NetTech: Shelter in the Eye of the Hurricane
by Davina Pruitt-Mentle
Wheaton High School • Wheaton, MD
MultiMedia Schools • January/February 2000

Today’s technology coordinators are bombarded by a storm of new technology and new information-gathering techniques. We must deal with hardware issues to bring schools on board while deciding on the most appropriate software for various curriculum needs for users at all levels. In addition, we may be asked to design exciting and interesting lesson plans that follow state standards guidelines, while being expected to incorporate emerging technologies into the classroom. Surrounded by the swirling winds of changing curriculum and dynamically changing technology, we may feel as if we are caught in the middle of a hurricane. The Northeast Regional Technology in Education Consortium (NetTech — http://www.nettech.org/tc/) [see the sidebar on page 23] has designed the Educational Technology Coordinator Web site to provide a stretch of calm in this sea of chaos.
 

Technology Coordinator
We know that educational technology doesn’t work where it’s not adequately supported, and yet only 30 percent of schools have full-time technology coordinators. Thus, it’s no surprise that the position of technology coordinator lacks a clear definition, and in many cases has a different title. The coordinator can be one of a variety of people: someone hired by the district whose sole job is to investigate technology and to help find ways to incorporate it into the classroom; a library/media specialist whose cluster of networked computers introduced technology to the school; an individual teacher who has become the “technology expert” and is barraged by questions by others seeking to use technology; and all those who fill positions in between these extremes. Perhaps it would be relatively easy to design a site for one of these people, or one of these roles, but NetTech has taken on a harder task—trying to bring it all together in a meaningful way. The NetTech Educational Technology Coordinator Web site is designed by and for individuals responsible for coordinating technology initiatives in K-12 schools.

As the position itself lacks a clear definition, there is no single type of person who is helping to create the site. The Development Team is a group who runs the gamut of backgrounds and expertise, just like the people for whom they are designing the site. However, there is one constant: We’ve all had to be all things to all people, from acting as the computer, network, and Web page expert, to being the software installer, serving as the resource for designing technology-enhanced curriculum, and sometimes maintaining our role as classroom instructor.

This Web site from NetTech is intended to help with the daily work of technology specialists and in the many tasks that we face in our ever-evolving jobs. It also seeks to guide our long-term planning to facilitate the integration of appropriate technologies in the improvement of teaching and learning, and to support us in our daily struggles to upgrade the technology proficiency of all administrators and classroom teachers within our districts.
Before I describe the Web site itself, I think insight can be gained from a description of how the site came to reach its final form. As with all Web sites, the reader can investigate the final product at his or her leisure, but the visit alone will yield no insight into how a project involving 15 strangers, albeit strangers who shared a common goal, undertook such a task.
 

A Stranger Walks In
I have been simultaneously pursuing my Ph.D. at the University of Maryland (UM) focusing on educational uses of technology and applying my knowledge at my day job as a high school chemistry teacher. As the 1999 school year wound down, I spoke with Kathleen Fulton, associate director of the Center for Learning and Educational Technology at UM, with whom I had worked in the past, about any available interesting projects with which I could get involved. She described an ongoing project she was coordinating, involving 12 technology coordinators, who were tasked with constructing a Web site with all the information needed by others in their positions. An additional person was needed to be responsible for putting the final product on the NetTech Web site. The idea had been under study for over a year, but she needed help to get it up and running. So, in July 1999, armed with the site proposal and a list of names and e-mail addresses, I began.

I learned that the plan had evolved from a May 1998 concept development meeting, in which NetTech invited a group of educators from the Northeast involved with K-12 technology efforts to a brainstorming session at UM to discuss what type of site and what sort of information would best suit their needs. The report from this meeting was incorporated into a proposal, which served as a guideline for the Educational Technology Coordinator Web site. The proposal called for content in four key areas: professional development, curriculum integration, technical issues, and technology in context. The wide range of resources to be incorporated included information about professional development programs and opportunities, the latest products and applications, proven skills and strategies, and lesson planning guides and resources. Access to relevant research papers, articles, government documents, and information about funding opportunities was also to be provided. Finally, the Web site was to provide a means for substantive discussion and sharing of ideas and concerns.

Although I had substantial experience and interest in some of the areas, my role was to be one of facilitator rather than content provider. The other members of the Development Team had been selected based on their interest and involvement in either the concept meeting or one of the spring 1999 Technology Makes a Difference Workshops in the Northeast sponsored by NetTech for technology specialists. Each team member had chosen one of the four content areas to work in. I was to sit back, let the information roll in, and simply wrap it all together.

