Indiana Educators’ Needs for the Web:

Focus Group Results

Project Director: Theodore W. Frick

Contributors:

Kathy Dye, Joanne Beriswill, Hae-Jin Chung, Matt Donovan, Mona Masood, Wendy Tamborrino

December 11, 1996

 

Part 1 - General Statement of Purpose

Purpose of the I-WEB Project

In the summer of 1996, Dr. Theodore Frick of Indiana University’s Department of Instructional Systems Technology obtained funding from IU’s Strategic Directions Initiative to explore ways to provide World Wide Web services to K-12 schools in Indiana. This project is called I-WEB: Linking K-12 Schools in Indiana on the World Wide Web, and is referred to in this report as I-WEB.

As stated in the project description, the purpose of this one-year project is to:

1. Conduct a formal needs analysis;

2. Conduct a pilot test of our recommendation with 15-20 schools;

3. Estimate costs of ongoing operation; and

4. Recruit schools to participate in the I-WEB project.

Purpose of the Needs Analysis

The needs analysis serves as the foundation of the I-WEB project and serves two broad purposes: 1) to test the assumption that K-12 educators in Indiana want and need additional support for using the Web professionally, and 2) if that assumption holds up, to identify specifically what they want and need. If the needs analysis disconfirmed the first assumption, completing the I-WEB project would be unnecessary. The results of the full needs analysis will include both the focus group results and the survey results.

The focus group portion of the needs analysis provided both contextual information and broad trends regarding Web use in Indiana schools. It also gave the research team direction for constructing the formal written survey, and gave insight into the language educators used.

The written survey was constructed after the focus group interviews were completed, but before the data were analyzed. The survey portion of the needs analysis provided quantified and representative information about Indiana educators’ thoughts about specific issues. In many cases, the survey also indicated the strength of educators’ attitudes toward using the Web. The results of the written survey are presented in a separate report, titled: Survey Results of Indiana Educators’ Needs for the Web (March 27, 1997).

Purpose of the Focus Group Interviews

The purpose of the focus group interviews was to gain a broad understanding of the context in which Indiana educators use the World Wide Web, and to illuminate what educators say are the important concerns and issues regarding the Web use in the schools. For this study, the term "educators" refers to school-based professionals responsible for direct education of a specific group of students. These educators are most commonly teachers, principals, counselors, media specialists, librarians, school support staff, etc. This report does not include educational professionals at the district or state level, except for a few technical professionals whose services are shared among several individual schools.

Specifically, the goals of the focus group interviews were to:

- meet educators face-to-face to establish rapport and gain credibility

- gather specific concerns about Web-related trends and issues

- gather information about specific needs or opportunities to provide support

- gather qualitative data about the environment in which K-12 educators use the Web

The trends and issues that surfaced from the focus groups served as the basis of a written survey, administered to a purposeful stratified sampling of public educators statewide. The purpose of the survey is to quantify statewide trends, issues and needs around using the Web.

The Research Team

Dr. Frick lead a research team comprised of fifteen students from Indiana University’s Department of Instructional Systems Technology. Most of these students were advanced doctoral students. Most members of the research team had classroom experience in a public school setting.

Part 2 - Research Design

Methodology

The needs analysis consisted of two phases: focus group interviews and a written survey. The chronology of designing and executing the focus group interviews follows:

- established sampling criteria and selected specific schools to approach

- drafted, reviewed and revised questions

- established focus group protocols

- obtained statement from IU Human Subjects Board

- contacted schools and scheduled interviews

- engaged in specific training for conducting these interviews and recording data

- conducted focus group interviews at thirteen schools

- analyzed focus group data and wrote report

The research team selected focus group interviews as their first data-gathering technique for several reasons. Focus groups allowed the research team to a) gather a large amount of unknown data quickly, b) accommodate the potential need to revise the interview strategy quickly and easily, and most importantly, and c) protect the integrity of the educators' "voices."

The sampling criteria and school selections are discussed in the following section titled "Sampling." Interviews were conducted in thirteen of the sixteen schools initially selected.

Focus group questions were drafted by a small work group, then reviewed and revised by the entire research team. The intent of the questions was to allow educators to voice their thoughts about, feelings toward, and experience with the World Wide Web. The researchers were especially interested in finding out what, if anything, educators would use the Web for.

