Shelley H. Billig

Lorraine Sherry

Bruce Havelock


RMC Research Corporation, Denver, Colorado, USA


In this article, we offer a research-based theoretical framework for sustainability, describing those proven qualities of project and innovations that support their sustained existence over time.  We then describe how a United States Department of Education Technology Innovation Challenge Grantee, working to promote technology integration in a socio-economically disadvantaged region of the state of Texas, succeeded in creating a sustainable set of activities around its work to support educators’ uses of technology.  We examine the factors that served to nurture and facilitate sustainability of the practices associated with technology integration to promote student achievement.  We take the tact that it is not the project but rather, the change in practice that is important. 


A Framework for Sustainable Innovations


The term sustainability is often used interchangeably with institutionalization, and their meanings are similar.


·        Institutionalization addresses the permanent use of the innovation such that it loses its own identity and becomes a normative part of the organization and its culture (Miles, 1983).  According to Ekholm and Trier (1987), when a new process or innovation is used in a routine manner and is accepted as something normal that is expected to continue, it is incorporated into the organizational framework and its procedures as a natural pattern.


·        Sustainability is similar to institutionalization, and typically refers to an innovation that endures over time.  With sustainability, the innovation typically does not lose its identity.  Rather, it becomes valued and supported as part of the culture of the institution (Schneider, Brief, & Guzzo, 1996).  Sustainability often involves maintenance or scaling up of the innovation by building constituencies and/or champions, creating strong, enduring partnerships, generating and leveraging resources, and identifying and securing funding sources that are available over time.


In a study conducted by Billig (2002), leaders of 17 organizations that were able to sustain educational innovation over a period of at least ten years identified the adoption, implementation, and sustainability factors that they believe were associated with long term survival of their innovations.  In order for an initiative to be sustained, according to Billig’s model, the following factors must be in place:


·        Strong leadership that stimulates the development of a shared vision, devises appropriate fiscal and human management systems, motivates action and allegiance to the purpose of the project, engenders a sense of community within the project, and provides continuity and growth through development and implementation of systematic succession plans.


·        Strong infrastructure and organizational development that simultaneously stress human interdependence and autonomy, two-way communication systems, strong human and fiscal management, feedback loops for identifying and understanding needs and ways to improve continuously, mechanisms for problem solving, a culture of support rich with symbolic representations of that support, and strategies for organizational development, professional growth, and recognition of benefit.


·        Support structures such as thoughtful and clearly articulated orientation to tasks, professional development/training systems, ongoing reflection and use of feedback for improvement, availability of appropriate human and material resources, strategies that place a high value on diversity and reciprocity, and enabling policies.


·        Incentives to draw people to the system and encourage them to remain in the system as appropriate, generally through a combination of positive interdependence, creation of social potency, self-efficacy, organizational efficacy, feelings of satisfaction, and demonstrated records of success.


·        Visibility so that individuals can learn about the project and understand its purpose, benefits, and support efforts.


·        Credibility, including an ability to gather and report evidence of success that is sufficiently documented and valid.


·        Strong, mutually beneficial partnerships that are characterized by mutuality, reciprocal high regard, shared vision, and interdependent tasks.


·        Macroculture development wherein norms, rituals, and symbols are developed to help promote  identity and contextual relevance.


·        Sufficient funds, generally from multiple sources


These multiple sets of factors associated with sustainability were explored to determine their applicability within a technology integration project.  The analysis showed that most, but nor all of these factors, were important to ensuring technology infusion over time.


Sustaining Teacher Technology Integration in El Paso, Texas


El Paso is the westernmost city in Texas, located between Mexico and New Mexico.  The urban center or El Paso sits on the Rio Grande River, which serves as its border with the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez.  Together, Juarez and El Paso comprise the world’s largest international border complex, with a combined population of over two million.  The U.S. Government reported that in 2000, 76.6% of El Paso’s roughly 564,000 residents were of Hispanic or Latino origin.  Although it is a gateway for many families of Mexican origin to opportunity in the United States, the El Paso region suffers from high levels of poverty, high unemployment, and low educational attainment.


Challenge 98 was a Technology Innovation Challenge Grant awarded to the El Paso Partnership for Technology Integration (EPPTI) in 1998 by the U.S. Department of Education.  The primary purpose of Challenge 98 was to help teachers integrate technology with challenging instructional content in order to improve student achievement.  The project involved professional development efforts, delivered in the form of Master’s degrees in educational technology for 200 area teachers and 120 hours of professional development in technology integration for another 500 teachers.  The project capitalized on an earlier grant provided by the U.S. Department of education to provide equipment and promote leadership for technology integration in the region.


