Plan and Deliver

from Technology & Learning

For technology to really work in the classroom, professional development is key. Here's how to do it the smart way.

You've worked diligently to gather support for that big tech initiative from the employees, public, and patrons of your district. You've secured the funding required for the technologies described within the local district technology plan. The tech has been bid upon, purchased, and is on its way.

Now comes the hard part—actually getting staff and students to learn and to use it. The time has come to craft a technology professional development plan. Your district has no doubt performed school improvement processes before, but possibly not where technology was the primary focus. This sort of plan requires special aspects—assessing the technology literacy, usage, and attitudes of the faculty; designing individual educational technology plans for each faculty member; developing and delivering technology professional development programs; and assisting faculty in integrating it into the curricula. By using the next three steps as a guide, that technology will not only be in place but also will get put to good use.

The Vision Thing

Step back and give people the big picture. The vision of any instructional institution or initiative must outline the strategic, shared thoughts of a learning community. With a continual focus on the mission of the institution, participants must be able to visualize the instructional use of technology. Use the technique of showing what you would envision by employing descriptive and engaging depictions of what you observe.

When crafting the vision statement, be sure to engage your entire technology team, ensuring that everyone—faculty, staff, and administrators—is represented. But don't forget to have representation from the greater community (including students and parents). Record ideas and thoughts by the team, while constantly referring to the district's mission and belief statements, as you construct a statement that describes how technology will effect teaching and learning at your schools.

To expand beyond the boundaries of your technology team, consider using alternative forms of communication to gather input from stakeholders within the district. Invite input through blogs, wikis, or other online collaboration tools. Also, during the gathering and construction phases, think about the following topics that are sure to arise: both institutional and individual technology assessments, individual educational technology development plans, and professional development and curricular integration strategies.

Assess Needs—Both Institutional and Individual

While there is value in asking faculty members how well they can use hardware or software, you can learn a great deal by gathering data in three areas—regarding knowledge (awareness and application), attitude (issues like leadership, professional development, support), and practice (matters of the curriculum, pedagogy). While knowledge is important, it's best assessed at the individual level. Since these are usually snapshots in time of an instructor's current skill levels, your data are subject to constant change and must be reevaluated annually. So it's even more important to get a handle on both the faculty's attitudes about technology use, as well as their practices, in terms of what they actually do.

To conduct an effective evaluation, consider two concentrations of technology assessment—institutional as well as individual, as most technology assessments focus on the individual or the institution, but not both. And those assessments typically focus only on skills.

Creating a brief but focused self-assessment tool, designed to enable your learning community to begin assessing its level of readiness, can provide a strong institutional snapshot of where your district is with information and can supply data on how well your programs are doing within this goal.

You will not only engage your faculty at a broader level but also provide valuable information, establish and share the district's current educational technology profiles, and identify and develop initial steps and focus areas toward improving levels of technology-enhanced pedagogy and curricular integration. This instrument should identify and define evaluative profiles such as Early Tech (little or no technology use) to Developing Tech (showing some clear goals related to technology use) to Advanced Tech (which demonstrates focused and continuous improvement) to the Target Tech (which provides a model for the integration and innovative use of educational technology).

The assessment can jumpstart local initiatives by focusing on key areas of long-range planning, such as teaching and learning, educator preparation and development, administration and support services, and an infrastructure for technology.

Further, you should define major categories within the assessment, where faculty members are asked to thoughtfully answer questions within very specific areas that are instrumental within your district. These can include topics like campus-wide leadership; campus-wide infrastructure, professional development, and technical support; intra-district and department leadership; department/faculty infrastructure; technology-supported curricula; and faculty/student competencies and use.

Keep in mind, an institutional technology assessment is not intended to be a measure of any particular program's technology readiness but rather to serve as a benchmark against which your institution can assess and track its own progress.

The individual technology assessment process is a course of action where faculty members can demonstrate they are actually doing what they say they do. It is a source of in-process feedback, which also satisfies the demands for accountability. Based upon the results of individual technology needs assessments, we can then design and create individual technology plans, fully aligned within the needs of the faculty of the institution, while assisting in appropriate technology-integration strategies for the curricula.