The focus group questions follow. The last two questions, Questions 6 and 7, were asked only of the Principal, or his or her replacement.

1. When you hear the words "the World Wide Web" or "the Internet," what do they mean to you?

2. Are you connected to the Internet/Web? How? (via modem, direct connection...)

3. What are you or your colleagues doing with the Web?

4. What do you see that the Web can offer you as a teacher (counselor, principal, librarian or media specialist, technology coordinator)?

5. What are the issues and barriers to implementation of the Web in your school? Have you overcome any of these? How?

For principals only:

6. How are technology projects/computer activities funded?

7. Are you in touch with the regional service center in your area? How do they help you with computer/technology issues?

Each school who agreed to participate in the research project was sent a letter of confirmation along with a list of questions.

Prior to conducting the interviews, the research team completed a three-hour training session. The session was focused on the specific protocols for conducting the interviews, and was designed to ensure consistency in leading the discussions, recording data, and summarizing field notes.

Each interview team followed a prescribed protocol for the site visit. They also left each school with a "thank you" gift: a job aid for creating documents and graphics on the World Wide Web.

In most instances, teams of three or four researchers conducted the focus group interviews. Although one researcher assumed responsibility for facilitating the discussion, all researchers recorded their observations. None of the focus groups was tape recorded so that educators would feel more relaxed and less intimidated. Each researcher summarized his or her own field notes, then submitted these notes to the analysis team. The use of multiple observers supported triangulation of observations..

Sampling

The goal of the focus groups was to gather a large amount of information from a wide variety of schools. The team wanted diversity, rather than representativeness; to "stake out the far boundaries" rather than find central tendencies. To this end, the research team used purposeful sampling techniques. They sought a small number of schools that covered a large cross-section of criteria.

The I-WEB project is targeted for Indiana public schools. This was the first selection criteria. We included only Indiana public schools in the focus group interviews. The next sampling criteria was that the schools be geographically located within a one-hundred mile radius of Bloomington to accommodate travel requirements and budget constraints.

Beyond these two primary selection criteria, the research team sought schools that reflected fixed characteristics, including:

- school grade levels (primary, middle and secondary schools)

- geographic location (urban, suburban, rural and small town)

- Socio-Economic Status of school, as defined by the State Department of Education’s on-line database.

- wide representation of school corporations

While not considered as a criteria for sample selection, the research team also monitored data regarding per pupil expenditures, school size, and score reports from State-mandated assessments.

Information the researchers used for selecting the focus group schools was obtained from IDEAnet, the Indiana Department of Education Web site. The URL for this site is:

http://ideanet.doe.state.in.us/htmls/education.html

Sixteen schools were selected to participate in the focus group interviews. Of those sixteen schools, interviews were actually conducted in thirteen. A summary of selection characteristics follows.

 

Selection criteria

13

completed

16

selected

 

Grade level

 

 

 

primary

4

5

 

middle

5

5

 

secondary

4

6

 

 

 

 

 

Geographic location

 

 

 

urban

3

4

 

suburban

2

3

 

small town

5

5

 

rural

3

4

 

 

 

 

 

Socio-Economic Status (SES)

 

 

 

low (59% and below)

3

4

 

medium (60% - 85%)

6

7

 

high (86% and higher)

4

5

 

 

 

 

 

Number of School Corporations

11

14

Comparison of selection criteria by initial selected schools and schools where focus group interviews were completed.

The following table describes the profiles of the thirteen schools that participated. Of the thirteen schools who participated, only two schools shared the same profile (Iota and Rho).

 

Name

Grade level

Location

SES

 

Alpha

Secondary

urban

low

 

Beta

Middle

urban

low

 

Gamma

Middle

rural

medium

 

Delta

Secondary

suburban

high

 

Epsilon

Middle

small town

medium

 

Zeta

Primary

rural

medium

 

Theta

Middle

suburban

high

 

Iota

Secondary

small town

medium

 

Kappa

Middle

small town

high

 

Lambda

Primary

rural

high

 

Rho

Secondary

small town

medium

 

Sigma

Primary

urban

low

 

Omega

Primary

small town

medium

Profiles of schools where focus group interviews were completed.

