September 1, 2003
The Regional Educational Technology Assistance (RETA) initiative has provided professional development opportunities to educators throughout the state of New Mexico for the past eight years. While the initiative's first three years were funded through small grants from local sources, the program received substantial funding for a five-year period, ending September 30, 2003, from the Technology Innovation Challenge Grant (TICG) program of the U.S. Department of Education. The program has offered professional development opportunities to educators across the state of New Mexico providing a constructivist, hands-on, learner-centered approach to the integration of technology into academic content and has considerably expanded its reach as a result of the TICG funding. The program has developed regional expertise among classroom teachers who can act as peer technology mentors in their communities; addressed issues of education technology policy; developed teacher-authored curriculum materials, linked to national and state standards, that incorporate technology into a range of content areas for educators working with students in grades K through 12; provided resources to pre and inservice teachers, and to administrators through partnerships with institutions of higher education at several Regional Resource Centers throughout the state; and supported other educational endeavors through partnerships and collaboration. This summary outlines findings from the Year 5 evaluation report on the RETA program.
RETA has increased the number of teachers it has reached annually for the past five years. Beginning in 1998 the program provided services to approximately 350 teachers. This past year the program reached 3,919 participants across the state, and served teachers in 82 of the state's 89 school districts as well as in Bureau of Indian Affairs schools and in private and parochial schools. The RETA program has also established six regional resource centers (RRCs) across the state that provide workshops and targeted professional development for schools and districts in regions distributed throughout the state.
RETA staff made a concerted effort to attract and retain participants and instructors who represented the ethnic and linguistic diversity the student population served by New Mexico's schools. The program was successful in attracting Hispanic/Mexican American teachers in the same numbers as are found in the general teaching population. In addition the program was able to attract a significantly larger percentage of Native American teachers than are represented in the teaching population. Those teachers participating in RETA are generally upper elementary teachers who have on average 12 years of teaching experience. The RETA program has a large majority of female participants which is reflective of the general teaching population.
Findings related to teacher change and technology adoption
During the past five years the RETA program has shown consistence in its ability to support teacher change in a number of areas related to the integration of technology into the school setting. Data collected through pre and post surveys and observations over a five year period have shown statistically significant increases in teacher behavior in the following areas:
- Assisting colleagues with software and hardware problems
- Brainstorming issues related to computers
- Developing curriculum that includes computers
- Participating in proposal writing for funds supporting technology integration
- Participating in professional conferences through either attendance or making presentations
- Using technology tools such as the Web, email, spread sheets, database software, CDROM reference materials, and other education software applications such as Inspiration or PowerPoint with their students
- Engaging students in project based work
- Engaging students in presentation of student work using technology
- Engaging some or all students in a technology-related activity rather than just one
Findings related to gender and ethnicity
The data also show that the RETA program assists in leveling differences in reported technical experience among genders. Female RETA participants made significant strides in closing the gap between their own and their male colleagues' reporting of their experience level with technology.
RETA has also had an impact on the professional experiences of Native American participants who show the largest gains in areas, such as assisting colleagues with software and hardware, brainstorming issues related to technology, and designing curriculum that uses computers.
Findings related to the RETA professional development model
Data over the five-year period also shows that repeat participation in RETA workshops increases the opportunity for change in the above areas for teachers. Those teachers who repeated RETA workshops for more than one year showed a greater rate of change with each successive year in all areas listed above.
RETA across the state
The RETA program has been highly successful in working with the New Mexico State Department of Education (NM SDE) to advocate for the role technology can play in the lives of children and teachers. RETA participants and staff have informed policy at the state level and have supported state initiatives that impact technology planning, teacher training and standards development.
The RETA program has developed a range of curriculum modules that are available to teachers via the RETA website and can be accessed through a curriculum database. These modules model the integration of technology into broad array of content across all age groups. RETA has also partnered with a local public television station, KNME, and prepared a series of curriculum modules that incorporate original source material including images and documents that support learning about New Mexico history and culture. In addition, RETA has partnered with the NM SDE to develop a series of web- and CD-ROM-based materials to address the state's seventh and tenth grade requirements in New Mexican history.
RETA beyond 2003
The RETA staff has developed a model of localized program delivery that is supported jointly by state and district funds and will allow the program to continue beyond the completion of funding from the TICG. RETA has also partnered with the state's new Reading First program to provide regionally distributed technical assistance to schools engaged in using technology to administer and interpret student assessments.
Technology Innovation Challenge Grant goals
The RETA project identified five goals in its proposal to the TICG:
- Professional development for preservice and inservice teachers
- Advocacy development
- Development of regional resource centers at institutions of higher education
- Curriculum development and dissemination
Over the five years of this project, the RETA program has met each of these goals.
Program challenges and the RETA model
The RETA program has encountered a range of challenges to disseminating quality professional development across a large rural state. Challenges included the following:
- travel logistics
- technical concerns
- recruitment issues
- funding concerns
- shifts necessary to accommodate the transition from funded project to fee-for-service program
Despite these challenges the RETA program has maintained a commitment to change and adaptation to the needs of participants. The RETA program has attracted a large loyal base of educators and administrators who are committed to using all tools at their disposal to support student learning and who see the RETA program as a valuable resource in this undertaking. Participants and staff believe that the success of RETA lies in its model of professional development, which incorporates commonly recognized standards for professional development, such as those recommended by the National Staff Development Council and also includes the following:
- The expectation that all educators are professionals and must continue their own learning within their field to remain relevant and effective
- The expectation that educators are adequately compensated for their time spent providing professional development to peer teachers
- The belief that "expert" teachers require ongoing opportunities to expand and hone their skills and knowledge base through professional development activities that meet their needs
- The expectation that educators from diverse backgrounds and geographic regions can come together to form a community of learners and advocate for technology within the context of meeting student needs.