Academic Exchange Quarterly      Summer 2003  Volume 7, Issue 2



Technology Professional Development: A Case Study


Dolores T. Burton Ed. D.

New York Institute of Technology


Dolores Burton is associate professor of education. Her areas of expertise are professional development, integrating mathematics, science, and technology, and research methods.



This study examined the outcomes of a technology professional development initiative for elementary teachers. The professional development model used cohort collaboration, multiple strategies, and job embedded experiences to help teachers incorporate technology into their practice. Five sources of evidence, surveys from administrators and teachers, as well as interviews from teachers, computer aides and the staff developer were used to examine outcomes. The evidence identified a change in teacher practice and belief that included an increase in the self-reported frequency of the use of technology, the use of computers for research and project-based learning, and the Internet for instruction. The changes identified were consistent with the Phases of Instructional Change (Sandholtz, Ringstaff, & Dwyer, 1992).



The use of computers in schools can facilitate learning experiences that benefit students (Goldman, Cole, & Syer, 1999; Heinecke, Blasi, Milman, & Washington, 1999). To help students prepare for work or higher education, teachers need to create learning experiences that support an increase in the student’s ability to be an independent learner, analyze information and solve real world problems. Technology can support and enhance learning opportunities for students to develop these skills.  Despite the benefit to children, some teachers do not use instructional technology effectively or at all in their practice. Professional development can both help teachers use technology effectively (Rowand, 2000; Wenglinsky, 1998) and change practices and beliefs about teaching and learning (Dwyer, 1990).


The Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the study was to examine the outcomes of an instructional technology professional development initiative on the beliefs and actual classroom practices of elementary teachers. The multiple phase model of instructional technology integration identified by the research of Sandholtz, Ringstaff, and Dwyer (1997) was used as the conceptual underpinning of this study. This model, Phases of Instructional Change, identified general instructional, management, and pedagogical changes in a sample of teachers during the implementation of an instructional technology initiative. The teachers in that study made changes in their practice to include more rigorous use of technology as they become more proficient and comfortable with using instructional technology. The phases identified were; Entry, Adoption, Adaptation, Appropriation, and Invention. The phases represented a continuum of the use of technology from reluctance to use any technology to a fully integrated seamless use of technology by students and teachers.


Teachers in the “Entry” phase reluctantly implemented technology in their classroom. They may have used an occasional isolated piece of software or created a lesson plan that included students’ use of the computer as a typewriter to type a handwritten story. During the “Adoption” phase, the teachers’ basic instructional patterns were maintained. Technology was used as an instructional support for drill and practice and for word processing. During the “Adaptation” phase, teachers found their instructional program was completed more rapidly and efficiently using technology, freeing time for exploration of some new technology supported curricula and pedagogy.  Project based learning using technology was implemented in their practice. At the “Appropriation” phase, teachers increased computer expertise and began to experiment with new projects and technologies. Teachers in the most advanced phase, “Invention”, invented and implemented fundamentally new strategies for teaching and learning using technology.


The Method

The site of the study was a suburban school district located on the south shore of Long Island, New York.  The community is made up of diverse groups. During the summer of 1998 state of the art computer hardware was installed in the district. New networked computer labs connected to the Internet were installed in each elementary school building and funds to implement a professional development program for teachers were allocated. A decision was made by school district administrators to focus professional development on the elementary level teachers. A research plan was created to examine the outcomes of the initiative.


The sample for the study was chosen from seventeen fifth grade teachers involved in an instructional technology professional development initiative in four elementary schools in the school district. This study examines outcomes for eight of the seventeen teachers. The eight teachers in the study satisfied the criteria for selection, which were; participation in the instructional technology professional development initiative in the 1998-1999 and 1999-2000 school years, assigned to teach fifth grade in the 1999-2000 school year, and willingness to participate in the study.


The teachers were placed in a cohort of teachers of the same grade level in each building. This resulted in four cohorts: three cohorts of four teachers and one cohort of five teachers. The cohort attended professional development activities together, had conversations and made decisions about projects and teaching strategies together and were available to provide immediate support for each other as they journeyed into the unfamiliar territory of using technology in a more rigorous way then before. Teachers shared websites and worked together developing new ideas for projects during the professional development sessions and they continued the dialogue during prep periods and grade level meetings. The cohort learning community created one component of a support system in the building for teachers involved in the initiative.


In this district, before the initiative, professional development in the use of technology consisted of self-selected after school workshops taken at the teachers’ discretion and chosen from a catalog of topics. No structure existed for the teachers to collaborate on a focused project with others that participated in the same workshops. There was no structure to support teachers in a planned and systematic way as they tried new skills in their practice.


