I came across this article by Jenny Abamu for Edsurge on Twitter the other day (I apologize for forgetting who tweeted it). It articulates something I have been trying to tell teachers for years in my work as a technology integrator and workshop and conference presenter. Too many adults still assume that students can figure out how to use whatever technology they are given, and while they do generally seem less afraid to try something (especially younger students), they frequently don’t know how to use their devices to do some of the most simple things, such as document formatting. The article captures this knowledge gap well, along with a reminder that the digital divide is still an issue we need to contend with as educators.
Some time ago, I wrote a post regarding my disagreement with a comment I see shared a lot at ISTE (not sure if it still makes the rounds every year or not, but it used to): What’s Wrong with Asking for PD? One thing I didn’t mention in the post is that often when students don’t know how to do something, such as format a Works Cited page or put information in a header, they simply turn it in without bothering to find out. Of course, a long time digital friend left a comment to that effect on the blog post, and further discussion took place in the comments. I do take time to show students these skills, but sometimes learning takes several exposures before it sticksâ€”I know that’s true for me as well, and probably for most peopleâ€”and students often don’t want to ask twice. I have found the best method is to require students to fix such errors before it’s assessed, or else they will tend not to bother. They will actually accept the points off rather than ask for help. Obviously, this observation doesn’t apply to all students, but it applies to enough of them.
The bottom line is that whether we are working with teachers or students, we shouldn’t make assumptions about what they know and what they don’t. People who don’t know me might be surprised that this gray-haired English teacher knows anything about technology, and the truth is, I didn’t know anything when I started teaching. In my early career, I was definitely in an anti-technology camp.
Abamu’s article includes some really helpful videos you can share with students (or teachers) on a blog or learning management system (or just email links directly). I plan to post the videos in my Resources and Study Skills board on my class pages in our school’s learning management system.
Some weeks back, I was looking at my site statistics. It’s not something I do a lot, but every once in a while, I like to see what people are searching for that led them to this site. It’s curiosity more than anything else. I noticed that someone Googled terms that were something like “technology to use with ________.” I’m being a little vague on purpose in the hopes that I don’t inadvertently embarrass anyone, especially because what I really want to do is help. Looking for “technology to use” with anything is putting the cart before the horse, but I think I understand why people do it.
Whenever you design a lesson or unit, it’s best to start with this question: What do I want students to know or be able to do at the end of this? Backward design really will resolve a host of planning problems because everything you plan will lead to the answer to that question. Backward design will help you figure out what to do during individual lessons. Backward design will help you figure out which texts to teach or what kinds of writing assignments students should do. Backward design will help you figure out which technology to use. Individual lessons, texts and writing, and technology are not the ends themselvesâ€”they are the means to the end. They are the materials you use to reach the learning goal you’ve set. As such, asking what kinds of technology you might use to teach X is putting the focus on the technology instead of on the learning, and it probably won’t take your students where you want them to go. The best analogy I can think of is the apple unit described in Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’sÂ Understanding by Design. If you’ve read the book, you’ll remember the description of this unitâ€”lots of fun activities about apples, but not much understanding or deeper learning taking place.
When you design a unit for students, you want to think about what activities you might use or createÂ that will help students reach learning goals. If, for instance, one of your goals is that students will understand Shakespeare’s language, you might design a series of lessons that engage students in study of his languageâ€”lessons in denotation, connotation, stress, and inflection that lead to an understanding of subtext; lessons in Foley art and sound effects in creating a podcast or radio play that communicates the tone and mood of a scene; lessons in diction that teach close reading. Might you use technology for these lessons? Perhaps you might create an engaging lesson using technology to teach Foley art and sound effects because the technology will add relevance to that lesson. Without technology, in fact, students might not understand the point of the lesson at all. However, it might be wholly unnecessary to use technology for teaching subtext or diction. In fact, plain old books, pencils, and paper might be the best tools to use.
