Cycle 1 Report: Learning Sessions for Teachers
The overall goal of my action research is understand how I, as a technology specialist, can better support teachers in their use of technology for school-related work.
My role as the technology teacher and coordinator in an elementary school has placed me in the center of the technology world within my work site. In working with the teachers, I have observed, first hand, some of the struggles and accomplishments teachers have experienced when working with technology. In this action research project, I worked to explore ways to better support teachers in using technology in the school environment. This project focuses on twenty-four teachers: twenty-two classroom teachers, one science teacher, and one resource teacher.
GUIDING RESEARCH QUESTION:
What impact will access to support opportunities have on technology use by teachers?
Throughout this action research project, I explored strategies to support teachers in using technology. I implemented different support opportunities. By offering more support than what was previously available, I hoped to increase the teachers’ use of technology. In this first cycle, I hosted optional learning sessions where teachers could drop in to the technology lab for technology support in any area where they wanted help. In leading the learning sessions, I worked to create a relaxed environment to further encourage teachers.
CYCLE ONE RESEARCH QUESTION:
How will access to optional learning sessions affect the technology use of teachers?
In this cycle, I hosted optional learning sessions for teachers. I am not able to create mandatory training or support activities, so teachers cannot be required to attend.
For thirty minutes per week, I opened the computer lab to teachers. During this time, teachers were invited to drop in and receive help with any technology-related problem or question they had. They had the option of bringing their laptop or using one in the technology lab.
In designing this project, I wanted to create a plan that the technology teacher/coordinator could maintain within the current constraints of the positions’ responsibilities. Had the project required work outside of the current structure, sustainability for myself or someone else to continue this project would be limited. In order to create time for this project, I decided to stop leading a technology club this school year for 4th and 5th grade students, which was in place last school year. The club helped the upper grades, as the students provided support to their teachers and classmates, but the computer club did not provide any support for other grade level students or teachers.
This new project will focus on teachers, which should better support our staff as a whole. Upon announcing this project plan to teachers at a staff meeting the idea was well received. I explained that I would take more class time to cover troubleshooting and new technology skills with students during class time so that all students could get a taste of the technology club, rather than just then 4th and 5th grade students as I had done previously. This new project plan would allow for regular times to meet with teachers to provide them with increased technology support.
To gain a better insight from the teachers, I presented a needs assessment survey at a staff meeting to allow them to share about their technology needs and desires. Additionally, I asked them to share their preferred times to have these learning sessions. Sharing their name was optional and I informed teachers they could return the survey to me personally or place them in my mailbox in order to remain anonymous. Most teachers (17 of 24 total teachers) returned the survey to me—a return rate of 71%.
In analyzing the needs assessment, I was able to identify technology tools that were of high interest, tools for which more support was needed, as well as specific topics to cover during learning sessions. In some cases, I was able to provide immediate support for teachers who indicated having a problem. For example, one teacher indicated that she could not log in to a specific learning website. Since I do not administer this website I gave her the contact information for a representative who would be able to help her.
If a topic had a low number of votes or received zero votes, I did not want to completely dismiss that topic as being unimportant or designate it a topic that would not generate interest. One teacher indicated that she would like to learn more about wikis. In my experience, I have found that periodically teachers simply do not know about the technology tools available to them. In some cases, they are aware of a tool, but are not sure how they could apply using it into an elementary school classroom. I would not be surprised if this were the case for wikis. Personally, I knew about wikis for the past few years, but only recently learned about how I could integrate them into my teaching practice. I also noted the topics that teachers added. I was pleased that teachers were added topics that I overlooked when designing the survey.
Upon looking at all of these topics and seeing that many teachers had interest in the same ones, I was tempted with the idea of holding large sessions with a specialist or myself leading. However, I have hosted a few large group sessions in the past with the teachers. These sessions were generally not successful. The teaching staff has a very large range of technology knowledge and ability. Trying to meet their individual needs in one session is like jumping through hoops: very challenging and unnecessarily demanding. I have noticed when teachers attend workshops with a large group of participants both retention and application of the information from the workshop are typically not strong.
