Sunday, November 26, 2006

Staff Development Heresy

When it comes to staff development costs for technology, there is a lot of agreement, but almost no clarity for school leaders. Here's a typical statement, offered by the (National Staff Development Council:) "NSDC advocates that at least 30 percent of the technology budget be devoted to teacher development." Nearly every credible expert says something similar. These figures have no meaning, because they don't break out the factors that impact adult learning in technology. Each expert will say in his next breath, "be sure to include tech support," without defining that, or telling you how much to budget for it. It's generally not part of their 30%. First, let's make one thing clear. If you fund the time teachers spend learning about technology, (per diem salaries and release days) you'll pass 30% of the tech budget easily, so it's not about budgeting all that money for trainers, or expert presentations, or conferences. But... Formal training may be less necessary than you think, depending on the application and the support structure. Certain factors can minimize the costs and need for training. The pyramid below was first designed almost ten years ago, and if anything it's more topical today:

1. Are the systems reliable? (In many K-12 situations, people are trying to "integrate" technology that only works 80% of the time or less. This would cause "technology reluctance" in anyone!)
2. Are the systems easy to use? (Violations of this cardinal rule are still commonplace. If you can't use it, If the principal can't use it, your staff probably can't either.)
3. Is there a compellng reason to use the technology? (You can't just tell them it's good for them, like eating your spinach. It has to be a part of their job expectation, clearly articulated, with some kind of accountability structure. Can you picture some Bartleby at a call center "preferring not" to use the technology? It has to be like that for your teachers. You have to be able to tell them, "This is how we use the technology, and this is why we use it.")
4. Is there someone in the building who can reasonably be expected to assist on the same day when there are problems? (Help desks aren't worth much if no one is sent until a day or two later.) Support staff are the missing link in most technology budgets. If you don't have them, why waste the money on training?

Please don't misunderstand. Training for teachers in the application of educational technology is necessary, and useful, and good. The point I am making is that simply budgeting a huge dollar figure for "staff development" as a part of the project, is no way of ensuring a positive implementation. Training isn't the only factor in changing teachers' practice. If it's a very reliable system that achieves something new or better, and it's communicated to them that it's important and there's someone to pick up stragglers and help people when they are stuck, your training sessions will be fewer and shorter and you'll get a much better result for the expense.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Starve the snails... not.

If I hear the phrase, "feed the rabbits... starve the snails" again, I am going to become uncharitable. Of course we should celebrate and reward teachers who use instructional technologies well. But this phrase implies a mid nineties mind-set, where technology is a limited commodity, and can't be given to all classrooms, so you reward early adopters, friends of the administration, etc. In 2007, technology should be available to all students and teachers, and its use should be articulated, with a mechanism for holding all teachers accountable. To be a "snail" (an educator who cannot or will not use technology at a professional level appropriate to his/her discipline) is simple malpractice. But... most teachers labeled in this way are labeled unfairly. Before adjudicating a teacher as " technology reluctant," we need to ask several questions:
  1. Are the systems reliable?
  2. Are they easy to use (comprehensible to ordinary teachers?)
  3. Is there a compelling instructional reason to use them?
  4. Is technical help available on-site or within the same class period?
Training is important only if the above conditions are met. If they aren't, you can't assume that technologically "trained" staff members have the capacity to perform. And you shouldn't blame them. The cause of their dysfunction could be you.