WASHINGTON – Irene Viti first touched a computer in high school, where she learned how to program it using punch cards.
Now the 31-year-old math teacher instructs algebra students at Ballenger Creek Middle School in Frederick on how to figure their grades using a computer. She also chats about math with other Maryland teachers using electronic mail.
Viti, in her ninth year of teaching, said she picked up her computer skills bit by bit. Taking college computer classes and teacher training workshops, sharing knowledge with other teachers, and exploring on her own made her computer literate.
Like Viti, many Maryland teachers and media specialists learn computer skills piecemeal, said Gail Bailey, branch chief of school library media services for the Maryland State Department of Education.
“It has been sporadic, hit-and-miss, and there certainly is a gap for many people,” Bailey said. “I couldn’t say that most [Maryland educators] have basic computer skills.”
The gap may close as older teachers retire and younger teachers, trained on computers in college, enter the state’s classrooms, Bailey said.
One university in Maryland – Salisbury State – is helping to close the gap by offering extensive computer training for both veteran teachers and college education majors.
Salisbury State’s Center for Technology in Education serves Maryland’s nine Eastern Shore public school systems, and students and faculty at Salisbury State and four other colleges in the region, said Wanda Wagner, the center’s director.
It opened in late 1993 and had 1,700 participants in 1994, she said.
Before the center opened, education students at Salisbury State were taught only computer basics, such as word processing and using spreadsheets, Wagner said. Now prospective teachers learn practical skills, such as how to use a computer lab with children who can’t type, how to use computers for classroom presentations and how to pull data from the Internet, the global computer network.
The center also offers teachers “Quick Starts” – one-day, three-hour sessions on specific computer software programs or on techniques for using computers in the classroom.
And it offers teachers an intense schedule of computer courses through its Technology Academies, held in January and August, Wagner said. Academy courses are taught at night, on the weekends and during the school day to allow teachers to fit them into their schedules, she said.
Some Maryland school systems handle computer instruction on their own.
Prince George’s County Public Schools provides computer training for thousands of its teachers every year, said Peter Schaefer, one of five computer trainers for the school system.
“We do extensive training on how teachers are to use the computers for instruction,” Schaefer said, adding that workshops often center around a software program for a specific subject, such as biology or reading.
In Prince George’s, instructing teachers on using the Internet isn’t formalized yet and is given only on demand, Schaefer said.
The school system does have an Internet users group, which meets monthly for faculty who want to discuss and learn more advanced computer techniques, he said.
All teachers in Maryland can access the Internet for free through a hub at the University of Maryland at College Park.
Since September 1992, the university has allowed teachers, media specialists and administrators in Maryland’s public and private schools – kindergarten through 12th grades – to hold Internet accounts, said Ira Gold, senior systems administrator in the university’s Computer Science Center.
“At the end of ’92, we probably didn’t have 20 or 30 people,” Gold said. Now about 10,500 people have these accounts, he said.
“As people found out about it and understood what it was, more people got interested in it,” Gold said. He said he hoped teachers would take their knowledge back to their schools and create additional Internet entry points, giving students direct access. -30-