The thirteen schools that participated in the focus groups covered a wide range of non-selection characteristics as well. Per pupil expenditures reflected a spread of about $2500. The size of the schools ranged from under one hundred students to over 2500. The number of students meeting minimum skill requirements ranged from under 10% to over 90%.

The selection of individual educators to participate in the focus group interviews was left to the discretion of the contact person at the school. Typically, this was the school principal. In both the initial telephone request, and in the follow-up confirmation letter, the contact person was asked to select between six and eight faculty and staff members that were representative of the school's professionals. Technology coordinators, librarians and/or media specialists were specifically invited. In addition, the team asked to schedule a separate interview with principals.

The selection of specific individuals varied from school to school. In most instances, individual participants were selected according to the researcher's request. At one location, however, the principal offered the focus group interview as an inservice option for the "tech freaks" and announced it only minutes before the focus group was scheduled to begin. At one location, a general announcement was made just before the focus group began inviting any interested party to attend. At two locations, participants arrived late or left early, and at two locations, the focus group interviews conflicted with either an all-school meeting or a teacher meeting.

The research team interviewed a total of 86 Indiana educators, most of whom were classroom teachers. These teachers represented a wide range of subjects or specializations: all primary grades, language arts, music, art, reading, English, learning disabilities or special needs, gifted and talented, family and consumer science, physical education, computer skills, science, math, social studies, foreign languages, history and business. Several guidance counselors also participated.

The level of computer expertise ranged from novice to expert. Two thirds of the focus group participants were women.

Along with teachers, the research team interviewed six technology coordinators and seven media specialists/librarians. Some schools had a specific job title of technology coordinator or media specialist. At other schools, this role was filled by the librarian. And in a few situations, one technology coordinator and/or media specialist served several schools.

In addition to these faculty and staff professionals, the researchers interviewed ten principals or assistant principals. About half of the principals participated in the focus group interview, and about half the principals were interviewed separately.

Preparation on the part of participants also varied from school to school. In one instance (Omega), participants gave the interview team written comments to support the interviews. Educators at Theta brought prepared notes to the discussions. At another location (Rho), participants provided copies of the school's acceptable use policy and internal training and promotional materials. At other locations, participants were first introduced to the project and the questions at the interview itself.

 

Data Analysis

Data were analyzed at three levels. First, each observer submitted a complete summary report of his or her field notes; 37 reports total. These reports were copied and distributed to each of five members of the analysis team. Each of the five members reviewed a complete set of 37 reports through a specific "filter": grade level, geographic location, socio-economic status (SES), interview context or connectivity. Each of the preliminary analyses looked for specific trends within each "filter" and also for any differences between or among sub-groups.

The results of these five analyses were then funneled to one person for trend analysis and summary. The preliminary summary was returned to the other members of the analysis team for review and revision. The final summary report was then distributed to the entire research team for review and revision. The nature of the focus group interviews did not warrant returning the summary report to the participants for member checking.

The following table lists the five analysis "filters" and the schools in each grouping. Although connectivity was not one of the original selection criteria, it surfaced as an important factor during the interview process. Distribution of schools in this factor was random. The term "connectivity" refers to a school’s ability to access the World Wide Web. This means that the school itself, rather than individuals associated with the school, is connected. The assumption is that Web access serves the school's needs.

 

Analysis criteria

Schools

 

Grade level

 

 

primary

Zeta, Lambda, Sigma, Omega

 

middle

Beta, Gamma, Epsilon, Theta, Kappa

 

secondary

Alpha, Delta, Iota, Rho

 

 

 

 

Geographic location

 

 

urban

Alpha, Beta, Sigma

 

suburban

Delta, Theta,

 

small town

Epsilon, Iota, Kappa, Rho, Omega

 

rural

Gamma, Zeta, Lambda

 

 

 

 

Socio-economic status (SES)

 

 

low (59% and below)

Alpha, Beta, Sigma

 

medium (60% - 85%)

Gamma, Epsilon, Zeta, Iota, Rho, Omega

 

high (86% and higher)

Delta, Theta, Kappa, Lambda

 

 

 

 

 

Connectivity

 

 

low (two or fewer computers
connected)

Beta, Gamma, Epsilon, Zeta, Theta, Lambda, Sigma, Omega

 

medium (infrastructure in
progress for all-school connectivity)

Alpha, Iota, Kappa

 

high (complete infrastructure
for all-school connectivity)

Delta, Rho

 

 

 

 

Context

All schools

Summary of school groupings, by analysis filter.

