Teacher Focus Group
The purpose of the Teacher Focus Group session was to gain a greater understanding of
their views on the current environment in which schools are operating, the ideal
environment for undertaking a collaborative effort and potential challenges and
opportunities in undertaking this project. A summary of the findings follows below.
The following essential themes emerged during the discussion of the current environment
in which teachers are working:
- Technology used in a variety of ways
Teachers are already using technology in a variety of ways. Mainly, technology
is used for Internet research and to access current events or archived information,
such as from CNN or other media sites. CD-ROMs are used in the classroom.
Social studies, however, has not incorporated technology in the classroom to the
extent that other subject areas have. This slow acceptance was explained in part
by the fact that there have been very few software packages targeted to social
studies compared to the sciences and math. Only recently has the educational
technology industry produced packages relevant to social studies teachers.
- Technology integration is influenced by classroom space, teacher knowledge,
and students' prior exposure to technology
Some teachers pointed out that the traditional classrooms are not designed for
computer integration. Only in newer schools does one find technology-friendly
classrooms. There was a consensus that the technical skill level of teachers is
mixed, but most teachers are proficient in Microsoft Office applications.
Teachers report that students have a mixed level of technical abilities and
knowledge. In some cases the students know more about the technology than the
teachers. In other cases, the students have had no exposure to technology. This
latter case challenges teachers to advance the curriculum while simultaneously
teaching the technology to those not yet familiar with it.
- Access to technology in the schools is a challenge
Although many classrooms are wired for Internet access, they may not have a
computer or enough computers to allow for integration into lessons. Most of the
access to technology occurs in computer labs or the media centers. In some cases,
computers that were once in the classroom have been redeployed to computer labs
for broader access, further reducing the number of computers accessible to
teachers. In one school's case, the computers were taken from all teachers and
moved to a lab for SOL drills.
Currently, access to computer labs is a challenge. Often schools have more than
one computer lab, but it is tied up most of the day for technology classes. If only
one computer lab is available, teachers often have to sign up early in order to
ensure a space. This means that the teachers have to try to integrate the
technology into just one lesson during the year. In some cases there are dedicated
labs, like in the science classrooms, but that scenario is due to technology
requirements having been built into the science curriculum over the last few
Oftentimes the hardware is centrally located in a few computer labs. These labs
have very little available time for teachers to bring in their classes; thus, many
teachers opt not to use them. Also, the technical support within the labs is not
sufficient for teachers to have a productive class period. Teachers lamented that if
they did want to have a technology session in the computer lab, they would often
have to prepare two lesson plans: one for the lab, and one for the class if the lab
Internet access is limited in the classrooms because often only one computer is
available - usually on the teacher's desk. The technical support available to the
teachers could be improved. Currently, there is a vast amount of information on
the Internet about integrating technology into the curriculum or about social
studies topics in general, but it is too time consuming to sift through it all.
- Access to technology at home is a challenge
Equity was one of the most challenging issues cited by the teachers. Equity
among students in their knowledge of and access to technology was at the
forefront of their concerns. Because student resources differ between families and
because students come into the classroom with differing abilities to use the
technology, implementing it into the curriculum is hindered.
- Professional development is needed for social studies teachers
Teachers want more opportunities to learn about technology. Some suggestions
were to use countywide or departmental meetings as opportunities for
professional development. Other suggestions included weekly, quick training
periods on technology. A good learning environment should be created for
teachers as well.
- School leadership and district standards need to reflect technology
As districts and states set up standards, technology needs to be integrated or
teachers will not be able to focus on it. Achievement on the standards will drive
what teachers focus on in the classroom. The teachers from Virginia particularly
mentioned the SOLs and the importance of tying SOL achievement to technology.
The following essential themes emerged during the discussion of the ideal environment in
which teachers would like to work:
- Integrated technology in social studies
In the ideal environment, students would be taught citizenship through a number
of social studies areas including civics, history, and economics. They would be
taught from lessons that build on the social aspects of collaborative learning.
Lesson plans would be tied to state standards and available on the web for all
teachers to access. This way, teachers could teach students the required
information for standardized tests, but also have access to innovative ways to
integrate technology into their presentations. Furthermore, there would be a wide
selection of social studies internet sites that provide have received approval for
meeting and surpassing state standards.
- Internet is a tool for learning
The Internet would become a research tool for students to look up current events
and maps, to analyze data and resources, as well as to solve problems and find
information. The combination of technology and teaching would help students
develop a true motivation for learning as well as responsible decision-making
skills. All students would have equal access to technology at home or in the
- Access to technology in the school
The availability of hardware within the schools would not hamper technology
Examples of useful instructional ideas supporting "Citizenship in the Digital Age"
When asked for ideas on how the Internet and technology could be used in a civics or
social studies classroom, teachers provided multiple ideas for incorporation and examples
of actual lessons. The main ideas stressed included the development of a technological
toolbox for citizenship and responsible decision making in the 21st century.
