Technological Difficulties

Pam's principal wants her to become the technology coordinator for the school. Pam faces the reluctance of teachers who know very little about computers and feel threatened by the task at hand.

Pam is asked by the principal to volunteer as the school’s technology coordinator.

Jacinta Walker, the school principal, stuck her head in my classroom door and asked, “Pam, do you have a minute?”

“Sure, come on in,” I replied, setting aside the papers I had been grading.

“What do you think about becoming our school’s technology coordinator?” She got right to the point. “I know it’s only your second year of teaching, but you seem to have a lot of experience with computers, more than any of our other teachers.”

Pam and Principal Walker

The position had been vacant for about a month. Kevin Lee, the language arts teacher who had acted as technology coordinator, had announced his retirement at the end of the summer.

“Well, I have a Mac at home, and I am fairly good at figuring things out on my own,” I admitted. “But I really only use the computer at school to write letters to parents, record grades, and check e-mail.”

“That’s more than most of us know how to do,” Jacinta sighed. “Kevin was good at getting computers into the school, and he focused on having the students learn them; the teachers never got a lesson.”

“I know what you mean,” I said. “There’s a lot to learn.”

“Somehow, we need to help teachers get more involved. The state recently passed new standards requiring teachers to teach computer skills,” she added, handing me a sheaf of papers, “plus, the district is really pushing to make it happen so, we need some serious effort toward training teachers. It would be a great opportunity for you. You’ll probably be working with Sandy Zadras in the county’s Instructional Technology Services office.”

See new standards below:

Recognizing the name, I smiled. “I know Sandy. I went to a workshop on Lego Logo that she taught last summer, but I haven’t seen her since then.”

“I’m not surprised, she’s really swamped” Jacinta said. “She’s really supportive of technology training, though, and she’s a great person to work with.”

Somewhat reluctantly, I decided to accept the responsibility. “Okay, I’ll give it a shot, at least until you find someone better qualified to take over.”

“Great!” exclaimed Jacinta. “I know our teachers will be in good hands with you.”

“I don’t know about that,” I said with a nervous laugh.

“Just do what you can. We have to take action, and anything you do will be better than doing nothing at all.”

As Jacinta left the room, my stomach churned with uncertainty. Was I out of my mind? The school year was busy enough without adding another layer of work. But somehow, I just couldn’t say no.

Pam hears from other teachers regarding technology.

Lunchtime was always hectic, and today was no exception. Teachers were griping about the efforts of the new technology coordinator—me—to move everyone forward in technology use.

After my conversation with Jacinta, I had decided that it would help get teachers involved if they felt like they had a say in the matter. I sent copies of the standards to each teacher, along with a survey asking about their comfort levels with computers. Most of their comments were helpful, but they provided clear evidence that we were a long way from meeting the state’s expectations.

See one survey response below:

See another response to the survey below:

Pam talks with other teachers at lunch

The surveys revealed that most teachers had neither computer skills nor interest in using technology in their classes. Overall, teachers believed lack of access to computers, not enough time to learn new software, and low personal confidence levels were limiting how often computers were incorporated into lesson plans. Those are some serious hurdles. Where would I begin?

I settled down to eat my lunch and tuned in to snippets of the conversation.

The following Tuesday, Pam’s class is interrupted.

A shrill ring from the telephone interrupted my science lesson. “Pam? Sorry to bother you but I’m having major computer problems again.” It was Mike Corning, a fourth-grade math teacher. “I planned on using Olympic Math-a-lon for class, and the stupid thing keeps telling me I can’t open it because it’s out of memory. Can you tell me what I’m doing wrong?”

Slightly annoyed at being disturbed in the middle of a lesson I had been leading up to for weeks, I replied, “Did you check to see how much memory was allocated to the program?”

“How do I do that?” he asked.

Speaking slowly, I said, “Quit the program and select the application icon. After you do that, make sure that you’re in the Finder. You need to select the program and then pull down the File Menu to the Get Info box…”

“Hold on!” Mike interrupted. “I’m still quitting the program!”

Pam’s lesson is interrupted

I bit my tongue and counted to three. “Mike, just give me a minute to assign some seatwork, and I’ll be over in a few minutes.”

“Hey, thanks a lot! You’re a lifesaver!”

Ever since we had moved the computers into the classrooms, I felt as if I was leading two lives—and my students were suffering as a result. I was plagued by a never-ending stream of questions and requests as I roamed from classroom to classroom helping teachers. My students even cracked jokes about the school needing to buy me a pager.

While teachers were using computers much more than in the past, most used them as a reward for students who finished work early—they got to play games. CD-ROM usage had definitely increased, but teachers were frustrated by the fact that they had to share limited copies because we didn’t have site licenses.

