Three Steps to Eliminating Teacher Technophobia

from Educators' eZine

So why don't more teachers use technology in the classroom? Why do some jump in with both feet and look for any opportunity to involve students with digital media while others are still literally cutting and pasting quizzes together? I even saw one teacher who printed out tests saved on a hard drive and then cut questions in strips and taped them to a page to make a final exam.

Of course, some folks are just technophobic. But teachers are an intelligent bunch—and they are all about learning. At our high school, we've chosen to treat teachers as we would any other group of learners: We keep pushing technology in their direction and we don't take "I can't do it" for an answer.

Good teaching is all about repetition and re-teaching. If the first presentation didn't "take," we find a more effective way to present the data. With teachers, however, there is another important step. We try to eliminate the "degrees of separation" that keep the techno-challenged from making use of good media. By that I mean that we put the media directly into the hands of the teacher.

If you tell a teacher that there are many Web-based resources which he/she should go find, we are actually placing many hurdles for him/her to get over before finding suitable materials. There's the lack of understanding of good search techniques, the inability to tell what is a good source, and a general dearth of knowledge about some of the massive compendiums of good helps, like Verizon's "Thinkfinity". Then, if the teacher happens to stumble onto a good site, there's the overwhelming task of just looking over each possibility while dealing with limited time and little acquaintance with how Web-helps work. So the Media Specialist eliminates these hurdles and puts the resources as near as possible to the teacher's desk.

Think for a moment—we give our instructors the teacher's edition of a textbook, which is really a big box full of resources containing many print and digital helps for that subject. Why then do we think teachers should have to spend many hours searching for or creating media in order to use their data projectors and the school's computer lab?

The Web houses a veritable cornucopia of PowerPoint presentations, streaming video, interactive lesson plans, web-based activities, and content-rich sites that can be used in any subject. We've found, however, that most teachers don't know how to go get what they need for their subject and don't know what to do with it when they find it. That's where the 21st century Media Center should help.

Knowing the Difference

One important note before describing what we do to provide media for instructors to use: There is a difference between technology integration and technology-infused instruction. The former means helping students to get into a hands-on relationship with the media and hardware, usually in a project -based learning situation, while the latter refers to teachers using the media and hardware as instructional helps. I believe that the second can be an important stepping stone to the first. I'm almost sure that if the second doesn't happen, the first never will.

The Curriculum Database

On our campus, we've taken a three-pronged approach to helping teachers. At the core of the program is a database of media that teachers can access easily. We bought a PC with a large hard drive and loaded with MS Server 2003. Then we set up a network that every teacher can access with a few clicks. All of the teachers have an icon on their desktops, linked by the Media Specialist, to the database.

When a teacher clicks on the icon, she/he opens the database and finds a subject area folder. There's a folder for English, Science (containing subfolders for the various science subjects), Math, Foreign Language, Computer Apps, even Ag and Home Economics. When the teacher clicks on the folder for his subject area, he finds three more folders, one for presentations, one for links to Websites and one for streaming video.

The presentation folder contains PowerPoint presentations from many sources. I've spent many hours (most during lunch time, when I have to be at the main desk watching a library full of students anyway) finding these presentations. Good sources are state education agency sites, local school system sites, university education departments, education oriented companies and media outlets, and some wonderful web pages from intelligent, driven teachers who just want to share what they've created.

All of these presentations are free for downloading. As I save them into folders, I try to give them names that provide a solid hint as to what the presentations is about, like "Biography of Shakespeare" or "Cellular Theory" so teachers can know which they will want to view further. As teachers begin to use and edit these presentations, they learn how valuable this resource can be for teaching and they begin creating their own.

Any time I send an E-mail to teachers (more on that later) I ask them to please copy the presentations to a folder on their desktop before modifying or using them. Of course, the folders on the database are all read-only, so they can't be affected by the folks who access them.

If you have not searched the web for PowerPoint presentations, you simply have no idea of the variety and richness of the sources available. Most of these are filled with good graphics, animation, and sound. Many are great sources for drill and practice. They are meant to be used, and can, after the read-only status has been changed to make them editable, be modified to meet the needs of the teacher for a particular class.

You might try Web searches using the Boolean operators " " and + like this: biology + powerpoint, or "globe theater" + .ppt. If you don't find what you are looking for on the first few pages of results, try variations on the original theme. It's almost certain that what you are looking for is out there. There are now more than 900 presentations in all subjects on our Media Center database.

In the database teachers can also find links to sites that are either instruction or content specific. These are in another folder entitled "links" and it simply contains an MS Word page with clickable links to those sites. Each link is annotated with a short paragraph to introduce the resource and give an idea of what helps are contained therein.

A third set of folders contains streaming video files. This set is growing as I download new videos. We have access to Power Media Plus from Discover Education through our educational service center, and Discover has given permission for us to copy these films to our database for teacher use.

The Survey

The database is the first part of the three-pronged attack strategy in our "eliminate degrees of separation" project, but it doesn't work as well as it should without the other two. The second part is an annual survey we send to teachers asking what media they need. I've specifically, both in the survey and in E-mails sent to individual teachers, asked that they scan their lesson plans and request resources that would be specific to their subject. Not everyone responds, but more are doing so as they see that their requests return a quick and thorough response from the Media Center. Although the Media Specialist must also be a curriculum specialist, there is no way for us to know what teachers really need if we don't ask (and sometimes pester) them to give us ideas.

The Weekly E-mail

This need for contact with teachers brings us to the third important aspect of our project. Using MS Publisher, once a week I create a colorful, interactive E-mail which is sent to every teacher in the district. It's titled "Prairiland Tech Week" and subtitled "Making your life easier and your teaching more effective." The subtitle states precisely the purpose. The Media Center is here to help teachers. This E-mail includes instruction on how to use a particular aspect of technology and then, usually, a set of links to helpful sites. Each link is a graphic taken from a banner or a piece of art representative of the site, and there is always a brief description of the resources available. Then teachers can click the link and go directly to the site.

Many teachers have told me that they archive these E-mails so they can return to them again and again. Many use the links because they are in their hands. Most of these are resources the teacher might never find or even think to look for, but they are all helpful. Again, the whole idea is eliminating every barrier and placing the media as close as possible to the teacher's keyboard, mouse and desktop. By the way, that means that I do not simply tell the teachers to go to an omnibus site where there are many helps available, but that I, as the Media Specialist, search until I identify a resource for the science teacher, or the junior English teacher, or the tech apps teacher and connect each directly with the Web page he/she can use.

So that's it; three projects that work together under this philosophy: find out what teachers need, find the resources and put them in the teachers' hands, and then maintain helpful weekly contact that helps teachers see the Media Center as their lifeline to every kind of digital media.

Wrapping It Up

Yes, it's a lot of work. Yes, perhaps teachers should be able to find these helps on their own. Years ago I went to bus driver training with a sage fellow whose motto was DWWI: "Deal With What Is!" If teachers can't or won't find what they need, then those whose job it is to help take some significant extra steps to help them. We don't throw up our hands and give up; we get creative.

Email: David Phillips