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When It Comes to Internet, Teachers Remain Unplugged

Education: Lack of training threatens to undermine efforts to get schools online.


Laguna Hills High School has 78 teachers, but none knows the Internet as well as a pair of teenage student workers.

San Bernardino City School District has 2,000 teachers, but as of mid-October, only 20 of them have taken Internet training courses the district offers.

Of the approximately 28,000 teachers in Los Angeles public schools, less than half have Los Angeles Unified School District e-mail accounts, and a mere 65 have home pages on the official district Web site.

When it comes to the Internet, a lot of educators remain unplugged.

In California and the rest of the country, billions of dollars and millions of hours are being spent wiring schools to the Internet, through government mandates and volunteer initiatives such as NetDay, a business-led, one-day cabling marathon held in mid-October.

But getting the equipment is just the beginning. For teachers to incorporate the Internet into lesson plans and truly make it a useful educational tool, they have to know how to use it and where to look for resources online. It's a huge issue, one experts contend threatens to undermine the much-hyped effort to get schools online.

"All the money we're spending on equipment will be ineffective if teachers can't translate that into their day-to-day practice," said Randall Ryder, author of "Internet for Educators" and a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

If that tune sounds familiar, it's because many educational experts believe that earlier educational technologies, including the personal computer, have failed to live up to their promise in part because of inadequate teacher training.

If teachers' Internet literacy doesn't improve, schools could be in for a repeat performance.

For some teachers, the stumbling block is access: They can't or won't learn until their classrooms or schools have enough network connections and PCs. For others, it's a question of time or fear of the unknown. Younger teachers are more likely to have received some type of computer training in school, but for the most part teachers who have been working a while aren't as familiar with computers and the Internet, according to education authorities.

Still others remain unconvinced that the Internet is the important classroom tool it's made out to be, preferring to concentrate instead on tried-and-true teaching methods.

The lack of teacher Internet training isn't lost on the powers that be. The Clinton administration, national teachers groups and the National Parent Teacher Assn. are supporting an initiative called 21st Century Teacher that this fall plans to train 100,000 educators to teach 500,000 other teachers about computers, software and the Internet.

Forward-thinking states such as Florida, Texas, West Virginia and Maryland have begun requiring that public funds earmarked for school technology improvements be used for teacher training as well as hardware.

In California, a state education technology task force last summer unveiled a four-year, $11-billion proposal to bring public schools up to technological snuff, including $2.3 billion for teacher training and support. But until the proposal is approved and funded, training California teachers about e-mail, the Web and other aspects of the Internet will remain spotty.

Some schools are taking unusual steps to fill the knowledge gap. One is Saddleback Valley Unified School District in south Orange County, which is hiring Internet-savvy students to work as computer technicians.

At Laguna Hills High School, students Andy Mecham, 17, and Aditya Bansod, 15, make $8.16 an hour formatting hard drives, programming software, making network connections and answering Internet questions from teachers and students. Bansod, a sophomore from Laguna Hills, helps maintain the district's official Web site. Mecham, a senior from San Clemente, has made house calls to help teachers set up their home PCs.

"The question isn't what they do, it's what don't they do," said Frank Manzo, assistant principal.

Mecham and Bansod count two Laguna Hills teachers who know how to write Web pages and another half a dozen who use the Internet in class. About half the school's teachers have received some type of Internet training, according to school officials.

The teenagers, both of whom grew up with computers, have a hard time relating to their technophobic teachers.

"Some have had bad experience with computers and just don't want to deal with it," Mecham said with just a touch of sympathy.

Mike Barnes, a social sciences teacher who claims to be the school's leading Luddite, grudgingly began using a computer several years back to print out class assignments. He's connected to the Internet at home and school but hasn't made the time to integrate it into his class.

"It's not the kind of thing you jump into at the beginning of the year," Barnes said.

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