 

Analyzing the data through five filters resulted in a high degree of reliability in the interpretation of the data and the strength of broad trends. In addition, it permitted the research team to identify subtle but potentially important differences between or among certain types of schools. The subsequent quantitative survey process will allow for a more detailed and thorough exploration of these differences.

 

Part 3 - Findings

The results of the focus group interviews are presented according to the seven themes that emerged from the data. These themes are:

- School Context around Web Use

- Frustration Using the Web

- Enthusiasm about Professional Uses

- Making Sense of the Web's Information

- Censorship

- Issues about Connectivity

- Need for Training

Each theme will be discussed in detail, including any differences by school characteristics or any lone voices that we believe are significant. As appropriate, comments are credited to the originating school; school profiles are summarized above. It is important to remember that these themes are interrelated even though they are presented as discrete items in this report.

School Context Around Web Use

Overall, the schools were well-informed and enthusiastic about using the World Wide Web. In all but two instances (Alpha and Iota), the interviews were conducted during the regular school day, either before or after classes. Both Alpha and Iota scheduled the interviews during teacher inservice days.

Most of the interviews were held in the school library / media center. In most instances, this was where the Web-connected computer was located. One interview was held in an office suite described as looking like a corporate conference center, and several interviews were held in computer labs.

In most of the interviews, the technology coordinator, media specialist and/or other "technical" person, such as a computer teacher, often dominated the discussion. Although the focus group leaders encouraged participation from everyone, it didn't happen. In several of the interviews, several participants did not contribute at all. One interview (Beta) included an "observer" who did not disclose her name or title, and who did not contribute to the conversation. Two school principals offered apologies for not being adept at using the Web. Despite these uncomfortable dynamics, the focus group interviews were relaxed, congenial, and positive.

One school (Sigma) shared their concern about funding cut-backs. The staff at one school (Iota) was uneasy because of a recent lawsuit. Although these issues didn't directly affect our research, they reflect tensions and stresses that contribute to the overall attitude of a school's staff.

Frustration Using the Web

The word "frustration" was used more frequently by the educators than perhaps any other single word. Although the participants were generally enthusiastic about using the Web, they were almost unanimous in expressing frustration about it. To quote the principal of Alpha, "Teachers lose interest when they have to wait. Burning interest becomes frustration." There were no noticeable differences from any of the five filters on this theme.

The frustration came from three sources: frustration from technical problems with equipment, frustration wading through too much information, and frustration in dealing with the local school system.

Frustrations using equipment stemmed from two sources: reliability of the equipment or technical skill to use it. As one participant at Kappa said, "Even when the network is running it is extremely slow. It's out there, but we can't get to it." At Epsilon, one participant said, "The kids show me what they find on the Net, and although I wish I could find it, I can't. I feel a few steps behind everything." And at Lambda, a participant said, "I'm frustrated. I have it at home but here I can't get on. Then when I do get on, it stalls, and then class time is over. Our line is only operational from 8am to 4pm."

Frustration with technical support was particularly a problem for rural and small-town schools. Five of the eight rural and small-town schools mentioned it as a problem while only one of the urban and suburban locations mentioned it.

Another source of frustration stemmed from the need to wade through too much information, either content or technical information. At Rho, a high-technology school, the principal said that the teachers were "overwhelmed with technology." At Iota, someone complained that "I spend so much time looking for one thing." And Delta, another high-technology school, said "It’s overwhelming. You need a better way to find what you're looking for."

The largest source of frustration among educators was dealing with the school system or "administration" about technology and the Web. Delta complained that "The administration has not been dedicated to getting technology until the past couple of years. But until last year, there was only one phone line for the whole school." Gamma identified the root of their frustration: "This is a very conservative district. The technology coordinator had a year-long battle with the School Board just to get minimal connections."

At Theta, the complaint was stronger. "The Administration's priorities are off. Administration policies are standing in the way of the school being able to use the Internet. It all goes to the Administration. Right now, the secretaries have a brand new Pentium computer for word processing. We are stuck with a little bit of everything in our school. They take care of themselves first; we are secondary. It should be the other way around." Zeta felt a similar pinch: "The smaller schools just get the trickle from the larger ones."

