Taking Stock Of Teacher Technology Use
by Bob Moore Director of Information & Technology, Blue Valley School District, Overland Park, Kansas
MultiMedia Schools January/February 2001 
How can teachers know the district's expectations for technology use? How do district administrators know teachers are using technology in the classroom? How can they be sure technology is being used with effective instructional practices? How can staff development specialists determine the most needed and desired technology skills for teachers? Despite billions of dollars of investment in technology year after year, many schools can only guess at the answers to these important questions.

These questions are my constant companions in my work as director of Information & Technology for the Blue Valley School District in Overland Park, Kansas. I've been with Blue Valley for 6 years and have worked in educational technology for K-12 school districts for more than 13 years. Over that time, the need to take stock has only increased. Serving as a member of the executive board for CoSN (Consortium for School Networking) and having the opportunity to present at national conferences on the topics of technology planning, technology support, and assessment confirms that these concerns are universal.

In recent years, several organizations have led efforts to help set standards and expectations for technology use by teachers. For instance, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) and NCATE (National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education) developed "National Standards for Technology in Preparation (1997)," which provides guidance and expectations for teacher preparation programs in the area of technology. More recently the CEO Forum in its "School Technology Readiness Report (2000)" set standard technology practices and means of measuring those practices. These are important efforts because schools often focus on measuring Internet access, student-to-computer ratios, and other hard evidence that show how much technology is available to students and teachers. Schools that employ integrated learning systems tout the number of minutes or hours per week that students are using computers as a measure of technology integration. In the end, however, these systems do not measure how technology is being used in meaningful ways in teaching and learning.

The Blue Valley USD 229 was faced with a similar problem up until 18 months ago. District patrons and the board of education had consistently supported district technology efforts. About $40 million had been invested in technology improvements in the past decade. The district had developed a state-of-the-art, fiber-optic, wide area network (WAN), blazingly fast local area networks (LANs), and a student-to-computer ratio of better than 3-1. With such a large investment for our 17,000 students, the board of education, and district administration wanted to take steps to ensure improved accountability for technology use and to provide a system for continuous improvement in technology use at every level of the district. The district also wanted to communicate clearly to teachers its expectations for technology use based on effective instructional practices. According to board member Sheryl Spalding, then member of the district's technology committee, " It was imperative that [Blue Valley] regularly assess how technology is being used in the classroom and gain insight from teachers who can best describe present practice and areas needing improvement." Members of the board and key administrators began working together to search for an effective means of assessing and documenting technology integration throughout the district. All parties understood that district patrons would rightfully expect to know how technology is being used and what impact it was having on student learning.

Because we had always known and supported the idea that teachers are the key to student learning and achievement, teachers became the focal point of our efforts. And even though we had emphasized the use of technology for years, we had never specifically articulated how we expected teachers to use technology. With this in mind, we set out to identify and measure a set of effective technology integration practices. Our first step was a thorough review of the work by ISTE and some of the early work of the CEO Forum. Initially, we began writing our own set of teacher technology competencies based on these well-researched national standards and expectations for use. Not long into the process, however, we recognized that it would be difficult, if not entirely impossible, to assess our teachers' mastery of the competencies. We spent several more months reviewing other technology assessment and "profiling" tools available on the Internet. Each of these resources had some value, but still seemed like disparate tools that were not linked to our already well-developed teacher appraisal, professional development, and school improvement systems.

For instance, our teacher appraisal system identifies six technology-related standards in the areas of curriculum, instruction, classroom management, communication, and professional development. These six standards would act as the starting point for the further development of a more comprehensive set of technology integration indicators. The next step was to determine how we could assess teachers in these areas. Again, we turned to an existing system. This time our Individual Development Plan (IDP) process provided the answer. This process is part of the professional development system for the state of Kansas. The process utilizes a rubric that individual teachers use to measure their development in identified areas of growth. The two systems blended together beautifully, and by using these existing systems we would be able to accomplish our goal of measuring technology integration without creating yet another system and vocabulary for teachers to learn. Most importantly, we would be able to position teachers for success in the appraisal process and support continuous improvement by individual teachers and schools. Sherrelyn Smith, president of the Blue Valley National Education Association, notes, "The assessment is intended to allow teachers to find out where they are in regards to technology use in a non-threatening way and it helps them to set goals for improvement." Smith also expressed the hope that by focusing "on effective use of technology, the assessment would reinforce the use of a variety of effective instructional techniques."