The El Paso Partnership for Technology Integration was a consortium of the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP); the El Paso area Region 19 Education Service Center (ESC), an intermediary agency that provides services to local districts; and the UTEP-based El Paso Collaborative for Academic Excellence (the El Paso Collaborative).  The Partnership directed Challenge 98 efforts in 12 school districts (three urban and nine rural), with a total of over 100 participating schools.  The Challenge 98 proposal called for work with 85 urban and 15 rural schools, with a division of labor among the partnership members: the UTEP College of Education trained Master’s degree candidates in all schools; the El Paso Collaborative worked with Technology Teacher Leaders in the 85 urban schools, providing 120 hours of professional development over two years; and Region 19 ESC worked with developing Technology Teacher Leaders in the 15 participating rural schools.


UTEP serves 16,000 students as the leading institution of higher education in the region.  Most of UTEP’s students enter from the El Paso school system and are the first in their families to attend college.  The only comprehensive public university within hundreds of miles, in this part of Texas, UTEP produces roughly 70% of the teachers and administrators for the region.  The ESC provides educational support services and professional development for all 12 school districts in El Paso and Hudspeth Counties (9 of those 12 districts are in El Paso County).  All of those districts were active partners in the Challenge 98 grant program and activities.  In this sense, Challenge 98 was built on existing institutions.  As can be seen below, the grant both benefited from and was challenged by the existing networks, relationships, and structures within and between these institutions.


The guiding vision of Challenge 98 was articulated in five goals:


1.      Transform the ways in which current teachers use technology to support high quality curriculum and accelerate learning – through school team professional development and Master’s degree programs – so that all students attain high levels of academic achievement;


2.      Impact the work of district- and school-level administrators and others in leading and supporting the integration of technology with high quality curriculum;


3.      Transform the roles of parents in supporting their children to use technology effectively in meeting high academic standards and preparing for postsecondary education;


4.      Enhance university faculty development and preservice teacher technology expertise; and


5.      Develop and disseminate materials illustrating the program model and key products in order to support other K-16 partnerships in replicating the program. 


Of these five goals, the first was identified by the Partnership as the highest priority, becoming the focus of Challenge 98’s energy and resources over the six year span of the grant.  Though the primary aim of the first goal was to focus on better integration of technology to enhance instructional content in K-12 schools, attention was also given to the use of technology to enhance productivity and support teachers’ professional development through tools such as e-mail lists, online book talks, and electronic teacher portfolios.  From 2002 to 2004, researchers collected and analyzed data in the form of educator surveys, interviews, and focus groups, and observations of classroom practice in participating school districts and at the UTEP College of Education. 


Institutionalization and Sustainability of Challenge 98


Challenge 98 sought to sustain specific technology-enhanced practices rather than the project itself.  Challenge 98 has in place various factors associated with both institutionalization and sustainability, so it is not clear exactly whether the project will lose its identity entirely, becoming normative at many sites, or will continue to be sustained as a technology initiative through evolution and/or deliberate transformation by other large innovative educational projects currently being implemented in the region.


Through the creation of networks, convening of key leaders, and collaboration between the university, the Region 19 ESC, and other regional initiatives, Challenge 98 took a systemic approach to changing instructional practice that encouraged permeability of organizational boundaries and regular communication.  Through modeling and consistent messaging, Challenge 98 demonstrated continuous improvement and encouragement of learning and implementation.  Lessons learned were captured and shared at networking meetings and showcases and through the distribution of a videotape.  Best practices were identified, documented, and shared through the Web site and creation of case studies.  Because the various networks of stakeholders were empowered, autonomy was encouraged and celebrated.


According to Light (1998), four main factors determine the degree to which innovations will be sustained within an organization: the external environment, the internal structure of the organization, its leadership, and its internal management.  Challenge 98 managed the external environment well since the collaboration that formed Challenge 98 already had legitimacy, credibility, and cache going into the project, based both on the leadership that the organizations of the El Paso Collaborative already had and on the fact that they built on a previously existing and successful Technology Innovation Challenge Grant.  Thus Challenge 98 caused little turbulence or shock, and already had a bed of support and strong encouragement for teachers and others to become participants in the project.


The internal structure of Challenge 98, however, provided some challenges midstream.  In the third year of the project, leaders delegated responsibility and were not clearly visible.  This sent unintentional symbolic messages and resulted in a leadership team that was not as internally consistent and functional as desired.  Challenge 98 engaged in midcourse corrections and re-engaged leaders, stimulated and promoted coherence, and generally put the initiative back on track.  By the end of the project, all of the key sustainability factors associated with internal structures were in place.