For Sigma, frustration about using the Web was secondary to a bigger issue. As one Sigma teacher said, "It is hard to commit to something new when people are concerned about their jobs." (This school feared it would be closed due to district-level cutbacks in spending.)

Enthusiasm about Professional Uses

The participants in the focus group interviews were enthusiastic about current and potential uses for the World Wide Web. Their ideas clustered into three groups: professional research, classroom activities and community outreach. Lists of specific ideas are extensive. Representative types of activities are listed below.

 

 

 

Professional Research

Classroom Activities

Community outreach

 

-lesson plans / curricula

-pen pals

-include parents

 

-research content

-electronic field trips

-parent conferences

 

-instructional methods

-help kids become world citizens

-school schedules, lunch menus, etc.

 

-teacher chat rooms

-options for disabled students

-leisure and hobby activities

 

-career searches

-career and/or college searches

-career searches

 

-ERIC searches

-ERIC searches

-ERIC searches

 

-wide variety of reference sources

-writing (individual and collaborative)

 

 

-distance education and/or professional conferences

-link to other classrooms, locally and internationally

 

 

-software

 

 

 

-email

 

 

 

-purchasing supplies

 

 

We found that neither the high SES schools, nor urban or suburban schools, included parents or community outreach in their uses of the Web.

A teacher at Rho, a high-connectivity school, provided a counterpoint to balance the imagination and enthusiasm about the Web. S/he said "the Internet does NOT make the teacher's job easier. You have more to incorporate."

Rural and small town schools differed strikingly from urban and suburban schools in the uses they say for the Web. All but one of the rural/small town schools mentioned access to experts and video conferencing or telecommunications; none of the urban/suburban schools mentioned these.

Making Sense of the Web's Information

Although the educators we interviewed were positive and enthusiastic about the possibilities the Web offered, they were also somewhat skeptical about their ability to make sense of the vast amounts of information. All schools in this portion of the research, regardless of which filter we viewed this theme, provided similar information. Concerns about making sense of the information on the Web is not dependent on degree of connectivity, socio-economic status, grade level or geographic location.

On the positive side, the educators we interviewed saw the Web as an unlimited tool for two-way communication. Alpha described it as holding "information that is universal across state lines." Omega felt that the Web was a "treasure chest for researchers; a fabulous tool for teachers and students." Rho described the Web's information as being like "a huge library, like outer space. " And Theta called it a "network of networks; a mirror to the universe." Iota saw it as a way no only to understand the world, but to "present ourselves to the outside."

Epsilon and Beta, both middle schools, talked of the Web as a tool for helping their students gain a measure of parity with other students. Epsilon was direct, and said the Web will provide "equality for kids." Beta called it the "passport to the world. Our kids won't ever have real passports, so the Web is the next best thing."

Alongside these positive expectations, the educators were particularly concerned about their ability to finding information (navigation), to sort through information (indexes, search engines, "hot lists") and to trust the information they found (credibility). As with other themes in this report, the issue of making sense of the Web's information is intertwined with issues of (in)adequate time, equipment and technical skill.

Educators used the terms "inappropriate" and "filters" with two meanings. For some educators, the word "inappropriate" referred to pornography, sex, violence, cults and other material that they believed was socially inappropriate for school-aged children. These educators discussed "filters" as a way of keeping students from accessing this type of material. Issues related to this meaning of the words "inappropriate" and "filters" are covered in the theme "Censorship" below.

The second meaning of the terms "inappropriate" and "filters" is covered here. In this sense, educators used "inappropriate" to mean that the material was not what they expected. For example, a fourth-grade teacher at Lambda "did a search on tigers and we got a dissertation." To address this problem, educators asked for "filters" to organize information by content and level of sophistication.

When discussing the possibilities of the Web, many educators expressed feelings of being overwhelmed with the amount of information and how to navigate through it. A teacher at Rho said. "I've tried to use it, but the volume was overwhelming." Epsilon echoed this sentiment: "There's too much information." Delta "It's overwhelming. You need a better way to find what you are looking for. Many teachers used metaphors related to orientation in a physical space. Alpha described the Web as "a big forest to get lost in." Someone at Kappa called it ""sloughs of information." Delta wanted "road maps to find things."

