No other kind of training can substitute for teachers actually sitting down and using the computer hardware and software they’ll ask students to use. Not only do teachers need to feel confident that they can troubleshoot minor problems and answer students’ questions, but they need to know first-hand what limitations and opportunities the computer classroom offers. For instance, in one of our classrooms, we had small keyboards so that students would have more room for books and papers next to their computers. But the keyboards took some getting used to. When new teachers began to use the keyboards, they immediately noted that they would give students a few class sessions to accustom themselves to the keyboards before asking them to type for more than 20 minutes at a time.
Similarly, teachers who had read about using a chat program were eager to exploit the possibilities. But our version of Netscape Chat has a very small window that scrolls infinitely to the right as users type in their remarks. In other words, writers cannot see the first words of their sentences as they continue to type. The net effect of this computer limitation was that writers produced very short comments until they overcame their reluctance to type without being able to see the entire message. Teachers who used this program learned first-hand that they would have to actively encourage students to type longer comments if they wanted to see the kinds of discussions they read about in published articles about chat programs.