National Educational Technology Standards: Raising the Bar by Degrees
by Jerry Bennett
MultiMedia Schools • May/June 2000

Why have technology standards for teachers?

I visited a classroom not long ago to set up for a professional development session. The teacher directed me to a computer and said he would be right with me. I sat down next to a seventh grader who was doodling on a piece of paper, obviously bored. The teacher was laying out a writing assignment much as I was given in elementary school many years ago. The student was watching me check out the computer then get online. He asked what browser I preferred. We discussed the strengths and weaknesses of various browsers. He said that his dad had an ISDN line installed at his house. He described his computer and favorite sites. I asked about the assignment and he promptly got online and showed me several excellent sites that included a variety of photographs, sound clips, and other multimedia resources that related directly to the assignment. I mentioned the material to the teacher who informed me that the students were not allowed online for assignments—only for “free time.”

There is a growing gap between the educational experience of a child who has access to various forms of technology with a tech-savvy teacher and children who have the gadgets and a teacher who doesn’t know how to use them or has no gadgets. Most teachers have had access to some form of technology for years, but still do not incorporate its use into instruction. This nation has spent millions of dollars on training, yet many computers, multimedia workstations, digital cameras, and other electronic devices sit unused or as bookshelves with the copying machine as the only modern device in constant operation. Why? I believe that our teachers are so overwhelmed with the day-to-day work of teaching that they are unwilling or unable to make the transition to new forms of instructional delivery. Teachers will not change until they are required and trained to do so. Professors who teach our college students will not change until they are required and trained to do so.

We have two emerging crises in this country. One is the lack of teachers who can effectively teach our children what they need to know to survive in a technological/information age world. The other is a lack of teachers to fill our classrooms. Herein lies an inherent, paradoxical danger: NETS (National Education Technology Standards) can act as impetus to bring technologically illiterate teachers forward, but if it is used nationally as a requirement for teacher licensure, it may further restrict the number of licensed teachers.

Nationally, we need to figure out how to bring more qualified teachers to the classroom and we must do it quickly! One estimate is that California will need 15,000 more teachers than all colleges in California will produce next year. Large class sizes will drive more teachers out of education. I believe that NETS can be a standard of minimal knowledge. I believe that we must rethink how we train teachers (and perhaps who trains teachers), and we must do it quickly.
 

What Kind of Lever?
How do you move a large mass? Archimedes said he could move the world with a lever. What kind of lever is needed to move the large numbers of teachers into the information age? Many levers have been tried, with little success.

The “purchase the levers and they will use it” approach was used. Millions, perhaps billions, of dollars worth of hardware and software was pushed into teaching arenas with little effect on classroom practices.

A much smaller dollar amount, millions, has been spent on “staff development” that leaves participants knowing more about technology. The problem is that teachers return to old practices in the classroom. Teachers are writing better letters, doing better garage sale signs, and better birthday banners but, in general, kids are not seeing a change in instruction.

I see hundreds of teachers enthused about teaching and thousands of kids bored with school. Although teachers are perhaps the most important segment of this society, the intrinsic and extrinsic rewards encourage us to continue teaching the way we always have, to maintain the status quo. We’re discouraged from changing because many of the assessment tools used to judge our success are geared to old paradigms. Many administrators haven’t a clue how to assist their staff in their use of technology, since they have never been trained. My experience gives me one conclusion: The principal who is technology literate, has district support, and has good people skills will have a progressive school with higher test scores, lower absenteeism, and higher teacher/student satisfaction than schools where principals are wandering around without a clue.
The International Society for Education site (www.iste.org)

How can we change?

The American system of education is like a dinosaur: It is huge; it consumes a great deal of natural resources; its time is past. It is no longer the best beast for a rapidly changing world. Change: Accept it or pass into obscurity. The current system depends on a series of conclusions about learning that we know to be wrong. Kids do not all learn at the same rate, at the same time, and in the same manner. Testing along “tried-and-true” formats sets many of our learners up for failure at a very young age. One of the first things many of our student teachers are told when they go into the classroom for the first time is to forget everything they learned in college and do it “my way.” “My way” doesn’t work anymore.

One way to change the educational system is to radically change our colleges of education.

The federal government funded the NETS project to do just that. By identifying the technology competencies beginning teachers should possess, NETS can give new teachers an advantage over current classroom teachers—new teachers won’t have to add another subject onto an overburdened schedule. When new teachers reach the classroom, they will have a confidence in technology not found in 80 percent of existing teachers. New teachers won’t have to try to figure out how to use a new tool in an old application, they will already know. Their students won’t have to wait for their teacher to learn how to use technologies that, in many cases, they already know how to use. Since the U.S. will have a tremendous teacher turnover in the next few years, the system has a chance to change quickly, but only if colleges of education meet the challenge.

What can we do?

This is the question I hear most often from technologically proficient parents, teachers, and businesspeople. We can model. All media centers should offer some sort of information age modeling. If our kids are not getting the education they deserve in the classroom, then we can begin the revolution in our media centers. Guided research projects, video production, and competitive, Net-based programs are great ways to teach kids and teachers what can be accomplished.

We can help to ensure that our local colleges of education incorporate what we already know about what works with learners into the way they prepare their students, our future teachers.

New teachers, fresh from college, trying new techniques, must have support. The new wave of technology-savvy teachers will need experienced media specialists helping them change the face of education. They might ask for new resources. They might ask that their class be guided on new explorations. The truly exhilarating part of teaching in this century is that we don’t know where we will end up. The journey will be interesting, and those who care to join in will enjoy the experience. Those who wish to stay in the past, I wish a pleasant passing.
 
 

Jerry Bennett is the director of a Technology Innovation Challenge Grant that provides technology integration staff development to many of the schools serving the Navajo Nation. He can be reached at jbennett@gmcs.k12.nm.us.


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