Work Site Setting
In the elementary school, the teachers service approximately 530 students in kindergarten up to fifth grade. These teachers work with class sizes ranging from twenty-two to thirty-three students while the resource teacher works with students individually or in small groups. The teachers range in age from mid-twenties to early sixties. Most of these educators have been teaching for ten or more years and have taught at this school for that amount of time or longer. All are female, except for the male science teacher. Our school employs several support teachers who work with small groups of students in order to provide more opportunities for differentiated academic support. Parent volunteers can be seen on a daily basis as they work with students and assist teachers with general classroom duties.
Our school has a high population of gifted students, which supports our school in routinely meet state testing expectations. Most of the students live in the surrounding, predominantly Caucasian, upper middle class neighborhood. About five percent of students live outside of this neighborhood. Additionally, English is a second language for about five percent of our students. There is not one predominant native language among these students, as their native languages vary greatly. These non-native English speakers do have a solid command of English and communicate verbally using English with classmates and teachers. About ten percent of students receive some form of educational support services. These services range and can include speech, occupational therapy, academic support, special accommodations, and one-on-one support.
My Role at the Work Site
As the technology teacher and coordinator, my first responsibility is to teach students in all grades about technology. I work with students from each classroom for about an hour each week. In that time, I cover age-appropriate information about using technology tools. In weekly classes, I address skills (such as troubleshooting, word processing, and Internet navigation) that will make it easier for students to work autonomously when using technology in their regular classrooms or at home.
My second responsibility is to support teachers in their interactions with technology. I am the only on-site technology person at our school. Teachers look to me as the technology expert, especially when they encounter problems. The help I provide can range from simple tasks like fixing a printer jam to more complex tasks such as assisting in the creation of a website photo gallery. In addition to teaching and supporting staff, I assist our school site in making decisions about online learning programs and technology tools to use. I also work to share resources and instructional ideas that I feel could benefit teachers.
Technology and the Work Site
Three years ago our school launched a new website program to promote communication between home and school. A parent volunteer and I work together to manage this website to keep families and students informed about events and other school information. I also maintain sections of the website which focus on separate sections of student and teacher resources for use in and out of school. In addition to maintaining the website, I also support teachers who are required to maintain a section of the school website for their homeroom class. The web traffic to each teacher section varies. Some teachers use their website section as a place for general information that stays rather static throughout the school year. Other teachers’ sections are more dynamic and often include elements such as assignments, blogs, pictures, and calendars.
The classrooms in our school vary in the technology tools they house, as the school district is in the process of installing and distributing new technology equipment for all classrooms. Currently, every teacher has at least one laptop and all classrooms have a projection system with a document camera. Each classroom has at least five student computers. Several classrooms have a one-to-one computing set up with a netbook for each student, along with an interactive whiteboard. The technology lab has Mac laptops for each student along with a projection system and document camera. This technology lab is used for technology classes and can also be reserved by classroom teachers to work with their students. This is particularly helpful for teachers who do not have a class set of computers.
Teachers work constantly to improve their teaching practice, with the goal of helping students develop grade level competencies in all subject areas. Within this larger community of practice with teachers working to enhance their teaching practice, there is also a sub community of practice. This sub community focuses on integrating technology into the teaching practice. In regards to technology, teachers are expected to use the technology tools present in their classrooms, communicate using email, and maintain a classroom website. Teachers’ interests and abilities influence the way they use technology to support instruction, learning activities, and assessment. Teacher teams sometimes dedicate a portion of their grade-level planning time to technology related tasks, such as updating class websites. At staff meetings, I regularly share technology information and occasionally technology related workshops are held for staff.
Currently, teachers have limited support in our school and within the school district, even with additions of new technologies. At the present time, I provide the majority of the technology support at our school. This is challenging as over half of my time is dedicated to teaching and preparing for student classes. My ability to support teachers when they need it is limited because I cannot leave my classroom to assist someone when students are present. Additionally, I teach in several different classrooms, not just the technology lab. This can make it difficult for teachers to locate me. There are occasions when I have coverage for my classes, so I can work with teachers, attend trainings, or fix technology equipment. These times are rather sporadic because they are based upon funding for substitute teachers. When I am able to assist teachers on campus, my knowledge is limited due to the menagerie of hardware and software used by teachers and students on our campus.
Technology support from our school district is available to teachers, but has limitations as well. The required and optional workshops offered at the district level are frequently a one-size-fits-all design, which does not readily address teachers’ varied ability levels. There is often little follow-up for these workshops, which results in teachers having trouble remembering and applying what they learned. All of the optional workshops are held off-site, usually after school, which deters many from attending. District technology specialists visit our campus intermittently, but they are not present regularly to assist teachers. Furthermore, there is a district level technology help desk, but the purpose of this department is to record problems and arrange for a technician, rather than troubleshoot problems over the phone.
Teachers have a desire to use the technology, but are repeatedly pressed for time and have a multitude of other demands to meet. Technology presents excitement for something new and better in the classroom, but also generates stress. Teachers worry about being able to learn new technology and use it successfully. The majority of teachers at my work site seem very confident in their curriculum knowledge and teaching practice. However, technology sometimes overwhelms them. With the little support currently in place, teachers can feel isolated in that they often have to figure out the technology on their own. Due to the sometimes unruly nature of technology, it is easy for teachers become stumped on simple tasks and become discouraged.
The current state of the economy and funding for public education does not lend itself to monetarily solving this problem of teachers in need of technology support. The school district has expressed desire to hire technology support persons for elementary schools, but budget cuts continue to quell this intention. My school has the advantage of having a parent group, which raises funds for my technology specialist position. However, I often feel I am stretched in too many directions. My responsibilities could easily be divided into several positions. This research project will concentrate on how to better support teachers with the staff and resources currently in place. This may aid other educational institutions with limited resources in understanding how leveraging current resources could support teachers. Technology has amazing potential to enhance the classroom and it is important to find ways to support technology use regardless of existing limitations.