As the complaints and requests added up, I was at a loss for direction. Maybe Sandy could help me understand what I should do. I made a mental note to call her.

Pam meets with Sandy, the district’s Instructional Technology Coordinator.

After a relaxing weekend, I felt ready for another week. Jacinta had left a newspaper article on my desk for inspiration, but all I felt was irritation as I skimmed through its contents.

See newspaper article below:

It was a story about other school districts and their successful efforts in getting students and teachers to use computers. The article painted a rosy picture, but somehow I wasn’t getting the same results. My scheduled meeting with Sandy was today, so I tucked away the article to show it to her.

After Sandy and I chatted for a moment about trivial matters, I could no longer contain my frustrations. “I’ve had it! I’m so sick and tired of running around and solving other people’s computer problems!”

Sandy shrugged her shoulders and put on her best I-know-how-you-feel look. As if sharing her miseries would cheer me up, she added, “Sometimes, I feel like people are pulling me from all directions. I keep asking if we could hire more people, but the budget’s really tight, as always.”

“I hear you, Sandy. Jacinta wants to get our teachers up to speed with technology, but it isn’t that easy. Many are just getting used to the idea of having a computer in their rooms and letting the students use it. It’s a big jump to expect them to integrate technology into lessons when many of them don’t even know how to use the mouse!” I showed her the surveys I had sent out weeks ago.

I also handed her the article and voiced my apprehension about Jacinta’s expectations. “Jacinta’s concerned that our teachers aren’t meeting the state requirements. She’s absolutely right, but all of our efforts so far have been superficial. She wants to see some concrete results.”

“I know this district.” Sandy murmured, scanning the article. “The teachers in that particular school have had a lot of opportunities to learn about computers. The school administrators support the use of technology and a lot of them are familiar with it themselves.”

I nodded. “I’ve been playing around with the idea of gathering up all of the teachers after school and teaching them specific applications. If every teacher in the school learns how to use the software we have, then maybe they’ll be more inclined to use it with their students.”

“It’s a place to start,” Sandy responded. “I can help you with the actual training sessions. I’ve got material from other workshops that might be useful.”

Sandy gathered her papers and stood up. “I have to run off for another meeting. Why don’t you start thinking about how many sessions you’d like to offer and what areas you think should be covered? Do you have an inventory of the software available in the school?”

I rummaged through the pile of papers on my desk and sheepishly pulled out a slightly crumpled list.

See a list of software available in the school below:

“Great!” Sandy exclaimed, I’ll see what I can pull up from my workshop packets. Let’s meet sometime next week to plan.”

Pam and Sandy review plans for the training workshops.

See an outline of the workshop events below:

“You did a great job with these workshops!” Sandy complimented. “I made a few minor suggestions, but overall I think your plan is great.”

I felt extremely satisfied. I had spent hours going over the outline, adding notes, and making changes.

During the remaining weeks of school before winter break, we had enough time to do six different workshops, one each week. For the first session, I planned to start with the basics of operating the computer and file management, and then move straight into class newsletters. I planned to teach practical applications from the outset so teachers could see the usefulness of computers. In the remaining weeks, we would cover the gamut from spreadsheets to e-mail. I billed the workshops as an “All-you-want-to-know-about-technology-but-were-afraid-to-ask”series.

Teachers learn to use the computers

I decided I would squeeze the teachers into the old lab room. We would use one computer hooked up to the LCD projector. I’d do a short demonstration and then have teachers go back to a classroom and work in pairs to complete a brief assignment.

I printed out workshop evaluation forms and ran through the schedule in my mind one more time. All in all, it sounded reasonable. I looked forward to the first session.

Pam reads the workshop evaluations.

At the end of the day, I didn’t even need to read the workshop evaluations to know that we had some major problems. The room was cramped, and teachers had difficulty taking notes because we had to turn off the lights to see the computer projection. The demonstration took longer than expected, partly because there were more questions than I anticipated. I didn’t realize how many steps were needed to create even a simple document. I had been using computers for so long that I took the basic skills for granted, but some teachers needed complete, simple, step-by-step directions. By the time we were ready to begin the practice exercise, some of the teachers looked like they were ready to revolt!

The demonstration-first then hands-on-later model did not work well at all, either. Several of the teachers were unable to repeat what they had seen during the demonstration, and it was impossible for Sandy and me to visit each of the groups. Overall, the combination of a long school day, learning new skills, and a session that turned out to be a bit too ambitious proved to be too much for most of the teachers.

What a disaster! I didn’t doubt that Jacinta would hear complaints about this event in the coming weeks. There were five more scheduled workshops to go. What was I going to do for the remaining sessions? I wished I could crawl under a rock and hide.