Teaching 2.0: Teams Keep Teachers and Students Plugged into Technology

Article excerpt

See if you recognize this scenario:

A school receives a grant for equipment, maybe through the PTA or other school funds. The school purchases the equipment and places it in classrooms to increase student achievement. Someone from the technology department spends several hours (or with luck, a day) training teachers on which buttons to press to make the magic happen. But after a few months, the initial excitement wears off. Teachers are hesitant to use the equipment in class because they can't quite remember what to do. Updates or technical issues require additional support or retraining.

Adding equipment often becomes a temporary distraction from the work of teaching and learning, rather than an opportunity to rethink instruction. And so, the equipment collects dust until the next new thing comes along.

With only two instructional technologists (we've since been joined by a third) serving a district of 1,800 teachers, one of the challenges we faced in the St. Vrain Valley School District in Longmont, Colo., was how to build capacity for change through self-efficacy. How could we build processes that help teachers become self-directed learners who can adapt to ever-changing technologies? More importantly, how could we move beyond the one-stop training that so often is the model for learning about technology use? Might we move towards a model of professional development that prepares teachers for the thoughtful use of particular equipment today and also encourages continued exploration and learning when the next technology shift occurs?

As a result of these questions, we developed a new technology professional development program in our school district. Called the Digital Learning Collaborative, it is built on three things that we know about professional learning:

* Learning takes time - time to play and explore and analyze and reflect.

* Learning is a social process. We learn best together and with each other's help.

* Learning about technology should be embedded within sound instructional practices, but often it's not.

THE DIGITAL LEARNING COLLABORATIVE: AN OVERVIEW

The basic structure of the Digital Learning Collaborative centers around school-based teams. To apply, a school team leader completes an application and identifies three to five fellow school members who are willing to commit to the two-year program. (See application sample at: http://blogs.stvrain.k12.co.us/instructionaltechnology/files/2010/09/dlc-app-all-schools.doc.) The application is an open process, and any school that can fill and fund a team is open to apply and participate. All willing parties are accepted. No teacher is required to participate, but all are compensated for their participation. Teams are affordable, costing a school a few hundred dollars per teacher per year, less than is often spent for a one-day workshop from a visiting technologist or motivational speaker.

Each school team meets monthly to discuss and reflect on its progress and refine the learning and research goals the team has set. Monthly meetings also occur at the district level to give team leaders from schools across St. Vrain a chance to come together to refine their facilitation skills and to further their own learning. Currently, we have 15 participating teams in Cohort 1, which just finished a two-year commitment, and 45 teams in Cohort 2 that are beginning their second year of the program. Cohort 3's 26 teams kicked off their participation this fall. In all, more than 300 teachers, representing more than 15% of our teaching staff, are participating in a Digital Learning Collaborative team.

The Digital Learning Collaborative was deliberately named so that the three essential elements of the program remain at the forefront:

* Digital. While our work moves beyond technology into curriculum and student achievement, our priority is to help teachers think through what it means to use digital tools in the classroom. …