"Training" is for Dogs:

Teachers Teach; Teachers Learn

Janet Murray


As Internet technology becomes more widely available in primary and secondary schools, there is a compelling need to provide professional development which supports educational reform goals, models collaborative inquiry-based learning, and guides teachers toward incorporating the global information infrastructure in their instruction. Current educational practitioners have clearly articulated their needs in a number of state and national forums. They reject traditional inservice models, insist on curricular relevance, demand to be mentored by their peers, want adequate time to practice and implement new learning strategies, and expect ongoing support as well as recognition for their efforts.

These conclusions are derived from statewide planning efforts in Oregon and New Mexico, the CoSN-FARNET national project, and the proposal for a national Online Internet Institute in the summer of 1995 as well as observations posted to the "NTPlan" list in early 1995. The proposed implementation model applies these conclusions by projecting an example of an appropriate professional development activity.

1. Introduction

Planning for the global information infrastructure more frequently focuses on gigabit hardware and high speed bandwidth than on the human components necessary to make it worthwhile. In order for technology to be broadly integrated into pre-university instruction, teachers must see its relevance to their curriculum and learn to use it effectively. The Internet School Networking Group of the Internet Engineering Task Force concludes that,

A popular cartoon promises that "On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog." Nevertheless, few Internet users want to be treated like a dog, and "training" is for dogs. Professional development activities for teachers more appropriately focus on interactive learning which uses the technology as a tool rather than the goal of instruction. This paper will summarize how educational practitioners think they can best learn to use the Internet, and propose a model for instruction which supports the educational reform movement by demonstrating the power of collaborative learning through telecommunications.

2. Curricular Integration

"The compelling reason for the introduction of any educational technology must be that the technology will enhance teaching and learning." [1] Education Development Center expert Margaret Honey notes that, "Professional development efforts that work best embed the technology in the curriculum."

Schools which have become active participants on the Internet typically have been led by enthusiastic visionaries who are self-taught and highly motivated. [4] However, as networking activities spread, it will be necessary to provide professional development opportunities for a geometrically expanding number of teachers. State and national groups exploring these issues have reached remarkably similar conclusions about the characteristics necessary for effective integration of technology in schools, and the pitfalls which impede progress.

2.1 Traditional Inservice Models

Steven Hodas coined the term "technology refusal" to describe the consistent "failures of technology to alter the look-and-feel of schools." [3] Teachers tell us that traditional inservice models featuring after-school presentations by so-called "experts" have failed to address their needs for timely, relevant material and a structure which fosters meaningful learning. In other words, a stand-up lecture delivered by an outsider simply reinforces the concept of teacher-as-expert imparting knowledge to a receptive audience. And the teachers are not receptive. Traditional inservice models also fail because they do not provide opportunities to practice the desired new skills, and because they do not provide meaningful followup activities and ongoing support.

2.2 Educational Reform

Teachers must be persuaded that networking is relevant and can be incorporated into their methodology as well as their curriculum. Emerging Internet technologies are uniquely suited to support educational reform efforts because they foster collaborative learning in an environment which mitigates cost constraints imposed by time and distance.

In "Teachers' Professional Development in a Climate of Educational Reform", Judith Warren Little notes that reforming pedagogical strategies cannot be "readily expressed in terms of specific, transferable skills and practices. . . . This aspect of reform calls not for training, but for adequate 'opportunity to learn' (and investigate, experiment, consult or evaluate). . . . It requires the kinds of structures and cultures, both organizational and occupational, compatible with the image of 'teacher as intellectual' (Giroux's phrase) rather than teacher as technician." [10]

2.3 Strategies for Success

Well designed professional development activities consider local needs in the context of national educational reform goals utilizing a global resource. An inquiry-based collaborative project based on current curricular needs is most likely to motivate participants and sustain significant change in their pedagogical methods. Thus, participants must be actively engaged in the design of the activity and the selection of its content. Meaningful questions which promote real rather than simulated research in a cooperative venture are the fulcrum upon which successful Internet exploration will be leveraged.