Top leaders of Challenge 98 were particularly well respected in the region, and their vision was embraced by most participants.  During midcourse corrections, top leaders were re-engaged and became regarded as “durable.”  Their communication skills, temperaments, and messages were highly respected, and they sent both assurances and empowering messages to participants who in turn modeled these strategies in their own locations.


Internal management followed a somewhat parallel path to the leadership.  In the middle of the project, details were lost and some participants expressed concern.  With new management staff in place, all of the problems were corrected and the project went back on track.  The same individuals now manage a new math and science initiative, thus reassuring teachers and administrators in the region of the reliability and stability of the collaboration.


Before its funding ended, Challenge 98 had many of the factors associated with sustainability and institutionalization in place, including:


·        Leadership and identifiable champions to sustain change;

·        Infrastructure for technical support and for continued collaborative learning;

·        Resource allocation and a stable funding stream to support technology use;

·        Transformed culture and climate that incorporated expectations and beliefs about the importance of technology-enhanced instruction; and

·        Individual and system incentives to learn and implement technology-enhanced instructional strategies, tangible evidence of success, visibility, and empowered networks/constituencies.


Evidence for the presence of these factors is presented and discussed below.


Leadership and Identifiable Champions


No innovation can be sustained without people who are actively promoting and nurturing its use (Light, 1998).  Recognizing this, Challenge 98 intentionally involved leaders at the university, Region 19 ESC, school districts, and schools so that support would endure over time.  This was accomplished through meetings involving key stakeholder groups, such as superintendents and principals, regular communication, infusion of free resources, and selection of “rising stars” to participate in professional development, coach others, and carry the message.  For example, some teachers were asked to present aspects of their work to other teachers at one of the several Challenge 98 conferences or institutes supported by the grant.  These occasions were used to bring past and current Challenge 98 participants together to learn about each others’ experiences and to foster ongoing implementation of technology integration in participants’ professional lives.  Presenters emphasized the importance of focusing on student learning, described how they had come to revisit their basic assumptions about teaching and learning, and showcased their work developing complex subject matter investigations, literacy assessments, or multimedia presentations. 


A key feature of Challenge 98 was the philosophy of “growing our own leaders.”  For example, a Technology Teacher Leader at a rural high school not only worked within the school but also involved her students with the larger community through a technology-enriched service-learning project about a forthcoming school bond issue.  The technology coordinator at an urban middle school stated, “I want to be seen as a resource.  We have an MIS department and a campus technician, so I mostly offer after school training in software applications, starting with word processing and PowerPoint.  I also want to produce some software for English language acquisition.”


Many of the participating teachers went on to take leadership positions at other schools in the area, and wove their technology-enhanced teaching and learning philosophies into their new positions in the form of a promotion of shared vision, expectations for instructional performance, and/or provision of professional development.  The teachers in the early cadres of the project took ownership and leadership for implementation and success.  A school principal stated, “All of the technology teachers have spread their expertise to the school as a whole.  We have one teacher who just moved to another middle school and is spreading her expertise to the new school as technology coordinator.”


Challenge 98 administrators also stressed the importance of having strong leadership at the school and district level.  One of the project leaders gave an example of a rural district superintendent, saying:  “The superintendent is a campus instructional leader.  He does things at the classroom level, he is very good about recognizing and instilling sound instructional practices, and he understands the integration of technology.  That’s an example of a strong instructional leader.”  Another principal stated, “Different people take leadership at different times.  We study Sergiovanni’s work, and we make sure that lots of people have opportunities to lead.”


At a large urban high school, the principal provided strong leadership and high expectations for the use of technology as part of the culture of the school.  Teachers were required to read and communicate by e-mail, and an estimated 99% integrated technology use as part of their regular classroom instruction.  As part of teacher evaluation, the principal assessed the degree to which teachers use technology to support curriculum.  Technology infusion goals tied directly Challenge 98 were featured in the campus improvement plan, and the school supplemented the funds they received from Challenge 98 with their own funds to nurture success. 


The principal of a participating elementary school worked with the Challenge 98 team and the Texas Education Agency to obtain a state waiver and re-engineer the school’s inservice and professional development schedule.  Under the revised schedule, students came to school 30 minutes earlier than normal one day a week to allow for one extra half-day of teacher inservice time monthly at the school.  Half of these inservice days were dedicated to sharing Challenge 98 skills and knowledge.