In working with teachers it seemed that they liked the small group or one-to-one setting. On the post-cycle survey, I did not ask directly about the size of the sessions but one teacher shared, “One-on-one is usually the best for me. I appreciate the step-by-step directions.” While this comment was only from one out of twenty-four teachers, this reaffirmed my decision to hold learning sessions geared toward small groups.
Topics Covered in Learning Sessions
In September 2011, I started holding weekly open lab learning sessions for teachers. These sessions lasted for thirty minutes and provided an opportunity for the teachers to get an answer to an immediate or on-going technology problem they had. There were never more than a handful of teachers in each learning session, so this was very manageable on my part and each person was able to receive attention from me. Working with these teachers gave me a window to better see the problems and concerns they face. When necessary, I followed up with the teachers after our learning session.
Before this plan, teachers had to seek me out when they needed help. I do have time in my schedule to see teachers and help them, but they usually had to approach and ask for it. I also have numerous other duties to take care of in my “free time”. Some teachers were quick to ask for assistance but some seemed hesitant to approach me, knowing that my job responsibilities keep me busy. Having a set schedule has seemed to have take away some of the pressure on teachers in having to approach me for help. Teachers know I am offering this time to them and this prevents them from feeling they might be imposing on me. I work to keep our sessions a relaxed environment focused on their needs. If I don’t know how to help them or we need more time, I follow up with them or remind them that they can attend another session.
Learning Session Participation
For cycle one, I held ten learning sessions for the teachers. These were sessions where I opened the lab to teachers inviting them to drop in to seek support with technology. Most of the meetings took place on Wednesday mornings from 8:00 to 8:30 AM (before the school day began at 8:45), which was the most common time indicated by teachers on the needs assessment. Teachers are not required to be on campus until 8:30 in the morning, but many do come to school before that time.
Overview of Teacher Visits
- At least one teacher dropped in for 70% of the originally scheduled sessions.
- Three additional sessions where added at the request of specific teachers who were unable to attend the offered times or who needed to work in a location other than the computer lab. These teachers met with me at our mutually agreed upon time.
- 15 out of 24 of teachers attended one or more sessions
- 10 out of 24 teachers attended one session.
- 5 out of 24 of teachers attended two sessions.
- 9 out of 24 of teachers did not attend sessions.
I believe my flexibility in scheduling additional sessions allowed more teachers to attend than if I had not added these additional sessions. Three of the teachers who scheduled additional learning sessions seemed relieved that I was able to accommodate their request.
The data that most pleased me was seeing teachers attend more than once. This tells me they found the time in the lab worthwhile. Two teachers worked with me on the same activity for two weeks in a row because we could not finish the task in just one session. Several other teachers came in on two different occasions for different topics. I was also pleased to see 63% (15 of the 24) teachers in the lab for help with technology.
In this first Cycle, the range of topics covered in the learning sessions were at the request of the teachers. The popular topics (email, website help, creating photo galleries) were also highly ranked in the needs assessment survey.
While helping teachers with the topics above, I tried to show them some new things that could also help them with what they asked about. In some cases teachers did not know what I was showing them, but found that it was helpful. For example, I have found that it is easiest to create a folder on the desktop with photos before uploading photos to the website to make a photo gallery. This is not something the website tutorial includes. Some teachers didn’t know how to create files, but once they saw me show this, found it to be helpful. It was something that they wouldn’t ask for assistance with because they didn’t know what it was, but it was something that could help them in their work with the computer for the topic we were going over and for other situations. Sharing these extra tips was well received during learning sessions. I felt that this was a big advantage in working with small groups of teachers.
One area of need that was difficult for me to cover during open lab sessions was the Promethean board. Many teachers ranked the Promethean board and related software as an area with high interest. I do not have a Promethean board in the technology lab. My knowledge about Promethean boards is limited, as I only use them a few hours per week. In order to use some of the Promethean software, students need to be using computers at the same time as the teacher. Perhaps I could address this need by scheduling a time for the teacher to meet with one of the district educational technologists who specialize in Promethean boards. Another solution to this problem could be holding a learning session in one of the Promethean board classrooms. However, having a learning session in a classroom with a Promethean board would be challenging because there are currently three different versions of boards in our school. They all work similarly but the differences are just enough to create unnecessary confusion.
