Teachers learn and share IT knowledge

Teachers learn and share IT knowledge

Group of companies sponsors program to train educators and boost computer skills curricula

By Trudy Walsh

GCN Staff

Thousands of teachers are going back to school to learn how to lead their students across the digital divide.

'How are you supposed to teach something unless you know how to do it yourself?' asked Jan Coleman-Knight, a seventh-grade teacher at Thornton Junior High in Fremont, Calif.

That's the conundrum many teachers face as information technology floods classrooms. Computer companies donate computers, but IT training for teachers lags. According to U.S. Education Department Secretary Richard Riley, only 20 percent of today's teachers feel well qualified to use computers.

Microsoft is donating $344 million worth of software to 'Teach to the Future,' a program to help train teachers in the United States and abroad.

To help meet teachers' needs, Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp. have developed Teach to the Future, a three-year program that trains teachers how to use technology to improve classroom learning.

Microsoft is donating $344 million worth of software, company officials said. By 2002, Intel will have invested $100 million in cash, equipment, curriculum development and program management to train 100,000 U.S. teachers and 300,000 teachers in 20 other countries, the company said.

Teach to the Future was modeled after Applying Computers in Education, a program sponsored by Intel, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard Co. that trained 3,200 teachers in nine communities.

Coleman-Knight took the ACE training this past August with 20 other teachers.

'I was such a neophyte in the beginning,' she said.

All new

She had no experience with PowerPoint or any Microsoft products. Like many teachers, she had worked with Apple Macintosh computers (see related story below).

In the ACE program, Coleman-Knight learned how to use the Microsoft Office 2000 suite, which includes PowerPoint, Excel, Publisher and Word.

'It was very hands-on, very practical. You were constantly thinking of how you could use these applications in the classroom,' she said.

The ACE training gave her more confidence and brought noticeable improvements to her classroom, Coleman-Knight said.

'A door has opened very wide,' she said. 'It's boosted the students' creativity and raised the accuracy of their work to a new level.'

Her students also work more independently.

'If you walked into my fourth-period class, you'd think it was a business office,' she said.

Wake up

Coleman-Knight's seventh-grade students were bug enthusiasts, so they created a Web site, at www.insecta-inspecta.com, using Microsoft Publisher and PowerPoint. Via e-mail, they worked with David Adamski, a lepidopterist at the Smithsonian Institution, who answered some of their questions, such as 'Do butterflies sleep?'

Each student researched a favorite insect. When students had achieved a certain level of mastery, they were promoted to the rank of 'inspecta.'

'It used to be the only audience was the teacher. Students turned their work in, and the teacher was the only one who saw it,' Coleman-Knight said. 'Now we have students communicating with scientists, with the whole world.'

Coleman-Knight has 10 PCs in her history class, which has 33 students. Three of the PCs are notebooks. All but one, a Macintosh, have Intel processors.

A digital subscriber line donated by At Home Corp. of Redwood City, Calif., connects the class to the Internet.

'I think Teach to the Future is aptly named,' Coleman-Knight said. 'We're looking down the road at the skills that are going to be needed in the new century.'

Laurie Nordahl, head teacher at Sunny Hill School, a rural elementary school in North Bend, Ore., also completed the two-week ACE training session last summer. Nordahl said ACE gave teachers extra time to incorporate what they had learned into lesson plans.

The lesson

Bryan Watson, general manager for Microsoft's education group, said Teach to the Future will do more than put computers in the classroom. The program trains teachers to integrate the technology and the Internet into their lessons.

The backbone of Teach to the Future is the teachers, Watson said. Using a train-the-trainer model, regional training agencies will recruit and train 100 master teachers each year. Each master teacher will in turn train at least 20 teachers at a regional training center.

Each teacher will take back to school one copy of Microsoft Office 2000 and Microsoft Encarta on CD-ROM, both of which can be upgraded from the Microsoft Web site, at www.microsoft.com, Watson said. The regional training centers are equipped with Hewlett-Packard PCs.

No panacea

Some observers suggest the onslaught of technology in the classroom is not a clear-cut benefit.

William L. Rukeyser is coordinator of Learning in the Real World, a Woodland, Calif., nonprofit organization that cautions against accepting technology as a cure-all for education's woes.

'I think Teach to the Future has a very commendable intent,' Rukeyser said. 'I just think people should follow the old common-sense approach of looking a gift horse in the mouth.'

Rukeyser cited a 1996 report by McKinsey and Co. of Palo Alto, Calif., Connecting K-12 Schools to the Information Superhighway. It examined for President Clinton's National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council the feasibility of connecting schools to the Internet.

The report said that for every dollar spent on hardware and software, school districts should budget at least one-third of that amount each successive year for maintenance and upgrades.

'So if Bill Gates gives you $3 million worth of computers, ask yourself, 'Do we have $1 million to maintain it?' ' Rukeyser said. 'And the only thing that goes stale faster than software is milk.'

Rukeyser also challenged the assumption that children with better computer skills grow into adults who employers want on their payrolls.

Employers want workers with reasoning and communications skills, not knowledge of specific software or equipment, which quickly becomes obsolete, Rukeyser said.

'Imagine an interviewee boasting, 'When I was in 11th grade in 1991, I could operate MS-DOS. I know all those complicated DOS commands.' Would you care?'

The odds are good that young people won't need to know Hypertext Markup Language in their first job in 2010, Rukeyser said.

Rukeyser and his organization do not say the government shouldn't spend money on educational technology, just that the funds should be spent more wisely.

'It's just that we're treating schools like they're a slice of toast, spreading educational technology on them in a nice, smooth layer,' he said.

GCN staff writer Tony Lee Orr contributed to this report.

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