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The Evolution of Technology Professional Development (AKA “Tech PD”)

By Aland Russell

Eighteen years is not that long ago; however in technology years, it is a lifetime. So please forgive me for saying “back in the day,” but I began teaching in educational technology as a middle school technology coordinator in 1995.
To give you some perspective, the world wide web and the graphical browser were in their infancies. Although computers already had a place in many schools, they were primarily in labs and teaching about computers was the job of the Tech People. Despite that, we were beginning to talk and think about how computers could be integrated into classroom instruction in order to enhance learning.
The primary objective of computer labs in 1995 was teaching students how to use computer software programs: word processing, spreadsheets, how to use imagery, presentation tools, robotics, and design. Although there was a great deal of discussion regarding the use of computers and computer skills in the classroom, we found it was students who were leading teachers by introducing the use of technology in their assignments.
Technology teachers also began to integrate topics from subject classrooms into their lessons. Primarily, computers were being used to demonstrate and present learning. Since the graphical web browser was still in its infancy and easily usable search engines were just starting to develop, online research was not common at the time.
Over time we started creating mini-labs that served multiple classrooms, to enable integration. Since information technology (IT) was primarily being taught in computer classes, we began to develop student IT standards both as part of the class curriculum and as expected skills to demonstrate in class. Therefore, we began to focus our technology professional development on developing skill with the computer and with software programs such as word processing, spreadsheets, presentation tools, etc.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, although we were still teaching technology as a subject, we began to see a greater emphasis on integration of technology; technology teachers began to move “out of the labs” and serve part time as technology integration specialists or coaches.
Tech specialists were beginning to work with teachers, helping them design lessons that used technology to enhance the learning, and not just as a way to demonstrate learning. Student IT skills were refined, in both technology as a subject and as integrated skills.
Computer skill rubrics were developed, and we began to think of teachers as responsible for teaching integrated skills with the help and support of the integration specialists. In addition, we began to place integrated technology skills in reports cards within the subject disciplines.
When teachers began to be responsible for integrating technology in the subject area classrooms, we knew that IT professional development needed to expand. It was not just a matter of teachers becoming skillful with educational software.
Just as reading skills differ in social studies and literature, teachers needed to understand how to teach computer skills to students in different disciplines. It was then that we started to develop minimum IT standards for teachers based upon both the teacher and student national educational technology standards (NETS).
To improve our IT professional development program, we also created and administered a self-evaluation based upon the above skills. Results of the biannual self-evaluations were used to plan and offer workshops throughout the year. In addition, teachers were asked to create a technology professional development goal with their evaluating supervisor.
We are now beginning to see true integration of technology and its use as a tool to enhance learning. We are teaching technology as a subject area only in high school, in more specialized classes. And we are coming to believe that if technology is truly integrated, it becomes more invisible.
The “magic” is no longer attached to it, and this is exactly what we want. The learning takes a front row seat, and the technology is merely a tool. We still pay attention to the tech standards, but I am coming to believe that the standards can become a hindrance to true integration because they place the focus on the tool instead of the learning.
Our technology professional development is much more focused on how the tool makes learning more authentic, and our conversations are more on what students are learning. Open forums allowing teachers to pursue individual strands and develop their own uses have thus become much more common.
Technology integrationists are still critical to the process though, because they sift through the mountains of tools and ideas and help teachers connect the dots.
Technology professional development is by nature a moving target. It is less of a destination than a process. We will never “be there,” but we now have a much clearer sense of what it looks like, and its proper place in education.
Mr. Russell is Director of Information Technology at Escuela Campo Alegre in Caracas, Venezuela.

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