How do you get a whole state integrating technology effectively into teaching and learning? How do you get teachers excited about using new technology and saying things like, “This training gave me the shot in the arm I needed and truly stirred my soul”? Believe it or not, it’s happening in Arkansas.
Southwest Arkansas Education Cooperative (SWAEC) has been receiving a federal Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) grant since the 2006-07 school year. Lindy Franks, director of the co-op, and I wrote the grant to fund a statewide cadre of expert practitioners who can provide high-quality technology professional development. This group is called the Technology Infused Education (TIE) Cadre and is currently composed of four teacher-trainers from each of the 15 education service centers in the state. The cadre trains teachers how to integrate instructional technology into their classroom, and it trains administrators on what instructional technology should look like when used effectively.
“The TIE program in Arkansas exemplifies how the appropriate use of educational technology can improve academic achievement by supporting teachers in their continuing quest to identify ways of focusing instruction on students’ individual learning styles,” says James Boardman, director of education technology for Arkansas.
The grant is designed to benefit students, teachers, and administrators statewide. Educators in Arkansas are required to have 60 hours of professional development each year to maintain their standard license. Of these 60 hours, six must be in instructional technology. This directive created a need for more technology professional development offerings for our diverse learners. The grant money received by SWAEC also paid for the creation of statewide instructional technology modules. These modules embrace all forms of technology, meet the needs of teachers and administrators, and address state standards and licensure mandates while enhancing instruction through integrated technology practices.
Modules are continually developed based on ever-changing and emerging technologies, as well as surveys of needs completed by teachers and students. Currently, more than 50 modules have been developed over the life of the project, ranging from “Geocaching” and “Wii in the Classroom” to “Digital Storytelling using Microsoft Photo Story” and “Taking Blogging to the Next Level.” The modules are housed on the TIE web site, found at http://tie.k12.ar.us. Though the modules are available only to cadre members, everyone has access to sample projects created in trainings, as well as resources discovered by cadre members and descriptions of each module.
Over the life of the grant, 96 cadre members have been involved in the project. Each fall, service centers have the opportunity to add two additional cadre members to their training team; currently, 80 Arkansas educators are involved in the project. These 80 educators work in the 15 education service centers and 53 districts around the state. The cadre members attend three trainings during the school year, where they learn and share new ideas. One of our members said it best when describing these trainings: “Knowing resources, both electronic and human, really helps create a more integrated technology circuit in the state.”
Harry Dickens, technology specialist for the Arkansas Public School Resource Center, and George Lieux, student assistance and technology academy specialist for Fort Smith Public Schools, are the lead trainers for the group. Their goal is to keep the cadre focused on innovations and integrating technology into the classroom as a natural fit, not just using technology for technology’s sake. One of the ways they showcase cutting-edge technology is through a “petting zoo” approach with a technological spin. Stations are set up all around the room housing emerging software and hardware. Cadre members are given time at each station to explore and really see what impact the technology will have before moving on to the next station. This day is always a big hit with cadre members!