At UTEP, new faculty members built upon Challenge 98 work to set new priorities for infusing technology into existing courses.  A faculty member commented, “My approach to leadership has been to set the direction and the priorities and obtain funding.  I got funding from the university to convert ten courses to online format.  I invited the Vice Provost for technology and UTEP to our retreat so he could let us know what they could offer.”


Infrastructure for Technical Support and Continued Collaborative Learning


Sustainability requires infrastructure development so that those who implement the innovation have access to necessary products and services; in this case, hardware, software, and technical and instructional coaching support.  A teacher may have the time, the expertise, and the resources to integrate technology into classroom instruction, but if he or she does not have access to computers, the computer laboratory, and other technologies during the school day, technology implementation will not occur in the classroom (Leggett & Persichitte, 1998: 34.)  Challenge 98 developed the infrastructure by providing professional development to at least two teachers at each participating school; furnishing schools with computers, software, and instructional materials; and making technical support relatively easy to access.  Challenge 98 also incorporated technology training into the preservice curriculum at the university that supplied many of the new teachers in the region.  As such, infrastructure to support ongoing practice was developed. 


Challenge 98 provided the Technology Teacher Leaders with hardware and software that were readily available and properly configured.  Teachers could choose from Macintosh or Windows platforms and select desktop computers or laptops to conform to their schools’ equipment and their individual needs.  This equipment was funded by the grant, while equipment for Master’s degree candidates and Region 19 ESC staff was provided directly through the program, with a standard set of hardware and software.


The Region 19 ESC plays a major role in sustainability, emphasizing continued collaborative learning, especially among the rural districts.  Plans for the next several years include convening the cohorts of teachers to share new developments and instructional strategies and keep them “refreshed” and networked.  The ESC will also provide professional development for these teachers via video streaming.  Currently the ESC has CD-ROMs that contain the materials from the professional development sessions and intends to refresh and maintain the Challenge Web site.


The UTEP College of Education infused training in the use of specific hardware and software and techniques such as WebQuests and PowerPoint presentations to provide preservice candidates with models of technology-enhanced instruction and the technical skills needed to implement this type of instruction in their work.  Technology acquired through the grant has now been distributed among UTEP College of Education classrooms and laboratories, so preservice teachers will now have access to the types of equipment that they will encounter in their field placement activities.


Many of the schools identified a need for and provided support for a technology coordinator to provide technical support and training for any teacher to learn and use technology.  For example, in a participating school district, a full-time technology coordinator provided support and all teachers were given laptops that they could take home.  At an urban elementary school, teachers created their own technology-focused professional development and provided support for all staff.  Technology was seen as a vehicle to support funded initiatives in literacy and math.  Professional development activities were supported through a recent school district mandate for technology integration.


Resource Allocation and Stable Funding Stream


Since the use of technology requires ongoing maintenance, upgrading, and professional development, a continuous funding stream is needed for sustainability.  Miles (1983) underscored this need, indicating that for new practices to become embedded in the daily life of an institution, there must be firmly expectations of continuation, usually accompanied by negotiated agreements, as well as routine allocations of time and money.  Participating Challenge 98 districts tended to respond to this need in similar ways.  All of the districts sought Technology in Education (TIE) grants, Telecommunication Infrastructure Fund (TIF) grants, and CO-NECT grants available through the state of Texas, and continued to participate in ongoing rounds of the E-rate.  They also continued to leverage their No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 Title I and Title II federal resources. 


The rural districts planned to participate in the virtual learning communities being set up through the Region 19 ESC.  In addition, several districts either incorporated funding into their line item budgets or actively applied for additional long-term grants.  For example, a rural high school was involved with the Technology Library Connection that provided online library resources to the district.  Another rural high school leveraged technology grants such as the TIF grant, INTEL Teach to the Future, and TIE technology grant to sustain the program.  Funds were pooled so a laptop could be purchased for every teacher.  An urban school district allocated funds for positions, including technology coordinators and Technology Teacher Leaders. 


Staff of a large urban high school wrote a joint proposal with three other high schools to obtain funding for continuous improvement and sustain the project.  An urban school district won a large Technology Applications Readiness Grant for Empowering Texas (TARGET) in 2003.  In its first year, the program targeted teachers in 19 campuses in Grades K, 3, and 6 to provide a professional development model that included tools and skill-building exercises to integrate technology to support student learning across the curriculum.  Funds from this TARGET grant will be used to provide additional equipment to libraries and extend library hours.  The designated district coordinator for the TARGET grant is a Challenge 98 graduate.  An urban elementary school was successful in getting a $113,000 bond passed to purchase equipment and learning software.  In 2004, they dedicated a full week for onsite staff development.  Another elementary school was successful at obtaining a TIF grant.  A combination of district funding support, Title I funds, and the new TIF grant was to be used to sustain the momentum generated from participation in Challenge 98. 


