As school districts struggle to integrate technology, many are turning to the internet for teacher professional development. Vendor-created technology tutorials abound on the web, but most come with a hefty licensing fee.

Instead of buying such pre-packaged content, however, a Kansas school district has created its own customized web-based professional development program to teach its educators how to integrate technology into the classroom.

The technology department at Holton Unified School District developed a series of short online movies to explain technology concepts step by step, according to the needs of its teachers.

The movies, which are known collectively as the Holton Online Staff Training (HOST), combine animated screen shots with audio to demonstrate how to do simple things, such as send and receive eMail, as well as more difficult tasks, such as building a web page.

The HOST tutorials introduce concepts and skills slowly, then develop them further as the tutorials proceed, helping to bring all teachers to the same level of ability and beyond.

“I was one of those people who didn’t feel comfortable on computers. I was afraid of them,” said Linda Day, who teaches fifth grade at Central Elementary School in Holton.

“These classes really helped,” she said. “I’ve learned so many things I didn’t think I’d be able to do.” After mastering web site design through the online tutorials, Day said she is now teaching her fifth-grade students how to make a web page.

Compared to traditional professional development, HOST lets teachers learn at their own speed. They can pause, rewind, and even fast-forward the video training clips.

“It’s available online 24-seven,” said Tom Sextro, technology director for the Holton Unified School District. “Some of these teachers have told me they have watched the movie five or six times until they got it.”

When the district first rolled out the program last summer, it introduced the concept of web-based professional development to groups of teachers in the auditorium at Holton High School using a large-screen projector attached to a computer.

After outlining the goals of the training program, district officials sent the teachers into the computer labs, where they put on earphones and proceeded to work through the tutorials at their own pace. They also had experts available to answer questions.

“We started off with an introduction to technology,” Sextro said, with tutorials that taught teachers how to use programs such as Quickmail and Netscape. This past spring, the district started training its teachers to create their own web pages.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth,” Sextro said. The district tested its teachers’ knowledge of technology before and after the tutorials and found teachers had learned considerably from taking these tutorials.

Day said she is a visual learner, so she really benefits from videos that take her step by step through the process, showing what happens on the screen as well as the keyboard.

“Some people can just listen and that will do it for them, but I have to see it being done,” Day said. “I have been nearly in tears before in computer classes because I couldn’t keep up, and with this, I don’t feel that pressure.”

The technology department funded this project with money from an Educate America grant and a Technology Literacy Challenge Fund grant.

The four teachers who created the program were given $3,500 each and a new PowerBook G3 computer. They also bought a new web server to house the curriculum and hired a consultant from Apple Computer, for $3,500, to learn more about integrating the internet into the classroom.

HOST, which is housed on a local server, is available through the district’s web site, although some of the content is password-protected to conserve bandwidth.

The program’s creators used a screen capture tool called Snapz Pro 2.0.1 from Ambrosia Software Inc. to make their movies. Snapz Pro will record anything on a Macintosh screen and transform it into either a picture file or QuickTime movie. Because the software integrates with QuickTime, it’s easy to make fast-loading training videos complete with narration, Sextro said.

Holton Unified School District

Snapz Pro 2.0.1 by Ambrosia Software Inc.

Apple Computer Inc.