Arkansas teacher-educators learn new ed-tech skills to pass on to their colleagues.

Arkansas teacher-educators learn new technology integration skills to pass on to their colleagues.

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!

Technology in the primary grades

Allie Brooks, an elementary technology teacher at Brookland Elementary, says the TIE training has enhanced the use of technology by both teachers and students at her school. For instance, using a program demonstrated in the TIE cadre training, Microsoft Photo Story, all students in grades K-3 have created digital scrapbooks. In the elementary computer lab, Brooks’ students developed a Teacher Appreciation Scrapbook. First, students took digital images of one another in a favorite classroom setting. With help, they downloaded those images and imported them into Photo Story. Next, the students added their names and edited fonts, colors, and motion. With guidance, students then recorded a narration to accompany the image: “I like my teacher because…” Finally, as a group, students chose background music and helped create a teacher title page.

Students invited their teachers to the computer lab during Teacher Appreciation Week to view the scrapbook on a SMART Board. Many teachers were so touched that they cried during the showing. The teachers liked the concept so much that they began to incorporate digital stories about events and experiences into their own curricula, culminating in an end-of-the-year digital scrapbook. Students learned many skills throughout the project, and the teachers developed a better understand of technology integration and its importance. This would not have been achieved without the TIE training.

Special-needs students shine using technology

Stacey Tatera, K-12 technology coordinator for the Arkansas School for the Deaf (ASD), described what happened when her school hosted the First Annual ASD Film Festival on May 15, 2009. The event was the culmination of a school-wide professional development program focusing on Digital Storytelling, which stemmed from the Arkansas TIE Cadre.

Teachers were trained in the use of Microsoft Movie Maker as part of their introduction to digital storytelling. Owing to the highly visual elements inherent in a digital story, it is an important medium for use by and for students who are deaf. Students across campus created movies that were three to five minutes long and centered on the festival theme, “My World.” Middle and high school students created their digital stories independently; elementary school students participated by class. Rules for the film festival included a requirement that all spoken or signed language must be represented in written text. This was to ensure equal access to the movies by both deaf and hearing viewers.

During the film festival, students, teachers, parents, and community members were invited to screen the individual movies. The winning movie in the High School/Middle School division focused on the effects of bullying. The winning movie in the Elementary School division was entitled “ASD is My World.” Prizes were awarded to the top three finishers in each division.

The film festival was such a tremendous success that plans are underway for the Second Annual ASD Film Festival. Projects are posted for viewing on the TIE web site.

TIE enhances teaching and learning

TIE has boosted technology professional development training throughout the state. Since the project’s conception, more than 275 trainings have been offered through the service centers, with countless more in participating districts. Through these trainings, more than 2,600 teachers have explored ways to keep students engaged in learning through the use of technology. In the words of one of our cadre members, “This is a great project, and I know my teachers are excited about having something new to learn during technology training! I love TIE Cadre. What a great idea for Arkansas!!!”

Phoebe Bailey is assistant director of the Southwest Arkansas Education Cooperative.