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Navigating the Shifting Terrain of Technology in the Classroom

by Andy Nash

"The button was there and I pushed it. That was an action that will change my professional life."
-- Cindy Holden, Vermont Adult Learning

This is the comment of one brave participant in the New England Literacy Resource Center’s (NELRC) Technology Integration Project (TIP), a six-month professional development initiative designed to prepare adult educators to understand, choose, and effectively incorporate technology into instruction. Like Cindy, many of the project participants began clicking buttons and using applications they had heard about but didn’t quite feel confident enough to try out on their own. What TIP offered was a supportive learning community, a knowledgeable guide, and clear expectations to experiment.

Adult educators understand that they need to build fluency with technology in order to pass that competence along to students who need these skills in their lives – to function in the workplace, to stay informed, and to both monitor and support the way their children use the internet and social media. They also understand that the world of education is being rapidly transformed by new tech tools and innovations. Many instructors have kept pace with these changes and are bringing them into their classrooms. They may have grown up in technology-rich environments and know how to navigate that terrain. But others, though interested in staying abreast of change, feel that they can’t get a foothold in this ever-shifting landscape; just as they learn one new instructional tool, they discover that it’s become outmoded and replaced by a new device, application, or platform, and they feel back at step one. The TIP aimed to help instructors think less about the endless number of tools they could learn about, and focus instead on building confidence with specific tools that would meet their instructional purposes.

TIP was also an experiment in providing extended professional development to a field where most staff are juggling multiple under-compensated jobs and have little time to focus intensively on their own development. It needed to provide all the supports we recommend when we talk about learner persistence, and focus on practical, concrete outcomes. The design included these key elements:
  1. Start off with a facilitated online course* that builds a common knowledge base and develops a learning community.
  2. Discuss ways the course ideas can be applied in various settings and have participants work with a project partner as they bring new tools and techniques into their classrooms.
  3. Provide individual and group coaching by a knowledgeable and supportive facilitator.
  4. Connect the learning to other requirements, such as implementation of the College and Career Readiness Standards, so that it feels like a support rather than an add-on.
  5. Reinforce the learning by having participants reflect on and articulate what they have learned via a final project.

Eighty percent of the TIP participants completed the full sequence of activities up to the final project and sixty-six percent completed everything. While participants had suggestions for ways the project could be tightened up, the impressive completion rate suggests that our efforts to support their persistence had an impact. In addition, the great number of discussion posts about what participants were learning from each other’s projects and how they would transfer those ideas to their own work, demonstrated that we had reached our primary aim of building practitioners’ sense of competence and confidence in using technology to meet their needs. For more on TIP and to access the archive, visit NELRC's Promising Practices page: http://nelrc.org/practice/index.html

*The online course that anchored the TIP project was the LINCS course, “Integrating Technology into the Adult Education Classroom.” It is available on the LINCS Learning Portal, which can be accessed from the homepage: http://lincs.ed.gov.