One of the most difficult tasks in the creation of 21st century classrooms may be training teachers to appropriately incorporate computers in the classroom and make meaningful use of technology as an instructional tool. Committees can make selections and acquire hardware and software. Contractors can perform site upgrades. However, the guided and systematic use of computers in classrooms for teaching and learning requires computer-competent teachers. Such teachers not only understand content, but they also have the ability to appropriately incorporate technology into the lesson. A computer-competent teacher is one who has made that heuristic leap from classroom sage to student guide.
To create such a teacher takes time. One reason is that teachers must acquire new knowledge. Another is that often teacher beliefs and attitudes, and certainly teacher instructional behaviors need to be changed as well. Far too often, school districts are not able to initiate, let alone sustain, long-term commitments to focused staff-development projects because of such reasons as teacher, board and administrative turnover; the educational environment, which seems to generate fads faster than next season's fashions; and, of course, money.
The Camden School District, which is composed of about 97% minority students, is located in Camden, N.J., one of the most depressed cities in the nation. The Camden School District began offering in-service training on computers to its teachers in 1985. The training program came about as a result of grants from the William Penn Foundation and the RCA Foundation. The grants paid for 15 graduate credit hours towards an 18 credit-hour post-baccalaureate certificate in computers-in-education from Glassboro State College (now Rowan University), together with all books and software for the teachers, and mileage expenses for the professors to come into Camden.
Our training model was based on the belief that in-service training should be conducted to give teachers new knowledge in order to augment their instructional repertoire and change their instructional behavior. We further believed that: (1) in order to garner teacher commitment to the training, teachers need an external reward and (2) change in instructional behavior requires a long-term commitment from the board and administration. In our initial training program, the external reward came about as a result of contractual salary increments for every 15 graduate credits beyond the bachelor's degree. The in-service training program consisted of five graduate-level courses over two years; thus we provided for a long-term commitment from the teachers through a built-in pay raise. The fact that the project was funded by a grant assured commitment from our Board of Education. The courses were selected to provide a process through which teachers were:
* Taught new knowledge and skills about using computers in the classroom;
* Given the opportunity to personally experience the application of those skills;
* Able to receive feedback as they tried the new skills over and over until mastered; and
* Able to demonstrate that the skills were incorporated into their instructional repertoire.
Teachers were selected on a competitive basis. An application with the teacher's name, grade or subject taught, and school were located on the front of the application and a series of questions on the back. In this way, the front and back would be assigned the same number, but only the back given to a selection committee, thereby minimizing politics. The committee did not know whom they were selecting. We wanted teachers who had a commitment to the Camden Schools. We ascertained commitment by length of employment in the school district; professional activism, as measured by membership in professional organizations and District and school committee participation; ability to teach adults, as measured by number of times the individual taught a District in-service course; teacher attendance, and principal and supervisor recommendations. …