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Citizenship in the Digital Age
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Instructional Technology Specialists Focus Group

The purpose of the Instructional Technology 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 potential challenges and opportunities in undertaking this project. A summary of the findings follows below.

Current Environment in Schools

The following essential themes emerged during the discussion of the current environment in which instructional technology specialists are working:

  • Computer use is hindered by current level of technology

    In the classroom, the Internet is generally used for technology-based instruction. In social studies departments, technology is used less, but this may be due to either the lack of quality software, or teachers' resistance to the integration. In many schools the classroom is still without computers, so the only access to technology is via the computer lab or the library. Access to these labs is often difficult and requires advance planning. Furthermore, the technology or the network is not always reliable. This limited access to wired computers creates a challenging environment in which to integrate technology.

  • Training time is not available in teacher schedules

    The technologists noted that planning periods are often used for technology training. This leaves teachers with little time to plan their classes, and this makes it even harder to try something new. Many do express that training is available and most teachers are receptive to it; however the time for the training is often hard to find.

  • Disparities exist among schools and teachers

    There was also discussion about the disparities among schools and school districts. In one school district, for example, all teachers have laptops and are offered 45 minutes of personalized training per week by the in-school technology instructional specialists. The instructional technology specialists indicated that this investment in technology was part of a bigger picture- that the school's educational vision was now tied to economic development and the preparation of the workforce needed in the future. This perspective often is not the norm in schools.

  • Minimal use of existing technology resources for lesson plans

    The technologists indicated that performance on the social studies SOLs in Virginia was the poorest of all subject matter and that there is great pressure to improve those scores and to use computers to do so. They also indicated that even though there is an incredible wealth of online information on social studies, there is a lack of lesson plans in general, and, more specifically, of lesson plans tied to the SOLs.

Ideal Environment

The following essential themes emerged during the discussion of the ideal environment in which instructional technology specialists would like to work:

  • Technology goals would be integrated and clear

    The ideal environment would include an understanding of when and where to teach the students the different levels of technology. This clear implementation plan would be supported by a high-tech, wireless infrastructure through which students could find out about jobs, internships, and mentorships. There would be community technical resource centers located strategically throughout the community. The school district would provide access to technology for all people. With a community technology center, ideally all students could research and do homework on-line after school hours. Also, the school computer labs would not close when the school did, but rather stay open and serve as a community resource.

  • Technology would be key to success for students

    Technology would be an integral part of the curriculum because it would be the key to students' success. Much of the technology would be web-based or wireless, so that students could access it from anywhere n the school. Classrooms would be equipped with computer workstations and wireless on-line capabilities. The school environment would be diverse and teach student lessons with different media using web-based programs. The school day would be restructured so as to reflect this new learning style. The day would not be chopped up like the current, yet outmoded, industrial model, but rather students would have the opportunity to concentrate on a topic and explore it over a more flexible time period. This kind of learning model would be more reflective of what the instructional technology specialists understand to be today's more prevalent work style. Further, technology specialists see the integration of technology in the home, allowing students to take ideas, expand on their research and interact with their teachers beyond regular school hours. Further, technologists believed that technology in the home could help parents as much as students. One participant stated: "Dreams are built when students are young...Open up the possibilities."

  • "Citizenship in the Digital Age" : Technology would guide students on ethical and civil issues

    The use of technology could help to build a more civil society with ethical values and to instill a feeling of how individuals, families, and institutions are part of a larger community. Students would be empowered by the technology available in schools. Through this empowerment, combined with their strong sense of citizenship they have gained throughout their academic career, they would be proactive in the community and, through service learning, try to better it.

  • Technology would facilitate collaboration

    There was some discussion on motivating teachers to create lesson plans that are aligned with the SOLs and are rigorously reviewed by their peers. One proposed method involved setting up a web site that could serve as a clearinghouse for these model lessons within a specific school district, across the Greater Washington Region, as well as around the nation. Furthermore, this clearinghouse could serve as a communications vehicle between and among the teachers, students and parents. Discussions could be focused on the democratic process as it relates to citizenship, such as setting up lessons around the election process, (student elections, and/or local and national) and the use of various databases and electronic dialogues with business leaders and governmental leaders as they relate to issues facing the local community.

Challenges to the Ideal

The following essential themes emerged during the discussion of the challenges to the ideal environment in which instructional technology specialists would like to work:

  • Connection to standards is needed

    Student achievement must be directly tied into the standards of learning and curricula that incorporate technology. If adopted standards have a narrow focus, instructors will spend the majority of their time ensuring that students reach these standards instead of incorporating technology into the social studies curricula.

  • Teacher competency and computer access are limited

    Teacher technical competency is diverse and technical resources available at schools are limited, both of which combine to make curriculum and technology integration very difficult. Student access to technology at home varies widely, so on-line projects must be done on class time. Moreover, because technical resources and reliability vary, on-line projects in the classroom can be very time consuming which prompts many teachers to avoid such undertakings.

  • Limited awareness of and timely adjustments to technology life cycle

    The life cycle of technology is also a problem-keeping up with the changes is a constant problem for the schools. The schools struggle to upgrade software and hardware in a timely and cost-effective manner. Because of this, the schools are often behind the curve in the latest technology offerings. Leasing options have been mentioned as one solution, but as of yet have not been adopted. Older schools also do not have the technical infrastructure the newer schools have, and so updating their technology is even slower and more expensive.

  • Underapplied and misapplied business partnerships

    Many instructional technology specialists feel that their schools have become "computer graveyards" for donated equipment that is not current or upgradeable.

  • Trust among schools and businesses needs to improve

    Finally, this group indicated that they perceive a lack of trust among the school board, teachers and businesses and that this rift among the key stakeholders needs to be addressed before constructive action can occur.

Priorities and Opportunities for Action

The following priorities and opportunities for action emerged from the Instructional Technology Specialists Focus Group:

  • Establishing partnerships between businesses and schools is critical to the successful integration of technology into the curriculum and to the preparation of the future workforce.

  • Attracting financial resources and up-to-date technology donations for school instruction are two of the highest priority issues.

  • Providing incentives, financial or otherwise, for teachers to come up with innovative, academically rigorous lesson plans will help get the ball rolling for technical integration. Teachers need a source of motivation because they are already so over- extended by the requirements of the current system, that they have little time to reconstruct their lessons.
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