In an ideal world, technology becomes a seamless part of the education environment. When that occurs, teachers, students, administrators, and support staff use technology tools (as they do other resources) to help them teach, learn, manage, and support. However, before such an ideal can be achieved, an education organization must provide its users with:
- training so that users can develop the basic knowledge and skills needed to operate technology
- professional development so that users can apply technology in support of instruction and management activities
When the appropriate technology is in place, and high quality training and professional development are provided, a world of technological possibilities can become reality. For example, student records can be updated automatically from entry-screening systems or even a teacher's PDA (personal digital assistant). But in many environments, both education and otherwise, technology tools that are readily available are not being used to their full potential because of shortcomings in training and development-topics that are widely viewed to be ongoing challenges.
Although there are real differences between the concepts of staff training and professional development, for the purposes of this document, the phrases are interchangeable-both terms refer to any activity or initiative designed to develop technology knowledge, skills, and expertise for application in an education setting. Such activities include, but are not limited to, any initiative intended to increase understanding, skills, and expertise related to:
- maintaining and using hardware and software in an instructional setting (by either teachers or students)
- maintaining and using hardware and software in an administrative setting
- ensuring system security
Because teaching, administrative, and support responsibilities have changed, and will continue to change, in response to the infusion of technology in schools, professional development and training are ongoing processes that cannot be satisfied with one-time instruction for a particular type of technology.
Who Should Receive Professional Development?
It may seem simplistic to assert that everyone in an education organization needs to receive some type of training in the use of technology, but it is true. Of course, the type of training will vary with the job of the staff member-for example, teachers might need to learn how to use an electronic grade book to record student academic progress, administrators might need to learn how to use project management software to increase efficiency, support staff might need to learn how to use Powerpoint® to offer training sessions to other staff, and facilities staff might need to learn how to use computerized climate controls to keep a school setting comfortable for its occupants.
Although staff need to know how to use and apply technology, it is unlikely that they need to become experts in every facet of technology. For example, a teacher who integrates the Internet into a lesson plan need only understand the Internet's application to the task at hand, not how it works in fine detail (e.g., communications protocols, encryption, and browser requirements). In fact, in most cases staff members do not need to know how a piece of technology works; only that it does work and that it can be used seamlessly and with confidence.
What Types of Professional Development are Needed?
The needs assessment discussed in Part 2 will help staff to determine exactly who
potential technology users are and the types and amounts of professional development they will need. It is likely
that findings will identify:
- Technical support staff—This group of users is responsible for installing and maintaining the technology infrastructure and, therefore, will need specialized technical training to keep equipment and applications running properly. They should also observe professional development programs provided to other users so they can learn about potential problems and user needs related to both the equipment and the applications.
- Administrators—This group of users will need to understand how to use technology that is present in their work environment (e.g., spreadsheets, word processing applications and, perhaps, project management software). They will also need training to promote a general understanding of technology tools used by their staff. For example, administrators who do not directly access a data system (but do request information that is generated by the system) should be made aware of the steps they need to take to request information, what types of information are available, and how the technology influences the work of the staff members who supply the information.
- Administrative staff members—This group of users often relies on technology as a part of their daily routines and will need to understand how to operate and apply various applications. Often these applications support the entry, synthesis, and analysis of data used for day-to-day and long-term decision-making in an organization.
- Teachers—This group of users will need training on the various types of applications and resources available for their classroom management and instructional tasks. These applications might include instructional management software that assists with daily record keeping (e.g., grades and attendance), office applications that can be used in the instructional program (e.g., word processing and spreadsheets), and instructional software specifically designed for integration into classroom curriculum (e.g., a geography program intended for student use).
- Students—This important group of users needs to understand how to use technology for its own sake (as preparation for future encounters with technology in their post-school lives) as well as how to use technology to facilitate learning in academic disciplines. While teachers can present some guidance about technology use as a part of the curriculum, specific applications can also be introduced as a part of technology training. For example, if students can learn how to work with spreadsheets during a technology training session, teachers can then use the application to teach math or accounting subject matter during class time.
Professional development should be based, to the extent possible, on a user's prior knowledge. If, for example, staff have successfully used a computer system that is to be upgraded, a certain level of understanding can be assumed and training can focus on the aspects of the system that will be improved rather than basic operations. Having said this, it is critical that trainers not assume too much user expertise-it is better to err on the side of being too basic, particularly when introducing a system with many upgraded features.
Well-planned professional development sessions will include the distribution of manuals and other support resources. These materials are important because they give users something to take with them and refer to. The materials should explain both how to operate the technology and how to apply it to their tasks. A whole publishing industry has been created to develop user-friendly manuals for computers and applications. Some resources are less technical and easier to read than the official product manuals; others are more entertaining. Whether trainers distribute these types of manuals or not, the organization will want to purchase a few copies so that they can serve as reference materials.
