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Putting It All Together

Abstract

The authors argue that links need to be formed between systemic reform and the increase in computer technology in schools. To demonstrate how these innovations can be mutually supportive, they describe the impact of a schoolwide technology infusion effort on teaching and learning.



Reproduced with permission from Hands On!, Spring, 1998.

Putting It All Together

by Elizabeth T. McNamara, Cathy Miles Grant, and Judith Davidson Wasser

"Rather than expecting, as many pioneers in technology did, that the introduction of powerful new technologies will be the driving force that transforms the U.S. school system, I have come to believe that the causal relationship flows at least equally strongly in the other direction - that is, that education reform makes a school ripe for technology."
(Barbara Means, 1994, p. xii)

Technology and Systemic Reform

How can schools infuse technology so that it becomes an accepted way of learning for all members of the school community? How will school systems support the development of exemplary teaching approaches which are consistent with national curriculum reform efforts while using new technologies in classrooms?

A rapid increase in the acquisition of computer technology and electronic networks by schools has paralleled the systemic reform movement. Without attempts to forge links between these reform efforts, the overwhelming tasks of implementing technology may disrupt or distract from the more fundamental goals of education reform. By considering how the two types of innovations can be mutually supportive, however, schools can use technology to build their capacity for sustaining reform objectives from within (Wasser, 1996). A critical element is the use of technology to support the implementation of standards-based reform in core content areas, while ensuring that all students have equitable access to resources and best practices.

Several large-scale initiatives have attempted to bring technology into classrooms. One of the best known is Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT), which began in 1985. ACOT's experiences support the belief that technology can be a catalyst for change, by "encouraging fundamentally different forms of interactions among students and between students and teachers, engaging students in higher-order cognitive tasks, and prompting teachers to question old assumptions about instruction and learning" (Fisher, Dwyer & Yocam, 1996, p.8). ACOT and other efforts have reached across schools into many individual classrooms.

However, the rapid changes in network technology and the national goal of connecting schools to the Internet allow many schools to place computer technology and network access into every classroom, not just into a select few. So today it is possible to look at the impact of a full-school technology implementation effort on teaching and learning.

During the last three years, TERC has been both implementing and researching such a technology infusion effort, the Hanau Model Schools Partnership, which supports schools to integrate technology into all classrooms. Through funding by the National Science Foundation, our project team at TERC was invited by the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) to work with the Hanau Schools, located on a military base in Hanau, Germany. The four schools - Argonner Elementary, Sportfield Elementary, Hanau Middle School, and Hanau High School - are very similar to schools in the United States, both in structure and in the shared emphasis on national curriculum standards. TERC's role is to serve as a partner with the schools to create and implement a technology plan that connects content and classroom practice to technology.

The Model Schools Partnership is a blend of technology implementation and education reform objectives in four critical areas: building a school and community planning process to support technology implementation; connecting technology and curriculum; professional development for technology infusion; and technology leadership and management. As we work with the schools in these areas, we use a qualitative research design to build a picture of what is being achieved, and to reflect back regularly those achievements to the whole school community.

TERC and Hanau's joint decision to work with everyone in a whole school complex was based on the belief that the technology needs to be equally accessible to all teachers and students. This reflects the education reform goal of providing high quality instruction and resources to all students. National figures on computer use in schools continue to show that "to the extent that computer skills are important in today's labor market, middle-class kids have a distinct advantage" (Benton Foundation, 1997).

Building a School and Community Planning Process to Support Technology Implementation

The most effective and actively restructuring schools begin from a shared decision-making model which brings all the stakeholders together to make major decisions and recommendations to create an environment for innovation and change (Wohlstetter, et al., 1997). We began the implementation process by working with the four schools in the first year to create a cross-school planning team. This Hanau Implementation Team (HIT) includes a parent, teacher, the principals from each of the four schools, union representatives, a military base representative, the Assistant Superintendent from the district office, and district school improvement and computer coordinators.

HIT's first key decisions were where the technology should be placed and what software would be on each machine. When we did our early technology surveys, the schools were amazed at how many computers were actually available, yet how few were used in a normal school day. It vividly demonstrated that merely putting computers in classrooms is not enough. The needed ingredient was a schoolwide commitment to infuse the technology in everyday instruction.

