April 1999 // Faculty and Staff Development
LEARN North Carolina:
Connecting Educators with Cables AND Curriculum
by Bobby Hobgood and David Walbert
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: Bobby Hobgood and David Walbert "LEARN North Carolina:
Connecting Educators with Cables AND Curriculum" The Technology Source, April 1999. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Many recent reports and news articles have focused on the great progress made in connecting our nation's schools to the Internet. At present, most of them concur that about eighty percent of schools are connected. The level of connectivity varies significantly, from school systems with one dedicated phone line housed in a central location, to school systems where every classroom contains two or more computers connected to a high speed Local Area Network (LAN). But connectivity is only one piece of the puzzle. Beyond the wires, routers, hubs, and computers, technology staff development is the critical component, one given little attention during the birth of Net Day, the program first modeled on the west coast for wiring schools for Internet connectivity.

North Carolina's 117 public school systems have for several years been establishing technology staff development programs to accommodate the needs of their more than 80,000 educators. In fact, North Carolina is a national leader in integrating technology into public schools. In the Spring of 1998, the Milken Exchange on Education Technology documented North Carolina's progress in its report Progress of Technology in the Schools: Report on 21 States. Tar Heel teachers are required to demonstrate certain essential skills which are a part of the necessary North Carolina Technology Competencies for Educators. These competencies were developed as the result of a School Technology Users Task Force Report (October 1995) in order to promote the use of technology as a tool for instruction and productivity. The majority of offerings in most systems address skills development and thus satisfy to a great extent the Basic Technology Competencies of the aforementioned curriculum. These programs include workshops on topics ranging from Mastering Microsoft Office to Getting Online with e-mail and the Internet. Integration of technology into instruction is addressed to a greater extent in the Advanced Technology Competencies. Locating workshops and opportunities that address this second set of competencies is more challenging for teachers and staff development personnel as they scurry to obtain the 30 to 50 hours of technology staff development (Continuing Education Units or CEUs) required for recertification every five years. Teachers must attend workshops on Saturday or at the end of the school day, and may have to pay for the courses themselves. The pressure is even greater for those teachers whose certification expires at the end of the current year.

Fortunately, teachers and staff development personnel now have access to an Internet-based resource created from among their ranks to facilitate this training. The Learners' and Educators' Assistance and Resource Network of North Carolina (LEARN NC) was created in 1996 as an "electronic performance support system" for teachers. Its Mission and Purpose reflect the desire of teachers to collaborate and use technology as a teaching tool. It is a partnership of the School of Education of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina public schools. Additional partnerships with state organizations provide resources to the site and extend the network of human connections made possible by the program. The most significant partnership, however, involves the real stakeholders in the profession: the teachers. Public school teachers and administrators are more than just the program's market; they were made full partners in its development. LEARN North Carolina, these educators decided, would consist of a package of resources for teachers and students available via the World Wide Web. In order for these resources to reach the greatest number of classrooms, the system had to be built on a "least common denominator" standard, a level of technology accessible from hardware and software available in every school system; otherwise, information technology would only widen the gap between the haves and have-nots. All resources would relate to the North Carolina Standard Course of Study, the state's prescribed curriculum, and the quality of the resources had to be assured, so that the material on the Web site would be appropriate for North Carolina classrooms. Lastly, the system would not simply create extra work for teachers; it would be easy to use and would facilitate more effective teaching rather than simply providing a technological distraction in the classroom.

Participation in LEARN North Carolina

All North Carolina school systems and educational programs are eligible to participate in LEARN North Carolina at no cost. Although technology is the vehicle to access LEARN's resources, it is not the explicit focus of the training module used by LEARN coordinators. This approach supports the philosophy of the competencies: technology should be a means to an end. Local training and control also promote ownership of the organization as a grass-roots approach to technology staff development. As of February 1999, LEARN had received memoranda of agreement from 116 of the 117 public school systems and all of North Carolina's Catholic schools. Each school system has a coordinator who handles training and registration in his or her system. In addition, there are 35 regional trainers who assist coordinators in training teachers all over the state. With this system of local management, LEARN can reach tens of thousands of teachers without needing a large staff and top-heavy central office. An online milestones sheet highlights the current status of the program, and offers some preliminary indication of the success of the project with respect to numbers of teachers trained.

The Program

The major focus of LEARN North Carolina is currently the Comprehensive K-12 Curriculum Program. The four major components of this program were designed to address the concerns of the educators in LEARN's pilot teams and the lack of "connectedness" among the state's K-12 education community. LEARN's resources are collaborative; they are designed and created by the educators who will use them. All resources are correlated to the North Carolina Standard Course of Study; an online "map" of the curriculum is provided on the Web site, with links from each goal and objective to relevant instructional plans, and both instructional plans and Web links can be searched by grade level and curriculum area. All resources are reviewed by experienced educators to ensure quality and appropriateness of content. The Web site itself is designed to be as user-friendly as possible, with a simple design that allows pages to be read quickly with even a relatively slow Internet connection.


In its current incarnation, LEARN North Carolina has just begun to develop a critical mass of users and resources to facilitate quantitative assessment of the effectiveness of the program. Some of these numbers are shown in the "milestones" mentioned earlier. The statewide utilization of the program is currently being used as proof of product for grant proposals which will include both quantitative and qualitative assessment measures. In the coming months, LEARN NC intends to add a Test Item Bank and a series of online courses for professional development. LEARN will also continue its Professional Development Awards Program by offering free enrollment in a seminar at the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching to five teachers each month whose plans have been approved. Last March, every teacher in the state received a copy of The LEARN North Carolina Beacon (Note: You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed to access this file), a color newspaper introducing the organization and offering resources to teachers to entice them to begin using LEARN North Carolina if they are not already doing so. The Beacon will, after this first issue, be published four times each school year. As LEARN North Carolina grows, students, parents, business, government, and community will be involved directly in order to foster cooperation in the education of North Carolina's children. Such issues as interdisciplinary education, distance learning, and other possibilities have yet to be considered. In the coming years, LEARN hopes to find new ways to enhance the learning experience of students across the state by increasing the technological proficiency of North Carolina's teachers.

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