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Magazines > MultiMedia Schools > September 2003
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Vol. 10 No. 4 — September 2003
The Media Center
Creating Your Tech Team
by Mary Alice Anderson, Lead Media Specialist,
Winona Area Public Schools Winona, Minnesota


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The team can ease the workload of information systems and technical support staff, who quite likely should be spending less time on relatively minor issues (How come I can't print?) and more time on keeping the infrastructure sound.

Kim, an enthusiastic technology-using teacher, shares news of upcoming staff development classes with her teaching partners at a 10:00 a.m. meeting; before long, most of her partners have registered for a summer class. Mary, who has a question about Excel, turns to Matt for help. Rachel e-mails the media specialist with a lunch-hour question from one of her co-workers. Kim, Matt, and Rachel are all members of our school's Tech Contact Team.

What Does a Tech Contact Team Do?

Most significantly, the team provides that important peer support that is critical to successful technology use. It's common sense and documented by research: Teachers who use technology work in a supportive atmosphere. (See the "Research Resources" box at right.) They work with people whom they can turn to if they need on-the-spot assistance. They teach with people who see the value of technology as an educational tool and like to share their expertise and ideas. And, they teach with people who may be their teacher in a staff development class. It is also common sense and documented by research that limited peer support, a lack of technical support, and inadequate staff development lead to the opposite results: underutilized technology and under-skilled teachers.

Most likely your school's team already exists informally. It's only natural that peer support groups have sprung up throughout the growth years to provide "just-in-time" support. As a media specialist who works with all of the staff, you are in an ideal position to combine your organizational and technology skills to formalize the team. You also have access to resources, know how to find the answers, and know how to get the word out.

Why Should You Have a Tech Team?

The team provides the ideal in-house peer support group to help people feel more comfortable with technology. A team can help narrow the gap between the potential and the reality of technology use in most schools. The team can help bridge the gap between real or perceived tech gurus and classroom teachers who like to work with a peer who knows what they need and why they need it.

A tech team will do more than create a nonthreatening collegial technology environment. As you empower others, you expand the media program's value. More people will see you and the media program as solution providers for technical and information needs.

A tech team can help make a media specialist's job easier, providing more time to move forward with other technology and curriculum initiatives. The team can also ease the workload of information systems and technical support staff, who quite likely should be spending less time on relatively minor issues (How come I can't print?) and more time on keeping the infrastructure sound. A tech team can even promote more coordination between the folks who deal with instruction and those who deal with wires.

Who Should Be on Your Tech Team?

Whether you called them a tech team, tech contacts, or tech coaches, they have some common characteristics. They are teachers (or other educators) who are:

• tech-savvy enough to handle typical and relatively minor technical problems in a nonthreatening way.

• eager to learn something new!

• recognized as team players who communicate with others, as well as people whom others respect and trust.

• willing to put in some extra time to attend team meetings, improve their own skills, and share their expertise with others.

• convinced of the value of technology as a productivity tool.

•aware of the value of technology as an instructional tool, and likely support the constructivist approach to teaching.

• representative of a range of experiences and perspectives.

What Does a Tech Contact Team Do?

The most important function our tech contact team provides is communicating with their teaching partners. By communicating with others, they lessen two of technology's most common problems: fear and misperception. A classic example occurred here at my school just the other day: When a teacher marched in to inform me that the people in his department were livid about some new software, I assured him they would all have a full year to get used to it; the old software would be around for a while yet! The teacher left with a smile on his face. Myth dispelled.

They can ask questions for people who perhaps don't want to ask the question themselves. Tech team members are role models and often seen as "gurus." They provide minor technical support (configuring a computer for a network printer, troubleshooting software problems) and report on problems in their teaching area.

Our middle-school tech contact group meets informally 6-8 times a year for a brief before-school meeting. This is a time for me to share information about technology happenings and troubleshooting tips or to answer their questions. They share the knowledge with their team or department. Some of our morning meetings are brief staff development sessions related to current innovations or issues. Several team members were the guinea pigs when we piloted a new grading system; others were the first to learn how to use our new e-mail system or add content to the new district Web site.

Many tech contacts teach informal technology staff development classes to their teams or departments. This may include topics such as using a digital camera, working with the online lesson templates, or e-mail tips—the sorts of things you can easily teach in a 15- to 20-minute class. Our tech contacts also help teach after-school and summer technology staff development classes.

What About Pay?

Our tech contacts receive only a small stipend and continuing education certificates, but most take their work seriously. Some districts may pay tech coaches a salary similar to that given to athletic coaches. Other districts provide laptops or pay for attendance at technology conferences. One district always sends a large contingent to a state technology conference, an ideal way to promote camaraderie and keep the grass-roots efforts alive.

A Win/Win Situation for Everyone

A tech team approach is good for everyone: teachers, the media staff, the technology support staff, and of course the students who benefit from increased teacher skills and confidence.

Develop your tech team; empower the team to empower others; help them share the combined expertise and enthusiasm. The team can help your staff become successful technology-using teachers, further the potential of technology, and create a meaningful, exciting learning environment. It's an inexpensive, no-fail solution for creating a win/win situation.

Research Resources

Examples of research include the following:

Becker, H. (1994). "How Exemplary Computer-Using Teachers Differ from Other Teachers: Implications for Realizing the Potential of Computers in Schools." Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 26(3), 291-321.

Ravitz, Jason. "After the Wires: Implementation Conditions Related to Teacher Internet Use in Schools with High Internet Connectivity" [http://www.gse.uci.edu/Ravitz/Ravitz_AERA.html].


Mary Alice Anderson is a frequent contributor to professional journals and a conference presenter. She is an adjunct instructor in the College of Education at Winona State University and an online instructor for the University of Northern Iowa Professional Development program. The Winona Middle School Media/Technology Program has received both state and national recognition and awards. She is also the lead media specialist for the Winona Area Public Schools and was a Library of Congress American Memory Fellow in 1999. The Winona Middle School Web site can be accessed at http://www.rschooltoday.com/winonamiddle. Communications to the author may be addressed to Mary Alice Anderson, Media Specialist, Winona Middle School, 1570 Homer Road, Winona, MN 55987; e-mail: maryalice.anderson@winona.k12.mn.us, http://www.rschooltoday.com/winonamiddle/maryaliceanderson.
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