Supportive Culture and Climate


Senge (1999) conducted research on organizations that sustained practices over the long term and found that once the innovation produced visible results, the dynamics associated with the diffusion process played a determining role in sustainability.  The organization’s readiness and capacity for change were critical elements at this stage.  These factors were found to be related to the permeability of organizational boundaries, communication, and the extent to which the organizational culture encouraged learning.  Key to success was the ability of the innovators to capture lessons learned, best practices, and networks of support.  The principal of a participating school described his concept of supportive policies in the following statement:


As a team, we have a system to help our teachers grow.  They have to identify what they know, what they want to know, and what they learned.  We want them to move from one level to the next.  Teachers have to decide where they are and what they want to learn.  That gives us an idea of where they are.  It’s a non-threatening way to encourage their growth.


Challenge 98 leaders intentionally tried to develop a supportive culture and climate for change at all system levels.  They deliberately advanced a teaching and learning philosophy that specified that all students should learn technology, become engaged in teaching and learning strategies that built on their own life experiences and raised their expectations and aspirations for achievement, and that was consistent with the local customs and cultures.  Professional development was customized to actual participant needs and interests, including tailoring training sessions to match participants’ different levels of technical ability, providing individualized support, developing discipline-based training modules and grade-specific training opportunities, grounding instruction in the use of the Internet for research in more relevant practical tasks, providing advanced level training courses as needed, and offering at least some professional development via distance learning. 


Where administrative leadership and support for Challenge 98 was strong and expectations for the use of technology were high, as reported by the principal of a rural high school, technology use improved communication and collaboration among the different teachers.  Teachers saw the successes of their peers and began to emulate them, resulting in a positive school culture for technology infusion.  The resulting building of local expertise and school capacity for technology integration at some of the participating schools resulted in “person independence” (Miles, 1983) of Challenge 98 activities.  A Challenge 98 teacher made a clear connection between the necessity for support and the building of local expertise, saying: “We let the rest of the faculty know that we are attending UTEP to benefit them, not for our own purposes.  Interest in trainings has gone up as they have been consistently offered at [our school].”


Professional development facilitators stressed the need to promote a nurturing climate for success for both instructional change and student and family participation.  Networks were developed to provide support and expertise, and teachers were expected to become mentors and coaches for those on their campuses who were willing to try to infuse technology into their instructional practices.  A middle school teacher stated, “The training that both Challenge 98 participants and all school staff received has piqued teachers’ interest and made them more receptive to use [sic] technology, and has already influenced five teachers to go back to college and get their master’s degree in educational technology.”  Observing good student work and the successful classroom practices of their colleagues helped create teacher buy-in for the program – a key feature of successful innovations identified by Rogers (1995: 16) as “observability.”


Apportioning time for various aspects of the Challenge 98 work was considered a primary issue at every school site.  Where administrative support for Challenge 98 was strong, time was provided for participating teachers to engage in training and mentoring.  Some schools successfully addressed the time issue with strategies including provision of release time for professional development, extra time periods designated for collaborative planning and technology mentoring, and group facilitation in the prioritization of competing responsibilities.  Thus, the structure of the school was changed to accommodate technology training (Rogers, 1995, p. 395), at the same time as the technology training was customized to fit the local context.  This led to stable, routinized implementation of technology use within some of the schools, acceptance by participating teachers, and legitimacy and normality of new practices (Miles, 1983). 


Support structures took different forms at different schools and were responsive to teachers’ needs.  For example, at a rural high school, all staff were required to have 30 hours of technology training.  They were also required to have 30 hours of professional development in gifted and talented learning strategies.  Teachers received a 6-hour refresher course every year and had access to ongoing Advanced Placement training.  Teachers also received 40 hours of training to use the new wireless lab.  At an urban high school the principal provided release time and substitutes for continuing professional development for the teachers.  Teachers were then expected to mentor other teachers at the site.  The use of technology has now become part of the “fabric of the school.”  At an urban elementary school, participants said that the Challenge 98 grant helped ease teachers’ fears regarding technology use.  Teachers now post their lesson plans on the school’s Web site and communicate via e-mail, changing expectations and the culture of the school. 