My intent in this cycle was to make teachers feel more comfortable with technology and to encourage them to use it more. Throughout this cycle, I saw teachers generally worked comfortably with technology in our learning sessions. The teachers that participated in sessions were learning how to do new things that they could then apply after they left the learning sessions, which hints that they were using the technology more easily, if not more, than previously.
In working closely with teachers, I was able to see what they know, do not know, and the areas where they need help. Being able to work closely with the teachers allowed me to observe exactly how they interact with technology and offer appropriate tips and tricks as we worked. This gave me a different perspective than what I learned from the needs assessment.
In working with teachers and technology, two authors, Bitner and Bitner, acknowledge that fears and concerns exist among educators and that these must be addressed in professional development. “Helping teachers overcome their fears, concerns, and anxiety is crucial to the success of the program. (Bitner & Bitner, 2002, p. 96) They further explain that teachers need an environment in which they can experiment without the fear of failure. In the learning sessions, I worked to encourage teachers. As Bitner and Bitner point out, I noticed many teachers lacked confidence, which reminded me that some of these teachers are very vulnerable when they come to work with me. This further reinforced the need for my patience, support, and working to build their confidence one step at a time.
Before starting this project, I anticipated higher attendance at each session. Looking back however, it was very manageable working with a small amount of teachers. The first session where five teachers attended was a bit challenging, even though they were all working on the same topic. The sessions that I recorded going very smoothly were often the ones where there were one to two participants. This size was very manageable on my part and as a result teachers received consistent attention from me. Working with these teachers gave me a window to see into the problems and concerns they face. When necessary, I followed up with the teachers after our learning session.
I emailed weekly reminders to teachers about the learning sessions. On many occasions I received replies back from teachers. These replies ranged from thank you’s for my support, apologies for not attending learning sessions, asking technology questions or telling me about technology problems. I was pleasantly surprised that sending out reminder emails helped to open the communication between some of the teachers and me. Some of the teachers also thanked me in person for sharing my time with them. This showed me that teachers were appreciating my efforts. Throughout this cycle, I feel that this project helped me to strengthen my rapport with the staff, which was a welcome outcome.
In the next cycle, I would like to continue to support the teachers who have participated and encourage them to continue to explore technology by continuing to host learning sessions. In their outline for teacher technology supports Bitner & Bitner mention that the support model needs to be ongoing. (Bitner & Bitner 2002). I would agree based upon my observations from this first cycle. The first cycle had a nice flow to it I would like to continue it. In this next cycle, I want to focus some of the learning sessions on specific topics. To figure out which topics to target, I will look at the needs assessment survey, topics covered in cycle one, and take into account my observations from this cycle’s learning sessions. In this cycle, teachers often asked questions about topics they already knew about. If I suggest topics, I might be able to push teachers to explore unfamiliar or less familiar topics. Planning topics ahead of time might aid in generating interest among teachers as well. Outlining the topic ahead of time would also give me the opportunity to better prepare for the sessions. During this cycle, there were several times when I had to follow up with a teacher after the session because I did not know an immediate solution to the question at hand. In these topic-focused sessions, I can target several teachers at once and possibly have them help each other in addition to having me help them.
I would also like to reach out to the teachers who did not attend any learning sessions. In cycle one, I sent mass emails and posted signs in the mailroom to remind teachers of upcoming sessions. Personal invitations might better encourage teachers to continue to attend along with reach those who have not attended. I could refer to the needs assessment survey to know who specifically might be interested in a certain topic. By starting a conversation with the teacher about a topic they indicated wanting more help in, I could find out exactly what they want to do. For example, several teachers indicated wanting help in Microsoft Word. That is a very broad topic. Initiating conversations with them could allow me to better understand their specific needs and find out exactly what they want to be able to do with Microsoft Word. If the teachers were unsure I could give suggestions. These conversations could help me design a plan for the learning session. Another problem posed when working with a computer-based software program is that teachers at my site have both Windows and Mac computers with different versions of the same programs. By talking to teachers ahead of time I could get a better idea of who will attend and what computer/software version they prefer to work with.
Following up with all teachers after these learning sessions could also give me more specific feedback on how the session impacted them. I could also share information that was covered in the session. This could be a review of the information we covered or information to extend their learning about a topic that we discussed during a session.