Professional Development for Novice Users
For novice users, training should focus on the basic operation and use of the technology (both hardware and software). For instance, both Windows and Macintosh operating systems have functions that are used with most applications, such as "File" and "Edit" commands. Losing a file that contains the product of a lot of work can be traumatic, especially for novice users. They should be taught to use files prepared by others as well as those they prepare themselves, including what happens when the user requests and saves a file. Training users to confidently handle these basic functions will prepare them for more advanced operations in the future.
Training should be geared to the existing skills and experience of the participants. All users should be provided training materials for later reference.
For novice users, it is critical that the materials provided during a professional development session be simple and easy to understand. Trainers may find it worthwhile to purchase or develop training materials that have screen shots (i.e., graphics) showing exactly what interfaces will look like for the various system applications being taught.
Novice users will need to learn basic information about the technology being taught. Topics might include:
- identifying basic system components and their location, and learning how to turn on a system
- logging on (or individually signing on) to a computer
- establishing passwords
- opening desired applications
- closing applications, logging out, and turning off a computer
- accessing network resources
- understanding an Acceptable Use Policy (see Appendix A)
- using Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- getting help
- maintaining system security
All users need to be familiar with what they need to do to keep the system (i.e., the hardware, software, and networking equipment) secure. See Part 5 of this guide for a detailed discussion about security issues and training.
Professional Development for Advanced Users
Professional development for advanced users (those who have experience with and feel comfortable using technology) should contain much of the information included in the novice user training-however it can be abridged and presented in less time. In addition to offering an overview of basic operations, advanced training addresses topics that lead to users becoming highly proficient in the technology. Even more sophisticated sessions may be needed for "power users." After all, some people enjoy learning new bells and whistles, particularly with technology. and it is good to have these "experts" scattered throughout the organization so that they can serve as unofficial technology advisors, mentors, and trainers.
Professional Development for Technical Support Personnel
Although an organization may contract with an outside consultant or company to provide technical support for its computer system, it should still have someone in the organization who possesses a basic understanding of how the system operates-if for no other reason than to minimize downtime when awaiting service from the vendor. Training for this person or persons (i.e., the technical support staff) will vary based on the design of the system but, minimally, should include:
- hardware and networking components and their connections
- new hardware installation
- software installation
- trouble shooting (i.e., dealing with problems)
- user question response procedures
Education organizations must protect the privacy rights of students. When student information is available on computers and over networks, staff must ensure a secure environment. Technical support personnel, including contractors, need to know the rights afforded to all students as delineated in the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). For more information about these requirements, access the Forum Guide to Protecting the Privacy of Student Information: State and Local Education Agencies (2004) at http://nces.ed.gov/forum/pub_2004330.asp.
Those organizations that choose not to use outside contractors for technical support will need to establish a comprehensive professional development program that allows technical support staff to learn new skills, keep up with technological innovation, and provide meaningful and customized training and professional development for other users in the organization.
When Should Professional Development Be Provided?
Preliminary training on a system or an application should be offered before a new or upgraded technology is fully implemented and accessible to users. The equipment installation phase is a good time to begin training efforts so that people will be ready to use the technology as soon as it becomes available. After all, nothing is more frustrating than having a new computer sitting on your desk (or software on your computer) and not having the skills to use it. On the other hand, if professional development is provided too long before the technology is fully accessible to users, it may frustrate people who wish to practice new skills while their recollection of the training session is still fresh. Many people complain that by the time a system finally gets implemented, they have forgotten how to use it. Planners need to consider the type of technology being introduced, the existing level of user expertise, access to training facilities, and the projected timeline for technology installation and implementation to determine when training programs should be scheduled.
Training surely demands the dedication of time and resources, but the alternative
usually exacts a far higher toll!
If possible, it is a good idea to relieve users from their regular duties in order to attend system training. Training that occurs outside of regular office hours may be perceived to be an additional burden and users may be tired and less able (or willing) to absorb information. Keep in mind, however, that doing so may necessitate additional costs associated with hiring substitutes (especially for teaching staff).
After initial training sessions have been offered, it is important to continue to educate staff on a regular basis. Ongoing training not only allows for major points to be reemphasized, but also provides trainers with opportunities to break complex issues into manageable pieces that can be more easily assimilated by participants.
Who Should Deliver Professional Development?
