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You are here arrow Home arrow Resources arrow Publications arrow Turning Information into Knowledge

Turning Information into Knowledge

by Barbara Bray, bbray@compstrategies.com

published March 2001 | Vol. 32 | No. 3
Professional Development column, ONCUE Newsletter

A good professional development program provides ongoing, sustainable support. The demands of technology and an influx of information makes planning and more time essential for the student program to be a success. But what kind of support are we talking about? How do we facilitate effective results when teachers collaborate with the time they have available? With more technology in classrooms, teachers will need creative classroom management techniques to assure equitable use and more time to design or expand units that integrate technology and align to standards. To understand how to use these new resources as part of the curriculum, a major focus for professional development will be on information literacy skills. This is where the user accesses information, uses it, evaluates it, and then synthesizes it in their own words. An approach that goes a step further that not only personalizes the student program but increases understanding is knowledge management.


Difference between Information and Knowledge
To become a knowledge manager, one must first know the difference between information and knowledge. The Internet is growing exponentially with every new node and connection. Metcalfe’s Law described by Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com Corporation and the Ethernet protocol, described that the more people who use a software program, a web site, a game, or a book, the more valuable it becomes, and the more new users it will attract, increasing both its utility and speed of its adoption by still more users. (Downes, 1998)

Because of the expansion of the Internet, information is created by new users more than ever before.

This also provides the ability for every user at every connection with a knowledge of web page design to become a producer of information. This is where the end user will need literacy skills to determine validity. Information is treated as independent and self-contained. (Brown, 2000) Think of information as an entity, and information literacy as a process. Information is something the user can pick up, possess, share with someone, put in a database or on a website, lose, write about, compare and contrast, and so on. Knowledge is more personal. It is difficult to pick up or pass around. A user can point to certain information but not to the knowledge they have. A user can hold on to information where knowledge takes a degree of commitment and understanding. Information tends to be independent of meaning. "I’ve read the information, but I don’t understand it." Knowledge is where the user owns the information, understands its value, and is able to use it appropriately.

"I’ve read the information, but I don’t understand it."


Teaching for Understanding
The challenge as educators is to shift to knowledge management, understanding, and production skills. In doing this, the focus is less on process and more on people and teaching for understanding. This transforms traditional teaching methods by providing clear guidance on choosing curriculum topics, defining explicit goals and learning activities, fostering student understanding, and assessing students’ performance. (Wiske, 1998) Collections of links to primary sources may end up not making a difference in a student’s understanding of the information unless there is a system in place that supports ongoing learning of teachers. Teachers need a way of assimilating primary and secondary sources, time to discuss what they found with each other and their students, and then provide strategies where students can personalize this information so it is relevant to them.


Coaching Model
The coaching model is one of several sound approaches to professional development. This involves real-world and subject matter experts who assess the teacher’s situation through observations, surveys, and interviews, plan with them to design a learning activity involving technology, model strategies with the students, and continue support on an ongoing basis. A coach can also search for information for the teacher. Most teachers have limited time to search for relevant links or the appropriate resources, so they need the support of "information seekers" who have the knowledge. The coach as knowledge manager can be another teacher, an outside consultant, the library media specialist, an online expert, a student, other teachers, or as part of a team a combination of any of these. It is important to make sure a coach is not relegated to the role of "teacher aide" and that they have the knowledge and expertise or are part of a team that works collaboratively to support the student program. It is frustrating for a teacher with limited technology skills or time to add searching for information to their busy schedule. As part of this relationship, the coach or knowledge manager has to be trusted and understand the teacher’s situation, and building this trust takes time.

"Most teachers have limited time to search for relevant links or the appropriate resources, so they need the support of "information seekers" who have the knowledge."


