Addressing and Supporting Teacher Needs Through Emerging Technologies
Digital technologies and learning management systems provide ways to address some of the critical issues in sustaining professional development and create more rapid responses to curriculum and instruction needs. Traditionally R&D cycles in education occur over multiple years when done well, providing multiple iterations of field tests, revision, and retrial. This is in contrast to the rapid changes taking place today in business, especially those involving technology. Digital technologies hold promise of providing just-in-time professional development and instructional materials and in learning faster what is working and what is not (Digital Promise, 2011).
Yet, we also understand that using existing and emerging technologies in education has increased stress levels (Al-Fudail & Mellar, 2008). Fullan and Stiegelbauer (1991) maintain that when teachers are asked to use technology to facilitate learning, some degree of change is required in (a) beliefs, attitudes, or pedagogical ideologies; (b) content knowledge; (c) pedagogical knowledge of instructional practices, strategies, methods, or approaches; and (d) novel or altered instructional resources. Dunn and Rakes (2010) challenge PD providers to address learner-centered beliefs and teacher efficacy during teacher training in technology. They found that low technology use by teachers stems from personal beliefs that technology will not make a difference for students. Teacher acceptance of technology is also strongly influenced by perceived usability and self-efficacy (Holden & Rada, 2011). The usefulness and ease of use of the technological innovation influences teacher decision making on how and when they will use that technology. In other words, their attitude ultimately drives their behavior.
Effective implementation of the new science standards will require ongoing professional development and an economically feasible way to provide job-embedded, just-in-time PD is through the use of technology-facilitated approaches, with particular focus on creating professional learning communities within and across schools that facilitate teachers’ reflective practice and collaborative learning (van Es 2009; Trautmann, et al., 2010; Wenger et al., 2002). By job-embedded, we mean that professional development should be closely linked to teachers’ classroom practice and needs (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010). Such PD connects to and builds upon the expectations and curricula specific to the school, district, and state in which a particular teacher is teaching (Oliveira, 2009; Loucks-Horsley, et al., 2010; Guskey, 2003; Desimone, et al., 2002; NSDC, 2001; Learning Forward, 2011; Fixsen, et al., 2005). We are aware of the “need to help teachers understand how to use technology to facilitate meaningful learning, defined as that which enables students to construct deep and connected knowledge, which can be applied to real situations” (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, p. 257). In this way, instructional development and professional development are merged and PD, informed by the latest and best research, becomes an integral part of the process of improving instruction in the school (Tucker, 2011).
However, we acknowledge one of the obstacles to be addressed is that teacher use of technology in early elementary is unknown, not well understood, or not well documented. Glazer, Hannafin, Polly, and Rich (2009) maintain that in professional development in technology with elementary school teachers shared planning time, shared curriculum, connection to an individual, expertise, physical proximity, and comfort level influenced interactions across the community of practice. In addition, principals’ use of technology was a predictor in elementary settings (Miranda & Russell, 2011). We are researching these aspects of elementary teacher technology use as well.
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