Many of the educators asked for specific navigational support tools. At Gamma, "teachers like the idea of having software that can keep track of which sites each person has been looking at." Rho wanted a list of "top ten sites by subject area, like an annotated bibliography."

Sorting through information was a bigger concern than finding information. Theta expressed a common concern: "There's so much crap in the search engines and it takes so much time to sift through the results. I don't have time to sift through all the pages, I need to get to the information ASAP." Lambda expressed a need for "better searches, by content and level of sophistication."

Participants in the focus groups were specific about ideas for improving this situation. Three low-connectivity schools, Beta, Theta and Lambda specified indexes or directories to help organize information. Alpha, a medium-connectivity school, recommended "a site to work easily with certain logic; an explanation about what we're doing, links to other places, and a high degree of success... You need to provide information, built around keywords that people can get used to."

Theta and Delta, both suburban schools, wanted "tested" sites. Theta discussed a rating system comparable to the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval," saying, "it would be nice if someone did the synthesis for us." Delta said "teachers really want access to information that has been reviewed, or a location that will direct them to education-specific activities."

The educators we interviewed expressed concern for the credibility of the information they find on the Web. Omega summed it up best by saying, "The information needs to be verifiable, not just entertaining." Both Beta and Delta voiced similar concerns. Note that these schools represent all three grade levels, all three SES groupings, urban, suburban and small town locations, and both the low- and high-connectivity school groupings.

Censorship

The theme of dealing with age-inappropriate material surfaced as a universal concern, and was typically introduced with the word "censorship." The concern about legal liability was another concern closely connected with the theme of censorship. All schools, regardless of SES, grade level, geographic location or degree of connectivity discussed censorship in some way. A teacher at Epsilon expressed an important dilemma: "Whose standards do we use for what the kids have access to? We have selective censorship. MY selection."

Although they expressed concern about students finding inappropriate information, three of the four secondary schools were less specific and less anxious about the problem. Rho, a high-connectivity school, feels the pressure, stating "security is becoming a big problem." Rho has an acceptable use policy, and suspends a student’s Web privileges if they violate the policy. Rho's principal stated, "we have about three or four students a week who lose their Web access for disciplinary reasons."

According to the focus group participants, school administrators, parents and teachers are all concerned about the problems that could arise if students accessed inappropriate material through the Web. According to educators at Beta, central administrators "stopped technology a while back because of their concern about what's available on the Web." Zeta said that "parents are always worried about getting onto an X-rated system." And at Epsilon, "the kids are much more knowledgeable than the teachers, and an area of concern is that students are accessing areas they shouldn't."

There was equal concern about who was legally liable for such actions. At Theta, "the teacher is responsible for a child finding questionable material. The administration has wiped their hands clean of any responsibility for what children find on the Net while using it in school." Lambda said that "the biggest barrier is questionable material on the Web and legal liability. How do we define the liabilities? We need to have lawyers talking to make sure teachers can keep their jobs."

Concerns about censorship and liability were more of an issue in rural and small-town schools than they were in urban and suburban schools. Seven of the eight rural and small town schools mentioned censorship and liability, while less than half the urban and suburban schools mentioned these issues.

Many of the participants offered solutions to the problem of students obtaining inappropriate information. Several mentioned acceptable use policies for students and/or parents, monitoring student use, software "fire walls" to screen out certain material, and a rating system comparable to the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" to alert educators and students to appropriate materials.

Issues About Connectivity

The theme of connectivity or access proved to be an important point of discussion. Of the thirteen focus group schools, eleven had WWW access and two did not have access. Of those who had access, eight used local dialup services and two used commercial service providers. Local dialup service is typically a community-based, low-cost telephone gateway onto the Web. Commercial service providers are for-profit businesses such as America On Line, Prodigy or CompuServe.

There was a great deal of confusion and conflicting information about how schools were connected. Different school personnel described different types of connections. In some instances, the researchers were able to look at the actual equipment, and their descriptions of the connections were also different. The ability to recite technical specifications may not be critical, however. To quote a teacher from Rho, a high-connectivity school, "I know we're connected, but I don't know how and I don't care how."