3. Appropriate Staffing

Teachers are adamant that professional development activities should be conducted by other teachers rather than technicians. [6] "Educators respond best to people who are sensitive to the unique pressures of the profession and are able to offer assistance in solving real problems." [1]

3.1 Personnel Selection

The "pioneers" in the field of instructional networking are the most appropriate candidates to form an initial cadre of teacher experts. These leaders already cooperate informally among themselves to share their strategies for successful activities, and have scheduled an "Online Internet Institute" to model and disseminate their approach during the summer of 1995. [9]

3.2 Mentor Characteristics

Effective technology instructors serve as mentors to those they teach. Ideal mentors have very specific characteristics, abilities and personality traits:

4. Flexible Structure

No single model of professional development for instructional networking can be recommended. Local conditions and expectations will structure the experience. Effective professional development "builds on the employees' prior experiences and needs and is related to the schools' state of reform." [2]

4.1 Adequate Time

Successful professional development activities recognize that teachers rarely have time to pursue new learning during the school day, and that learning to use networking in instruction is a time-consuming task. Workshop experiences need to be both concentrated (at least a half-day in length) and extended over enough time to allow for individual exploration. Teachers must also have access to Internet resources at home in order to polish their skills independently.

4.2 Appropriate Tools

Hardware and software tools used in training must be comparable to those used in the schools, which are typically equipped with obsolete computers. Therefore, text-based clients may be a more appropriate choice than graphic-oriented web browsers. The fact that some schools and districts are predominantly equipped with Macintoshes while others prefer MS-DOS computers introduces another element of complexity which may require individual outreach as a followup to insure that the teacher's own system is properly configured and operational. [6]

4.3 Ongoing Support

Participants in the CoSN/FARNET project "Building Consensus/Building Models" concluded that:

Ongoing support must have a human face; relying solely on online support is intimidating for novices who may not even know how to phrase their questions. Dr. Cynthia King, Director of Project Alive, observes that

4.4 Electronic Resource Banks

The Internet K-12 community is inherently collegial and collaborative.

Designs for professional development activities must be broadly disseminated and electronically available to those who are embarking on new training ventures. It is also important to identify the human resources who are locally and regionally available to assist novices.

5. Sample Projects

The conclusions delineated in Sections 2-4 are derived from several state and national projects which the reader should regard as representative rather than inclusive.

5.1 CoSN-FARNET Project

The Consortium for School Networking and Federation of American Research Networks combined their vision and energy to assemble an impressive array of instructional technology experts in October, 1993. Unique to this project was the high percentage of participants who are educational practitioners, i.e. teachers and library/media specialists currently employed in schools. Participants also represented government agencies, network service providers, educational organizations, school districts, and higher education.

Participants engaged in online discussion of the issues for four weeks preceding the intense two-day meeting. This unique approach assured that they arrived in Washington, D.C. acquainted with each other and ready to proceed with the difficult task of "Building Consensus/Building Models: A Networking Strategy for Change." The conferees were charged with developing recommendations to the National Science Foundation regarding access and connectivity, content and curriculum, training and user support, finance, and reform.

Two important points which have yet to be mentioned emerged from this project:

School and district administrators can support instructional networking by providing release time, incentives, and recognition for their teachers.

Acceptable use policies which govern publicly-funded networks are widely employed to address concerns pertaining to safety, protection of intellectual property, and ethical and appropriate use.

The CoSN-FARNET Project established a model for planning projects because it involved a wide variety of stakeholders, enabled them to reach consensus on many issues, and emphasized the importance of preliminary online discussions.

5.2 Oregon Planning Project

In November, 1994, 150 representatives from state government, the Oregon State System of Higher Education, and public and private schools and districts gathered at a Planning Conference for Oregon's Technical, Human, and Organizational Networking Infrastructure. As in the CoSN-FARNET Project, a significant proportion of the participants were teachers currently employed in the classroom. Following Benchmark Reports summarizing the current status of networking implementation, focus groups considered eight broad questions pertaining to technology in the schools. Three of these focused on issues related to training and professional development.

Each focus group brainstormed a list of barriers, categorized them, and proposed solutions to overcome the barriers. The overwhelming conclusion articulated by practicing teachers is that they are eager to implement technology in instruction and have a clear vision of what they need to make it possible.

Oregon is a predominantly rural state with more than half its population located outside the Portland metropolitan area. Teachers in small towns and rural areas recognize the power of telecommunications to transform their teaching and learning; universal ubiquitous access is a recurring theme in their discussions. Oregon has also been a leader in educatonal reform, the first state to submit its plan to achieve "America's Goals 2000" to the U.S. Department of Education. Internet access is widely regarded as a tool to promote collaborative interactive learning in support of reform goals.

