Louisiana's America2000 Technology Innovation Program
Macon Ridge, LA
In the most rural parts of Louisianawhere teen pregnancy and school dropout rates soar and cotton, corn, and lumber feed a sporadic and unreliable economyresources are hard to come by. Even more elusive are ways to sustain the bounties that do make their way to the bayou.
Until the mid-1990s, Macon Ridge was an area on the wrong side of the Digital Divide. With hardly a computer in sight, its schools were struggling to educate more than 16,000 students in a region comprised of five of the state's poorest counties (or parishes, as they are known locally): Catahoula, Concordia, Franklin, Morehouse, and Tensas. Libraries were limited or non-existent in many of the schools, and Internet connections were something that happened in other places. Funding was a constant concern for the most basic of services.
Impressively, teachers in Macon Ridge were determined to bring in change. Beginning in 1994, members of the Concordia Parish school staff, including Personnel Director Leinda Peterman, sought and won grant money that enabled them to purchase limited computer equipment and install 56K lines for Internet access in selected schools. Excited about the potential for technology to provide access to resources that were otherwise unavailable in their rural system, the staff wanted to find additional ways to wire classrooms, provide broadband access, and train teachers.
Peterman sought out other districts with similar characteristics and needs in the Macon Ridge Enterprise Community, an area designated as high-poverty by the United States Department of Education (USDE). As the personnel director, Peterman was looking for ways to provide professional development for staff. She found an opportunity to expand an existing partnership between the Catahoula and Concordia Parish School System. Those two districts asked three other districts to join them in applying for the America2000 Technology Innovation Challenge Grant, a multi-million dollar, USDE opportunity. Online professional development (OPD) was a key part of the proposal.
"The teachers we work with are spread among 25 schools separated by as much as 130 miles," says Peterman. "Online professional development was the ideal solution for bringing these teachers together."
The Macon Ridge group received the grant in 1998. Macon Ridge was one of 100 districts across the nation to receive a Challenge grant between 1995 and 2000. It was the first time the region had ever received a competitive grant of this size. Prior to receiving the grant, some of the schools to be impacted had only one dial-up line for Internet access. Now students in all the schools have access to all the resources of the Web.
Today Peterman heads the America2000 Technology Innovation Challenge Grant for the five parishes that comprise Macon Ridge, and the grant is in its fifth year. The project has been approved by the USDE for a sixth year but with no additional funding. During the extension year, the project schools will use carry-over funding to help provide training for the total school faculty. Once the funding has been depleted, each district will retain the staff to continue services to the district, schools, and teachers. OPD will continue to be an important element of the overall professional development program.
America2000's online professional development program began through its partnership with Education Development Center (EDC), an educational non-profit based in Massachusetts. EDC staff collaborated with America2000 project leaders to develop a set of online workshops that would be offered to project teachers across the region. These workshops, which focus on integrating technology into the curriculum, have evolved into a national online professional development training model that is now offered by EDC to school districts and educational organizations across the country. The new program, known as EdTech Leaders Online ™ (ETLO), was launched in the fall of 2000 and now operates in 26 states. ETLO is based in the Center for Online Professional Education (COPE) at EDC and is funded in part by the AT&T Foundation.
The ETLO program is a train-the-trainer model that prepares interdisciplinary teams of teachers and administrators to become online professional development specialists in educational technology. The teams participate in an intensive online program that trains them to deliver online workshops to colleagues. Once trained, the teams go on to facilitate online courses selected from the ETLO course catalogue or custom-designed to meet their own local needs. As the district personnel run the workshops, they continue to receive support and mentoring from other online professional development teams and EDC staff and consultants.
Now in the fifth year of the ETLO program, the original group of Macon Ridge teachers is taking over the facilitation of the courses altogether. They are also working with EDC to expand the range of online course offerings. The clear goal is local capacity building, as district staff grow into online professional development specialists who serve as resources for their own communities.
During the 2002-03 academic year in Macon Ridge, online professional development was delivered to 310 teachers, with 14 workshops offered. Online courses have included "Finding the Best Educational Resources on the Web" and "Approaches and Tools for Developing Web-Enhanced Lessons." Participants access their course materials on the Web and complete a sequence of Web-based readings and activities during each course session. Activities may include exploring a Web site or a computer-based simulation, experimenting with a new technology tool or piece of software, and viewing an online video clip. The focal point of the session is the online discussion, where learners participate asynchronously to share their reflections, ideas, comments, and questions in response to a focused discussion prompt posed by the facilitator. Graduates from the first year are leading a new group of 100 teachers through the courses, with support from the facilitation team at EdTech Leaders Online.
The lessons learned in Macon Ridge guided the development of the ETLO program administered by EDC in other areas of the United States. The project emphasizes the importance of integrating online work with ongoing local professional development efforts. EDC encourages district teams to work face-to-face when necessary. The organization has also helped staff determine how they should select teams, how to ensure that team members are supported by their district's technology and professional development departments, and ways to articulate long-term goals.
Macon Ridge has been cited as a success story by the EDC precisely because the online work is integrated into a complete professional development plana plan that includes on-site technical assistance, workshops, and training. Staff from the five Macon Ridge districts sharing the America 2000 technology grant meet monthly. Project teachers, including trained facilitators, meet twice annually for face-to-face professional development and to share information and concerns. School teams, which are selected based on interest and local needs, are usually made up of six members. However, smaller teams of two or three have been selected in certain circumstances.
Another plus is that the group has money available for technical support and stipends for participating teachers. A project teacher who participated in all aspects of the program in the 2002-03 academic year would have completed 46 hours of professional development and earned an additional stipend of $1,020.
Peterman thinks this is important. "Teacher pay is extremely low in Louisiana, particularly in our poor districts, and incentives are one way to address teacher turnover related to salary issues," she says. "Participating in professional development, particularly online courses and workshops, can be time-consuming and intensive."
The effort has not been wasted. Facilitators in Macon Ridge now include local school staff, district-level teams, and university and community college partners who offer programming to teachers throughout the region.
"We can deliver workshops easily, and we feel confident about developing courses to meet local needs," says Peterman. "We stay in regular contact with EDC and the ETLO staff when we purchase additional workshops, make suggestions, or celebrate successes. We feel that we are fully self-sufficient at this point."
Meanwhile, students who had become accustomed to the "Closed" signs on the doors of their school libraries are now getting used to something different: learning brought alive with the help of the Web.
Parts of this text were adapted with permission from Barbara Treacy, Glenn Kleiman, and Kirsten Peterson, "Successful Online Professional Development," in Learning & Leading with Technology, September 2002. Copyright (c) ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 1.800.336.5191 (U.S. & Canada) or 1.541.302.3777 (Int'l), email@example.com, www.iste.org. All rights reserved. Available at http://www.edtechleaders.org/Resources/articles/SuccessfulOPD.pdf.
Parts of this text were adapted with permission from "A District Story," in Mosaic: An EDC Report Series, Winter 2001. Available at http://www.edtechleaders.org/action/story.htm. Mosaic is a publication of the Education Development Center.