Opportunities abound for professional development delivered via computer, workshop, or satellite. Here’s a sampling of what’s out there:
Computers for Lunch. Here’s the idea: use your lunch hour (or some other down time) to click on this free web site and do activity-based technology lessons. All you need is computer and internet access for 20 minutes, one or two lunch-hours a week for two or three months.
Designed in three levelsfor teachers in grades K-2, 3-5, and 6-7the menu includes exploring the web; sending and receiving eMail; desktop publishing; creating web pages; using spreadsheets to make tables, graphs, and charts; creating graphics; and making digital videos.
Co-nect. This company provides web-based, on- and off-site training using an integrated approach to professional development for schools that then become part of the Co-nect Network, according to Co-nect national adviser Kristie Sells. For $65,000 a year for up to 40 teachers, Co-nect trains a school facilitator and teachers to use technology in the classroom and teach to assessment tests. A school’s web site is maintained with the school’s standards. Full faculty workshops are conducted and individual teachers get help; online training modules are also available. Off-site, the entire networkcurrently more than 130 schoolsis invited to conferences, and there’s a peer evaluation program where principals and teachers from one network school can evaluate another network school, said Sells.
Knowledge Adventure. The Dynamic Educational Workshop (DEW) provides satellite-transmitted courses covering seven popular software titles and the web. Training modules are “bite-sized,” so teachers can access what they need quickly, completing training in 30 seconds to three minutes, said Julie Gates, public relations manager at Knowledge Adventure.
The product is sold in a three-year packagewhich includes a satellite dish, control box, installation, and live on-site instruction for the school stafffor about $10,000 a year, Gates says. Introduced early this year, the system is being sold mostly at the building level, but district pricing also is available, she says.
In addition to the training modules, teachers can access live interactive sessions with educational technology experts during “Office Hours” and attend 15-minute “Special Events” that are broadcast each weekday and focus on technological and nontechnological topics, such as digital cameras or multiple intelligences. Users can record those sessions with a VCR.
The system is quick and easy, Gates maintains. Satellite transmission is instant, compared with the hours it could take to download the same video online. She also touts the product over workshop approaches, saying DEW saves schools from having to hire substitutes while teachers attend workshops.
Plus, DEW is “there for teachers all the time, not just for a couple of hours during a workshop. When they go back to the classroom after a traditional workshop, teachers often don’t remember how to do everything they learned and get frustrated when they are in the middle of a classroom lesson and need help,” she says.
Macromedia. This company offers professional development products, including Training Café, which is online training to learn basic web skills. Training modules teach educators how to incorporate the web into everything they do, from lesson planning to class activities, and address such topics as browsers, eMail, attachments, and web lingo, said Pat Brogan, vice president of educational marketing for Macromedia. The course costs $119 per teacher, with volume discounts.
Both Training Café and Web Design 101, another Macromedia product, are designed to build teachers’ skills so they can “add web curriculum to all disciplines,” Brogan says. “Since kids are interested and learning the skills at home, we want to help teachers keep up. This Nintendo generation expects interactivity and is bored by books.”
National Computer Systems (NCS). NCS offers several professional development products: Mentor for Writing, a canned program that teaches how to score writing assessments; Mentor for States, a program that can be customized to state standards; and Educational Structures (ES), which provides staff development through access to online, customizable lesson plans and web resources.
The online ES courseware helps teachers plan lessons whenever they have time, says Allison Duquette, vice president of the company’s application and education software and services division. In-service days are great, “but how many of those do you have a year?” she asks. “If you can give them rich [online] lesson plans, that’s saving teachers tremendous amount of prepping time, finding web sites, designing activities.”
Sherrelle Walker, vice president of curriculum at NCS, thinks the answer to professional development lies not in more training per se, but in having the right tools that require little training. ESwith its full year of customizable lesson plans correlated to state and national standards and online tutorials and classroom management embedded throughout the programfits the bill, she says. ES also includes web links for further information, a student section with interactive activities, and a media center with newspapers, books, artwork, reference books, and reading rooms.
