and more. Very exciting! But the most important thing I learned was how to find appropriate resources relevant to elementary students. At that time, most of the content available was at a university level. Making it viable for elementary students was time-consuming and difficult. I realized my role as professional developer was changing. Most of the teachers I worked with did not have time to create this type of resource.

Today, teachers have more constraints on their time and workload than ever. As professional developers, we can alleviate some of our teachers' load and allow them to use their time productively in the classroom. Our work in the background frees them from time-consuming tasks by:

  • collecting existing materials and resources that support curriculum;
  • aligning content and technology standards to the curriculum;
  • finding resources that supplement and enhance the curriculum;
  • creating sites and resources aligned to curriculum and standards; and
  • modeling how to utilize these resources as part of the curriculum.

My role as a professional developer has changed from trainer to more of a coach on the sidelines. In 1998, Oakland Unified School District received two Technology Literacy Challenge grants and was charged with assisting fifth- through eighth-grade teachers in making use of the five computers in their classrooms. This was a formidable task because of the numbers of teachers involved and other issues encountered in urban school districts. Peter Hutcher, director of instructional technology, created a team of district employees, organizations and consultants to support the teachers.

Most of the focus the first few years was on disseminating technology, building the infrastructure, and increasing skills. Webmistress Linda Swanson developed content sites to supplement the history curriculum as the team facilitated development of projects to be posted in a Virtual Museum. After the grants ended, project development continued with AB 1339 funding, expanding to 59 schools (grades 4-8). Todd Jacobson, a teacher on a special assignment to work with fourth and fifth grades, created a content site aligned to Open Court (OCR) curriculum and is expanding it to other curriculum areas that teachers request. Middle-school teachers also requested resources aligned to the reading program, core literature, standards, etc. So the professional development team and teacher mentors have been spending more time creating digital content specific to what teachers want.

For example, sixth-grade English teachers requested extension activities and resources to supplement the reading program about the theme "Self-Portraits." A Web site was built with age-appropriate sites that included probing questions about different artists. The extension activity provided steps to create students' self-portraits and put them all in a gallery. Math teachers were looking for strategies to use the Internet with their students and requested interactive worksheets and activities aligned to standards. Teachers are also asking for research tools, rubric makers and note-taking templates. Several mentors who are history teachers collaborated to create interactive educational games such as the Islam Trading Game that other seventh-grade teachers around the district are using. The more teachers learn of the content available, the more they want and use. Email requests for resources on specific topics are growing each day.

Focus on Curriculum

Digital content also comes as tutorials, templates, Web-based lessons, student guides, handouts, rubrics and links to resources. Start with the focus of what you want to teach your teachers. If the workshop is skills-based, then find, adapt or create materials for later reference. The most effective workshops have a focus on curriculum so that teachers can transfer what is modeled to their classroom the next day. Professional developers can:

  1. create a model lesson;
  2. post it online;
  3. include appropriate resources that students will need;
  4. walk teachers through the lesson;
  5. brainstorm methods of adapting a lesson or resources;
  6. have teachers download templates that they can adapt; and
  7. provide hands-on time to create resources and content.

Teachers are not attending workshops as they did previously. If they attend a skills workshop, usually it is because they need to know a particular technology for a specific lesson or unit. Keep in mind that teachers require support materials because of their limited time. Consider that whatever you show your teachers must be used immediately or it will be forgotten. So be prepared. In the future, more of your time will be devoted to digital content development.

There will always be those teachers who want to go the next step and create their own content site, WebQuest, or educational game. They may ultimately evolve into mentors and should be paid for time spent on planning and development to support their colleagues. When teachers become mentors and start collaborating, the school environment improves as the community becomes involved. If teachers are encouraged, have the support they need, and most importantly, someone to give them a nudge to go the next step as mentors, they will use, share and develop digital content. The catalyst for change is the Professional Developer.

Email: Barbara Bray is president of Computer Strategies, LLC and My eCoach. She moderates the CUE techstaffdevelop listerv and writes PDQs for where you can also submit tips.

Copyright 2003, CUE, Inc. Reprinted with permission.