Some of the instructional ideas provided by the participants are listed below:
- Student elections-Technology could be used to run the next school-wide student
election. Students could campaign through web pages, develop presentations of
their platforms, and the student-body would vote on computers.
- Data analysis (demographics, population, commerce-impact on society)-using
the Internet and technology to explore how populations are changing in their
neighborhood and around the nation and what that may mean for society.
- Diversity of ethnic heritage/citizenship-As the population changes, more diverse
backgrounds are represented by our nation. Teachers thought technology could
be used to learn more about the different home countries and cultures of new
- Policy study groups on current issues-The Internet could be used to establish on-
going policy study groups of students who could explore issues in-depth, using
technology as a research and presentation tool.
- Research tool to solve civic issues-In a broader framework, using the Internet to
research current issues and help students develop solutions. This idea was further
expanded by the suggestion to use technology and software to problem-solve
- Government activism-Some teachers proposed using the Internet and technology
in active, service-oriented projects, such as citizenship drives or "Get Out the
Vote" campaigns. Students could use the technology to actively pursue any
issues that are important to them and leverage the technology to reach and
influence as many stakeholders as possible. Furthermore, students could learn
about the government process and how this process affects their community and
- Economics-Teachers felts subjects like economics could benefit greatly from the
Internet and access to information, as it makes the subject more real and relevant
to what students may see daily.
- Local elections and local representatives-The region provides schools with a
wealth of government representatives that students and schools could reach out to
for projects and lessons. Following local elections, or any election using the
Internet, this type of exercise could be a spring board for multiple research
projects on election issues.
Challenges to the Ideal
The following essential themes emerged during the discussion of the challenges to the
ideal environment in which teachers would like to work:
- Access to current technology
Although teachers stressed that they and their students may be motivated to use
technology; they are often limited by issues of access. As mentioned before, not
all schools or classrooms have access to technology. Some teachers mentioned
that teachers who have worked to gain technology in their classrooms treat it as
private property and are unwilling to share. Schools that do have technology find
that maintenance and upkeep are expensive propositions. In some schools, there
has not been an adequate or consistent investment in the technical infrastructure
required to maintain these computers. Finally, locating good software for social
studies continues to be an issue.
- Access to technical support and resources
Teachers indicated that schools do not have the resources to provide the technical
support needed to maintain the hardware and software, and support or train the
teachers. Currently, technology coordinators or instructional technology staff
perform these support duties that consume enormous amounts of their time, and
consequently reduce the amount of time spent on developing technology
integration lesson plans and training sessions.
- Challenge of collaboration among stakeholders
Not enough collaboration is occurring between teachers and other interested
parties. Teachers do not have the time or the opportunities to network with other
professionals or pursue partnerships with local businesses. There appears to be a
lack of trust between board members, businesses, higher education teachers, and
public education teachers. Furthermore, collaboration on more concrete items,
such as state instructional standards, will be difficult across the districts
- Leadership and investment from businesses needed
Teachers felt that businesses need to reach agreement on what they want and need
in terms of citizenship from their future employees (today's students). Some
teachers suggested that businesses could help by providing professional
development opportunities for school teachers in technology. Others indicated
that businesses should play a part in reviewing state standards, such as the SOLs,
and possibly have input on future standards developments. A recurring theme
was the current dearth of and pressing need for financial and tangible investments
in schools by businesses.
- Providing a summer institute for training and learning
Teachers stated that some help was needed in learning how to incorporate
technology into social studies lesson plans. If such training were offered, it
should provide technology components in each lesson, strategies for using the
Internet with different age groups, and opportunities to share teacher expertise in
the Greater Washington Region. Ethical uses of technology constitute another
topic that teachers should address in a summer institute.
Priorities and Opportunities for Action
Teachers were asked to prioritize what actions should be pursued first to advance the
proposed initiative. Below are the results of this exercise:
- Provide thorough and continual training to teachers at all levels of technical
expertise-teachers have varied levels of expertise and need to learn how to use the
- Provide training participants with a laptop-there would be more incentive to
participate if teachers were rewarded with technology and had constant access to it.
In addition, rewarding teachers for providing materials, and attending or conducting
training sessions was a high priority.
- Tap into existing professional development available in school districts-some
districts already have regular professional development time that could be converted
to technology training.
- Enlist administrative support for lesson plan development-teachers felt those who
were providing model lesson plans or ideas for technology integration should be
- Provide a resource for locating and understanding what technologically-integrated
social studies curricula are available now-both on-line and elsewhere.
- Teachers identified a shared interest among stakeholders -- achieving student
empowerment throughout the educational process - as an incentive for the
stakeholders to join forces behind this initiative.
- The idea of using the Internet as a tool for collaboration was seen as a critical method
to increase cooperation and collaboration on this project as it evolves. Because of the
inherent difficulties in correlating standards across states and districts, a common web
site where teachers could share resources was mentioned. Some teachers stated that
they did not have enough time to collaborate, so this setup would provide them a
place for sharing instructional methods when they actually had time, such as on
weekends or after school.