Educator’s View: What Good is Technology if Teachers Aren’t Trained to Use It?
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During my tenure as the principal of Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy in Chicago, I successfully upgraded the school’s technology infrastructure by introducing new devices, computer labs, and faster internet connections to enhance students’ learning experiences. However, I was surprised to find that only a few teachers took advantage of these new tools. Some perceived the improved technology as a criticism of their teaching abilities, while others lacked the necessary skills and confidence to effectively utilize it. There were also a few teachers who were comfortable using technology in powerful ways and were willing to support their colleagues, but there was no expectation for them to do so. The missing piece for my teachers was a comprehensive schoolwide vision for the purposeful use of technology, as well as the necessary support to implement it.
Digital equity has become a prominent concern over the past three years, particularly in light of the pandemic. However, it is important to understand that digital equity goes beyond providing devices to students or improving access to broadband. Although skilled educators are crucial to unlocking the potential of technology in the classroom, 50% of schools consider the learning curve for teachers in adopting technology to be a significant challenge. Additionally, half of all teachers feel that a lack of training is a major obstacle.
Truly achieving the goals of digital equity requires equipping teachers with the tools and training they need to confidently and effectively use technology. Based on Digital Promise’s research and collaboration with school and district leaders, here is a roadmap to accomplishing that objective.
School staff members require support in effectively utilizing available technology. School leaders play a vital role in setting the vision for their schools, which includes determining how technology should be integrated to enhance teaching and learning. Prior to the pandemic, there was already a need to better incorporate technology into education, particularly for students in underserved communities. The pandemic has only accelerated this shift. Now, principals need to establish a vision for their school’s use of technology, identify areas where their faculty lacks digital skills, and work with teachers to address those gaps.
At Brooks College Prep, my team and I communicated the rationale behind our focus on technology and established a committee to facilitate peer-to-peer learning among teachers. Once the vision and expectations for technology were established, and teachers successfully integrated technology into their classrooms, student outcomes significantly improved. We observed a 21% increase in students meeting all four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, and we were recognized for achieving the highest year-to-year growth in the average ACT composite score (21.8 to 23.2) among all high schools in the city of Chicago. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Education awarded our school the Blue Ribbon distinction, making us the first high school on the South Side of Chicago to receive such an honor.
School and district leaders must prioritize high-quality professional development opportunities. One strategy for designing personalized professional development is through the use of micro-credentials. These digital badges allow teachers to demonstrate their proficiency in specific digital skills, such as creating inclusive and accessible learning experiences. Micro-credentialing enables educators to focus on the areas they need or want to improve and validates their growth in those areas.
Digital Promise collaborated with the Kettle Moraine School District in Wisconsin to redefine the concept of professional learning within the district. Teachers self-assessed their strengths and weaknesses in terms of technology proficiency, using the results to set goals and benchmarks for their own learning. They then showcased their competencies through examples of their work, student assignments, and personal reflections, all of which were evaluated by their peers. This commitment to high-quality professional development at the district level provides personalized and meaningful learning experiences, supporting educators regardless of their current level of proficiency.
School and district leaders can also collaborate with teacher preparation programs to communicate their needs and expectations from graduates. Ideally, teachers should enter the classroom already equipped with firsthand experience of utilizing technology effectively for learning purposes. They should have a clear plan for implementing these practices with students and be able to hit the ground running. Teacher preparation programs have the power to make this ideal scenario a reality for their graduates. This is especially important for schools that struggle to attract and retain teachers, particularly those serving high numbers of children of color and students from low-income backgrounds, as well as schools located in rural districts.
The objective is to fully prepare students to be the future workforce. When students are effectively educated using technology and their teachers demonstrate how to effectively utilize it in meaningful and significant ways, they become better equipped to employ it themselves. This is important because there is a strong connection between digital skills and income. The National Skills Coalition reveals that only 10% of individuals with limited or no digital skills fall within the top 20% of earners. The future holds job opportunities, economic mobility, and, perhaps most importantly, personal fulfillment, all of which are at stake when it comes to assisting students in becoming proficient in digital skills. Teachers play a crucial role in guiding them toward this goal. As I discovered during my time as a principal, investing in teachers’ effective utilization of technology is just as important for student learning as providing them with the latest technological resources. Throughout teachers’ careers, starting from preparation programs to the classroom and the district office, there are multiple opportunities for them to acquire the necessary training and professional development that will equip them with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to incorporate technology and personalize learning for all their students.