A Cost-Effective and "Learning-Effective" Model for K-12 Internet Teacher Training
Mary Fran YAFCHAK <email@example.com>
The NYNEX-NYSERNet Train-the-Trainer K-12 Pilot Program (http://nysernet.org/projects/nynex-k12) materialized from the realization that although more and more K-12 institutions are becoming connected to the Internet, it appears that a frighteningly small percentage of those schools are prepared to integrate that connection with actual classroom use or even make it readily available among their teachers as a tool for collaboration, research, and classroom preparation.
In June 1996, NYSERNet sought and received funding from the NYNEX Corporation to investigate a particular model for Internet teacher training that could help remedy this situation -- a model that seemed to be cost-effective as well as "learning effective." It was proposed that Internet-aware teachers could act as Internet trainers themselves and conduct training throughout their own districts and schools.
The program was conducted over the 1996-97 school year within the following districts and schools in Central New York (USA): Binghamton City School District, Binghamton; Ithaca City School District, Ithaca; Liverpool City School District, Liverpool; Syracuse City School District, Liverpool; Ed Smith Elementary School, Syracuse; Rome Free Academy, Rome; and Whitesboro Middle School, Whitesboro.
Each participating district/school was at a different point in terms of its level and current use of Internet connectivity as well as the amount of training its teachers had already received.
The schools and districts involved selected their own teachers to participate in the Train-the-Trainer program. Each participant received three days of hands-on Internet instruction, instruction in how to teach similar courses at their own schools, and materials to support their on-site instruction. Support for the on-site implementations was available throughout the project via telephone, e-mail list, and optional site visits. As a critical part of the assessment of the Train-the-Trainer concept, trainers were allowed to adapt both the materials and the delivery where necessary to meet the needs of their particular schools as well as the very real constraints of the K-12 environment.
At the end of the project, participant feedback was solicited to provide insights into the effectiveness of the proposed model. Notable findings include the following:
By the end of June 1996, 357 teachers out of an admittedly ambitious goal of 500 had been trained, representing all participating districts and schools. For this reason alone, the program could be declared a success. However, along with this simple but important statistic, the project produced other valuable results:
The final conclusion of this project is that the Train-the-Trainer model for Internet training is particularly appropriate for the K-12 environment. We also conclude that the implementation of a local tailored offering is not as easy as it might appear even given a prescribed training program. Teacher-trainers faced a wide variety of issues when trying to plan, schedule, and implement locally, most of which involved the management of time -- their own time for planning and teaching; training participants' time for attending; and everyone's time for practice and classroom integration. Additionally, there are different educational priorities and Internet foci across localities that create a need for customization, customization that again requires time.
While we can't make the above issues go away, we should be able reduce the toll they take on the training effort. Increased flexibility and modularity at all points seem necessary. Perhaps the easiest target for this is the pilot training program itself. A second generation of workshops and materials that take into account the feedback from this project would be a logical next step. Other targets -- support for a training program implementation, working within constraints of active teacher schedules, access to technology -- are not as easy to hit. They are complex by their nature and more difficult to recommend solutions for. With the publishing and presentation of project results, we hope to provide some insights, guidance, and perhaps even inspiration to anyone endeavoring to resolve these problems and help effective use of the Internet in the K-12 classroom become a reality.
The NYNEX-NYSERNet Train-the-Trainer K-12 Pilot Program (http://nysernet.org/projects/nynex-k12) materialized from the realization that although more and more K-12 institutions were becoming connected to the Internet, it appeared that a frighteningly small percentage of those schools were prepared to integrate their connection with actual classroom use or even make it readily available among their teachers as a tool for collaboration, research, and classroom preparation.
In July of 1996, NYSERNet (http://nysernet.org) sought and received funding from NYNEX to investigate a particular model for Internet teacher training that could help remedy this situation -- a model that seemed to be cost-effective as well as "learning effective." It was proposed that, given initial hands-on training sessions as well as follow-up materials for use back at their schools, Internet-aware teachers could act as Internet trainers themselves and conduct training throughout their own districts and schools.