After several weeks of intensive work, we developed 43 competencies in four areas: curriculum and instruction, classroom management, communications, and professional development. Also, the rubric used in the IDP process had been tailored to help teachers assess their integration of technology. Our "Teacher Technology Integration Self-Assessment" was well on its way to implementation. (See Tables 1 and 2 on page 30).

With only a few months before the actual implementation we began to tie up a variety of loose ends. Our district coordinating teachers (about 20 teachers covering a variety of disciplines) and our library media specialists agreed to pilot the assessment. These two groups, representing about 4 percent of all district teachers, provided valuable feedback on item clarity and time necessary to complete the assessment. Our hopes were confirmed. The self-assessment was understandable and would take no more than 20 minutes of a teacher 's time to complete.

Another important action item was to identify a research group to compile and report the data. The primary reason we wanted to use an external research group was to ensure anonymity for our teachers. While we had no intention of using the results in a punitive way, we recognized that the assessment's link to the appraisal system might be uncomfortable for many of our teachers. A local research and consulting firm was contracted to enter all data and to provide the district with integration profiles for each school, three grade levels (elementary, middle, and high school), high school curricular areas (mathematics, social studies, science, communication arts, and other), and the entire district. Individual teachers would provide their own profiles as they completed their self-assessments.

A final step in our development process was to seek input from our Technology Integration board advisory committee. This committee is comprised of board members, parents, students, teachers, and administrators. Over the course of several meetings, the committee made valuable additions and changes to the assessment instrument and the implementation process. In particular, one patron member of the committee suggested that we ask teachers to indicate "where they want to be" in addition to "where they are now." This was an important added dimension that helped to identify areas of desired and needed growth. Advisory committee input was critical according to committee member and district parent David Flora. As Flora points out, "The district was able to draw on a lot of expertise from other sectors of the economy that have had considerable success in integrating technology." With final approval from the advisory committee in April 1999, the assessment instrument was published and administered to all teachers by the end of the school year.

By late summer most of the results were in and we had begun to analyze the information. From our initial study of the results we gleaned several interesting findings:

  • Regardless of where teachers placed themselves on the self-assessment scale (1 = nonuse to 5 = transfer), on average, they want to be one to two points higher.
  • The most widely integrated technology tool for curriculum and instruction, and the only tool that has largely reached the integration and transfer stages of implementation, is word processing.
  • An overwhelming majority of teachers at all levels perceive that current technologies supporting curriculum and instruction are relevant to their areas of instruction. In general, fewer than 10 percent of teachers at each level indicated that a technological application was "not applicable" for their teaching.
  • Fewer than 10 percent of teachers at any level reported "nonuse" of World Wide Web resources for teachers.
  • Word processing, World Wide Web resources for teachers, electronic encyclopedias, Web search strategies, and presentation software are technology applications and skills that are most frequently entrenched in all types of schools.
  • Between 10-17 percent of teachers reported "nonuse"of knowledge and skills in classroom management of technology. For each school type (elementary, middle, and high school), teachers assess themselves lowest in knowledge of district acceptable use policies for communications technology.
  • About 95 percent of teachers reported participation in district-sponsored professional development courses or workshops.
  • Scores aggregated at elementary, middle, and high school levels indicated a fairly consistent perception of "where teachers are" across school levels.
  • More than half of the teachers identified assistance with software applications as a top priority that would help make teachers more effective in technology integration. Of most interest to teachers was the integration of presentation software into their classroom instruction.
From the report and profiles, individual teachers, schools, and the district were able to set improvement goals for technology integration. The assessment stresses best practice use of technology. It focuses technology use on what we know can have a positive impact in our students' learning. In October 1999, the same board advisory committee that played such a vital role in development of the instrument received its first report of the assessment results. Workshops were held to train school administrators in the interpretation and use of the assessment results.