Deciding who will deliver professional development often depends on how many people need to be trained, how complex the technology is, and that ever-present concern-the budget. Classroom and individual training is often conducted by:
- in-house staff
- software or hardware vendors
- consulting firms that install technology systems
- training firms, consultants, or service bureaus
- staff from peer organizations (e.g. teachers from other schools that are already using the technology)
Training may also be available on diskette, CD-ROM, DVD, videotape, the Internet, or another medium.
Selecting the right type of trainer is critical. Trainers who work for software or hardware vendors know their products backwards and forwards, can anticipate questions, and know how to explain the product in several different ways. Consultants who develop computer systems or who specialize in training can also provide excellent staff development. However, if a system or piece of software has been customized by an organization, these types of consultants may not be as well prepared to offer training specific to the modified system or adapted software. See Figure 7.1 for more information about who should deliver professional development.
Developing an In-House Training Staff
Having in-house training staff is desirable for large organizations, particularly when there is frequent staff turnover. Some school districts have technology coordinators who provide training for newcomers and to all staff when there are system upgrades. Others have technology coordinators who work full- or part-time at school sites. These technology coordinators should undergo extensive preparation and training prior to offering training to others. Regardless of the technology, all training should focus on user application of technology rather than on the technology itself-for example, training delivered to teachers should focus on using technology to further curricular goals (rather than using the curriculum to showcase technological capabilities).
Using Software Application Training Materials
If users are working with off-the-shelf software, such as word processing or spreadsheet packages, the organization may want to purchase tutorials. Tutorials have the advantage of being self-paced, easy to use, network compatible, and readily available. In many cases, tutorials are included in training materials that are packaged with new software applications. In addition to tutorials developed by software publishers, there may be tutorials, manuals, or other training materials developed by consultants or other sources. Finally, with the expanded use of the Internet, professional development tutorials are often available online.
Where Should Professional Development Be Provided?
It is best to keep training sessions small so that all users can get the individualized practice and assistance they need. For this reason, it is critical that all participants have access to their own computers during a session. It may be most efficient to have a training session held in a laboratory setting that contains 10-20 computers. If your organization does not have a suitable setting, it may make sense to find a host for the training sessions-either a vendor, a peer, or a partner organization (i.e., another school or a private sector entity) that is willing to share resources on a cost-recovery basis. See Figure 7.2 for more information about where training should be held.
When is Additional Training Needed?
In addition to offering training opportunities when hardware or software is introduced, replaced, or upgraded, it is important to provide for periodic retraining-even for "old" systems because ongoing user experience sometimes reveals previously unforeseen training needs. Some organizations offer ongoing series of computer classes so that staff can take initial training or refresher training whenever it is convenient. Others survey staff once or twice a year to get an indication of what classes need to be scheduled.
There are various times and ways to offer ongoing training. One school held problem-solving sessions over breakfast called "Stop and Grow Breakfasts." If there is interest, sessions can even be scheduled after work hours or on Saturdays (although planners must be sensitive to the down-time needs of potential participants). Planned staff development days are good times to schedule training sessions. Another option is to compile lists of user questions as they arise and then include them, and their answers, in a newsletter that is distributed on an ongoing basis. See Figure 7.3 for more information about additional training.
What about Training Students?
In many schools, students are expected to use computers either during classroom activities or for homework. For instance, some schools post homework assignments on the Internet and expect students to access the assignment, complete it, and submit it to the instructor electronically. In such cases, students need to know how to access their network from home or school, perform interactive lessons, and e-mail the results. In other cases some students might be able to locate resources on their school's network from home or a public library. Whenever technology is to be used in the curriculum, students should be trained to manage the task competently and confidently.
Some states and districts have developed their own technology standards for students. However, the National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS) has been developed by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and is generally recognized by most people in the education community. It is available at http://cnets.iste.org/students. See Part 8 for more information about user proficiency standards.
Ideally, training should occur in the classroom, with students receiving credit for the work. Numerous vendors have developed training packages for students, but care must be taken to provide "vendor neutral" training aligned to a recognized standard. While a school, district, or university might use a specific type or brand of equipment, the student will presumably be leaving school someday, and will want to have a broader knowledge of the types of software and/or hardware that might present themselves in the future.
Professional Development Goals
Just as it is important to define goals and measure expected outcomes for classroom instruction, it is important to define goals for technology training and then measure user performance against those goals. The primary goal of professional development in the realm of technology is to have users be competent at, and feel comfortable with, using technology tools to perform the daily routines, work, and management of an organization.
Specific indicators are necessary for assessing whether goals have been met. For example, if an organizational goal is for staff to feel more comfortable using technology, evaluators will want to look at an intermediate indicator such as whether or not staff have been trained to use the technology tools (the first step in becoming comfortable with them). Keeping records of successful training can help planners monitor progress toward this goal and identify additional training needs.
