July/August 2002 // Case Studies
Teaching With Technology Made Simple:
A K-12 Outreach Project
by Linda P. Domanski
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: Linda P. Domanski "Teaching With Technology Made Simple:
A K-12 Outreach Project" The Technology Source, July/August 2002. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Training Partnership Established

The technology revolution has taken K-12 public schools by storm. Recent state programs and other initiatives have been implemented to "wire" classrooms across the United States for enhanced technology use. As a result of this technological trend many of Pennsylvania's K-12 classrooms have been equipped with one or more computers. In order to fully utilize the technological resources in these classrooms, it then became necessary to provide computer literacy training for teachers. To partially fulfill the demand for teacher training, Westminster College (in rural Western Pennsylvania) received a grant from the regional Eden Hall Foundation to establish the Teaching With Technology Made Simple (TWTMS) program. The grant stretched over three years and supported the program development and delivery of on-site school-based technology workshops for selected schools in our tri-county area.

On behalf of the Education Department at Westminster, I extended invitations to several local school districts to provide computer literacy training classes for teachers. The two-fold purpose of each school partnership was to (1) increase the general computer literacy skills of participating teachers, and (2) share practical uses for technology as an effective instructional tool. Hopefully the following account of my three-year technological odyssey will serve as a model for others who plan similar collaborative endeavors in public schools.

Selection of Personnel

Because of my interest in and use of technology at the college level, I was selected as the Education Department faculty member to fill the position of project director. Since I was a former K-12 teacher, it was relatively easy for me to accurately anticipate what in-service teachers needed to know about using technology in their classrooms.

As director, I was consistently granted relief from teaching one course each semester to work on this project. My assistant for the first two years of the project was a network technology specialist who worked at the college. My co-teacher for the 2000-01 academic year was a recent graduate of Westminster who arranged her substitute-teaching schedule around our weekly technology outings.

School Recruitment

During the summer of 1998, I chose to market the TWTMS program to entire school districts. My approach was to first assess a school district's interest in the use of educational technology, then to offer to teach a series of workshops designed to build computer comfort and literacy for the faculty. A. J. Rooney Middle School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania served as the pilot site for the project. I selected four additional school districts from our tri-county area to participate--Jamestown, Shenango, West Middlesex, and Wilmington. Interestingly, when it became known that Westminster was teaching computer skills in local schools, I received three inquiries from school districts that were eager to receive training. Because this project was only a portion of my class load for the year, my department chairperson believed it would be unwise for me to serve additional schools. That decision was prophetic. Only through doing the work did I learn that the TWTMS project would involve an average of twenty hours per week in preparation, travel, and instructional time.

Investigating and Ordering Equipment

In the spring of 1998 a group of our institution's Information Systems managers and I visited several regional colleges where wireless technology was being used. It was at these institutions that the advantages (and disadvantages) of the equipment I planned to use were seen first hand. We toured a library with networked computer stations at one college that was completely wireless, and we viewed a multi-media demonstration at another campus. After careful deliberation we purchased two identical sets of equipment that were configured and tested during the summer of 1998. It was necessary to have two identical sets of equipment because I planned to teach two classes each week at separate locations. We selected the equipment not only with cost effectiveness, but portability in mind.

Each set of equipment included:

  • A NEC LCD projector with case, an Elmo desktop document camera, a Panasonic VCR, an HP scanner, and an HP 2000C color printer;
  • Ten IBM 486 Pentium laptops (with extended warranties);
  • Ten Xircom Ethernet 10/100+ Modem 56 laptop modems;
  • A "wireless" Allied Telesyn International Internet hub, model AT-MR820TR and ten Netware® Wireless LAN PC Cards;
  • Networking, cabling, etc., for "plug-in" Internet access (data ports); and
  • Portable storage cases and a collapsible cart for ease of transportation.

