June 1, 2003
The Regional Educational Technology Assistance (RETA) program offers professional development opportunities to educators across the state of New Mexico in the integration of technology into academic content. The program emphasizes developing regional expertise among classroom teachers who can act as peer technology mentors in their communities. In addition, the program addresses issues of education technology policy at a statewide level and provides resources to pre-and in-service teachers through partnerships with institutions of higher education at several Regional Resource Centers (RRCs) throughout the state. The program works to reach teachers of students who are often underserved by more traditional professional development efforts. This paper address findings from the year 4 evaluation of the RETA program. A complete copy of the evaluation report can be found at: http://www2.edc.org/cct/publications_report_summary.asp?numPubId=102
The state of New Mexico has one of the highest percentages of at-risk students in the country due to poverty and language diversity. The state is a minority majority state with approximately one-third of all students coming from homes where English is a second language. In addition, close to a quarter of New Mexico students do not complete high school, compared to the national average of approximately 18%. Compounding these problems are issues faced by educators working in a state with geographically isolated populations and limited access for many teachers to professional development opportunities.
The RETA program was designed to meet the multiple and unique needs of New Mexico's teaching population and to provide:
- Locally available professional development addressing specific concerns of schools and teachers
- Opportunity to earn graduate credit in a local setting
- Guidance from experienced teachers in integrating technology
- Guidance from experienced teachers in pedagogically appropriate practice
- Opportunity to network and develop a community of peers
The traditional focus of professional development in technology has been on showing teachers how to operate equipment rather than how to integrate the technologies into instruction (McCannon & Crews, 2000). Educators need to learn how to use technology in context, matching the needs and abilities of learners to the curriculum goals (Kent & McNergney, 1999). The presidential report on the use of technology in K-12 education describes technology as supporting a pedagogical shift in education toward the constructivist paradigm (Kent & McNergney, 1999). This shift away from traditional methods of instruction is based on the premise that it is learning with, not from or about, technology that makes computer-based technologies important tools in a constructivist learning environment (Boethel & Dimock, 1999). Educational technologies offer powerful ways of engaging in authentic forms of learning. With a clear focus on program goals and the provision of extensive professional development opportunities, training must provide real-world experiences for teachers and administrators who have direct impact on the instruction of students. It is the educators who understand the medium who will use its currency and authenticity to their advantage (Adams & Burns, 1999; McKenzie, 1999).
Successful reorientation of teachers from direct instruction to constructivist teaching methods that incorporate technology must alter teachers' epistemologies. In a study to understand what teachers believe about the nature of knowledge and learning and how these beliefs affect their curriculum implementation and instructional approaches, Howard, McGee, Schwartz, and Purcell (2000) found that "constructivist approaches to training teachers may actually produce epistemological changes in line with constructivist philosophies" (p. 459). Professional development, then, must address the beliefs held by educators and the methods in which they incorporate those beliefs into their teaching as well as deliver effective, new methods of integrating technology and curricula. Becker and Reil (2000) found that professionally engaged teachers have a more constructivist approach to teaching than teachers who do not engage in professional development opportunities.
RETA's model of professional development addresses the standards set forth by the National Staff Development Council (NSDC, 2000). These guidelines steer professional development planners into critical analysis of intended outcomes and define a clear infrastructure for achieving those outcomes. The structure of RETA workshops has come to incorporate several of the NSDC's prominent strategies. RETA's tenets are primarily aligned with the beliefs that
- Teachers need adequate time for the phases of the change process: initiation, implementation, and institutionalization
- Teachers and staff members learn and apply collaborative skills to make shared decisions, solve problems, and work collegially
- It is important to address diversity by providing awareness and training related to the knowledge, skills, and behaviors needed to ensure an equitable and quality education for all students
- Educators need to create challenging, developmentally appropriate curricula that engage students in integrative ways of thinking and learning (NSDC, 2000).
A significant component in the RETA program is using teachers to train other teachers. The literature suggests that sustained, lasting change in performance is most likely to occur when teachers participate in a support network with partners (Norton & Gonzales, 1998; McKenzie, 1999). Building communities of learners and allowing teachers to network and share ideas with their peers provides the opportunity for opening the isolated classroom and bringing in new resources to support new models of teaching (Reil & Fulton, 1998). Since teacher/instructors understand classroom culture and the demands of teaching, their guidance is often more relevant and credible to other teachers. Hence, they use their "sophisticated epistemologies" to influence the reorientation of teachers seeking ways to alter their teaching strategies (Howard, et al., 2000). Our data show that teacher/participants in RETA professional development training sessions are veteran teachers seeking to enlighten themselves. These teachers are consistent with Stage 3 of Glatthorn's (1996) stages of career development - Experimentation or Reassessment - and they are prime candidates for reorienting their teaching methods to include new pedagogical perspectives. In addition, because teachers participating in the workshops can identify with their instructors as peers rather than technical experts, they are able to see how they themselves could assume technology leadership roles in their own school communities.
Given the challenges of implementing technology within established classroom traditions, the RETA project looked for the most effective way to provide professional development along with ongoing support. Weekend workshops offered in different areas of the state seemed the best way to provide access to technology for in-service teachers. These workshops were designed to provide opportunities for teachers to:
- Experience excellent models of technology integration
- Think systematically about the translation of those models into classrooms in their districts.
- Begin to think of themselves not only as learners but possible technology instructors as well.
To read the complete paper, download the research paper PDF on that top of this web page.