Individual and System Incentives


While being primarily a systems concept (Bateson, 1972), sustainability requires individuals to either adopt or continue to practice new strategies.  Generally for this to occur, valued incentives are needed.  Elmore (1996a:15) cites research indicating that incentives for teacher performance mobilize individual values, and individual values determine to some degree what an institution can elicit with incentives.  Challenge 98 participating schools and districts sought to create new values and reward structures by providing necessary equipment, tying new practices into campus improvement plans, linking change to personnel evaluations, and giving teachers release time and professional development to encourage change in instructional practice.  Although some of the incentives provided by the participating schools included provision of new and upgraded equipment, including mobile laboratories, instructional software, and laptops for teachers to use at home, one high school principal stressed the importance of supporting intrinsic motivation and empowering teachers, saying:


I let the building technology coordinator select who will replace any teachers who have left the project and who want to participate in the program.  We have key support teachers for their peers, and we spend money upgrading all of our equipment.  We also have discussions with the Technology Teacher Leaders about what’s working and what’s not working.  We have experts on campus.  Two of our participating teachers got master’s degrees, and they’re wonderful teachers.  Everyone here uses whatever they think is effective, and I give them that freedom.  And if the school or district can’t provide it, then I raid the Coke machine fund to get it for them.


Another principal spoke about creating opportunities for teachers to attend statewide professional conferences and professional development workshops.  This resulted in widespread use of a new software program that would address a need identified by teachers at the school (Miles, 1983).


[When we visited the Texas Education Agency], we visited various vendors who were there, and we saw software called “Thinking Maps.”  The teachers thought that it would help students with their writing skills.  I realized that with the new Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills [TAKS, the statewide standardized test for K-12 students] and the Texas Reading Initiative, graphic organizers are vital for student writing.  This was an awesome program!  I sent two of the Challenge 98 teachers for training, and I invested money into it.  Then at the beginning of the school year, those teachers provide training of trainers for the whole campus.


Senge’s (1999) research on organizations that sustained practices over the long term indicated that it was important for organization members to be given at least some level of autonomy to make changes when and where they were needed.  This, in turn, requires strong administrative support characterized by mandates backed up with resources, promotion of teacher influence, reduction of intrusions on teaching, promotion of a learning culture, and opportunities for advancement including promotions, increased responsibility, and opportunities for professional growth (Ingersoll, 2001).


Professional development provided through Challenge 98 enabled motivated teachers to advance through the local system, sometimes becoming promoted to technology coordinators or having their roles restructured.  A high school principal stated that he “tried to reward those who have fire” by sending them to conferences and additional professional development.  He said that he was “willing to lose teachers for a day to have them trained, and have them come back and share what they learned with their colleagues.”  Another principal sent teachers to training sessions for grant writing and promoted grant writing activities in his school.  At an urban school district, several of the Challenge 98 teachers authored a grant that won iBooks for all the teachers in the district.  A middle school within the district recently received six new Dell computers because the district was “so impressed by what we are doing with technology.”


Tangible Evidence of Success


The current educational reform climate stresses student achievement of state content and performance standards.  Every school and school district in Texas focuses on raising student achievement and few innovations survive unless they can be connected to helping students to do better in reading, mathematics, and other valued academic subject matter.  Challenge 98 recognized the need to address achievement concerns and tied all of its professional development and instructional strategies to content.  The technology coordinators reported that all of the districts worked hard on trying to embed technology into the curriculum.  Generally, they integrated technology into specific content areas in which student achievement needed to be raised.  Then they focused on horizontal alignment across curriculum areas and vertical alignment through the district feeder patterns. 


At an urban middle school, the principal recognized the value of Challenge 98 for raising student achievement and thus conducted an informal assessment to check the progress the school had made toward the schoolwide technology implementation.  One of his plans was to develop in-house expertise to sustain the positive changes in teachers’ instructional practices.  An elementary school principal felt that Challenge 98 led not only to more uses of technology in general but, in particular, to more meaningful uses of technology that directly targeted student learning.  Strangely enough, increases in student performance were not a key factor in sustaining Challenge 98’s valued activities.  The logic model that drove the Challenge 98 had increases in student achievement as a long term goal, but the project leaders focused instead at the changes in teacher practice that resulted from the professional development, mentoring, and support that were provided through the grant. 