Pilot Program and Curriculum Development

By September 1998, my co-worker and I were ready to launch a pilot program in a local school. Twenty-four teachers attended the initial all day technology workshop at A. J. Rooney Middle School. After that usually fewer than ten teachers signed up for the weekly technology sessions in the school's library. Since many of the participants were novices, the topics I taught included computer basics such as getting around the desktop and using the Internet and e-mail as instructional tools. The first important lesson I learned about teaching novices was that the built-in mouse on the laptop was difficult for beginners to use. A serial Microsoft Intellimouse® was quickly ordered for each laptop user. Once participants became comfortable with the operation of Windows 95 and MSOffice 97, I then extended instruction to the use of applications such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. By the time the semester was over, all of the glitches with equipment compatibility were resolved, and I had refined the workshop content for a K-12 audience.

On the Road: Years One, Two, and Three

By January 1999 I was ready to take the project on the road. Most schools initially requested that I instruct their entire staff during faculty development days. In the first year of the program I agreed to teach one series of workshops to 18 teachers over a four-week period. I quickly learned that if more than two participants in such a group were struggling beginners, the pacing of the overall group lessons slowed dramatically. My assistant and I discovered through trial and error, that small-groups, no larger than eight, allowed for more individualized instruction and seemed to be less frustrating to the participants. In a typical teaching session I would take the bulk of the group on ahead with the assignment, while my assistant worked with those who needed more time to master the material being presented. I always provided step-by-step written handouts for each new lesson. The teachers watched, listened, and performed each step of the lesson with me, and then they would take the handouts and the laptops home to practice what they had just learned. The standing homework assignment was to work with the application presented that day and bring a sample of your work to share at the next class.

The most popular time for workshops was after school. I suggested Saturday morning or weekday evening workshops as alternatives, but there was little interest. The late afternoon time frame was ideal, and became a problem only once when the network went down and I had to abandon the Internet-based lesson planned and teach another topic. It took several days to discover that the trouble was not with our equipment but with the school's off-site Internet provider who assumed everyone would be gone for the day by 4:30 p.m. and shut down the link to the school for maintenance.

My long-range plan of instruction was to show the teachers how to produce graphic organizers, study guides, charts, quizzes, and other materials that would be helpful to use when teaching whole groups of students in inclusive classrooms. Many of the activities that I taught could be implemented in a one-computer classroom setting, such as creating self-checking quizzes or making vocabulary or content practice exercises using MS Excel. I believe that it is important for teachers who are new to the world of computers to feel that they can experiment with technology without fear of reprisals or failure; therefore, I geared the computer instruction to the abilities and the needs of the teachers in each workshop and always provided positive feedback and support.

Assessment of the Program

I developed an assessment instrument (Exhibit 1) to evaluate the TWTMS program. At the end of each workshop series, I asked all participants to complete and hand in the evaluation form.

As I examined the evaluations, the results clearly indicated that the program met or exceeded the objectives of the instruction—namely to present technology in a user-friendly manner as another tool in an effective teacher's repertoire of instructional skills. I was pleased to note that the teachers reported not only having gained computer skills, but an increased level of confidence in their ability to use the computer as well.

Over the three years, these items were consistently noted as strengths of the program:

  • The majority of teachers appreciated the handouts, the slower pace of instruction, and the high level of patience demonstrated by the instructors.
  • The teachers reported that they were immediately able to apply their newly acquired skills, and that having a laptop to take home for practice was helpful.
  • The teachers valued the fact that the instruction was free as well as held at a convenient time in their home district.

Future Plans

Interest in the TWTMS program started high and remained high among the school districts during the three years of the outreach program. At the close of the program all of the district administrators asked me if further workshops were to be made available. The teachers and administrators were disappointed to discover that the programs would no longer be held on site, but were pleased to know that I will teach technology workshops on campus next summer as part of another college-based collaborative with K-12 schools.

Although my work with the grant came to an end as of May 2001, teaching and learning about technology will continue at Westminster. Undergraduate preservice teachers will use the equipment in our custom designed lab during the day, and in-service teachers and graduate students will have full use of the lab in the late-afternoons and evening.

It has been my privilege to develop and implement the Teaching with Technology Made Simple program, because it has been a benefit not only to the teachers who received instruction, but also to Westminster College. We have strengthened and built new relationships with school districts, and have established ourselves as an important resource for technology for preservice and inservice teachers in Western Pennsylvania.

*An overview of the first year's implementation of the program was presented at the EDUCAUSE Educational Technology Conference in Long Beach, California on October 26-29, 1999.

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