To develop and implement the "Train-the-Trainer" project, NYSERNet leveraged its own expertise in the area of project management (http://nysernet.org/projects/current.html; http://nysernet.org/projects/past.html) and integrated it with the instructional product expertise of AppliedKnowledge Services, part of NYSERNet's professional affiliate, AppliedTheory Communications, Inc. This collaboration produced the final training structure and pilot program -- a first and "best guess" effort at meeting the critical need for cost-effective, reproducible instruction that would support K-12 teachers in their integration of Internet technologies into the classroom.
The NYNEX-NYSERNet "Train-the-Trainer" K-12 Pilot program was conducted over the 1996-97 school year within four districts and three schools in New York State. Each participating district/school already had a leased line connection to the Internet but each differed in how far that connection reached into the facilities. Additionally, some were just beginning to introduce the Internet to their staff and students whereas others had used the Internet over multiple school years, but not necessarily to the extent where practical daily or even weekly classroom use was common. Districts/schools also differed in the range of formal Internet teacher training that may have been done prior to the start of this program.
School districts involved in the program were allowed to choose
three teachers to be trained as teachers-trainers; individual
schools were allowed to choose one. Each participant was provided
with the following:
All materials used were designed with these three goals in mind:
From this foundation, trainers were allowed to adapt both the materials and delivery where necessary to meet the needs of their particular schools as well as the very real constraints of the K-12 environment.
The following section provides detail as to the actual numbers of teachers trained and how this training was conducted across participating sites.
The initial program called for participating districts to train up to 100 teachers and participating schools to train up to 33 within the implementation period (December 1996 - June 1997). This would result in a total of 500 teachers trained through the pilot project, an admittedly ambitious goal in light of the fact that the initial Train-the-Trainer workshop series was offered in the fall semester (October 24 and 31 and November 8), prerequisite training plans for conducting on-site training were due December 1, and the entire project ended with the school year in June. However, participating teacher-trainers rose to the challenge, putting considerable amounts of their own time and energy into scheduling, planning, and conducting the sessions. By the end of June 1997, a total of 350 teachers had been trained by the NYNEX-NYSERNet teacher-trainers, representing all participating districts and schools.
Of the 15 teachers who began the program and participated in the initial training that was provided, 13 remained active throughout and completed a survey at the end. The survey, coupled with an informal interview with NYSERNet's Project Coordinator, provides a clearer picture of how each conducted his or her training sessions and the feelings each had about the usefulness of the pilot as provided.
The breakdown of actual job titles among participants was
When asked about their actual role in their school/district, three responded that their primary responsibility was classroom teaching; three responded that it was staff development; three felt their role included both classroom teaching and staff development; and four described their primary responsibilities as "other."
Participants' self-described Internet usage prior to the program included four who described themselves as regular e-mail/WWW users proficient at using a WWW browser to locate and retrieve specific information. Of the remaining nine, six described themselves as regular e-mail/WWW users; one was an infrequent user of e-mail/WWW; two said that they were not users of the Internet at all prior to the program.
Only one school district was able to include all 21 hours of original material in its local workshops. All remaining schools/districts found they could not allocate the full 21 hours due to scheduling and staffing constraints common within the K-12 environment. Variations on the compressed session offerings were numerous. Total training time for compressed sessions ranged from a low of 5.5 hours to a high of 12 hours, with about an even split between workshops held during school and those held immediately after school.
As material was compressed to fit into practical schedules, teacher-trainers universally sought ways to compensate for the reduction in material. Methods for doing this included
In all cases, teacher-trainers made their own decisions about the degree of emphasis that topics covered in the initial workshops would receive in the more "tailored" offerings to their own districts and schools. The following survey results show how various topics (shown in italics below; also Figure 1 and Figure 2) were covered by the teacher-trainers. Survey choices were "none," "little," "some," or "much."
