How do we sustain technology implementation? Simply making technology available and offering training rarely improves or increases technology integration (Glazer et al, 2005). Typically, teachers learn about technology tools outside of their classroom environments and have limited opportunities to apply what they have learned; when teachers return to their classroom, they are often not prepared to use the technology. Yet, in order to successfully implement and sustain technology integration, teachers need to be empowered to use resources from within, not just relying on outside expertise (see the companion Research in Brief article exploring Technology Implementation in Schools: Key Factors to Consider ).
Effective technology integration requires teachers to learn that technology within the context of their teaching so they can prepare, reflect, and modify their practices. Technology implementation is more successful when it is rooted in curriculum and student learning (Carrigg, Honey, & Thorpe, 2005). While technology should be implemented in ways that support district and state curriculum and instructional objectives, it should also be viewed as a tool to expand opportunities for learning beyond what is already provided.
Additionally, teachers’ instructional practices are profoundly influenced by the structure and culture of the school in which they teach (Carpenter et al., 2004). Sustaining technology implementation requires an environment that encourages teachers to routinely interact around common problems of practice and to focus on how their instruction benefits students (Elmore, 1996; see the companion Research in Brief article, Understanding the Design. Teachers need frequent opportunities to share ideas, successes, and failures within a supportive environment of peers.
In order, then, to sustain technology integration, teachers need to be given sufficient time and resources to create and maintain an ongoing program of development—what Microsoft’s Partners in Learning scaling framework calls evolution. Learning should be a shared responsibility among teachers working toward the same goals. However, time and resources alone aren’t enough; teachers need to adopt a structure in which they collaboratively develop goals for their own learning and carefully monitor their progress. This Research in Brief article provides examples of this type of structure, including collaborative action research , collaborative apprenticeships , and showcase conferences. While action research is a well-established approach to changing teacher practice, collaborative apprenticeship and showcase conferences have only recently been applied to ongoing professional development in education.
Although often used as a research method, the action research format also can be used as a framework for implementing and sustaining changes in a school by involving teachers in their own professional development and learning. Collaborative action research is a form of action research in which colleagues pose problems that are relevant to their own teaching and then work together to find solutions (Ferrance, 2000).
Action research begins with identifying a problem area—something that is of interest to the teachers and is also something they can influence or change. Often they pose a question or questions related to the problem. The team then gathers data from several sources that will help answer their questions. Sources could include things such as classroom observations, reviews of student records, samples of student work, and journals that teachers keep during the process. They then use their data to design and implement a plan and reflect on its results. Although structured, the process is also fluid. Questions are modified when appropriate, and new questions are posed based on the effectiveness of the plan (Ferrance, 2000).
Applying action research requires training in the method itself. Shoen describes three phases to this training: acquisition, in which teachers learn to pose questions and collect relevant data; fluency, which focuses on analysis and self-reflection; and generalization, in which teachers focus on what is available in their own environment to sustain and support continued action research (Schoen, 2007). Building staff capacity in the method is an important step toward successful utilization of it.
Collaborative action research can be a valuable system for sustaining changes because teachers address problems that are specific to their own situation and are actively involved in finding solutions. Further, because of its structure, it promotes collaboration and communication around shared concerns. Teachers feel empowered because they are able to make informed decisions relevant to themselves and their students (Farrell & Weitman, 2007).
Because of the iterative nature of the process and the importance of shared reflections, collaborative action research can be an effective format for supporting the use of technology in a school. Through its continued use, teachers learn to identify causes of successes and failures, pinpoint effective uses of technology to improve student achievement, and share potential solutions with their peers (Royer, 2002).
The collaborative apprenticeship model, developed by Glazer and his colleagues (Glazer & Page, 2003; Glazer et al, 2005), is a professional development model designed to support teaching and learning within a school environment in a way that will sustain this learning over time (Glazer et al, 2005; Glazer & Hannafin, 2006). In this model one or more teachers with expertise in an area of interest, such as integrating technology, serves as teacher-leader and works with a group of peer-teachers for whom this area is a goal.
There are four phases in collaborative apprenticeship. In the introduction phase, the teacher-leader and peer-teachers establish shared goals, and the teacher-leader promotes and models strategies. During this phase, the interactions between teacher-leaders and peer-teachers are frequent and focus on discussions of the strategies and ways they might implement them in their classrooms. In the development phase, the teacher-leader initially takes primary responsibility for developing learning activities and coaching peer-teachers as they implement them and reflect together on their experiences. As peer-teachers become more comfortable they take more responsibility for creating their own activities and sharing with the group. The proficient phase is the point at which peer-teachers develop learning activities independently. The teacher-leader fades out feedback to peer-teachers as they become increasingly more skillful and capable. In this phase peer-teachers determine what is most useful for their own classrooms and apply what they have learned to new situations. The final phase is the mastery phase. Teachers who reach this phase are encouraged to become teacher-leaders and support a new group of teachers.
Throughout the process there is a strong emphasis on collaboration among participating teachers. In their research, Glazer and Hannafin (2008) found that not all teachers were able to move from the introduction phase to the proficient phase. Factors that influenced teachers’ progression included their level of motivation, comfort in sharing with the group, and ability to integrate their learning into their own curriculum. Additional factors that limited progress were lack of time and limited availability of technology.
Another emerging strategy that can be used to support teacher learning and sustaining technology integration is a showcase conference. A showcase conference is an event that is designed specifically to highlight innovations and share them with a wider audience. As a strategy for technology integration, it can provide a forum for showcasing the work of technology professional development teams within a district. This conference provides an opportunity for these teams to share their work with artifacts from activities, short videos of classroom practice, and student work samples. Planning the conference also provides a structure for sharing and refining their work during the year.
A showcase conference is not only a way of validating the hard work of the pioneer technology teams and their results, but is also a helpful tool to recruit the new generation of innovators in the district by providing:
Because of the teacher-to-teacher contact provided by the showcase conference, it also can be an effective scaling-up strategy for a district (Zorfass, 2001). This strategy allows the district to pilot the approach with the most motivated teachers, prepares for the allocation of resources over time, and fosters a continuous improvement model (Zorfass, 2001); this approach aligns to the initial and full implementation stages of implementation as outlined by the Network on Implementation Research (NIRN) [see the companion Research in Brief article, Understanding the Design. To ensure the sustainability of the showcase conference, a district needs to develop a strategy to ensure the repeated buy-in and recruitment of new teachers in subsequent years (Zorfass, 2001).
One effective way to implement a technology showcase conference is by using a story-telling approach. Telling success stories through informal case studies can help participants understand that the focus of technology implementation is always on improving curriculum access and learning for all students.
One school district implemented showcase conferences by using a portion of a professional development day for a mini-showcase. Teachers who felt ready showed how they have used new technologies to demonstrate differentiated instruction in a sample lesson. To sustain this effort the district plans next year to host an all day event in which both teachers and students demonstrate lessons and show student work samples. They will invite school and community members to this event to further motivate teachers in the district.
While Web-based resources for applying a collaborative apprenticeship model and implementing a showcase conference are limited, many resources for action research are available on the Web, and several focus on collaborative action research.
This site supports and showcases collaborative action research projects in the schools.
It provides a comprehensive description of action research and includes resources and a wiki for discussion and sharing of ideas.
Changing Omaha Classrooms: Collaborative Action Research Efforts
This site provides reports on 13 action research projects on topics such as teacher change, teaching strategies, learning styles, real-life connections, assessments, and student responsibility.
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