Supporting Technology Integration in K-20 Settings: May The JITTA Be With You

ISTE standards for teachers, called NETS*T, ( require teachers to engage in curriculum integration that infuses technology as a teaching and learning tool. In an effort to achieve these goals, I have collaborated to implement a Just-In-Time Instruction (JITI) Program. In the JITI program, students are supported by a teaching assistant who is knowledgeable about technology (referred to as “JITTAâ€). This critical intervention and its potential for K-12 settings is described in this article.

Like many professors in teacher education programs, I was working hard to provide my students with the technology skills and instructional modeling appropriately required in the latest iteration of ISTE technology standards for teachers (NETS*T). But the more I worked to integrate technology, the harder it became to stay focused on the content of the course I was teaching.

Addressing student concerns over how and where to upload their files became more common than answering questions about how to think critically about the content we covered in class. I was now becoming less of a professor and more of a tech support specialist and spending a lot more time doing it. It became overwhelming and I considered scaling back or eliminating the rich technology components of my instruction. However, removing the technology-rich assignments is directly opposed to current research and literature. Since learners enhance their learning by connecting what they already know to new learning, these technology projects are very important to my students development. Research suggests that an effective way to equip students with technology competencies is to require them to use technology to complete course assignments and activities (Abbott & Faris, 2000, Feist 2003, Zhao et al., 2001).

A review of relevant literature provided a possible solution to these problems. Research suggests that a student learns to use technology best if given personalized support at the time a student needs to use a particular technology (Cradler & Cradler, 1999; Feist, 2003, Brookfield, 1991). Such a model for multimedia training, referred to as Just-in-Time, enables students to learn skills and processes as they are needed for completion of specified projects.

So I set out to find partners interested in working together to create formal Just-in-Time instructional support. I found two partners, Peter Campbell of the MSU Office of Information Technology and Luis Rodriguez of the Sprague library. Together we established the university’s first student technology assistance center – a Just-In-Time Instructional (JITI) lab. We coordinated the knowledge, skills, and resources of CEHS, IT and Sprague Library to design a lab that would support development of technology competencies of all MSU students (although initially the program focused on meeting the needs of Early Childhood, Elementary and Literacy Education students).

Together we worked to create a long-term comprehensive support delivery system with the following key features identified in the literature: (1) provides access to timely technical guidance that is consistent with the instructor’s teaching practice and pedagogy, (2) provides support from peers, and (3) provides access to additional resources.

  1. Provides Access To Timely Technical Guidance That Is Consistent With The Instructor’s Teaching Practice And Pedagogy

The JITI approach has two stages: 1) supporting the professor in developing an assignment that uses available technology (owned by the school) in thoughtful pedagogically appropriate ways; and 2) supporting the students in completing the assignment and developing technology competencies. The Just-In-Time Teaching Assistant (JITTA) and I worked together on developing assignments. Technology projects planned independently of the JITTA were sometimes not feasible due to technical mismatches. The JITTA, who was aware of the exact technologies owned by MSU and could work with IT and the library to determine which additional technologies were needed, helped design practical and successful projects.

I worked with the JITTA to develop his understanding of the content to be included in the assignment so he would be able to provide minimal content-related assistance to the students. I also worked to develop his understanding of the teaching philosophy that would guide the project so that his assistance would be consistent with my goals. For example, knowing that my focus is on critical thinking and drill-and-practice of procedural technical competence the JITTA is able to make decisions on how to provide technical support. He learned to refrain from “grabbing the mouse†when helping students gain understanding of how to do a specific technical task, such as copying and pasting from one application to another application (as from Microsoft Word to PowerPoint). However, once the copying and pasting skill is mastered, the JITTA might help the student focus on higher level thinking tasks by helping the student (who is slower at the copying and pasting task than the JITTA) copy their text from the word processor to their PowerPoint presentation.

JITI instruction was subsequent to an initial in-class lesson that introduced the technologies used for the project and the goals and purposes of the project. As problems and questions arose, students worked with both the JITTA and myself. The students mostly communicated with me via Email. When several students asked similar questions via Email or when questions seemed particularly relevant to other students I Emailed my response to the entire class. On fewer occasions students asked question during class. The JITTA also provided support using synchronous and asynchronous methods. Mostly students met with the JITTA in the JITTA lab. Frequently, students Emailed the JITTA shortened, more specific questions.

The distinction of the JITTA as a teaching assistant as opposed to a mentor is important. We call him/her a teaching assistant instead of a tech assistant because his/her role includes more than solving a technology problem. As described above, unlike a typical computer lab assistant whose job is to basically ensure the safety of the computers, the JITTA graduate student managing the JITI center worked with students to help them through the process of creating their projects. As a result, the professor and the JITTA, both in title and in practice, collaborated to insure that the students were working toward meeting the instructional goals and objectives of the course.

Students working in the JITI lab often serve as resources for each other. Sometimes they planned to go to the lab together as partners; other times the partnership was incidental.

Student response was incredible and the quality of the work they turned in improved dramatically. By removing the technical support cloud hanging over the project, both the students and the professor were able to better focus on the content of the course while using the technology as a tool to document learning and produce media rich projects that the students could include as a part of their teaching portfolio. Students consistently stated that they would not have been able to realize their vision for their projects had it not been for the access they had to the center and the assistance they received from the JITTA.

The JITI project shows how crucial human networks are to using new technologies in education settings. This model can be applied to K-12 settings as well. JITI labs can be located in school computer rooms and/or in the school library. Teachers, school technology educators, and librarians can collaborate to plan and support assignments. Educators and/or students can act as the JITTA (teaching assistants) who support children’s learning.

Email:Gregg Festa