The focus group reports of the Oregon Planning Conference clearly delineate the human components necessary for successful professional development. Teachers want to learn from their peers in their local environment. They want instruction tied to their current curriculum, and they need ongoing support which is personal, timely, and individualized. They recommend sequential workshops, a hierarchical system of user support groups, and a cascading cadre of mentors who will teach and support successive generations of mentors. [6]

A parallel statewide planning effort, the Oregon Telecommunications Forum, was launched by the Governor to address networking issues pertinent to the broader community of libraries, health care institutions, and local governments in addition to education. Regional meetings convened at 21 locations throughout the state preceded a statewide assembly in January, 1995. A summary of the regional meetings reports that after universal access, "The second most frequently expressed item in the needs and wants category is education/training, which is needed in all phases of telecommunications learning experience," and recommends "education at the grassroots level, with hands-on experience." The Conference Report concludes, "The issues of education and training are as critical as those of infrastructure and technology." [7]

5.3 New Mexico Task Force Report

A Blue Ribbon Panel on Professional Development established "Guiding Principles for Professional Development" in New Mexico.

The report concludes that "Good professional development is 1) focused, aligned and connected, 2) relevant and useful, 3) participatory, 4) evaluated, [and] 5) supported."

The New Mexico report is useful because it lists implementation details to support its broad generalizations and synthesizes many of the points discussed in Sections 2-4. For example, the document focuses on local needs in the context of state and national goals, notes the importance of alignment with ongoing systemic change, emphasizes the involvement of prospective participants in the planning process, and acknowledges the need for curricular immediacy and relevance. And it reminds us that all professional development is focused on the improvement of student learning.

5.4 Online Internet Institute

During the summer of 1995, approximately 600 teachers will participate in an Online Internet Institute designed "to teach them how to identify and build successful models for using the Internet for systemic reform and curriculum development at the local level." This project proposal stresses that, "Educators must experience what it is to learn through project-based, technology-enhanced approaches in their own learning, in order to effectively support this kind of learning for their students." [9] This aspect of professional development is critical and cannot be overemphasized; if our goal is to employ technology in inquiry-based learning, we must model the approach we want teachers to adopt.

One of the eight weeks of the Institute will be spent in face-to-face regional sessions providing hands-on, interactive experience. Educators will identify questions directly related to their own classroom activities for the coming year and form groups based on these common interests. "A central goal of education reform is transforming information into experiences which encourage students to pursue fundamental questions that cut across disciplines and engage students in compelling work that matters to them." [9] Thus, topics must be carefully chosen to reflect relevant interdisciplinary content and meaningful research.

The Online Internet Institute will foster convergence among researchers, proponents of systemic reform, and educational practitioners who have been pusuing parallel paths in professional development for instructional networking. Another important feature of the project requires that participants commit to mentor at least five colleagues. Thus, the Institute will have an impact far beyond the relatively small number of direct participants.

Finally, the Online Internet Institute will develop an assessment model appropriate in the context of reform efforts. "It is becoming clear that simply developing rubrics and content requirements for an assessment are insufficient. Clear images of quality are needed that convey to both teachers and students what comprises excellence in its many possible forms." In addition to preparing more than 600 teacher leaders, the Online Internet Institute will create an online infrastructure for training, design models for online delivery of professional development and support, and establish a National Online Professional Development Library of resources and techniques. [9]

6. Implementation: an Instructional Model

Although there is broad consensus about the components of an effective professional development program for teachers to incorporate Internet technology in their classrooms, implementation has been scattered and uncoordinated.

6.1 Curriculum

A critical factor affecting successful implementation of professional development activities is choosing a topic for study. Ideally, the questions to be explored would be generated by the teachers involved in the activity, but weather is a subject of nearly universal interest which may serve as an example for this exercise. The threat of global warming is a genuine contemporary issue which begs for resolution but has no "right" answers. The study of weather has global significance and involves scientific, social and political issues. It is also a topic which can be adapted to all grade levels, and for which a wealth of information is available on the Internet.

Participating teachers will identify an aspect of weather that is appropriate for study in their classrooms. They will then form investigative groups based on the convergence of their interests. The process of gathering information will introduce them to a variety of Internet tools and resources. Evaluating the relevance, completeness, accuracy and timeliness of available information as well as the value of different sources will be an implicit part of the information-gathering process. [9]

Analyzing the information to discover interrelationships and anomalies is the logical next step. Because of the breadth of data available, collaboration is an essential part of this activity. Teachers will assist each other by identifying well-organized sites and sharing their discoveries of pertinent or conflicting information. Organizing the information into conceptual systems will help teachers prepare to replicate their experience at a level appropriate for use with their students.

Each participating teacher's project will be published electronically, inviting commentary from other teachers and contributing to a database of curricular prototypes available for adaptation. In this part of the process, teachers will also learn to use the tools for constructing online resources.

6.2 Personnel

Mentors to guide and supervise these teachers' introduction to Internet will be experienced teachers who have pioneered the use of Internet in the classroom. Mentors as well as participants will be identified by surveying the population of the school, district, or region scheduled for professional development activities.