Elmore (1996b: 23) argues that most school reformers and practitioners take for granted that changes in structure produce changes in teaching practice, which, in turn, produce changes in student learning.  However, his research shows weak connections among these activities and outcomes.  More recent research has shown (Sherry, Jesse, & Billig, 2002) that it is important for project administrators to look for increases in intermediate outcomes, since evidence may not be available in the form of increases in student performance within a grant’s funding period.


While Challenge 98 was only one of several initiatives that addressed raising student achievement, its implementation clearly was associated with the rise in scores that occurred over the course of project implementation.  Challenge 98 leaders and participants recognized the contribution that the project made to increased student performance, and according to participants, this contribution helped with both scalability and sustainability for the Challenge 98 approaches. 




Oftentimes visibility will help to make the innovation public and serve to increase both momentum and sustainability.  In the El Paso region, Challenge 98 was a very visible initiative since it involved the provision of free hardware, software, and professional development; deliberate selection of high performing teachers for participation; convenings of superintendents and principals; site visits for coaching; and partnerships with the university, Region 19 ESC, and school districts.  This visibility promoted networking, sharing, and adoption and sustainability of practices. 


Project visibility was apparent at the school, district, and regional level.  At the local level, a principal described how one of the Technology Teacher Leaders had gone on to create a vision for technology infusion within the district, saying: “Our technology coach opened the door and challenged the rest of the schools in our district.  She was the early lead in our district and created the vision that we needed a technology person in every building, and she pushed for it with the superintendent.”  A Challenge 98 staff member stated, “There’s name recognition for Challenge 98 that provides opportunities for teachers to participate.  Now there’s networking with teachers, meeting other teachers, sharing with them, especially with teachers in other districts.”


At the regional level, activities near the end of the grant resulted in dissemination of a videotape Dissemination activities that brought the successes of the project to wider audiences on regional and national levels, using funds carried over from Years 1 through 5, included:  an expanded online resource depository of WebQuests produced by Technology Teacher Leaders; Web sites produced by Master’s students; teacher-created lessons, units, and activities on the “Projects” Web page of the Challenge 98 Web site; a promotional video and DVD that was disseminated to 370 school and district administrators, Departments of Education, and policymakers across the United States; and several manuscripts submitted to professional journals.  Whereas the videotape was fairly short and targeted general audiences, the DVD was intended to address audiences who wanted a deeper understanding of the project and its impact on the 100 schools, 1000 teachers, and over 60,000 students who were impacted by Challenge 98.


Empowered Networks/Constituencies


Finally, Challenge 98 created empowered networks and constituencies so it was not reliant on any single stakeholder group.  Rural teachers worked with each other, with the Region 19 ESC, and with the university.  Urban teachers shared resources and communicated frequently.  Many participants became educational leaders and recreated the professional development at their own schools.  Principals described deliberately putting Challenge 98 teachers into leadership roles.  Challenge 98 deliberately encouraged local ownership, customization, and learner-centered instruction, and the resulting empowerment led to greater confidence, competence, and replication.


Principals at some schools that participated in Challenge 98 stated that they allowed teachers to decide where they were and what they wanted to learn, and that they tried to make sure that different teachers took on leadership roles at different times.  Having a voice in decision making, especially regarding professional development for their fellow teachers, Challenge 98 participants felt empowered.  For example, a teacher stated, “It’s given us a validated staff development model that works.  We can tell administrators we can’t do this with 30 teachers in one hour or six hours or one day.  It takes more than that.” 


The Region 19 ESC will be the driving organizer for the new Regional Initiative for Sustaining Technology Integration (RISTI), which is led by a Challenge program graduate.  RISTI will continue to promote instructional technology integration by bringing together former Challenge grant participants with school district central office directors of curriculum and other academic programs.  Central office personnel will become increasingly aware of the capacity that Challenge 98 built within their districts to promote instructional technology, while the quarterly group meetings will work to identify best practices, research recommendations, and successful projects and initiatives in technology integration, professional development, and programs and policies.




Challenge 98 represented a significant investment of resources, time, and effort to build capacity for educators in the El Paso region to use technology to enhance student achievement.  Teachers were shown how to infuse technology into their instructional practice, using culturally-responsive teaching and learning strategies that the research has shown is most effective for students, particularly those in high poverty schools, to acquire and retain knowledge and skills.  Capacity was built within schools and districts through the provision of a strong network of technical and human support for collaborative learning, leadership, hardware and software, and supply of preservice teachers who were familiar and comfortable with technology use to support student learning.  In short, Challenge 98 implemented strategies that resulted in change of practice and culture in the classrooms and schools of most of the participating teachers. 


