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Citizenship in the Digital Age
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Administrator Focus Group Summaries
Instructional Technology Specialist Focus Group Summaries
Teacher Focus Group Summaries
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Administrators Focus Group

The purpose of the Administrator Focus Group session was to gain a greater understanding of their views on the current environment in which schools are operating, the ideal environment for undertaking a collaborative effort, and the potential challenges and opportunities in undertaking this project. A summary of the findings follows below.

Current Environment

The following essential themes emerged during the discussion of the current environment in which schools are operating:

  • Key measures for success: Standards of Learning, not technological ability

    Performing up to state standards is a major concern for administrators. The administrators from Virginia, in particular, recently received testing information on the social studies Standards of Learning (SOLs) that indicated low performance. There was consensus among participants that performance on the SOLs would have to be addressed before any other initiatives are considered. Other districts, such as DC, use different tests that should also be reviewed, such as the Stanford-9.

    Sometimes state standards, such as the SOLs in Virginia, and other initiatives, such as technology integration, are seen as competing priorities within the schools. Administrators found this very frustrating. However, there was some agreement that technology might be used to help performance on the SOLs by using computers for drill exercises on social studies state test materials. These types of drills apparently are available for other subject areas.

  • Varied technology readiness among teachers and schools

    Many comments indicated that the use of technology in the classroom varied both by teacher and by school facility. Teachers' ability to integrate technology into the curriculum is mixed, with science classes more likely to have more integrated technology than, for example, English classes. Even with technology training, teachers might not integrate it into their curriculum because they are still content with the status quo. It was mentioned that technology might not necessarily help with improving instructional delivery because some teachers may not know how to leverage the technology for improved student performance. A school's ability to support technical involvement varies according to the facility's age. For example, in Virginia, the new Rachel Carson School has been built with the technology integrated into it, while the much older Wakefield High has had to overcome a number of obstacles to build technology capability in the school.

  • Uneven playing field-differences between "haves" and "have-nots"

    Because schools are attempting to incorporate both more and current technology into the classroom, a student's previous exposure to technology is an issue. Students' access to technology outside the classroom is largely due to the different economic circumstances of their families. This equity issue becomes significant when students of the same grade level come to class with very different technical abilities. This presents a challenge to the teacher who is trying to keep all the students engaged, and must choose between teaching the underlying technology and using the technology to teach the subject matter. The difference between boys' and girls' interest in technology was also raised.

  • Availability of training and time in the teacher's schedule to attend training

    Finding time and personnel for technology training is also a concern. Currently, teachers often have to use their planning periods for such training, which leaves them behind on their daily work. Resource people are in short supply, and so there is little technical support for the teachers who do choose to integrate it into their curriculum. Technology training is often viewed as an add-on and not as a training requirement. However, administrators felt that teachers are still receptive to receiving training.

  • Support from the business community or others

    Businesses can provide schools with the technical expertise as well as the funding for the much-needed hardware. Generally, however, business - education partnerships vary greatly in how they are implemented in the schools. Administrators expressed considerable frustration in understanding what are current business needs and were also disappointed in how the businesses were supporting schools. Although the administrators appreciate business support, such as tutoring activities and equipment donations, they are in real need of up-to-date technology, technical support, and other tangible resources. The administrators felt that partnerships should enable students to take advantage of internship opportunities or to learn about different industries and careers. Administrators commented, further, that they are not getting phone calls from businesses to discuss technology in the schools, but instead are getting calls from parents who are demanding more technology in their children's schools.

Ideal Environment

The following essential themes emerged during the discussion of the ideal environment in which schools would like to operate:

  • How the theme "Citizenship in the Digital Age" would be employed

    Administrators defined "Citizenship in the Digital Age" as an environment in which all citizens would have ready access to information to increase the knowledge of all citizens. They discussed the importance of teaching students how this information would be evaluated-what is good information? What is accurate? How are decisions made from that information? This initiative could provide greater contact between students and role models and expose students to content that would support "character education". This initiative could support a greater understanding of our past, the present and implications for the future. Ethical implications for a digital age society would be raised and discussed. Further, they suggested exploring the concepts of civics, particularly the impact that technology and the Internet can have on a democracy and its practices-i.e. registering to vote, finding information about a candidate, participating in debates, etc. Administrators reiterated that their primary interest is in teaching the subjects and that technology, as a tool, must not supercede that mission. They emphasized the need to integrate discussions on the ethical uses of technology into the classroom - for example, what is good, what is dangerous, how to make distinctions and how to understand various ramifications of the inappropriate use of technology.