The professional development initiative created a structured format for teachers to participate in technology professional development, collaborate with other teachers in a learning community, and access a focused support system including a computer paraprofessional that participated in the same learning experiences.


The first session of staff development started with a conversation involving the teachers, the staff developer, and this researcher about the topics they needed to teach between March and June.  Each cohort of teachers agreed on a topic for which they would like to have additional resources.  Each cohort chose a different topic. The staff developer’s materials included a collection of ten different exemplary projects created by teachers. She demonstrated exemplars using spreadsheets, databases or slideshows created by other teachers that could be adapted to the chosen topic. Teachers came to consensus about the topic and the computer application they wished to use and the remainder of the session was used for instruction in the chosen application. The teachers created a project using the application and chosen theme and implemented it in their classrooms and during computer lab periods throughout the remainder of the year.


One of the cohorts chose a social studies topic, the study of the states of the United States. In previous years, fifth grade students used books to research a state and wrote a report. The teachers decided to learn how to create a brochure and have the students design a travel brochure that included the same categories of information as would have been required in a written report. Students used the internet for their research and found the information as well as pictures that they used in their brochures to illustrate their information.


The second session of professional development was held several weeks later. During the second half-day teachers discussed challenges they were facing using the technology to address the previously chosen curriculum and instructional goals. Teachers and the professional developer brain stormed solutions to the challenges and planned strategies to implement in the classroom. The rest of the session was used to increase the teachers’ skill with the application and to discuss how the teachers would like to use the staff developer during the third full day session of the professional development sequence.


The teachers were not released from classroom duties for the third session of professional development. The staff developer team taught in the classroom with the classroom teacher or modeled a lesson with the teacher and students. Teachers, as a cohort, chose the professional development strategy they believed would enhance their instructional technology skills in the context of a project.


During the next summer, five workstations were installed in each fifth grade classroom in the district. The workstations were connected to a network and the Internet.  A twenty-nine inch monitor was installed on the ceiling of each classroom connected to one of the workstations.  This monitor allowed students in small or large groups to view what was happening on the computer connected to it.  Cable television service was installed to these monitors as well.


The fifth grade teachers met with the staff developer again during the fall to expand their skills using the same staff development model as the previous year.  The same three-session sequence was implemented with the same support system; the cohort, staff developer and the computer aides in the computer labs or each building. 


Quantitative and qualitative datum informed the study. Five sources of evidence, a survey from administrators, pretest and posttest survey data from teachers and interviews from teachers, computer aides, and the staff developer were analyzed to examine the outcomes of the professional development initiative.  


Two surveys helped to provide information for the project. The administrators’ survey gathered evidence regarding the elementary building principals’ perception of the change in teacher and student practices subsequent to the implementation of the initiative. The teacher survey was a self-assessment rubric on computer application use. One hundred percent of the participants (four elementary principals, seventeen teachers) completed the surveys.


During the first session of the professional development project, each staff member was asked to fill out the self-assessment rubric on computer use pretest. There were four “first sessions” in March and April of 1999, one for each building. They were scheduled by building to accommodate the building schedule of activities.


The teachers pre and post test self-assessment rubric addressed nine areas of computer use: basic computer operation, file management, word processing, use of spreadsheets, use of databases, graphics use, hypermedia use, network and telecommunications use, and use of technology for student assessment. The proficiency in each of the nine categories of computer use was self-rated on a four-point scale. The maximum score possible was thirty-six indicating enough proficiency to teach all of the nine applications. The minimum score was nine indicating no proficiency in any of the applications.  All teachers in the sample completed the posttest self-assessment rubric in June 2000.



A computer application proficiency score for each teacher was calculated from the pretest self-assessment rubric in the spring of 1999 and posttest self-assessment rubric in June of 2000. All participants in the study improved their computer proficiency score in nine categories of computer application use; computer operations, file management, word processing, spreadsheet use, database use, graphics, hypermedia use, telecommunications, and the use of technology for student assessment.


The mean score on the pretest for all teachers was calculated. The mean pretest score was 21.9. The mean score on the posttest was 28.9. The average gain score was 7.0 for the teacher participants. The three teachers with pretest scores under 20 made an average gain of 9.7. Teachers who began with a score above 20 (n=5) made an average gain of 5.4.