By involving key stakeholder groups, Challenge 98 promoted acceptance by all relevant “actors” and nurtured both culture change and legitimacy.  While Challenge 98 provided the equipment and technical expertise initially, there was a clear expectation that sites would support technology use independently through the use of the individuals trained by Challenge 98 and by identifying and helping districts procure additional funding.  By focusing consistently on mentoring and on developing a sense of responsibility by Technology Teacher Leaders to support growth and change in technology integration at their school sites, the project created a cadre of instructional leaders with strong technology skills, many of whom went on to assume leadership positions in the schools and districts.  The presence of these teachers with skills to provide professional development in instructional technology diffused the project’s influence widely through schools and districts where the participants worked.  New teachers who come from the local university already have the skills necessary to implement technology-enhanced instruction and are finding welcoming environments.  Moreover, the use of a trainer-of-trainers model spread Challenge 98’s influence throughout the schools and districts where Technology Teacher Leaders were located. 


In their studies of sustainability, Nardi and O’Day (1999) found “Local changes can disappear without a trace if they are incompatible with the rest of the system.” (p. 51).  Challenge 98 specifically built in strategies that were consistent with the local culture, preferred teaching and learning philosophies and strategies, and local expectations for continuous improvement. With these factors in place, the core values and strategies of Challenge 98 are likely to be sustained even though the initiative itself will disappear.  Challenge 98 has thus left a legacy that is likely to continue for many years.


Implications for Practitioners


In reviewing the activities and outcomes of Challenge 98, as viewed through the lens of Billig’s (2002) framework, a number of key features come to mind. 


Leadership – Project administrators, faculty, trainers, school principals, Technology Teacher Leaders, and Master’s degree students concentrated on developing leadership among project participants and within participating schools.  While top-down leadership was a facilitator for progress in developing teaching practice across a school site, many teachers were able to integrate technology into their work and the work of their colleagues without strong administrative support.  However, without local administrative support, impact was rarely schoolwide.


Infrastructure – The project provided the necessary infrastructure for technical support and for continued collaborative learning at the participating schools.  At UTEP’s College of Education, Challenge 98 funds were used to support technology infusion through support of professional development, hiring of new faculty members with technology expertise, provision of mini-grants to support technology infusion into existing courses, and equipment purchases that were given to the college as the grant period came to an end. 


Funding – Principals, technology coordinators, local technology teams, and “rising star” teachers who acquired expertise in grant writing leveraged funds to expand and sustain the levels of access, expertise, and resources provided through the grant.  Most of the Challenge 98 leadership is currently involved in a new Mathematics and Science Partnership Initiative grant that is building on and scaling up the instructional strategies that formed the core of the Challenge 98 project.


Transformed Culture and Climate – Challenge 98 had the strongest impact at the school level in schools were technology was already reflected as a priority in the school’s vision and plans.  These schools were most poised to comprehend and benefit from the integrated approach to technology-enriched instruction.  In schools where Challenge 98 participation was a first step toward meaningful technology integration, the existence of a school-based team of educators served as a powerful resource in raising technology skills and awareness schoolwide as these teams brought advocacy for thoughtful technology integration back to their school settings.


Incentives and Empowerment – Grant leaders facilitated the development of school and district cultures that encouraged the use of technology-enhanced instruction and the instructional strategies promoted by Challenge 98, formed a strong empowered network of teachers, technology coordinators, and administrators, and provided or stimulated incentives for system and individual change.


Evidence of Success and Project Visibility – The success of Challenge 98 in changing teacher practice contributed to a sense of empowerment and accomplishment among participants that reinforced the broader efforts of the El Paso Collaborative for Academic Excellence, a communitywide effort bringing together the city’s education, business, and civic leaders to improve the entire El Paso system of K-16 teaching and learning.  However, tangible results in terms of academic achievement and reduction of the student achievement gap are long-term outcomes that will depend on the durability of the changes in teacher practices and the emerging roles of other key players in the educational system including administrators, parents, and teacher educators.


Suggestions for other practitioners who wish to embark on similar technology infusion programs, based on Billig’s (2002) framework, include:

·        Recognize that it takes different skills and messages to envision and stimulate adoption and implementation than to promote sustainability. 

·        Cultivate long term partnerships and create meaningful roles for participants. 

·        Start working on sustainability at the beginning of a project. 

·        Find a way to fund a permanent staff position. 

·        Develop and use quality assessment tools and evaluation information, and advertise tangible, positive results. 

·        Stay connected to educational reform. 

·        Work hard on maintaining support from leaders and advisory boards. 




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