4.5: Capacity of Teachers
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To this point in the book, teachers’ technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPCK) (Mishra & Kohler, 2006) been proposed as a theoretical framework that affects teachers’ understanding of technology and its role in the classroom. It is reasoned that teachers who have access to sufficient devices and who have developed sufficient TPCK will use technology for teaching and learning. This is not always, the case, however. Baldwin and Ford (1988) suggested the transfer of lessons learned in training to action depends on a) the training design, b) characters of the individuals, c) and the work environment. Among the most important aspects of work environment that determine the degree to which training and new learning leads to changes in professional action is the availability of mentors and the availability of resources. Efficacious IT managers will employ professionals who serve as mentors to teachers and also support systems whereby curriculum and instruction resources can be stored and shared.
Technology Integration Specialists
For decades, those responsible for organizing and presenting in-service professional development for educators have used a variety of models for providing learning experiences for teachers, and these have been designed to support all aspects of TPCK and to accommodate the needs of individual learners. These activities tended to reflect training in other professional organizations (especially for technological knowledge) and graduate courses (especially for pedagogical and content knowledge), so the professional learning occurred largely outside of the classroom and in the absence of students. In recent decades, professionals who are given various titles but who function as technology integration specialists have emerged as a specialty within the teaching workforce. These individuals are typically licensed educators who have received additional training (often earning advanced degrees) in educational technology. These individuals play active roles in as technology stewards (Wenger, Smith, & White, 2009) who advocate for technology solutions aligned with teachers needs and they also fill the role of lead user (von Hippel, 2005) who create innovative uses of technology in the classroom and disperse those innovations.
Mentors with greater than usual expertise have been found to be a characteristic of communities and organizations in which innovations are accepted and diffused. Eric von Hippel (2005), a scholar who studies innovation in diverse organizations and fields, notes lead users “are ahead of the majority of users in their populations with respect to an important market trend, and they expect to gain relatively high benefits from a solution to the needs hey have encountered there” (p. 4).
Technology integration specialists who serve the role of mentor participate in planning and delivering training, promote learning about the role of technology in learning, and support design efforts. In addition, these professionals play an active role in modeling and coaching mentees. Technology integration specialists are often found in classrooms (or computer rooms) when teachers are using technology for teaching and learning. In this role, he or she supports both the teacher and students in their activities. In some instances, these specialists will even teach classes (or co-teach), so the teacher can find a comfortable entry point into using technology.
In idealized circumstances, technology integration specialists spend most of their time supporting colleagues as they become competent and confident so they develop as independent users of and teachers with technology. Three common obstacles do interfere with the work. First, especially in smaller schools, a technology integration specialist may have fill this role on a parttime basis and have other teaching responsibilities. This can introduce scheduling conflicts that can limit opportunities to work with some other teachers. Second, the personal characteristics of some teachers may lead him or her to become dependent on the support of the technology integration specialists. Self-efficacy has been widely studied and appears to affect the intention to use technology and the transfer of that into practice (Abbitt, 2011; Yerdelen-Damar, Boz, & Aydın-Günbatar, 2017), and there is tendency among those with low perceived self-efficacy to rely on support to meet minimal technology expectations for their classrooms.
Third, because technology integration specialists are among the most visible technology professionals in the school, they are often the first contact for initial troubleshooting help. While this often leads to quick repairs and can lead to opportunities for both students and teachers to receive lessons in troubleshooting, this work does direct technology integration specialists away from their primary responsibility of mentoring teachers.
A final mentoring role for technology integration specialists is to support IT professionals as they develop experience creating systems to meet the unfamiliar needs of educational populations. They advocate for teachers’ and students’ needs when IT professionals are designing and configuring IT systems, and they interpret educational users’ experience so the IT professionals understand unmet needs and systems that are perceived to be too difficult to use or ineffective.
Teachers’ capacity to use technology in classrooms is also improved by the easy availability of technology-based activities and lessons that are aligned with their curriculum needs. Dexter, Morgan, Jones, Meyer (2016) observed that accessible resources (those that could be incorporated into classrooms with minimal adaptation) were associated with greater use of technologies. This led those scholars to conclude, “leaders must provide unfettered access to technologies beyond personal computers… and provide learning experience in the pedagogical strategies that support integration those technologies into teachers’ instruction” p. 1208). Curriculum repositories (Ackerman, 2017) are systems that facilitate sharing of resources and strategies among the professionals working a local community.
A curriculum repository is an online space, typically a course created in the learning management system provided by the school, where educators can engage with each other to find and create resources to support all types of TPCK. Training that is part of on-boarding new teachers is necessary so they are prepared to use those systems; by posting the materials used during those training sessions to the curriculum repository, IT managers can make the repository a valuable resource for educators when they first arrive.
Curriculum repositories are often modeled after existing open education resource (OER) communities. Several communities of OER developers have created web sites where visitors can search for and find documents, media, simulations, and other resources created by members. These sites are available to general users of the Internet, and membership is lightly restricted, so these tend to be vast and rich repositories that many users find them overwhelming. Curriculum repositories are modeled after OER sites as users can upload and curate and share resources, but the collections are more limited and participation is restricted to teachers (and others) in local communities, so the resources tend to me more closely aligned with specific curriculum expectations and the they tend to be created by individuals with similar technology available.