Let me give a word of advice to others in the educational field. Do not expect tasks started in the summer to proceed at a rapid rate. Even if you are in a 12-month position, the summer is a time for conferences and vacations, curriculum enhancement, and professional development. These tasks will get in the way of other more mundane tasks like providing annotated links for the Educational Technology Web site. So, I cajoled, I coaxed, I persuaded, and I begged, and slowly the information began to roll in. The pace of communication also frustrated the other participants. Since the participants were spread out geographically, face-to-face communication was impossible. E-mail provided the main source of interaction. Communication started slowly, but it began to build, and the site began to take shape. My task underwent a metamorphosis. No longer did I need to ask for information; I needed to form it into a coherent whole. At the outset of such a task, starting may be difficult. Different design concepts and outside distractions may slow down the process initially. But dive in, organize what you can, and slowly a consensus can be built and a coherent project can emerge.

NetTech
NetTech, the Northeast Regional Technology in Education Consortium, is a partership designed to provide the vision, experience, and expertise needed to assist schools (K-16) in planning, implementing, continuously evaluating, and refining effective educational uses of technology.  NetTech is one of six Regional Technology in Education Consortia (RTECs) funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

NetTech is designed to address the critical gaps in educational technology policy and infra-structure by pooling the considerable expertise of the Consortium partners: the City University of New York (CUNY), Brown University, the Educational Development Center, Ohio State University, TERC, and the University of Maryland.

Motivation: Altruistic Selfishness
The strength of the NetTech site is based in the “altruistic selfishness” of its members. I use this term to suggest a collaboration of people who have multiple and varied interests and agendas. One person is especially interested in sites that provide information and instruction about designing technology-based lesson plans. Another is interested in modifying the curriculum to support or force the inclusion of technology. Still another may be interested in maintaining and upgrading the hardware of her network. However, the common, shared goal is to form an environment to incorporate technology most effectively and powerfully into our children’s education.

The design of the Web site lends itself to taking advantage of the altruistic selfishness and collaborative spirit appropriate for a constructivist site like we envision. Building from the content area of focus, members of the Development Team could then work not just for the good of the Educational Technology Coordinator Web site, but for their own personal and professional learning goals, interests, and gratification. As in all professions, the best worker is not one who works for pay, but one who works for the love of what they do.
 

Goals and Design of the Site
The site provides a structured list of annotated topics and links, separated along the lines of the key section headings: professional development, curriculum integration, technical issues, and technology in context. These concepts can support the needs of a variety of personnel: teachers, library/media specialists, school administrators, networking personnel, software evaluators, countywide technology coordinators, curriculum designers, and county superintendents. Each concept is split further into sections that are accessed via an easy-to-use table layout.

The idea is not to create a site that contains all the information that the technology coordinator could want. The world doesn’t need yet another clearinghouse. Rather, we wish to present what we as users find most relevant, in an easy-to-use and easy-to-navigate format. Our annotations are not designed to provide a thorough description of a link, but are rather a capsule comment suggesting why that link is of interest. In this manner, we seek to help people navigate quickly through the storm that the Web can be and to provide the information that they need. Most people have a very limited amount of time to search for relevant information. NetTech seeks to reduce the time between problem and solution tremendously.

The site goes beyond a mere listing of resources. We seek to model the constructivist philosophy, which has been proven to provide the most benefit from educational technology. Starting with the best set of resources we could gather collectively, we actively seek your involvement in building a resource that will become increasingly valuable to all of us. The addition of a whiteboard provides a forum to allow an ongoing asynchronous discussion of topics of your own choosing. The developers have not undertaken this task for the short term; we have all committed to continued maintenance of the site as well as monitoring of the whiteboard to both provide answers and to help facilitate an unending exchange of ideas. This exchange of ideas will mirror the way the site was created. We seek a group experience whereby we have a sense of building a community where an individual’s frustrations can be aired, and subsequently mitigated, via group support and collaboration. Rather than being a solitary individual lost in the storm, we wish to work together to help each other improve our individual skills and thereby provide a better learning experience for all.
 
 

Communications to the author should be addressed to Davina S. Pruitt-Mentle, Wheaton High School, Wheaton, MD, 301/929-2075; dspruitt@umd5.umd.edu.
 
 

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