I am shocked to find that September is nearing its end. It appears that my internal clock decided to take a vacation while the controlled chaos of new students and trainings and coaching meetings washed me into and nearly out of the warm fall days of September. I'm positive that this is a common ailment in our field.
In the past month I have been fortunate enough to work with a wide range of teachers regarding technology integration. And while the beginning of the school year is usually a time of renewal and energy, for many teachers, incorporating technology is still easier said than done. It is often assumed that reluctance to integrate is linked directly to age or lack of experience. But that turns out not to be the case.
I have witnessed a younger teacher blanch at the idea of accepting papers digitally while an older teacher leapt headfirst into creating a paperless environment with a new LMS. I have seen a preservice teacher implode when asked to learn a new app while a veteran teacher changed gears mid-stream in class to try a creative app activity suggested by a student.
So it’s not about age or experience or background knowledge. It’s about vision.
Successful, satisfying technology integration has to be meaningful. It’s not enough to just plop a YouTube video into a lesson plan or ask students to fill out a worksheet in an app instead of on paper. Those might be places to start, but they will never be fully satisfying to either teacher or students.
Teachers who succeed at integrating technology understand that it is simply one tool of many in their kit. Including it has to be part of an overall pedagogical vision for creating a quality learning experience for students. So what does that look like?
--Chemistry students creating and sharing detailed video journals of their experiments, including hypothesis, process, data, results, and conclusions.
--English students practicing grammar through NoRedInk, an interactive online program designed to help each student learn at their own pace while also providing ongoing data to the teacher about progress.
--World language students practicing their conversation skills by talking with students from other countries through Voxer or Skype.
--High school biology students collaborating by Skype and email with kindergarten students from another school to jointly create a book about local animals.
--Social science students using social media tools to design and gather data on social experiments.
--Social justice students developing non-profit organizations with websites and social media accounts
Meaningful technology integration does not mean using technology for everything. It does mean using technology to:
Expand the boundaries of the classroom past the physical walls
Expose students to real-world learning experiences
Enhance equity by offering students more ways to learn and show what they know
Encourage students to dig deeper and think more critically about content
Streamline workflow and communication within a class
Connect students with each other and others outside their class
Engage students in learning to keep them coming back for more
And, most importantly, engaging the teacher as a learner too.
So, what is your vision? How will you make your technology use meaningful this year?
I've come up for air after the first two weeks of school. As teachers, we know it is important to pause periodically to 1) breathe! and 2) reflect on what has been learned, what has been accomplished, and what still needs to be done.
So here goes. (Pause for deep breaths).
What have we as a faculty and staff learned? So much! I was impressed and humbled by the positive energy and excitement I encountered among my colleagues regarding technology integration during the first couple weeks of school. I should not have been surprised. I work with amazing people. But what I learned as the tech coach is that time is often the most important yet overlooked element of any technology integration program. Many of my colleagues who found the idea of 1:1 iPads overwhelming or uncomfortable last year have jumped in with both feet this year. They simply needed the time to adjust to the idea, consider the possibilities, consult with colleagues, and develop their own methods.
So what has been accomplished? Much broader and deeper incorporation of technology into teaching practice and classroom management. A good example is our LMS system, Schoology. Although it was available during our first year of the 1:1 iPad program, teachers' use of it was inconsistent. But based on requests and feedback from students last year about the program, I encouraged our faculty and staff to use it in ways that would be more effective and consistent. And it is working. Most, if not all, of my colleagues have developed course pages and begun using them more deliberately. And the students are benefitting as a result.
In addition, the creative energy and commitment in the building is inspiring. As the tech coach, I have met one-on-one and answered more email questions with more teachers in two weeks than I did in an entire month last year. And all of those meetings and questions have been in the spirit of moving forward. "I want to share audio comments with my students," said one teacher. "Can you help me find the best tool?" Another said, "I want my students to be able to organize their club online. How do I help them make that happen?" Another wanted to find a way to consolidate student research about homeless resources in Portland into one digital reference that they could all share.
Notice the trend in these questions? They start with learning objectives or goals, then consider whether digital tools might be useful in meeting those objectives and goals.
That brings me to the final question--what are the next steps? The challenge will be to keep up the enthusiasm and learning as the year progresses and we get busier. A series of optional workshops on topics requested by the faculty will help fuel creativity. Frequent opportunities for feedback from students and colleagues will guide our efforts. The key will be for us to continue exploring how tech tools can help each of us create new opportunities for deeper learning for our students.