Teachers: We want in on the IT decision-making

Canadian teachers have accepted technology in classrooms but want a louder voice in decisions related to the use of computers — a concern that could impede IT integration in schools, according to the experts behind a national survey.

“”It makes sense (that they should be consulted more often)

because teachers are the ones in the classroom,”” said Bernie Froese-Germain, a researcher in professional development services at the Ottawa-based Canadian Teachers’ Federation, which conducted the poll with Vector Research. “”They are, presumably, the experts when it comes to pedagogy and instruction, and they know what the students’ needs are.””

Yet, often, he said, the push for technology comes from outside the school, be it from business interests, government or parents. The idea behind the survey was to gauge teachers’ opinions on the place of computers and information and communications technology in class.

At the moment, IT managers in schools make technology decisions by consulting school administrators, IT consultants and teachers, explained Earl Rutledge, coordinator, staff development and educational technology at Nova Scotia Teachers’ Unionin Halifax.

“”I think it’s an issue of volume and quantity,”” said Rutledge, a member of the study’s steering committee, on gauging the opinions of educators. “”I think it’s a case that there’s not enough energy put into making sure that their opinions are heard.””

Froese-Germain said decisions around IT may even be made by a de facto IT person — who is not even a certified IT manager — or someone at the board level.

The survey’s results showed that teachers want more discussion about issues related to computer training, technical support in schools and the upgrading costs of equipment, said Froese-Germain.

At the same time, however, teachers think too much emphasis on computers is detrimental to other areas that would improve learning. The media and other groups “”ascribe these incredible powers to technology,”” namely that, in and of itself, computers will improve children’s academic scores, said Froese-Germain.

In some cases, technology is being acquired at the expense of dealing with other equally important areas, such as large class sizes, inadequate music or arts programs or lack of support for special-needs’ kids, he added.

Yet some say the fundamental problem emerging from the national study is integrating technology into schools. “”It’s not how you make Microsoft Office work better,”” Rutledge explained. “”It’s more the integration of technology in the classroom. What does it look like when you have three or four computers in the class with 30 kids? What kinds of assignments? And what about . . . equity for kids coming from families who don’t have access?””

The study, the result of telephone interviews conducted from May 27 to June 5, is considered phase two in tackling the issue of incorporating technology into schools, said Rutledge. Phase one was a March symposium in Vancouver in which about 35 teachers seen as leaders in technological integration helped design the survey questions. But the trick is to balance the opinions of the innovators against the skeptics, he added.

Over time, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation will have to undertake deeper research to compile successful strategies on integrating computers that have been used in Canadian schools and determine the appropriate financial commitment, said Rutledge.

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