As noted above, decisions to emphasize and de-emphasize particular topics were influenced by the need to compress the material given. However, even as many teacher-trainers were compressing materials, they were also adding material of their own with the goal of further customizing the sessions and improving relevance to their group. Examples of topics that were covered in greater depth than the original materials are as follows:
Examples of topics that were included in addition to those in the original materials include the following:
A final point at which customization occurred was in whether or not the teacher-trainer used the electronic presentations (PowerPoint slideshows) which were provided for the first two classes ("Internet Basic Training" and "Search Tools & Strategies"). Overall, the presentations were well received, with nine of the thirteen (69%) teacher-trainers using all or part of them within their training. Those who used the complete presentations indicated most often that they thought it helped with organization or provided necessary structure ("Had to do mostly lecture/demo due to lack of equipment, so slideshows were very needed to organize the presentation and focus attention"; "I thought it worked well and kept me on track"). Those who skipped over parts were mostly responding to tight schedules that enforced stricter relevancy ("Did not have time enough to do everything"; "Intro. to Search Tools & Strategies (ST&S) was less relevant and not immediately useful so it was eliminated"). Those who elected not to use the presentations at all cited too little time or a mismatch with teaching styles ("Had to change timeframe and would have been too choppy to skip slides"; "Teaching style and equipment/room setup in the school are not conducive to lecture-mode teaching/presentation").
As the project end date of June 1997 approached, training was still in progress in many of the schools. In others, a first round of training sessions was being reviewed and evaluated with analysis directed at improving the effectiveness of a second round of training. With all of this energy and work still in progress, it was difficult to declare that the project was actually coming to a close. Officially, however, it was and final input about the program was solicited from both the teacher-trainers and their superintendents in the form of interviews and final reports. When the "reporting dust" cleared, it was evident that the NYNEX-NYSERNet K-12 "Train-the-Trainer" Pilot Program could be declared a success:
In addition to the more obvious success of the NYNEX K-12 "Train-the-Trainer"
Pilot Program, some hard but important lessons were revisited.
These lessons are not new to those familiar with the K-12 environment
nor are they unique to this project. They are included here as
realistic and serious reminders of a few basic tenets. NYSERNet
will consider it part of its success if their impact is recognized
and accounted for by those planning similar training implementations.
The final conclusion of this project is that the "Train-the-Trainer" model for Internet training is particularly appropriate for the K-12 environment. Support for this position was expressed in several of the final reports submitted by the participating sites:
Through the initial workshops, the model supports development of Internet expertise that will remain within the school or district, increasing the pool of peer-to-peer assistance. More importantly, however, the teacher-trainer returns to his or her school prepared to offer formal Internet classes and armed with Internet-specific teaching tips, presentation materials, instructor manuals, and student manuals. These can be used to duplicate the original workshops but in a way that is tailored to fit the schedule, focus, and expertise of the local audience.
Another important finding is that implementation of a local tailored offering is not as easy as it might appear given a prescribed training program. Teacher-trainers faced a wide variety of issues when trying to plan, schedule, and implement locally, most of which involved the management of time -- their own time for planning and teaching; training participants' time for attending; and everyone's time for practice and classroom integration. Additionally, there were different educational priorities and Internet foci across localities that created a need for customization -- customization that, again, required time.
While we can't make these issues go away, we should be able reduce the toll they take on the training effort. Increased flexibility and modularity at all points seem necessary. Perhaps the easiest target for this is the initial training program itself. A second generation of workshops and materials that take into account the feedback from this project is a logical next step and information from the pilot program is being provided to the original program developers at AppliedTheory Communications for further development and enhancement. Other targets for improvement -- i.e., support for a training program implementation, working within constraints of active teacher schedules, access to technology -- are not as easy to affect. They are complex by their nature and more difficult to recommend solutions for. With the publishing of this report, NYSERNet hopes it has provided some insights, guidance, and perhaps even inspiration to anyone endeavoring to resolve these problems and help effective use of the Internet in the K-12 classroom become a reality.