Evidence from the teacher, computer aide and staff developer interviews were analyzed for patterns and themes. The evidence identified a change in teacher practice in the use of computers in the classroom. All eight teachers in the sample reported a change from using computers for primarily word processing or to “type up stories” to the use of the computer and the Internet to do “a lot more research on projects”


Teachers reported professional development facilitated a change in their beliefs about teaching and learning to a more student-centered focus. The role of the teacher changed from a more traditional role to a facilitator and partner in inquiry. The teachers’ reports of an increase in the self-reported frequency of use of the technology, the use of computers for research and project-based learning and the use of the Internet for instruction was supported by the interview data from the computer aides in the buildings. The evidence from the administrative surveys supported the themes identified from the interview data.


Student outcomes reported by teachers, administrators, and computer aides included an increase in student knowledge, and increase in problem solving skills, an increase in oral communication skills, more independent learning and increased student motivation to learn. Access to computers in the classroom was reported to “level the playing field” for students without access to computers at home.


The evidence identified a change consistent with the changes in teacher practice and beliefs identified as the Phases of Instructional Changes by Sandholtz, Ringstaff, and Dwyer (1992).  All teachers in the study moved at least one phase on the Phases of Instructional Change continuum. At the beginning of the study two teachers were at the Entry phase, four were in the Adoption phase, and two were in the Adaptation phase. At the end of the study, one was in the Adaptation phase, five were in the Appropriation phase and two were in the Invention phase. The phase determination for each teacher was guided by an analysis of the teacher interview data and staff developer interview data.



Goodlad (1992) identified teacher isolation as one issue that can inhibit educational change. The professional development model used in this study created a learning community cohort which may have decreased feelings of isolation as teachers changed their practice and beliefs. Providing opportunities for focused discourse among the teachers on new instructional strategies using technology and the challenges teachers were facing implementing new ideas may have also contributed to a decrease in the feeling of isolation.


The professional development model provided sustained support for the teachers as they explored new ways to use computers with their students. The mediums for support were the staff developer, the cohort, and the day-to-day contact with the building computer aides.  Professional development was held in multiple sessions with time between to allow teachers to try new skills and identify implementation issues for resolution. The staff developer used multiple strategies: workshops, modeling, and team teaching. The computer aides supported the teachers on a day-to-day basis with technical trouble shooting and support. Routine grade level meetings by school district administrators provided a forum to discuss progress or problems and to encourage input in the planning of the professional development sessions. 


The instructional technology professional development model in this study included the creation of a cohort learning community of teachers on a grade level, provided sustained support for change, provided opportunities for choice, created job-embedded authentic learning experiences and included access to resources needed to practice what was learned. Because of the case study research design, the evidence gathered and small sample size does not allow for statements of causality between changes noted in the teachers and the technology, the method of technology introduction, or the components of the professional development model employed in this study. It is likely, however, that the combination of scaffolds in this professional development model contributed to the increase in skill level and the changes in practice and beliefs of the teachers in the study. This exploratory study provides a foundation for further rigorous examination of the individual components of this professional development model to determine which components or what combination of components is most effective



Technology can facilitate instructional experiences that can help students develop necessary skills. It can support lessons to develop skills to analyze, evaluate and present information. Because of this potential, it is essential that educators be familiar with strategies which successfully use technology to create learning environments that benefit students and models of professional development that are effective to help teachers incorporate best practices. Implications for practice include the use of the findings of the study to continue to examine instructional technology professional development models to identify best practices that will have outcomes that benefit students.



Dwyer, D. C. (1990). The evolution of teachers’ instructional beliefs and practices in high-access-to-technology classrooms. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Boston MA.


Goldman, S., Cole, K. & Syer, C. (1999). The technology/content dilemma. Paper presented at The Secretary’s Conference on Educational Technology 1999. [on-line] Available: (retrieved April 30, 2000).


Goodlad, J. I. (1992). On taking reform seriously. Phi Delta Kappan, 74, 3, 232-238.


Heinecke, W. F., Blasi, L., Milman, N., & Washington, L. (1999). New directions in the evaluation of the effectiveness of educational technology. Paper presented at The Secretary’s Conference on Educational Technology 1999. [on-line] Available: (retrieved April 30, 2000).


Rowand, C. (2000). Teacher use of computers and the Internet in public schools. Statistics in Brief (National Center for Educational Statistics) Washington, DC: U. S. Department of Education. [on-line] Available: (retrieved October 26, 2000).


Sandholtz, J. H., Ringstaff, C., & Dwyer, D. C. (1992). Teaching in high-tech environments: Classroom management revisited. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 8, 4, 479-505.


Sandholtz, J. H., Ringstaff, C., & Dwyer, D. C. (1997). Teaching with technology: Creating student-centered classrooms.  New York, NY: Teachers College Press.


Wenglinsky, H. (1998, September). Does it compute? The relationship between educational technology and student achievement in mathematics. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.