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Monday, September 04, 2006

Diffusion Theory and Train the Trainer Programs

In the article "Realizing the Promise of Technology", Jane David gives four factors that impact the use of technology; access, functionality, technical support, and professional development. In the given scenario, Getting Technology school district has at most, 2 people at each school who use technology…and myself. Combining the four factors of technology use with general diffusion theories and Daniel Surry's adaptation of diffusion theory for instructional technology, the following theoretical and applied framework would be my recommendation.
There are several general diffusion theories each with variations on the basic premise that people adopt new ideas, technology, or products at different rates based upon individual, societal, external and other cues. In any given population of people, there will be a small number of people "ahead" of the crowd, a large segment of the population who then "follows" and finally either a leveling off or a steady decline to the point of "laggards" who may never adopt. Individual motivation aside, the concept of a few persons taking an early lead which then "spreads" into the mainstream is the foundation of general diffusion theory.
Getting new technology school board has only 1-2 people at each school to begin with. If these persons are given the basic four factors (access, functionality, technical support, and professional development) combined with a positive experience, incentive, and meaningful results…I could reasonably expect the use of technology in the classroom to "diffuse" or spread beyond the original 1-2 teachers at each site. To begin with, it is important to state a rationale behind the use of technology. Is the technology an "end unto itself" or part of a larger plan to revitalize, or "re-invent' the educational process? Knowing what teachers, administrators, parents, and students expect from the use of technology in the classroom is an important component to deciding how to implement a technology initiative. I would ask via a survey and then dependent on results, design a technology in the curriculum plan similar to the Instructional Technology Student Benchmarks concept cited in Learning and Leading with Technology by Hodge.
Initially, a meeting with the representatives from each school gathered in one central place would encourage a clear definition of mission/goals with the additional point of everyone "getting to know one another". Original representatives would form the "backbone" of the network which would then be continued on-line. Each representative becomes an "expert" for a particular area, field, or subject depending on interests and qualifications. All core members would be available to all other members via e-mail and traditional means with a published and on-line directory established for the district. The on-line page would consist of "how to" information designed by each of the local "experts" with chat, listserve, e-mail directory, and tutorials available. As more people were 'brought on board' the site would continue to grow and diversify. Links to lesson plans, additional outside information, individual classroom projects, etcetera would also encourage and assist beginners.
One important aspect is the rationale behind the use of the technology. Assuming educators are dedicated and aligned with parents desire to improve learning, Surry's systemic change diffusion theory provides a rationale for improved learning, record keeping, and communication. Rather than have each person "re-invent the wheel", the ability to easily use pre-existing information or lesson plans while customizing to their own needs would encourage more teachers to try the technology. Keeping learning time to a minimum and providing need support is essential. Core teachers should be willing to dedicate themselves to designing easy to read and use information that could be shared with other teachers in the district. If on-line help is not useful, then e-mail or a listserve would be available. If the need was urgent or was not answered on-line, then…and only then…would a person be contacted directly. Ensuring communication between teachers is only one benefit. As teachers using the technology post classroom assignments, interact with busy parents, and provide enhanced student learning opportunities, parents and students will come to expect it. In this manner, Surry's Instrumentalist, or adopter based, approach is supported. The end user will often determine the level of expectation. Rather than use technology because it is better, the end user must experience these benefits and then come to expect or insist upon the standard. In turn, this "puts pressure" on slow adopters to utilize the technology.
Surry asserts "developer based theories are flawed in that they overstate the role of technological superiority in the diffusion process" (Surry, 1997). Surry breaks IT diffusion theories into two major subcategories; Macro (systemic change) and Micro (product utilization). Each of these categories is further divided into two predominant philosophies; Technological Determinism (Developer based) and Technological Instrumentalism (Adopter based). As Surry puts it, "Instructional technolgies greatest challenge is not developing effective products, but developing effective products that people want to use" (Surry, 1997). Teachers will want to use products that increase learning, but if they do not want to use technology…for whatever reason…student and parents insistence upon technology standards can encourage a teacher who is a "laggard" to adopt the technology. Because the district is implementing technology into the classrooms, we can assume each teacher has access to at least one computer. An on-line support system is available, complete with "how to's" fact sheets, examples, resources, contact persons, tutorials, and finally…live assistance.
In addition to on-line tutorials, periodic training sessions should be delivered in a variety of formats to meet as many different needs as possible. Training should consist of software, hardware, design, implementation, trends, and as many diverse areas of technology integration as possible. On-line, teleconferencing, video conferencing, and other distance events can reduce the cost of making training available to large numbers of teachers with traditional conferences still available. Professional development does not need to be expensive to be effective. Sharing results of training and the ability to cross train should be encouraged.
The issue of functionality is essential to any technology initiative. Without reliable, easy to use equipment and programs, there is little incentive for anyone to make the necessary time and other investments associated with placing technology in the classrooms. Professional technicians should be available at each school or a reliable contract established to ensure proper repairs can be made in a timely manner. It is inexcusable a hardware failure place students behind a week in lesson plans…or cause a teacher to substitute a dynamic learning activity with a make-shift lesson because equipment is malfunctioning. Parents and students will be affected in a similar manner. Rather than use technology as a communication tool, it will become a communication crutch.
Students are the next valuable resource in the diffusion process. Similar to the backbone and rib cage approach used with teachers…teachers in turn design a similar program with students. Students with technological experience can be given the task of training less experienced students…but all students have meaningful input. The same four factors should be available to students; access, functionality, technical support, and personal development can replace professional development. In this case other students become the resource with the teacher acting as "last resort". Ongoing feedback, self assessment, and peer review each encourage students to become acquainted with technology while becoming an "expert" in their chosen field.
Because schools are linked together, intellectual competition between similar subjects/grades is one method to elicit an exciting source of "buy in" as students are not forced to interact in their class alone. Likewise, student generated technical assistance on-line is a valuable asset for other students and faculty. Encouraging students to learn new skills and train each other is one more method to ensure the use of technology becomes an expectation.
References
David, Jane. Realizing the promise of technology. On-line. Available http://www.ed.gov/pubs/EdReformstudies/SysReforms/david1.html
Hodge, B. (1997). Task computing. Learning and Leading with Technology 25(2), 6-12.
Surry, Daniel. Diffusion Theory and Instructional Technology

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