“If technology is too complicated, not easy to use, the teacher won’t have the kind of time to spend to implement it. The market has to do a better job of preparing rich tools for teachers to use that solve the needs of teachers in the classroom,” says Walker. “Some of technology is so complicated that by the time they spend several days trying to figure out how to use it, they’ve missed learning opportunities with students. They can’t afford to do that.”
NetSupport. For school districts looking to implement a software-based local or distance-learning training program, NetSupport offers an easy-to-use solution that works seamlessly over the internet.
Using NetSupport Manager, participants need only a PC running Microsoft Internet Explorer and an internet connection to join a class. When participants type in the internet address of the instructor, they are instantly connected to a “virtual classroom”no additional software is needed. The trainee can watch what the instructor is doing on his or her PC in real time and can even take shared control of the instructor’s PC.
Also available is NetSupport School Pro, which allows the instructor to control or share a participant’s remote PC or show a trainee’s screen to the entire class (local or distant). The instructor also can carry on real-time, two-way voice communications using a microphone and voice-over-IP (internet protocol) feature. Other notable features include a virtual Homework basket, where participants can drag-and-drop assignments for the instructor to retrieve easily, and a real-time request for assistance option.
NetSupport Manager includes additional capabilities for managing a network. Free, fully functional evaluation versions of NetSupport Manager and School Pro are available for download at the company’s web site. Pricing starts at $189 for a two-PC NetSupport Manager license and $499 for a 10-user NetSupport School Pro license.
nschool.com. A self-paced, online 10-module course debuted in February to instruct teachers in using nschool.com, which is a free, web-based communications system for schools. With this system, individual schools can create web sites for communication among teachers, administrators, parents, and students.
“We know teachers have a lot on their plates. We aim to show them how our products can increase their efficiency,” says Mia Casnocha, director of training for nschool.com. The course leads teachers through the system, without assuming the teacher knows any more than how to use a mouse, Casnocha says.
Teacher Universe. Two new online solutions, Assess Online and Integrate 101 Online, represent the next step in Teacher Universe’s plan to empower teachers and students through the use of technology.
Assess Online covers nine areas of technical awareness, usage, and ability to employ a variety of technology-based tools to improve teaching. The assessment can be taken at the user’s convenience and helps teachers and administrators identify areas where improvement is needed. In the post-assessment following training, the teacher submits a technology-rich lesson plan for evaluation. These lesson plans can be used and shared within the school.
Integrate 101 Online demonstrates curriculum integration and includes hands-on instruction with operating systems, word processing, databases, spreadsheets, presentation programs, and the internet. Based on the results from Assess Online, Integrate 101 Online is customized for each person’s instructional needs. For added convenience, the online courses can be completed independently at any time via the internet, or supplemented with live professional instruction.
Integrate 101 Online requires a Pentium-class PC running Windows 95, 98, or NT and at least a 56K modem connection. Free demonstrations of both tools are available online at the Teacher Universe web site.
Tech4Learning. Kids go to camp. Why not teachers? This San Diego-based firm offers technology camps, in which teachers break into small teams and do projects. They brainstorm, plan their projects, and decide on the technology to use, depending on the desired outcome.
Leaders facilitate the process, “rather than standing up front and talking about teaching or computing skills,” says Melinda Kolk, vice president at Tech4Learning. Then, if the team doesn’t know how to do somethingsay, Microsoft Wordthe leaders provide just-in-time training.
All workshops are on-siteso the school’s own technology can be usedand aimed at K-12 teachers, with at least one principal or administrator attending. One coach is provided for every 10 participants. Three-day camps are popular during summer and winter breaks, and one-day workshops are held throughout the year on topics such as HyperStudio or clay animation.
“Most people focus on lack of skills with technology. We focus more on experience with technology,” Kolk says. At the end of each session, the “campers” display their work to each other. The technology camp runs $200 per person per day, with a 15-person minimum.