  • Unlimited student access to technology

    Administrators portrayed the ideal classroom as a place where all students would have access to the Internet. Books would be on CD-ROM. Technology would extend to the home as lifetime learning becomes reality in the digital age. The Internet would be used to track current information and assessment would be done on-line. There would be more opportunities for independent learning by students using technology. Last, students would be taught about proper uses of the Internet.

    Technology would be fully integrated into the curriculum with two or three full- time technology resource persons available to support the teachers, the network, and the technology in the school. The hardware and required software would be available to all students. The students would be able to integrate technology into both their school and home lives. Every student would have access to the Internet and computers all the time, as well as the ability to log on to large databases of information. Whether or not the school would provide such resources was not made definite

  • Business community support would include technical assistance and access to the latest technologies

    The business community would assist the schools in planning the technology they need to implement and developing an understanding of what the technology could do for them. The ideal would be to extend the technology from the classroom to the work environment.

    Businesses would not only take on interns, but also provide the schools with technical support and hardware as well as access to technical facilities. Businesses and schools would have long-term, committed partnerships that would foster student achievement. The schools, parents, and businesses would have a common vision and goal for overall student education.

Challenges to the Ideal

The following essential themes emerged during the discussion of challenges to the ideal environment in which schools would like to operate:

  • Constraints on resources and support for technology

    Limited technology resources are one of the biggest constraints for schools. Their hardware is outdated or non-existent, and they lack the professional support that is critical for a smoothly running operation. The technical professionals employed within the school are often overwhelmed with tasks since usually one technical person, if any, is hired to run the school's network, provide technical support for the teachers and all PCs in the classrooms and labs. If the school has such a technology specialist, that person typically does not have time to help train the faculty and staff on the technology, because of the demands of technical support overall. Some administrators stated that technology goals should be tailored to schools, to account for the immediate school goals and local community resources. A lack of professional development available for teachers on technology was also cited as a weakness.

  • Competing with other priorities

    The priorities within some schools are such that teaching and learning have taken a backseat to other pressing issues, such as safety and security. The administrators reported that their concern for achieving standards of learning often is diluted by concerns about school safety. Also, achievement on standardized tests and technology integration are viewed as competing priorities, which means that sometimes reallocate resources to focus on their measures of success (e.g., SOLs) rather than to keep the technology more available and accessible across curricular areas. The bureaucracy involved in these issues makes it difficult for the administrators to implement solutions and to deal with the problems at hand.

  • Technology goals not linked with state standards

    The administrators expressed that in order for them to build or adapt a curriculum to use technology, the state standards needed to be integrated into the teaching process but at the same time should not be focused on the technology. It was the administrators' concern that if the curriculum was changed to further incorporate technology, the students may not do as well on the standardized tests.

  • No standard mechanisms for business partnerships

    The difference between required business skills and what students learn in schools causes businesses to blame schools for not teaching practical skills; however, it takes the schools a long time to figure out what are these practical skills. Also, the perception is that the business community sends mixed messages about the importance of basic skills versus the importance of technical skills.

    Administrators felt there was no mechanism for partnering with businesses that are interested in helping schools. This causes schools to receive inconsistent and sometimes ineffective support from the business community. Administrators want businesses who realize these investments will be long term in nature. The administrators believe that the partnership opportunities should also be great public relations for the businesses.

Priorities and Opportunities for Action

The following priority items and opportunities for action arose during the Administrator Focus Group:

  • The organization of the school day needs to be changed in order to train teachers.

  • Alliances formed between business and schools and parents and schools are key to improving student performance and technical resources in the school.

  • Integration of technology is perceived as the common denominator ("equalizer") for all students and their future.

  • Access to computers and the Internet at home would be key steps to fully integrating technology into the curriculum.

  • Any initiative that affects an entire grade or curriculum must be in addition to or supportive of the SOLs.

  • Administrators discussed the need for a foundation or other vehicle to bring interested businesses to the table with schools.

  • The administrators expressed a sense of urgency to get something going. They said the schools are ready and eager to move forward as quickly as possible. They said that between the teachers and the students they will come up with creative ways to apply the technology. With the tools in their hands, schools can move forward.

  • Administrators feel there is clearly a need for a vision on technology and education that incorporates teacher input. The vision would call for more communication between schools and businesses to share common goals and investments in students. Last, the vision would remind all parties of the importance of citizenship.

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