In addition to the confusion about Web connectivity, there was confusion in general about how the Web and its technology related to computer technology in general. Although the discussion was focused on using the World Wide Web, several educators discussed difficulties with traditional CD-ROMS. Many of the focus group participants did not differentiate using the Web from using computers in general.

Several teachers at Sigma were surprised to find out during the focus group that their school already had Web access. This is an important issue, since awareness is essential for effective use.

The degree of connectivity is defined as the number of computers that are connected to the World Wide Web. Schools with low connectivity had two or fewer computers connected to the Web. Schools with medium connectivity had three or more computers connected to the Web, and were in the process of connecting more ("full connectivity"). Schools with high connectivity had a large number of computers with Web connections, and had completed the infrastructure to support "full connectivity" within the school.

Eight of the thirteen schools had two or fewer computers capable of accessing the WWW. Typically, this computer was located in the library or the media center. In two locations (need names), the Web computer was located in the principal's office.

Although the degree of connectivity did not influence the general nature of the school responses, the degree of connectivity did affect the quality. Schools with a high degree of connectivity were generally more positive in their comments, and were more specific in their responses. Schools with low connectivity generally related hearsay or vicarious experiences.

All schools, however, experienced similar concerns about connectivity. Money was at the center of the majority of these problems. As a teacher at Delta said, "Cash is always the big one." The specific issues of connectivity clustered into four groups: hardware and software, access, technical support and maintenance, and general funding of technology.

Inadequate hardware and software was a common trend of the focus group interviews. At Kappa, a medium-connectivity school, educators said that "technical and software problems prevent us from being connected." Educators at Omega, a low-connectivity school concurred; "My biggest problems are running lines and getting software." Theta, a low-connectivity school, complained that "we're wired and the infrastructure is there, but we have old machines. The administration wires the school, but the school is left to buy the network cards and computers." Sigma, a low-connectivity school echoed that concern. "Our biggest obstacle is old equipment. Parents have come out to try to help, but the sound cards are wrong, there's not enough memory, and so on." One of the high-connectivity schools, Rho, discussed getting their own server in the next year in order to improve their ability to use the Web.

The term "access" refers to the link between the school's computers and the Internet. This is typically accomplished through a local service provider. The cost of access was the predominant concern. Concern for the cost of service was universal across school profiles. Rho, a high-connectivity school, pays $10,000 per year for service. Gamma, a low-connectivity school needs lines that cost $18,000 per year. And Lambda, a low-connectivity school, says "money is an issue. We don't know how much to pay until the bill comes." Omega complained that "everything is long distance."

Quality and amount of access also surfaced as issues. Alpha said that although "connections are fast in the morning, they are useless in the afternoon." Educators at Sigma said "if it is only available in the library we won't use it much."

A teacher at Alpha took a cynical approach to limited Web access. "Older teachers won't use it. That's an advantage for me - it means more time for me!"

Ongoing support, both short-term technical support and ongoing maintenance, were important issues within the theme of connectivity. Iota summed it up: "We need technical support to keep this thing going." Lambda summarized the effects of inadequate support: "We have a dedicated line, but it gets neglected and we have problems. About half the time it works. And even when we are connected, it locks up and doesn't do anything." Several schools echoed Omega's concern: "We don't have enough technical support."

The final issue related to connectivity was general funding for technology. Zeta summed it up by saying, "Our plans are bigger than our money. Projects get started then they stop. There is a constant shuffling of funds." High-connectivity schools are not immune from funding problems. Delta, a high-connectivity school, said, "Our money was pulled when taxpayers protested about the cost [of the project]."

Educators at Gamma shared their perception of a flaw in the state's strategy to implement use of the Web. They said, "If the State wants all the schools to belong to the service centers, why have they made them so expensive?" Omega saw the flaw differently. "We get the same amount of money as other sites although we have more users to provide the service to."

Need for Training

Training surfaced as a major theme in the focus group interviews. The need for training was consistent across all groupings of schools. In general, the educators wanted simple, "just-in-time" training that didn't require a lot of time. Educators expressed comparable needs for training across all groupings. Schools in the high-connectivity group, however, expressed more specific training needs.