Parents have played an increasingly active role in this committee, and the schools have responded to their requests by conducting workshops for parents to learn how to use the technology. In turn, these parents make a commitment to "give back" to the school by assisting in the classroom and, in several cases, even teaching the parent workshops. This involvement has reached more deeply into the community, and we are seeing a corresponding increase in interest and activity with the Base.

The first successful decisions about technology, community participation, and professional development convinced the school community that this shared decision-making process was real. The HIT has become a committee in its own right, with regularly scheduled meetings and school ownership. This necessary part of the reform objectives has built capacity within the schools to support technology innovations.

Connecting Content to Technology

The Model Schools Partnership has shown that educational reform can be supported by the introduction of technology. Teachers' content knowledge has expanded as they extend technology use beyond games or word processing. In developing ways to make optimal use of the two computers in their classrooms, teachers have changed their practice to include more inquiry-based and project-based activities. We found a new focus on understanding the curriculum guidelines and national standards themselves, as teachers questioned not only their own classroom management techniques, but the learning styles of their students, with closer analysis of student work both off and on the computer.

We created a technology planning process with teachers that puts the content first, and the technology connection to that content second. This allowed teachers to build from their own teaching strengths, while introducing something new gradually into their classrooms. Due to the extensive planning done before the computers were brought to the classrooms, teachers were able to use the technology to support their teaching almost as soon as they received it.

We realized that we could not support the hundreds of different software products that are on the market now in individual content areas. Rather, we agreed to provide support for a small number of software products that would be uniformly available on each computer, across all classrooms and all four schools. We called this our "tool kit," and it included word processors, spreadsheets and graphing tools, and multimedia software - a common core of productivity tools, which could be linked in multiple ways to different content areas and grade levels. The use of a small number of tools allowed us to start from the content and curriculum objectives, and then to add technology to support those objectives. The software did not determine the content, but rather became a real tool to deliver the curriculum.

Professional Development

As the computers were being placed in the schools, we continued to help teachers decide how to use them to support teaching and learning. As we know, "learning to use technologies is necessary but not sufficient. Too often, new technologies are simply being pasted onto old methods" (Foa, Johnson & Schwab, 1997). We set expectations for all the teachers to connect the technology to their classroom practice far beyond games or drill and practice.

The project and the district have offered a mix of professional development activities, starting with two-week summer workshops for all teachers that go beyond tool training to include exploration of connections to content. This intensive workshop experience is followed by support for teachers "where they need it, when they need it" (Grant, 1998, p. 12). Right after our first summer workshop our project brought in to the schools an education technologist, who works directly in classrooms to support teachers as they incorporate technology into their teaching.

Kevin McGillivray, the education technologist, keeps a daily log of what he is accomplishing as part of the ongoing research function, so that we know what is happening in the schools while we are not there. His logs are a rich source of information about the changes happening across all four schools as well as with individual teachers. Judy Davidson Wasser, our researcher, then looks at the patterns emerging from the logs and blends the information with the many observations, focus group interviews, surveys, and other forms of data we are collecting. Her synthesis is brought back on a regular basis to the school and the District Office, through the HIT.

This year we have added a new layer of professional development, which we are calling co-teaching. As the teachers gained mastery of the software itself, they began to struggle creatively with when and how they should connect the software to the curriculum in developmentally appropriate ways. Through email, on-site visits, and shared materials, we have modelled how teachers can extend the use of the technology to support classroom investigations and projects. For example, one of the authors, Cathy Miles Grant, worked with teachers in elementary math and helped them develop lessons that related to the NCTM standards for data representation. She then co-taught with each of the teachers, modelling how she might use the technology in a full week of instruction to support the lesson plans.

We are continuing to use this model in elementary math and science, secondary social studies, and language arts across grade levels. The combination of on-line support and direct classroom support has been very powerful for teachers, and has helped them to understand how the technology can support existing standards and curriculum guides. As teachers get even more deeply involved, they have raised questions to the HIT about appropriate rubrics for judging student work produced with the software, and appropriate district-wide achievement measures.

