Welcome to Academic.Writing: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Communication Across the Curriculum

CAC Program Reports

Project TELL: Technology in Education through Leadership and Literacy

by Danielle DeVoss, Dickie Selfe, and Michael Moore
Michigan Techological University

Go Contact Information

In the fall of 1999, Kristine Paulsen of the Delta-Schoolcraft Intermediate School District (DSISD) in Escanaba, Michigan, contacted faculty in the Humanities Department at Michigan Technological University about the possibility of setting up an electronic communication across the curriculum (ECAC) workshop for local K-12 teachers across the rural central Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The ensuing collaboration has allowed us--as well as a number of other faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates at MTU--to experiment with a combination of face-to-face and online learning experiences. These experiences are concentrated in the early weeks of June, with continuing online and face-to-face support throughout the year. We have run the workshop once, in the summer of 2000, and are currently planning the next iteration.

The project is supported by funds from a grant from the Department of Education and funds provided through a Technology Challenge Innovation Grant totaling $1,737,940 from the U.S. Department of Education and 49% of total costs from contributions from school districts and business/industry partners in the Central Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The workshop is part of Project TELL: Technology in Education through Leadership and Literacy.

For many good reasons (to be outlined in a forthcoming article), we established a three-fold focus and philosophy for the workshop as we undertook its planning. First, the workshop revolved around the thoughtful integration of technology in a way that did not privilege the technology above and beyond student learning and the teachers' desired outcomes (not to mention state and national standards). The second focus related directly to the first: We wanted to provide teachers and students with supported work time concentrated on projects that they could take back with them into the classroom. To support them in this effort, they needed both the workshop time to explore and play, plan, and construct lesson plans, and they also needed constant, on-demand support from the knowledgeable lab consultants we recruited for the ECAC workshop. The third focus was on learning to learn. Because the teachers and students had such disparate and diverse access to technology, learning to learn seemed a more pragmatic approach than mastery of specific technologies. Although several sessions during the workshop focused on specific software and hardware (e.g., Adobe PhotoShop, Microsoft PowerPoint), many of the sessions focused instead on adopting and developing approaches that did not encourage participants to master one specific technology, but instead promoted the building of a broad base of general skills that participants could apply to various technologies in a variety of situations and contexts. We encouraged teachers and students to ask questions like: What can this software or hardware do? What are models of its potential? Can I do this work better with anything else? What are the strengths of this software or hardware? What are its limitations? How will learning this software or hardware help me as I learn other, similar software and hardware?

It's not surprising that we adopted these foci and philosophies, because they are the basis for successful summer workshops designed and conducted by Cindy Selfe for the last 15 years. Her Computers in Writing-Intensive Classrooms (CIWIC) Summer Institute was the model we adapted and adopted because of its success and ability to encourage collectives of active, engaged professionals who continued to work with each other after the workshop was over. We, too, were interested in building a community of colleagues willing to help each other with technical issues, of course, but to also help continually reinvigorate their teaching practices over the months and years following the workshop.

We created a four-week workshop schedule. During the first week, teachers and students came to Michigan Tech for face-to-face sessions and work in the Humanities Department computer lab-the CCLI, or Center for Computerized Language Instruction. During the three following weeks, teachers met virtually via MOO, email, and ITV with the workshop facilitators, consultants, and invited virtual speakers. Virtual speakers included Bonnie Nardi and Vicky O'Day, the authors of Information Ecologies: Teaching Technology with Heart, one of the ECAC workshop textbooks. (We have narrowed the time for the virtual portion of the class to one week for the 2001 workshop.)

During the face-to-face portion of the workshop, all of the workshop presenters and consultants encouraged teachers and students to adopt a willingness to explore and to be frustrated; to adopt an understanding that they couldn't learn everything in four quick weeks; and to adopt a willingness to allow themselves time to tinker, to play, and to experiment.

In addition to the philosophical approaches described above, a focus specific to the students' experience was their training as Student Technology Assistants (STAs). Although the experience the students had at ECAC was personally valuable in and of itself, the grant administrators encouraged Dickie and Dànielle to include a focus that would allow students to return to and be leaders within their schools-technology workers that teachers, staff, and other students could rely on for help with technology-rich projects.

Student sessions included leadership and diversity workshops hosted by the Youth Programs office at MTU, sessions on approaches to learning technology, sessions addressing how to be a technology assistant and not wind up overworked and burnt out; and, of course, students had sessions on specific technologies, like creating Web pages and using HTML editors, using PowerPoint for presentations, and using digital cameras and scanners.