During the 1999-00 school year the assessment data was carefully analyzed. Staff development offerings have been tailored to meet the needs and interests of teachers and to promote effective instructional practices. A short form of the assessment was developed for the pre-employment screening process for Blue Valley teacher candidates. Data gathered from the pre-employment assessment helps the district to determine staff development offerings for new teachers and allows principals to immediately establish growth goals for their new hires. With the assessment, we know where to apply resources to get the biggest bang for the buck.

From a director's perspective, the assessment provides technology usage data. We are constantly fighting misconceptions as to the lack of use. The data is powerful.

Our next step is making the assessment available online. In December 2000 the assessment was delivered to all teachers via the district's intranet. Using an easy-to-use interface for teachers and powerful database technology, data collected from the online assessment will be much more easily and quickly analyzed.

As we gather data over a period of years, longitudinal analyses will be performed to determine growth in technology integration at several levels across the district. The integration profiles will provide measurements of accountability that the board and administration hope will act as guideposts for technology integration efforts. I know that it will help me see if my leadership is effective. Basically, if we are not able to grow the skills and use of our staff, I need to improve my leadership. Tech directors need that feedback.

By establishing a system of accountability and of continuous improvement, the district hopes to foster continuing community support for technology in the schools. In linking employee appraisal, individual and school improvement, and staff development, Blue Valley is providing a positive model of accountability while improving teacher, school, district, and ultimately, student performance. David Benson, superintendent, affirms these goals by stating that the assessment enables us "to make better decisions when addressing teacher needs, allowing us to integrate and direct many of our staff programs toward improved student learning." (Author's note: A substantially similar article by Moore, West and Bartolac appeared in Electronic School, January 2000.)

Xchange Pilot Project

Do you by any chance have a basset hound, old Volvo, and a wrinkled trench coat?

The National School Boards Foundation has launched a 2-year pilot project, called Xchange: Strengthening Schools Through Board Connections. The project will include Blue Valley and four other districts representing a wide range of district sizes and demographics. The project is being funded by a grant from the America Online Foundation and with the support of The Learning Network, which will be developing the online tools. The project will create online communities through which parents and other community members can become engaged in meaningful dialogue about school district issues. Among the many capabilities of Xchange, users can obtain board information, make their voices heard on school district issues, and interact with one another regarding school district issues. Through Xchange, the NSBF hopes to create a model for online community involvement that can be replicated for other school districts.

Table 1 ­ Self-Assessment Rubric

Rubric for Teacher Technology Integration Self-Assessment
Non-use I have no knowledge/limited knowledge of the curricular or teaching/learning applications of this technology.
Awareness I can explain or describe how this technology can be used as an instructional resource and/or in curricular activities.
Demonstration I must make a conscious effort to consider use of this technology as a part of lesson planning and/or as a teaching and learning tool and I experiment with its use.
Integration I naturally consider the use of this technology as a part of lesson planning and make appropriate use of it in curricular applications and/or as a teaching and learning tool.
Transfer I encourage colleagues to use this technology through one or more of these activities: modeling lessons, mentoring, collaborative planning, giving workshops, etc.
Not Applicable I do not believe this technology has application for the curriculum area(s) I teach and is not relevant as a teaching or learning tool.

Table 2 ­ Sample Technology Integration Indicators

CURRICULUM AND INSTRUCTION Where I am now : Where I'd like to be:
N A D I T na N A D I T na
1.Presentation software to create and deliver lessons and for student reports. O O O O O O O O O O O O
2. Word processors to create written documents. O O O O O O O O O O O O
3. Hypermedia (HyperStudio, Web pages, etc.) to organize and link elements of a presentation. O O O O O O O O O O O O
4. Simulation or modeling software to study and analyze curriculum-related problem situations. O O O O O O O O O O O O
5. World Wide Web resources for teachers. O O O O O O O O O O O O

Communication to the author should be addressed to Bob Moore, Director of Information & Technology, Blue Valley USD 229, P.O. Box 23901, Overland Park, KS 66283-0901; phone: 913/681-4097; fax: 913/685-7707; e-mail: bmoore@bv229.k12.ks.us.

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