For decades, those responsible for organizing and presenting in-service professional development for educators have used a variety of models for providing learning experiences for teachers, and these have been designed to support all aspects of TPCK and to accommodate the needs of individual learners. These activities tended to reflect training in other professional organizations (especially for technological knowledge) and graduate courses (especially for pedagogical and content knowledge), so the professional learning occurred largely outside of the classroom and in the absence of students. In recent decades, professionals who are given various titles but who function as technology integration specialists have emerged as a specialty within the teacher populations. These individuals are typically licensed educators who have received additional training (often earning advanced degrees) in educational technology. These individuals play active roles in as technology stewards (Wenger, Smith, & White, 2009) who advocate for technology solutions aligned with teachers needs and they also fill the role of lead user (von Hippel, 2005) who create innovative uses of technology in the classroom and disperse those innovations.
Mentors with greater than usual expertise have been found to be a characteristic of communities and organizations in which innovations are accepted and diffused. Eric von Hippel (2005), a scholar who studies innovation in diverse organizations and fields, notes lead users “are ahead of the majority of users in their populations with respect to an important market trend, and they expect to gain relatively high benefits from a solution to the needs hey have encountered there” (p. 4).
Technology integration specialists who serve the role of mentor participate in planning and delivering training, promote learning about the role of technology in learning, and support design efforts. In addition, these professionals play an active role in modeling and coaching mentees. Technology integration specialists are often found in classrooms (or computer rooms) when teachers are using technology for teaching and learning. In this role, he or she supports both the teacher and students in their activities. In some instances, these specialists will even teach classes (or co-teach), so the teacher can find a comfortable entry point into using technology.
In idealized circumstances, technology integration specialists spend most of their time supporting colleagues as they become competent and confident so they develop as independent users of and teachers with technology. Three common obstacles do interfere with the work. First, especially in smaller schools, a technology integration specialist may have fill this role on a part-time basis and have other teaching responsibilities. This can introduce scheduling conflicts that can limit opportunities to work with some other teachers. Second, the personal characteristics of some teachers may lead him or her to become dependent on the support of the technology integration specialists. Self-efficacy has been widely studied and appears to affect the intention to use technology and the transfer of that into practice (Abbitt, 2011; Yerdelen-Damar, Boz, & Aydın-Günbatar, 2017), and there is tendency among those with low perceived self-efficacy to rely on support to meet minimal technology expectations for their classrooms.
Third, because technology integration specialists are among the most visible technology professionals in the school, they are often the first contact for initial troubleshooting help. While this often leads to quick repairs and can lead to opportunities for both students and teachers to receive lessons in troubleshooting, this work does direct technology integration specialists away from their primary responsibility of mentoring teachers.
A final mentoring role for technology integration specialists is to support IT professionals as they develop experience creating systems to meet the unfamiliar needs of educational populations. They advocate for teachers’ and students’ needs when IT professionals are designing and configuring IT systems, and they interpret educational users’ experience so the IT professionals understand unmet needs and systems that are perceived to be too difficult to use or ineffective.
von Hippel, E. (2005). Democratizing innovation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.