We have been delighted to see some of the teachers agree to serve as co-teachers themselves, both in Hanau and in other schools in the Hessen district. Growing this internal capacity to share good, standards-based practice with colleagues has become a high priority this year and an objective for next year throughout the district.

The Partnership's emphasis on involving the whole school community has increased the speed with which the technology was adopted in classrooms, by creating a community sense of the importance of the schools' work with technology. By introducing the technology to all teachers and classrooms at the same time, we were able to build more cohesive peer support among teachers. Inservice days give teachers from all schools a chance to come together and share what they have accomplished. As different teachers became local experts, the conversations among teachers, even in the lunchroom, changed dramatically. Our ongoing qualitative research model allowed us to capture these informal but powerful connections among teachers.

Technology Leadership and Management

"In actively restructuring schools, principals were moving toward the role of manager and facilitator of change, and they worked hard to foster a strong sense of a school learning community" (Wohlstetter, et. al., 1997). We have seen the Hanau principals move more closely to these roles of manager and technology change facilitator, and a correspondingly positive response in teachers. Creating a school-based decision-making team was a significant decision for the Superintendent's Office. Its ability to see the advantages of working with all four schools made it possible to move forward quickly, and lent credibility to our efforts.

The challenge for the principals went beyond the reform agenda to their everyday practices. Bringing technology into schools is a complicated process, from supplies, to rewiring classrooms, to helping teachers on technology committees look at policy issues. All four principals have become more willing to use technology themselves, increased their knowledge of what it takes to support the technology, and become more amenable to new professional development strategies.

One clear example is the changing relationship between the principals and the education technologist, whose position was largely undefined, yet teachers expected him to be in schools and classrooms on a daily basis. Initially, this caused stress with the principals, who were uncomfortable with a "stranger" appearing in classrooms. Together, the principals and the education technologist have worked out a set of expectations, a schedule, and a method of reporting that gives the principals a better sense of control over what is happening in classrooms, yet provides enough flexibility for the education technologist to respond to teacher needs.

Next Steps

Though the technology itself was the attraction in the beginning of the Partnership, the rest of the program has proven to be much more important overall to the schools. We see teachers become strong leaders with their colleagues from around the world at summer workshops. We see revitalized technology committees within schools that have tackled the policy issues of acceptable use, parent involvement, and sharing of new equipment. We see a powerful endorsement by the district office, which in turn has validated the program with teachers. And we are seeing the desire on the part of principals in other schools in the district to move all these parts of the model to the rest of the district. In all of these senses, then, the Partnership has led to desired changes across the system.

The key to sustainability is continuing to find ways to link the power of this innovation to the everyday life of teachers and students for extending and deepening learning. As with any successful reform, technology must become an integral part of the real business of schools - using the tools at hand to promote high standards for teaching and learning.

References

Benton Foundation. (1997, December). The learning connection: Schools in the Information Age.
www.benton.org/Library/Schools.

Fisher, C., Dwyer, D. C., & Yocam, K., Eds. (1996). Education and technology: Reflection on computing in classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Foa, L. J., Johnson, M. J. & Schwab, R. L. (1997, September 10). Connecting schools is only a start. Education Week.

Grant, C. M. (1998). Bringing technology tools in line with the mathematics curriculum. Cambridge, MA: TERC.

Means, B., Ed. (1994). Technology and education reform: The reality behind the promise. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wasser, J. D. (1996). Reform, restructuring, and technology infusion. In Technology infusion and school change: Perspectives and practices (pp. 1-31). Cambridge, MA: TERC.

Wohlstetter, P., Van Kirk, A. N., Robertson, P. J. & Mohrman, S. A. (1997). Organizing for successful school-based management. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

The authors are on the staff of the Hanau Model Schools Partnership:
Dr. Elizabeth T. McNamara is Project Director. Cathy Miles Grant, Senior Research Associate, is the professional development and elementary mathematics specialist. Dr. Judith Davidson Wasser, Scientist, directs the partnership's qualitative research program.

Hanau Model Schools Partnership is funded by the National Science Foundation, REC-9612905.

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