It is important that mentors have local and instructional credibility, so the survey will include questions designed to elicit respondents' recommendations. For example, one survey question might be, "From whom have you learned most successfully about using networking technologies in education?" In the initial stages, participants will self-select based on their commitment to mentor others and their enthusiasm for pursuing new techniques of collaborative teaching and learning using Internet resources.

Teachers know that a workshop or training session in isolation will not result in permanent change; they must have the opportunity to use the skills they have learned, and readily available resources to answer the questions that will inevitably arise after the professional development activity is over. Although online discussion will provide one of the most important elements of ongoing support, instructors should be prepared to provide assistance by phone and fax as well as site visits. [6]

As demand for Internet access and services in schools increases, the need for qualified mentors will continue to escalate. Learning models which encourage self-directed learning in a collaborative environment mirror the cooperative spirit of inquiry which has historically fueled the growth of the Internet at the same time that they further the goals of the educational reform movement. Successful professional development activities will engage enthusiastic teachers who will form a cascading cadre of mentors to their colleagues.

6.3 Structure

Professional development activities will be designed based on assessment of a school's local needs and resources and offered in blocks of uninterrupted time, either in several daylong sessions or half-day sessions over the course of a week or more. Workshops should be sequenced, offering a range of courses for all levels of users on multiple platforms.

It is imperative that instructor/teacher and computer/teacher ratios are small enough to allow hands-on learning, although a pair of teachers on a single computer may aid learning by facilitating mutual coaching and reinforcement. It is vitally important that teachers learn on systems comparable to the ones they will be using.

The best professional development activities will also model the methodology of collaborative instruction by engaging the participants in an inquiry-based project pertinent to their content area; teachers will finish the course with a tangible product which is immediately applicable in their classrooms. Administrators should support the adoption of new technology by giving recognition and release time to mentors, and providing the participating teachers with incentives to attend, appropriate hardware and software, ongoing support, and at-home access.

7. Conclusion

Educational practitioners, researchers, and reformers agree that effecting change and infusing technology in schools cannot be accomplished through simple skill training. Professional development must be grounded in interdisciplinary curriculum which is locally and personally relevant, staffed by experienced teachers who are patient mentors willing to provide ongoing support, and flexibly structured to allow for independent exploration as well as cooperative learning activities. Genuine rather than simulated research of meaningful questions which use technology as an essential tool rather than the goal of instruction will provide the basis for effective professional development.


[1] "Building Consensus/Building Models: A Networking Strategy for Change." Federation of American Research Networks (FARNET), Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). March, 1994.

[2] "Guiding Principles for Professional Development." A report from the New Mexico Blue Ribbon Panel on Professional Development. January, 1995.

[3] Hodas, Steven. "Technology Refusal and the Organizational Culture of Schools." In Proceedings, The Fourth Conference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy. Chicago: March, 1994.

[4] Honey, Margaret, and Andres Henriquez, "Telecommunications and K-12 Educators: Findings from a National Study." New York: Center for Technology in Education, June, 1993.

[5] Jaeger, Michael. "How are Educational Professionals and Others Currently Being Trained to Use Computerized Telecommunications?" Benchmark Reports. Oregon's Technical, Human, and Organizational Networking Infrastructure for Science and Mathematics: A Planning Project. (National Science Foundation Project RED-9454794.) November, 1994.

[6] Murray, Janet. "How Should Faculty, Staff, and Administrators be Trained to Use Computerized Telecomunications in Educational Settings?" Focus Group Reports. Oregon's Technical, Human, and Organizational Networking Infrastructure for Science and Mathematics: A Planning Project. (National Science Foundation Project RED-9454794.) January, 1995.

[7] "Report to the Governor and the Oregon Telecommunications Forum Conference Report." March, 1995.

[8] Sellers, Jennifer. "Answers to Commonly Asked 'Primary and Secondary School Internet User' Questions." IETF School Networking Group, Internet FYI 22, RFC 1578. February, 1994.

[9] Serim, Ferdi. "Online Internet Institute." (Proposal for a Planning Grant.) April, 1995.

[10] Warren Little, Judith. "Teachers' Professional Development in a Climate of Educational Reform." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. Summer, 1993.

Author Information

Janet Murray is the librarian at a comprehensive public high school. She is a cofounder of K12Net, the free international educational network for pre-university students and teachers, and an enthusiastic advocate for broad community access to networked information resources. Current address: Wilson High School, 1151 S.W. Vermont St., Portland, OR 97219, USA.