Educators at both Gamma and Lambda voiced identical needs: "Training is a big (huge) issue; when to do it, how to fit it in and who will do it." Sigma expressed a slightly broader need: "Training issue is major. We have things here that we don't use, we don't know what we have, and we don't know how to use what we have." Even the two highest-connectivity schools voiced similar concerns. An educator at Rho said, "We need more training and practice in using it [the Web]" And an educator at Delta said, "There's just so little I know. Is there something that tells you how to use it?"

One difference that we noticed was in the target group for training. Schools in the low socio-economic group included parents in the target population for training. Beta offered that this would be a good way to educate parents and to bring parents and children together.

Considering the speed at which technology currently changes, and considering the previous comments regarding teachers' responsibilities and liabilities for supervising student use of the Web, two educators illuminated the urgency for providing appropriate training. Consider the following comments from educators at Lambda and Sigma: "Everything I've gotten, I've gotten accidentally," and "I've forgotten all the training I had in 1978." Although we don't know if this second comment was serious or tongue-in-cheek, the message is the same: outdated training is useless.

When educators spoke of the content of training, they identified two areas of need. The first area was not surprising: technical training on the array of skills required to use the Web. Specific technical topics included navigation, downloading and saving files, using unnamed software applications, using search engines and making Web pages to name a few. The second content area focused on the need for educational techniques for using the Web in the classroom. Epsilon said, "We can't teach the way we did in the 1970s and 80s." And Lambda said, "I wouldn't know what to do with it in my classroom. We don't know what to do educationally."

The participants in the focus groups were clear about the characteristics of training that they would consider effective. Sigma said, "We need training. Lots of it! It needs to be in black and white. Training isn't good when it is done in advance." Delta, a high-connectivity school, said "We need tutorials that are more fundamental than the training." Lambda wanted training that is "as simple as possible. The easier it is the more you will use it. There should be some simple book with a lay person's words."

Alpha addressed the motivation to learn to use the Web. "We need to overcome the initial inertia of the learning curve for teachers. The first three or four sessions need to show a big payoff early so they will stick with the learning."

Educators also mentioned that they needed time for training. Zeta needs "release time for training." Rho needs "time after training to review." And Sigma needs "training at the right time, when the equipment is here. It needs to be hands-on and we need immediate accessibility."

The Web, and the training on how to use the Web, is charged with emotion. A teacher at Rho said, "I feel guilty leaving the classroom to get training." At Gamma, someone said, "Our biggest problem with training is finding time to do it. Teachers don't like to be away from their classrooms because it is too much effort to prepare for a substitute and they fall behind. After school, teachers are tired and their brains aren't as fresh." A teacher at Omega said, "I'm intimidated about the Web's operation. Without help in learning, I'm afraid I would waste more time in trial and error than I would learn. I would like some direct instruction." Alpha's view was that "teachers want training but there is a fear. We have an aged staff - they need time and knowledge."

 

Part 4 - Summary

Conclusions

The information presented in this report is far greater than the scope of the I-WEB project. We presented the full scope of information because it illuminates the environment in which Indiana educators use technology, specifically the World Wide Web.

Important factors that are beyond the scope of the I-WEB project include:

• administrative issues

- funding

- censorship and liability

- time for training

- scheduling and priorities for using the Web

• technical issues

- type and quantity of equipment and connections

- quality of equipment

- location of equipment

- maintenance

- support materials (software, CD-ROMS, videos, etc.)

Important factors that the I-WEB project could potentially address include:

• training (types and content)

- general overview of Web and its uses

- workshops

- written tutorials and training materials

- specific hardware and software training

- using search engines

- creating Web pages

- training could be on line, through Web or email, or traditional in-person workshops

• "filters"

- lists of bookmarks

- a "gateway" with links to good sites (search engines, references and content)

• technical service and support

- provide server space

- "help" and/or technical support through e-mail

- on-line tutorials and reference materials

• facilitating collaboration

- provide chat room space

- establish and promote specific projects for both educators and students

 

Recommendations

Based on the results of the focus group interviews, we recommend continuing with the I-WEB project. Our data indicate both a need and an enthusiasm among Indiana educators for additional support to help them use the Internet effectively for professional purposes. It is important to compare the results of the focus group interviews to the results of the written survey to establish state-wide trends and establish specific needs. This combined information will point to options for specific strategies and tactics for the I-WEB project to pursue.