Responses to the workshop were incredibly positive. Chris, one of the student participants, noted that "when my mom first came home with this great idea about a computer camp. I first thought that this is going to be a bunch of geeks that would be a million times smarter than me and I would feel dumb and that I should not be there," but then continued to say that "when I got back to school the following year all teachers came to me instantly. Some how every teacher knew that I could fix their problems. . . . if I ever get asked to go to the MTU ECAC again, I would pack my things right now and be out the door." Cindy, one of the teacher participants, narrated: "My experience was so motivating I can't begin to express it completely. . . . It created a 6th grade Science teacher who uses technology to enhance learning and motivate at the same time. It made it possible for my students to communicate at anytime as long as they have Internet access and to review subject matter material in an enjoyable way. Students now approach research with a fresh approach and motivation."

Sustaining Support

One of the most innovative aspects of the ECAC workshop was the focus on sustained support, and that support came in two forms: face-to-face and virtual. Teachers often experienced technology training in short workshops with little hands-on time and even less sustained, follow-up support. To provide the teacher attendees of ECAC with the kind of help they needed when they needed it, a team of traveling consultants provided follow-up contacts and workshops. Kristine Paulsen and Betty LaPointe were in almost constant contact with graduate students at Michigan Tech, and the teachers and students themselves maintained regular correspondence with ECAC presenters and helpers. For instance, Dànielle DeVoss made regular trips down to the DSISD area to present to groups of teachers and to work with individual teachers and their students. Specifically, Dànielle did workshops including, but not limited to, preparing presentations and using Microsoft PowerPoint (a workshop for 100 middle school students), developing and publishing Web pages (a workshop for 150 high school students), and addressing plagiarism and intellectual property issues in online realms (a workshop for DSISD teachers and technology staff that was expanded into a training session for all of the teachers in the DSISD).

In addition to the face-to-face interaction with teachers during the year, the NorthWoodsMOO team (headed by Michael Moore but also including up to four other graduate students from Michigan Tech's Rhetoric and Technical Communication program and an undergraduate technical consultant) also found themselves in demand. The ECAC attendees and some of their colleagues to whom they talked to that summer began inquiring about online support for class projects, projects that have continued throughout the year. This happened independent of ECAC planning. We now, however, understand how important online synchronous and asynchronous support is to teachers struggling daily to provide their students with innovative communication experiences across the curriculum. Integrating year-round human and technical support through the NorthWoodsMOO and other Internet environments is now an integral part of our planning.

Speculative Application to Higher Education

The approaches we adopted in developing and maintaining this sort of professional development experience for teachers are applicable in both K-12 and college environments. All teachers benefit from approaches sensitive to their curricula goals and everyday classroom practices. All teachers benefit from thoughtful, approachable consultants and colleagues. All teachers benefit from sustained support-support that migrates with them as their approaches to technology evolve, and as their needs shift with changes in curriculum, content, and assessment standards.

We have several suggestions for colleagues interested in adapting and applying our ECAC approach to other types of institutions:

Within institutions of higher education, this sustainable approach to ECAC-and technology integration generally-provides a scaffolding for the technologies that are currently impacting our lives and our teaching. Many of us are engaged in distance_education initiatives at our institutions and involved in technology_integration work. We must encourage the thoughtful and critical integration of technology, structured by ongoing, sustained support systems. Within such an environment, our philosophical teaching practices and our approaches to technology integration will best be integrated and realized.

Project Links

You can learn more about this project by visiting the following links. The Web site for this summer's event can be found at http://www.hu.mtu.edu/ecac, and the online support environment, the NorthWoodsMOO, an educational Encore MOO, is available through a Java-compatible browser at http://www.hu.mtu.edu:8000 and through other MOO clients at http://www.hu.mtu.edu:7700.

Publication Information: DeVoss, Danielle, Selfe, Dickie, and Moore, Michael. (2001). Project TELL: Technology in Education through Leadership and Literacy. Academic.Writing. https://doi.org/10.37514/AWR-J.2001.2.1.17
Publication Date: May 15, 2001
DOI: 10.37514/AWR-J.2001.2.1.17

Contact Information:
Danielle Devoss' Email: dndevoss@mtu.edu
Dickie Selfe's Home Page: http://www.hu.mtu.edu/~rselfe/
Dickie Selfe's Email: rselfe@mtu.edu
Michael Moore's Email: mmoore@mtu.edu

Copyright © 2001 Danielle DeVoss, Dickie Selfe, and Michael Moore. Used with Permission.