Don't forget to teach the teachers

September 29, 1996|By Susan Reimer

VOLUNTEERS will spend this weekend hard-wiring hundreds of Maryland schools onto the Internet. But the computer terminals they install will be unblinking, accusing eyes if the teachers are not wired into the Internet, too.

This is a laudable effort to bring vast information resources into the classrooms, but it will be a futile one if overburdened teachers see it as yet another demand, an intimidating, baffling demand, and resist it.

There is a ton of stuff out there on the World Wide Web, but the Internet resembles a landfill more than a library. Even if a teacher is comfortable with the feel of a mouse under her fingers -- and many are not -- it takes a tremendous amount of time to sort it, evaluate it and merge it with a lesson plan.

"It has been clear for a long time that the Achilles' heel in this is going to be support for the teachers," says Kathleen Fulton, associate director of the Center for Technology and Learning at the University of Maryland College Park.

Fulton worked for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment before it was disbanded by the Republican Congress, and she knows whereof she speaks.

A 1995 report that she helped write found that not only do most teachers believe they are inadequately trained to use technology, but many also fail to see how it will make their jobs easier.

"Once teachers are trained and supported, they don't ever want to go back," says Fulton. "They find it a powerful tool. But without that support, there will be resistance. Teachers will consider it another initiative, another burden." So Fulton and University of Maryland colleague Stan Bennett formed NetVision in July. The group of educators, administrators, media specialists and business people set out to help teachers log onto the Internet and begin to use it effectively in their teaching.

Each of the 600-plus schools wired this weekend will receive a kind of starter kit from the NetVision team.

It includes a step-by-step guide to accessing the Internet and getting to a Web site, a list of sites of interest to teachers in each subject area, a video showing ways the Internet can be used and information on where to go for more training. There are phone numbers for people who have volunteered to talk teachers through their difficulties.

Videos and information kits will not be enough. Teachers will need time during school hours. That means more teachers.

"It is much easier to get hardware for a school than more teachers, says Fulton. The kids can teach the teachers how to operate the computers and how to move around the Web. From there, however, teachers must figure out meaningful ways to integrate all the stuff out there into their curricula.

"This is more than just learning how to use technology," says Fulton. "This is about teachers bringing resources into schools that they could never get any other way.

"Teachers can view this as just one more thing they are responsible for," says Fulton. "They want to be shown that this is valuable and it is worth the time commitment, because it is a major time commitment."

But what of teachers whose most urgent concerns are discipline and an erosion of basic skills? How will the Internet keep kids in their seats or improve their spelling?

"It is not the answer, but it is a powerful tool," says Fulton. "When BTC kids are creating something to be sent out to a larger audience, they are involved. And they become aware that they have to be articulate, concise and spell correctly. It can be a real motivating influence."

It is the current thinking in education that teachers should not teach facts, but teach children how to sort, value and employ the mountains of information waiting for them in the world. The sheer fire hydrant quality of the Internet is well-suited to that purpose.

"It is what they will have to do for the rest of their lives," says Fulton.

And it is what the teachers will have to do for the rest of their lives. We have to prepare them, too.

Pub Date: 9/29/96

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