Marc's Rants


The following article appeared in Thrust for Educational Leadership, Volume 29, No. 2, November/December 1999.

Training key to understanding technology's value

By Marc Elliot Hall

Technology is great, isn't it? We have 24-hour coverage of global events on cable TV. Our mothers call us from across the country just to say, "Hi!" When the tire blows on the freeway, we can pull over and call AAA on our cellular phones. The thing is, it seems like nobody really knows how to use the more complicated stuff.

For example, VCR clocks across the country have perpetually flashed 12:00 for more than a decade. And have you ever given up in frustration after trying to program your VCR to record your favorite show while you were out? Seventy percent of the features of our word processors are superfluous because they go unused. How do you turn off that annoying paper clip? What's the right mouse button for, let alone the middle one?

When taking into account the complexities of Web pages, databases, videoconferencing, Hyperstacks, spreadsheets and desktop publishing applications, it's no wonder so many people, including teachers and administrators, feel overwhelmed when dealing with anything more complicated than an overhead projector.

Many teachers are unwilling to even attempt to integrate technology into classroom instruction because of the perceived difficulty. They'd rather send the students down the hall to the computer lab once a week -- let alone prepare a daily multimedia-enabled lecture-- even though small group-based instruction in the classroom can be more effective for many learning activities. Moreover, with the number of possible educational goals that can be met with technology's assistance, there's little sense in leaving it out.

Training Is a prerequisite for proficiency

So, you have seen the value of technology for improving education. You have acquired technology for your classrooms and offices. Now you must learn how to use it -- and training is a prerequisite for proficiency.

The President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology recommends that at least five percent of a district's budget be allocated to technology. In addition, more than one study has recommended that at least 30 percent of school information technology funding be allocated to training. Nevertheless, in 1997 the President's committee reported that most school districts spend less than half that proportion on technology-related staff development.

Funding Is the obstacle

Unfortunately, staff development requires funding. Who's going to pay for the staff development day? Who's going to pay for the trainer? Who's going to pay for the substitute teacher to fill in for the mentor teacher?

The reality is that most bonds cannot be used for staff development, so the technology bond funds that bought 40 new computers for your elementary school probably can't be stretched to pay for teacher training. And most districts haven't set aside a significant amount for technology-related training. Your district should; but in the interim, there are many other sources for technology-related staff development funds.

Bleak as the tech usability scene seems, it is improving. The current generation of VCRs has finally begun reading the current time from broadcast signals, ending blinking clock syndrome, and VCR+ allows us to record the Discovery Channel's latest offering.

Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that most high tech instructional aids are not easy to use. So, while we wait for designers and engineers to give us truly user-friendly products -- don't hold your breath -- we must learn how to use what we already have.

Marc Elliot Hall is ACSA's Webmaster. He can be reached with comments, questions and suggestions at (916) 444-3216 or via email.