Posts Tagged teaching

What’s Driving Technology Integration at YOUR School?

The driving force behind technology use at any organization is often hidden. Sure, technology happens but when it does, it’s difficult to know exactly how or why. Schools are no different than other organizations. Lots of people talk about what technology–what they want, what would be nice to have, how much time they’d save, etc. But many times, no one really knows how or why technology get purchased and integrated–or in most cases not.

Educational leaders need to open this process up. Examine the structure of the technology support team and how they relate to the end users. Educators need to ask a lot of questions. How is the tech support staff structured? What are their mandates and goals? How does the tech support staff respond to end-user needs? How do end-users utilize the services of the tech support staff? Who is leading the way in terms of technology adoption and integration? Does it come from the end-users? or the tech support staff? or from the educational leaders? What drives technology? Are the software folks talking to the hardware folks so that everyone has a shared vision?

What I’m saying is that there are a lot of disconnects. Many useful technologies don’t get adopted because there isn’t someone with foresight and vision in charge. Sometimes technologies don’t get implemented because no one is looking at the process. Other times technology gets purchased and it sits because there isn’t any follow through.

Without a clear vision for technology, the tech support staff can get trapped in a “fighting fires” mentally. They wait until something breaks and then fix it. Crisis management isn’t a bad thing–unless this is the way an organization always functions. It’s no way to run a top-performing school. There are so many great things that can be accomplished with insight and planning.

So take a look at YOUR school and ask yourself what’s driving technology integration.  It needs to be committed individuals with vision, planning and follow through.

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The Role of Technology in Education

So many people espouse the many benefits of technology in education. Sometimes it seems like the so-called “experts” are getting kickbacks from the technology industry. So, how do you tell if a new technology is actually worth the time, money and effort? Here’s how I judge new technologies.

There are two things that technology should and must do if it’s to be found in the classroom. One is that it must increase student learning. Now I’m not one of those folks who emphasize the difference between “teaching” and “learning.” In other languages, these two words are one in the same. So, when I talk about student learning, that includes anything that helps teachers teach better and students learn better.

The other main purpose of technology in education is to help reduce the workload of teachers and students. This seems like a fairly straight-forward request. However, you’d be amazed how many new technologies have been introduced but no one has given an ounce of thought to how it impacts the teacher or student. Sometimes “time-saving technologies” actually add hours to the end users. What they usually do is save someone else’s time. ¡No bueno!

So if you hear about a technology that just “has to be in your school,” ask for specific details about two things: the impact on student learning and the work-load reduction. If they promise things that are beyond your wildest dreams, they may be trying to sell you something.

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Adults and New Technology

One thing that many adult users of technology tell me is that they don’t pick up new technology like younger folks do. This is a common misbelief. I think the core issue has nothing to do with “young brains” or “digital natives” or even the “technology today.” I’ve used technology to teach every age group from adults to elementary students. There are two main differences. The first is that kids aren’t afraid of breaking things. That’s a good thing when trying something new but it’s a bad thing for those of you who are parents. Kids dive right in and begin using new technology-whatever it is.

The other main difference between how kids and adults use technology has to do with the fact that adults are used to being proficient. We pick up a pencil and we know what to do. When we get in a car, we know what to do. The list goes on and on. That’s a good thing-we’ve had a lot of time to learn about the world. However, when we encounter a new technology, there is a hesitation. Sometimes we feel as if we should already know how to work this thing. Adults want to be or at least appear to be proficient. Kids on the other hand are used to being novices. When kids see or work with something new, it’s just another day for them. Their whole world is series of new events, places, things, and ideas.

As adults, we can learn from the kids. When we encounter a new technology, we need to resist the fear of breaking it. Go ahead, play around, push all of the buttons, see what it can do. You won’t break it, I promise. Also, don’t expect to be an expert. Adults sometimes are so used to being the expert that we forget what it’s like to try something new. So go ahead, try something novel. Capture within yourself an adventurous spirit and dive into a new technology. You won’t regret it, I promise.

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Computer Projectors

After working in the field of technology and education for over 17 years, I’ve seen a lot of technologies come and go. However, one stands out in my mind as a game changer: the computer projector. The ability for educators to use visual material has been fairly limited since the beginning of time. Great teachers would take their students out into the world to show them things. Or they drew in the sand, on clay tablets, on chalk or white boards, or on any other available surface. Even the lowly overhead projector with its blinding light was a godsend for teachers who wanted to communicate powerfully with students. But with the availability of a computer projector, my life as a teacher changed completely.

A few years back, as part of my school technology department, we had the opportunity to purchase either computer projectors or new computers. We decided that we would put a computer projector in each classroom. This idea was still novel at the time. We’d done some homework and found that some schools give out new technology like projectors to only to those who want it. We decided not to take that approach. Here was our reason: if this technology wasn’t available everywhere, it wouldn’t impact student learning. There are always super-savvy tech users on every teaching staff. But we also know that there are those who don’t jump on every new band wagon that comes along. We knew that if every teacher had a computer projector in their room hooked to their computer, there wouldn’t be any excuses not to use it. As well, some of our teachers had to move classrooms throughout the day. So, unless they had a computer projector in each of their classrooms, they wouldn’t use them anywhere. I knew this first-hand because I was one of those teachers (more on that in another blog entry).

Once we got the projectors in the building, we lost no time getting them hooked up. A mistake that many schools make is putting off the installation work. Too often new equipment sits in a corner or back room until some other disinterested third-party is able to install it. They often don’t have any interest in the technology or gain any benefit from it. We decided not to wait for others to solve our problems. One of our very talented technology assistants figured out a way to mount them safely to the ceiling. It took a lot of work getting the power run to the ceiling and then mounting them in the best spot but we had them all ready in the fall when teachers returned.

That whole year, the focus of technology support was around helping teachers make the transition from paper-based teaching to electronic-based teaching. Many times administrators or technology directors want change implemented immediately. But it takes time for teachers and staff members to integrate new technologies effectively. Many teachers already had much of their lessons/notes saved as ClarisWorks or Word documents. What we did is help them learn how to present that information easier and more efficiently using the computer projector. We helped them scan in pictures and diagrams to supplement their lessons. Once teachers saw what they could do with computer projectors, they didn’t look back. Even the teachers that deliver their lessons like well-rehearsed actors on stage found ways to utilize the projectors. The days of massive notebooks with endless numbers of overhead transparencies were over. So too were the times spent writing out notes that students couldn’t read or drawing diagrams that students couldn’t understand. The sentiment of the staff at the end of the year was very compelling: the quality of teaching had gone up significantly. Instead of just telling the students about the world outside, we could now bring the world into the classroom.

So, it’s with no reservation that I say: the computer projector is literally the single most important innovation in my teaching career.

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