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Technology and teacher productivity
A high school Technology Coordinator from Southern California shares his reflection about the connection between teacher productivity and the use of technology.
By Mark La Porte
The multi-billion dollar question that grabs the interest of the media and the politicians funding technology is "How does classroom technology improve learning?" The definitive answer to this question will probably elude researchers for a long time because the variables are too complex. Instead the questioning should focus on issues of classroom productivity. Why productivity? We need to look at the experience of business and government in the field of computing.

Laporte with a monitor and white-board.

Mark La Porte uses technology to enhance his teaching.

The ability to collect, organize and utilize information is fundamental to business and government. The unexcelled ability of computers to perform these functions led to the widespread adoption and consequent restructuring of these industries that today could not function without this computing power. The early adoption of computing technology in education was usually by the same data management departments such as payroll and records that parallel business and government structures. The development of classroom instructional technology has followed a much more jagged course.
First, for purposes of this article, classroom instructional technology does not include programmed learning and distance learning both of which attempt to eliminate need for the physical presence of an instructor. Instead, classroom instructional technology includes technology that requires the use of a computer for instruction. It is the author's thesis that the use of classroom instructional technology has struggled in its goal of universal acceptance because the educational technology leaders skipped the productivity lesson. It was this increase in productivity that led business to adopt computing as a fundamental part of its organizational processes.
Student at her desk with a computer.

Student works on a class presentation.

In short, all teachers do not embrace technology because they do not see the benefit in terms of their time and effort. The learning curve is too high in terms of the perceived payoff. And to make matters worse, education technology leaders have habitually focused on the sizzle rather than the steak. An overemphasis on graphics manipulation, exotic software, and time intensive applications leaves many teachers to admire these products but then conclude that there is not enough time in the day to utilize these jazzy approaches. We have forgotten that the classroom teacher is faced with teaching to demanding content standards, assessing student performance, and keeping up with record keeping duties. Indeed, these fundamental teacher work areas are where the efforts of technology leaders should be focused. The use of technology to improve their ability to function as teachers will lead to a more widespread adoption of the use of technology by the classroom teacher.
Where to begin? There must be numerous studies that follow a teacher during the day and track their actual activities. In a normal high school, these studies would probably conclude that teachers spend a considerable part of their day preparing resources by some duplicating process, distributing and collecting these documents, and grading and returning the same papers. Another activity that consumes an inordinate amount of teacher time and productivity is the preparation of supplemental instructional material and the notification and posting of assignments. And lest it not be forgotten, there is also the preparation and distribution of materials to the absent, the student making up past assignments, and the special needs learner who may require specialized materials and assignments. Additionally, there are new emergent demands such as documenting student performance of student achievement through portfolios and authentic assessment. These are teacher activities that need to be a substantial focus of technology leaders who seek the adoption of technology in the classroom. The more elegant and powerful teaching strategies of Problem Based Learning and collaboration will more easily follow as teachers have more time to focus on higher level teaching and a more productive use of their time.

2 students sitting in front of a computer

Students do research for a joint presentation in their AP European History class.

How can technology attack these areas of productivity? Simply, begin to develop systems that expedite the performance of activities that require a substantial amount of teacher non-instructional time and energy.
     Of all the types of software on the market, groupware is the most valuable for attacking productivity issues. Groupware is defined as software used by an organizational group (teachers, parents, and students) to collaborate and share. It allows the collection, organization, and retrieval of instructional information. Organized properly, it allows for members of the school community to access instructional materials, lessons, activities, and resources. The time-consuming activities of locating resources, notification, and informing are either reduced or made more efficient by the use of this software. It should be accessible over the Internet and can include hyper linked resources and documents. Such resources can readily be edited by browser and returned to the instructor as an electronic document via e-mail or over a network. Folders of activities and materials created by teachers or publishers can be readily shared and collaboratively added to by instructors who teach the same classes. The production of these documents becomes a one-time activity by either scanning or the creation by teachers. Retrieved documents can be reproduced, if necessary, over networked printing resources.
Sophisticated groupware allows for the automatic notification of all involved members of the group of relevant changes and new documents that affect their program of instruction or learning. Student produced documents can be evaluated and forwarded to parents, special needs case workers, and students and placed in secure document repositories. Ideally, this groupware should be easy enough to learn that the value in its use will be seen as a large time saver for teachers.
     The documenting of student performance and the evaluation of the achievement of content standards is emerging as a crucial area for schools. The time that will be consumed by teachers and administrators in meeting mandated requirements will be huge. Databases of student documents that demonstrate student achievement of content standards are the only realistic answer. The processes and technology to create searchable and retrievable files from digital and manually produced student documents efficiently and quickly needs to be developed and adopted. Without a simple process to accomplish this, teacher time will increasingly be focusing on record keeping rather than instruction.
" ... the continual effort to find simple and efficient approaches to make teachers more productive is paying off."
Fortunately, these timesaving processes and approaches actually exist and do work. The teachers at Temescal Canyon High have been discovering that technology can actually give them more time to be better teachers. While undergoing the usual frustrations of technology startup, they have become increasingly adept at using the resources of the Internet and our groupware approaches. The result is, after a year's widespread use these technologies, teachers are beginning to realize actual gains in productivity in a number of areas. The demand for printing is decreasing, classroom resources are richer and more varied, home-school communications have increased dramatically by the teachers who use the electronic resources of our campus. Just as importantly, the continual effort to find simple and efficient approaches to make teachers more productive is paying off. More and more teachers are committing themselves to the learning curve necessary to use the technology while the technology leadership has focused their efforts on flattening this same curve.

The results of this effort can be viewed at our Titanweb site at:

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Mark La Porte is the Technology Coordinator at Temescal Canyon High School in Lake Elsinore, California.

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