Users should be "certified" based upon both the time they have participated in training and, if possible, the level of skill they have demonstrated (via assessments). Users who have mastered content training should receive certificates that indicate as much. Copies of the certificates, or some other indication they have successfully completed a course, should be added to their personnel files-all of which will help to identify which users need additional training in the future.
The significance assigned to training certificates depends on the nature of the technology and the tasks to which it will be applied by users. For many generic tools (e.g., word processors and spreadsheets), it may make sense to issue a certificate that simply verifies a person attended a course or completed a training session. In other cases (e.g., a financial system used to allocate funds), certification of competency might be necessary before a person is authorized to access the system. In these cases, course completion usually involves testing to ensure that a participant not only has attended the course, but also has demonstrated proficiency.
With regard to classroom use of instructional applications, there may be state or local requirements that teachers must
receive a certain number of hours of professional development during an academic or calendar year. Trainers might even need
to be state or board certified to teach these applications. Often teachers who complete courses related to technology are given
Continuing Education Units (CEU's), which can be applied to in-service training requirements or other conditions required for
re-licensure or continued employment. Whoever is planning instructional staff training should keep these requirements in mind and ensure that training is neither redundant nor inappropriate for instructional users.
Standards for Professional Development
Michigan State Department of Education
Quality professional development is structured and provided within a context of ongoing school improvement planning. It improves and sustains the capacity of the participant to:
Standard 1: Use inquiry and reflective practice within the learning community.
Sample Indicators: Educators keep journals to record and reflect on their own practice; time is allocated at school improvement and staff meetings to share journal content and to review curriculum, instruction, and assessment techniques, and process exists to make appropriate changes.
Standard 2: Learn from recognized resources within both the public and private sectors, from successful models, and from colleagues and others in the learning community.
Sample Indicator: Time is invested to study the research on teaching and learning, to learn from presentations, to learn from recognized resources in the private sector and government, and to learn from collegial exchange.
Standard 3: Identify personal and adult learning needs and styles, and select appropriate modes of participation.
Sample Indicator: Educators have the opportunity to complete learning style inventories and to elect professional development compatible with individual learning styles.
Standard 4: Implement research-based leadership strategies to support and sustain ongoing developmental activities.
Sample Indicator: Time and opportunities are provided for mentoring, peer coaching, study groups and action research among educators and all those impacting student learning.
Standard 5: Integrate technologies as tools to assist with the curriculum development, instructional management, and assessment practices.
Sample Indicator: Time and training are provided for educators to use and adapt technological systems to the learning needs of adults and students.
Standard 6: Invest time in an ongoing process of collegial dialogue, collaborative learning, and exploration of new and/or proven instructional strategies.
Sample Indicator: Time is invested for focused collegial dialogue at school improvement and staff meetings. Research based materials and best practice information are exchanged and discussed. Data specific to student academic achievement are shared and utilized to inform modifications to curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices.
Reprinted with permission from the Michigan State Dept. of Education © 2001 State of Michigan.
All Rights Reserved.
Evaluating Professional Development Programs
All training programs must be evaluated systematically to ensure that they meet the intended goals of the organization. It is helpful to have participants evaluate both the trainer and the course content to verify that the users' needs are being met and to help improve the overall quality of the training program.
Whether and how an education organization assesses professional development is an indicator of the importance it places on staff development. Assessment of professional development and training programs must reach beyond a minimal "head count" approach that relies on attendance lists or sign-in sheets as evidence of program success. By evaluating professional development activities, technology planners can learn what is working, what is not, and who needs additional assistance.
Part 8 of this guide focuses on a more detailed discussion about developing and evaluating professional development programs for teachers, students, and school-site administrators.
Possible Indicators for Assessing Technology-Related Professional Development
- To what extent have instructional staff received technology-related professional development?
- What is the total number of hours of professional development received by instructional staff in the most recent academic year, per instructional staff FTE?
- What is the number of hours of technology-related professional development received by instructional staff in the most recent academic year, per instructional staff FTE?
- What is the ratio of hours of technology-related professional development to the total hours of professional development received by instructional staff?
- What percentage of instructional staff have received at least the minimum number of district or state-required hours of technology-related professional development in the most recent academic year?
- To what extent have administrative/support staff received technology-related professional development?
- What is the total number of hours of professional development received by administrative and support staff in the most recent academic year, per administrative and support staff FTE?
- What is the number of hours of technology-related professional development received by administrative and support staff in the most recent academic year, per administrative and support staff FTE?
- What is the ratio of hours of technology-related professional development to the total hours of professional development received by administrative and support staff?
- What percentage of administrative and support staff have received at least the minimum number of district or state-required hours of technology-related professional development in the most recent academic year?