At a number of the case study schools, innovators sought to create conditions that would foster a "snowball effect."
As one technology coordinator advised:
Most schools will have some "early adopters" who are interested in technology and eager to learn about it and try it out with their students. These teachers can become a core group, able to sustain their interests despite the inevitable glitches and set backs of the early stages of a technology project. In our case study projects, such early adopters showed themselves not only willing to spend their own time to learn about technology but also willing to spend time on chores such as learning to repair computers and keep a network operating, scheduling equipment rotations, and advising their fellow teachers on technology options.
If technology-supported educational reform is to really change a school and affect students deeply, however, it needs to spread beyond a handful of teachers. The experience of our case study sites suggests the importance of getting broad agreement on a school-level vision of what the school wants to become. As in the case of the Frank Paul and Open Charter School sites, that original vision may not include technology. A consistent set of instructional goals and practices is more important. If in fact technology can support these goals (and we believe it can be an important support particularly for project-based learning activities), teachers then have a motivation for learning how to use technology and to incorporate it into their teaching practices.
The experiences of our case study sites suggest that in fact the move to project-based work, without relying on lecture methods or following a textbook, is a more fundamental and difficult shift than the introduction of technology. Teachers who have learned how to design challenging activities in which students work on cooperative projects and who are able to manage multiple student groups working on different phases of their project activity find that the introduction of technology goes relatively smoothly. Since students are not expected to all be working on the same thing at the same time, the class does not need one computer for every student or student pair. Moreover, students who are used to working together find it very natural to consult with each other on their technology-related problems. Particularly in the upper grade levels, teachers who have become accustomed to playing the role of coach rather than that of all-knowing lecturer and demonstrator find that they can rely on students to help set-up equipment and troubleshoot technical difficulties.
One strategy for getting teachers involved with technology that has been used in many places is to give teachers computers for their personal use. States and private donors have set up such programs, typically with certain requirements, such as attending a class on how to use the technology. These programs give teachers a better idea of what can be done with the equipment and get them accustomed to using the equipment as a tool for their own productivity. With their own personal experience of the ways in which technology can support their productivity, teachers are more likely to see ways in which similar uses could support the projects they want their students to do. In addition, as one teacher pointed out in her interview, take-home computer programs for teachers have important motivational value:
Quite a few of our case study sites had programs that gave teachers computers for home use. At Frank Paul Elementary School, for example, a take-home Duo Dock program was implemented in 1993-94 with great success. Although the school's restructuring efforts had included the use of technology since 1988, only a portion of the school's teachers had really become enthusiastic users of technology in their classrooms. Many teachers, particularly in the primary grades, were reluctant to become involved. In January of 1994, teachers were given the opportunity to obtain a Macintosh Duo Dock (a notebook computer) for their own use if they agreed to take a day-long introductory training and to use the machine in their classrooms as well. (The computer becomes the personal property of the teacher after five years if he or she is still at Frank Paul.) Initially, all but one teacher signed up for the program, and the last teacher decided to participate after coming in one day to "play with" one of the machines. Additional mini-training sessions on technology topics selected by the teachers were offered after school, and technology use in the classroom became more widespread. The part-time technology coordinator estimates that 70% of teachers now use these computers to write narrative reports for parents, and 80% of teachers are using computers for classroom instruction. Although the level of use still varies, most classes are providing computer-based activities every week.
Another strategy for spreading the use of technology is to provide teachers with remuneration and recognition for designing good instructional uses of technology. Some districts, for example, offer "mini-grant" competitions through which teachers can obtain resources for trying out innovative instructional uses of technology in their classrooms. One of our case study sites benefitted from a nice program offered by Apple Computer; during school year breaks they paid the school's teachers as consultants to develop instructional uses of software running on Apple computers. Teachers received lots of technical support and training during these consulting periods, which in turn enhanced the level of use they were able to bring to their teaching.
Finally, adoption of goals for technology skills was another way in which pressure was exerted on teachers to incorporate technology into what they were doing. One of our middle school sites was located in a state (Texas) that had specific technology competencies that students are supposed to acquire by the end of eighth grade. Frank Paul Elementary School recently began work on a continuum of technology competencies for different developmental levels that will become part of the schoolwide set of instructional goals. The project coordinator expects the articulation and assessments of these competencies to influence those teachers who have been slow to implement technology. A strategy that our case study sites said they did not use is emphasizing prior technology skills in hiring new teachers. Even the two new schools designed to be technology demonstration schools did not emphasize technology skills in their staff selection. Administrators emphasized that good teaching skills and the ability to work well with a diverse population of students were more important. What they did seek in selecting teachers, however, was an interest in trying out new things and a willingness to learn about technology.