By Tim Leeds
Sometimes children can teach their elders when it comes to technology. Grandchildren might teach their grandparents how to use computers.
This can even extend to the classroom, where elementary students might be more prepared to use their computers than their teachers.
Montana State University-Northern has recently received a grant to examine and prevent this technology role reversal. The university recently hired Jonathan Richter, a former Havre High School graduate, to supervise work under this grant.
The grant, titled "Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to use Technology," was split among four Montana communities last fall, and runs through September 2000, Project Director Curtis Smeby said. It is the first stage in a three part grant. This portion of the grant is for capacity building, Smeby said.
This includes assessing where the university currently is in training teachers to use technology, finding where the faculty at the university stands in ability and competency in technology, deciding what needs to be done to improve it, and planning methods to implement changes, Smeby said. Richter was hired to supervise and coordinate this process, leading into applying for the second phase of the grant, the implementation phase.
"Jonathan's leading the charge in improving the integration of technology in our teacher education preparation program," Smeby said.
Richter said he views his job as a liaison and facilitator.
"Changes in technology are not something people usually embrace," he said. "I'll try to find what people's fears are and alleviate them. I have to find out how to implement systemic change in the most painless way possible."
Part of the process is to evaluate faculty members' current ability in integrating technology in the classroom. Richter said he has several tools to aid in this, including an assessment tool from the Golden Triangle Curriculum Consortium and a star chart tool from the CEO Forum which compares ability to a national average.
Richter said another part of the assessment is to listen to concerns, comments and suggestions.
"I keep my door open," he said. "Faculty, students and members of the community can voice their concerns; where we're at in the community and what we need."
Smeby said that although the grant specifically targets teacher precertification programs, they're aware that almost all departments impact the education students in some way. He said they want to include all of these areas in the program, although involvement will be voluntary.
In this process they will determine how much MSU-Northern classes currently integrate technology and how to use technology in teaching. Models will be studied to see which of these, and of other programs, can be effectively used to train education students to use technology in future classes.
The information collected in this phase will used to apply for the second phase of the grant. Richter said he hopes to be able to apply for the implementation phase by March. He said he plans to work rapidly but thoroughly in the first phase to facilitate the application then.
The implementation phase results in $400,000 a year for three years for the university, he said. This is where the results of the capacity building phase will be actually incorporated in to the teacher precertification classes. He said while some computer hardware purchases would be involved, it will involve more software, wireless systems, web systems and teaching methods.
Smeby said the second phase of the grant is much more competitive. Two hundred first-phase grants were awarded, he said, but only 80 second-phase grants will be. Receiving the first phase isn't even a requirement for applying for the second, he said.