‘Peer coaches’ spark technology integration

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a new monthly series of columns written by state ed-tech directors and highlighting successful school technology projects and approaches from around the nation.

As federal, state, and local governments pour millions of dollars into establishing the technology infrastructures required for high-quality, 21st-century classroom instruction, legislators are asking: “What is the return on our investment?” Unfortunately, despite the large outlays of funds for hardware, software, and connectivity, the degree to which technology has been integrated into teaching and learning remains largely disappointing.

The solution? For teachers to integrate technology effectively into their instruction, administrators must provide high-quality professional development balanced by continual support. Schools, districts, and states that offer professional development in conjunction with “peer coaching” as a means of providing this support have shown a significant increase in technology integration and, ultimately, student achievement.

According to Les Foltos of the Puget Sound Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology, “Teachers who are provided with professional development in addition to ongoing training and support are more likely to integrate technology as part of their daily curriculum. Teachers who participate in the traditional professional development workshops are less than 10 percent likely to apply the shared knowledge in the classroom.”

Comprehensive, scientifically-based technology integration programs that have demonstrated increased student achievement–including Missouri’s “Enhancing Missouri’s Instructional Network Teaching Strategies” (eMINTS) program, the Iowa ESTEP Professional Development Model, and the Arkansas Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) program–all include wide-scale professional development with ongoing support and peer coaching.

In Virginia, a national ed-tech leader, the state legislature has invested more than $500 million in technology infrastructure for schools. Recognizing that this infrastructure would mean nothing if technology were not integrated into instruction, the Virginia legislature created a unique, trend-setting technology integration support system for schools and districts that includes the use of technology coaches.

Based on educational research and No Child Left Behind requirements, the Virginia General Assembly added Instructional Technology Resource Teachers (ITRTs) as mandatory support positions embedded into the Standards of Quality requirements for all school districts in 2004. The goal of this new requirement is to maximize the potential for technology integration. For every 1,000 students in Virginia, an ITRT–or peer technology coach–is now required to support teachers and administrators with technology integration. This unique, state-level technology integration support system guides the nation as the first program requiring technology coaches in schools from the state level.

The 2006-07 school year is the first full year of implementation; however, many districts began the ITRT program during the 2005-06 school year. Prior to launching this program, technology integration was sporadic; a survey of teachers revealed they only spent an average of about 20 minutes per day using technology with their classes.

Virginia education officials have worked to put the ITRT program in place and have created an ITRT handbook to help guide districts as they plan for the new positions (see link below). The state education department also provides voluntary summer trainings for ITRT instructors and helps connect technology coaches to school systems through the Virginia Association of Instructional Technology Resource Teachers and the Virginia Society for Technology in Education, an affiliate of the International Society for Technology in Education, during the school year.

The infancy of the Virginia technology coaches program leaves only informal, observational data available at this time. However, data collection and analysis are underway as part of the implementation process–and Virginia counties that started the program in 2005 already have seen a spark in technology integration.

For example, in Orange County, the two peer coaches created an incentive plan for classroom teachers that includes certification renewal points and technology hardware awards for participation in voluntary training and classroom observations. More than 200 teachers have embraced this program, and upon completion, teachers will be awarded interactive whiteboards, laptops, and projectors, based on the needs of their classrooms. Jill Solek-Giles, one of Orange County’s ITRTs, noted the positive reaction she has seen from teachers and administrators: “I have been amazed at the change in attitude toward technology for many of our teachers, and I enjoy watching teachers grow as I observe technology-integrated lessons.”

Teachers reach out to the ITRTs for additional guidance and suggestions to maximize their ability to incorporate technology into their daily lessons. Solek-Giles also noted that schools “are increasingly moving technology into the classrooms via mobile carts, interactive whiteboards, projectors, and laptops.”

Since the inception of this program, teachers from Orange County Elementary School have moved from simply using their two classroom computers and visiting the computer lab for “skill and drill” activities to the use of mobile carts for curriculum instruction, curriculum-based instruction in the computer labs, and the daily use of interactive whiteboards and projectors. Sandy McLeod, an Orange County Elementary teacher, commented, “The coaches in our district have helped to make drastic changes in the use of technology in our school, and we believe this will give our students the boost they need to increase student achievement. Prior to working with the ITRTs, PowerPoint presentations were my primary focus for technology integration, and maybe half of the students were focused on the lessons. Now, I use SMART Boards for interaction, video streaming, web sites, and simulations–and I rarely have a student not on task. This has also helped with students passing classroom curriculum-based tests.”

The concept of technology coaches is not unique to Virginia. Many districts and schools have implemented technology coaches to help increase technology integration and boost student achievement.

Tennessee, one of 10 recipients of an Evaluating State Technology Programs (ESTEP) grant from the U.S. Department of Education, has focused its scientifically-based evaluation study on technology coaching. Tennessee created a program called EdTech Launch, which provides embedded, ongoing professional development to teachers through the use of school-based technology coaches in 54 Tennessee schools. Participating schools also received funding for technology equipment and professional development. An analysis of the results reveals significant differences in several key areas, with the most notable being…

*An increased frequency in students’ use of technology in student-centered learning environments, with greater and higher-quality use of computers as a learning tool and for instructional delivery;

*Students in the experimental group used experiential or hands-on learning and independent inquiry more than those in the control group;

*Students utilized 21st-century skills, such as cooperative learning, more than control students; and

*Students had more academically-focused class time than control students.

Similarly, the Iowa Professional Development Model, another ESTEP grantee, provides a statewide, sustainable professional development model that allows teachers to work over time with other teachers and instructors. Teachers attend professional development sessions and then are paired up with other educators across the state and are charged with implementing the same curriculum via the new strategies and resources. Teachers use video conferencing to connect with and observe each other to see if each teacher is actually changing instruction. This change in instructional approach facilitates gains in student achievement. Scientifically-based research into Iowa’s program has found that in 2006…

*Eighth-grade students improved their average math scores by 14 points;

*Fourth-grade students improved their average math scores by 16 points; and

*Fourth-grade students improved their average reading scores by 13 points.

Technology coaches are a vital part of helping schools and teachers embrace available technology and move forward as we individualize instruction and plan for the 21st-century global marketplace. As illustrated in Virginia, as well as in other ed-tech programs, technology coaches are a vital part of the learning process, helping technology to become a seamless part of each child’s daily educational experience. When asked about the value of this program in Orange County, Solek-Giles responded, “This program is really helping teachers learn how to teach ‘digital natives’ with innovative teaching strategies that mimic student learning styles–and will help provide the tools necessary for the future workforces.”

Lan Neugent is assistant superintendent for the Division of Technology and Human Resources at the Virginia Department of Education. Christine Fox is director of professional development and research for the State Educational Technology Directors Association. Links: Virginia Department of Education http://www.pen.k12.va.us “Instructional Technology Resource Teachers and Technology Support Positions: A Handbook for School Divisions” http://www.doe.virginia.gov/VDOE/Technology/ ITRThandbook.pdf

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