Help Them Get to Work

Much like an IEP (individualized education program) describes an educational program designed to meet a child's unique needs, an education technology individual development plan (ET-IDP) identifies the specific technology professional development needs of a faculty member. It also creates an opportunity for members of the entire learning community to work together to improve teaching and learning within the institution. When implemented effectively and consistently, ET-IDPs become a cornerstone of a high-performing organization.

The focus may differ from more traditional IDPs but the development process is essentially the same. A faculty member, guided by a mentor, would conduct a technology self-assessment (to assess skills, strengths, and areas that need development); survey areas of need, as well as opportunities for support and growth; construct an IDP, sharing it with his mentor, including any required revisions (mapping his/her general path, while addressing specific strength and weaknesses); and implement and revise the IDP as necessary (putting the plan into action, revising and modifying as circumstances and goals change).

The cycle of technology professional development contains three tenets critical to creating effective improvements. Educators constantly move between the facets of the model, while gaining the techniques and leadership necessary for success in the classroom.

First, at the local level, start by asking yourself and your team: "What are the current productivity and skills training priorities in our district? Our buildings? At various grade levels or departments?" These staff development opportunities help educators understand the benefits of specific tools—both hardware and software—and how to use them.

Next, check with your curriculum design teams and ask the question: "What are the critical areas in immediate need for technology enhancement across grade levels and/or departments?" Find out where areas of concern as related to student achievement are. Establish dialogue with those representatives on how technology may be a catalyst for improvement.

Identify leaders within the organization. Chances are your district has "go-to" faculty members. These individuals are usually creative problem-solvers and often highly respected by their peers as effective integrators of technology. Who are they? What are their strengths? And what are their needs? The best professional development sessions are often led by someone who teaches "down the hall," who has innovative strategies and practices that most likely are being implemented in isolation, but who would love to teach their peers as much as they do their students.

This strategy of technology leadership provides the impetus for a district to become technologically innovative, from the inside out. What could be better than having one of your own educators lead professional development sessions?

Whether it's an integral part of a district/building technology plan or part of an overall school-improvement plan, your technology professional development plan should be anything but just an add-on. The plan ensures that professional development is considered an essential factor in your district, and that technology is used effectively to create new opportunities for learning and to promote student achievement.

Educational technology is not, and never will be, transformative on its own. It requires the assistance of educators who integrate technology into the curriculum, align it with student-learning goals, and use it for engaged learning projects. Teacher quality is the factor that matters most. So professional development for teachers becomes the key issue in using technology to improve the quality of learning in the classroom—where "knowledge" is truly embedded within a structure that effectively integrates educational technologies into our pedagogy and curricula.

Understanding the Principles of High Quality Professional Development

Professional development plays an essential role in successful educational reform, serving as a bridge between where prospective and experienced educators are now and where they need to be to meet new challenges of helping students achieve higher levels of learning and development.

Technology-based professional development activities should be anchored with the following fundamental principles:

  • Participants learn by doing.
  • Activities are relevant to the participants' educational roles.
  • Leaders model appropriate instructional strategies.
  • Schedules include time for reflection and collaboration.
  • Leaders and other participants provide ongoing support.

Meaningful technology staff development opportunities:

  • Must be a district priority and will take time, planning, and a group commitment for success.
  • Supplement and enrich curriculum.
  • Provide assessment of staff needs for district, building, and individual improvement.
  • Provide opportunities for teachers to improve on individual goals.
  • Will be presented in a variety of teaching styles, while recognizing and embracing diversity.
  • May need to be presented in a variety of formats, including district, building, grade level, curricular areas, small group, and individual.
  • Create an initial product/ strategy, enhanced through practice for classroom implementation, leading to reflection and revision of the product.

A high-quality professional development framework developed to promote educational technologies will positively impact students and their learning. Your framework should address and incorporate these essential principles, which are necessary for the full realization of the potential of our students.

Ken Brown is vice president of Innovation and Technology at Sterling College in Sterling, Kansas.