Staff Development Models
Examples of collaborative learning communities where professional development includes ongoing support are listed below:
L’Ouverture Elementary in Wichita, Kansas was created as a Technology Magnet. Craig Bright, (cbright@usd259.net) principal, was eager to share information about this exciting learning community and their staff development program. After school and inservice days were devoted to increasing technology proficiency levels. A full-time support person (coach) was hired to assist classroom teachers. Staff development needs are reviewed by the technology committee and support is available on an as needed basis. Peer mentors are assigned to new staff to work closely with them in the classroom. The technology committee and mentors developed an extensive framework and established resources to support learning activities. Through an ongoing assessment, any staff needs are identified and matched with the coach or a mentor. A scope and sequence was developed to better meet and challenge the needs of their students. Teachers utilize a sequential checksheet for assessment of student progress that is aligned with their standards. The parent association and other partners work closely in providing support through fundraising efforts so teachers have the resources necessary to do the learning activities. With support from an entire learning community, students meet their learning goals. Please visit http://louverture.usd259.org


Emily Craft (ecraft@randolph.pvt.k12.al.us), staff development coordinator at Randolph School in Huntsville, Alabama (http://www.randolph.pvt.k12.al.us), spends most of her time assisting teachers with technology integration. Her position from full-time teacher eventually transformed into full-time coach. Her position evolved from a faculty request for ongoing technology support as they moved toward a student laptop program and support for 80 faculty members. The technology team consists of her position, a technology coordinator, a system administrator, a laptop technician, and a student help desk. Craft helps teachers design instructional units which infuse technology into the existing curriculum. The focus is on letting the curriculum drive the technology rather than forcing a technology lesson into the curriculum. This commitment to provide a full-time support team and encourage collaborative planning provides learning activities that teach for understanding.


Janice Friesen (janice@more.net), Area Instructional Specialist, eMINTS (enhancing Missouri’s Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies) shared how a pilot project in 12 classrooms around the state proved that technology helped students show dramatic increases in learning. The program has now increased to 200 classrooms out of around 5000 in the state. Each classroom has a Smart Board, projector, one computer for every two students, a teacher workstation, scanner, digital camera, and a laptop for the teacher along with 10MB connection to the Internet. Teachers receive a stipend for the hours they participate in training which is up to 100 hours the first year and 75 hours the second year. "Clusters" of teachers meet on a regular schedule as they learn to integrate the technology. The state is divided into 10 clusters where each has an Instructional Specialist, (CIS) that travels to each of the schools supporting the teachers and leads training sessions. There are three Area Instructional Specialist in which Janice is one of them who support four CIS. Each CIS works with two groups of teachers with 5-10 teachers in each group. Support includes not only separate workshops but time coaching individual teachers. Technical support along with curriculum support has provided encouraging results. Please visit http://emints.more.net to see evaluation reports and classroom web pages.


Conclusion
All three of these examples provide strategies that include rich resources, a technical support team, and coaching. A consensus from members of the staff development listserv is that teachers cannot do their job alone. Teaching has changed. Students have changed. They need an environment where just-in-time support is available, collaboration is encouraged, and everyone is a knowledge expert about something. To be successful, the school needs to become a learning community that involves teachers, students, and partners. With the growth and speed of the Internet, it will be more difficult to determine validity and relevancy of information. If we provide the resources that Missouri put in their classrooms, we have to support them. Technology does not work all the time and can be frustrating. Teachers cannot be technical wizards, curriculum developers, manage discipline problems, and teach to standards without the help of a support team. I am recommending developing a learning community, where full-time knowledge managers find valid and relevant information for teachers and help them design and implement effective technology-based learning activities that help students become informed consumers as well as knowledgable producers of information. As part of this learning community, knowledge managers can facilitate a team of teachers to participate in collaborative activities where teachers support each other.


Resources

  • Brown, J. and Duguid, P. The Social Life of Information. Harvard Business School Press. 2000. ISBN 0-87584-762-5
  • Downes, L, and Mui, C. Unleashing the Killer App. Harvard Business School Press. 1998. ISBN 0-87584-801
  • Wiske, M. Teaching for Understanding. Jossey-Bass Education Series. 1998. ISBN 0-7879-1002-3


Barbara Bray (bbray@compstrategies.com) is President of her own company, Computer Strategies, LLC (http://www.compstrategies.com) and the new division, my eCoach (http://my-ecoach.com). She writes regularly for ONCUE and moderates a very active listserv for staff developers. To subscribe, write to techstaffdevelop-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

"The eMINTS National Center staff and teachers have let us know how much they value the coaching and peer collaboration available on My eCoach Online. They particularly enjoy the convenience of posting activities online aligning them with NETS and the Missouri Show-Me Standards."


pictureMonica Beglau
Director
eMINTS - Columbia, MO






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