When should you use technology? When it will make learning easier for students or when it will make learning possible for students. Technology is meant to save us time. If it’s not saving us time,Â or if it’s actually impeding the learning, we should think about why we’re using it.Â On the other hand, technology enables us to do many wonderful things we couldn’t do without it. If we can extend learning in ways that we couldn’t without using technology, then of course we should use it. If using technology is going to helpÂ engage students, we should use it. I’m thinking here of my colleague Lisa, whose 8th grade students blog. If they just wrote for their teacher and their classmates, they wouldn’t have the larger, more authentic audience that blogging offers. I’m also thinking of my colleague Pete, whose math students used robots to learn integers. Could Lisa’s students have learned writing without blogging? Sure. But blogging provides an audience and adds engagement. Could Pete’s students have learned integers without robots? Again, sure, but the robots add engagement and help students visualize the number line in a new way.
Why search for technology to add to our lessons instead of thinking about the lessons first and whether or not technology will enhance the learning? My hunch is that the person who was looking for technology to use with X was probably told he or she was not using enough technology. Perhaps an evaluation indicated as much. It’s impossible to know for sure. The best way that administrators can support the use of technology is to provide opportunities for faculty to learn about it and give them the tools they need. I don’t think it’s wrong for faculty members to ask for help using technology. Too many schools want teachers to use technology without really giving them proper tools to do so. In both cases, what often happens, is the teachers are labeled “reluctant.” In some attempt to appease, they might just resort to Googling “technology to useÂ with X.” They won’t find the answers they are looking for that way. They might find a one-off activity, but without some real thought about lesson and unit design, it’s not likely that any sort of technology will help teachers reach their goals.
You’ll have to forgive my windswept look, but I took this picture after spending two thrilling days at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, working with participants in this year’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute.
My role at the institute is to teach and coach the participants in creating projects integrating technology. Here is the list of tools we talked about:
Some of the other instructors discussed other tools, and I also taught other tools during a “technology fair” in which TSI participants circled around for quick instruction and discussion about various tools.
If you are an English teacher, you really must try to find a way to go to a TSI. If you can’t give up four weeks of your summer (I know how that is because I couldn’t do it either and went instead to a mini-TSI), then you must seek out opportunities to see the Folger educators at conferences, such as NCTE, or try to bring them to your school. You will learn amazing things, and you will never teach Shakespeare the same way. You probably won’t teach other things the same way either. The Folger education folks are awesome at what they do.
I was thrilled to be asked to join them, and I had a wonderful personal tour of the library. I saw some unforgettable things. Of course, I was most excited to see a First Folio (I really wanted to touch it). Aside from that, perhaps my favorite item on exhibition right now is a vellum pedigree scroll commissioned by Edward IV for the purpose of legitimizing his kingship. It truly is incredible. Imagine that this scroll once belonged to Edward IV. THE Edward IV, as in the Yorkist king who overthrew the Lancastrian King Henry VI and was father to the two princes in the Tower and brother to the “evil” brother Richard III. That Edward IV. Can you imagine? Here are some details of the scroll: Detail 1 and Detail 2. Detail 1 shows Edward IV at the top, and begins his pedigree with God, moving down to Adam and Eve, and then Noah in Detail 2, and then forward to some (perhaps) more legitimate ancestry claims.
I also was able to see the drafts of the Shakespeare Coat of Arms from the College of Arms. It was really interesting to see such very old documents. Another real prize on exhibition is a family tree of Queen Elizabeth’s, starting with Henry III at the “root”â€”all the “branches” sprouting from Henry III’s stomach. You can see a detail of the pedigree here. Of course, through Henry VIII’s mother, Elizabeth of York, Queen Elizabeth descends from the York family (daughter of Edward IV), and from Henry VIII’s father, Henry VII, Queen Elizabeth descends from the Lancaster family. Both the Yorks and the Lancasters find their “root” in Edward III, who was the father of both John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and Edmund of Langley, Duke of York. It’s a fascinating document to look at, with so much detail.
Dan Bruno, who blogs for High School Matters (NCTE’s blog for the Secondary Section), has been capturing what being a part of the TSI is like for participants, and I would urge you to check out his blog, where you can learn much more about what is happening at the TSI.
The big takeaway about technology integration that Peggy O’Brien wanted participants to walk away with is that we don’t want to use technology for the sake of using technology. We want to use it to meet a need we have, which is exactly what the SAMR Model of technology integration asks teachers to examine. I took a stab at organizing the tools we discussed according to how I think they might fall on the SAMR Model, but of course, this organization scheme is subjective. Some people might use a tool as a mere substitution, while others might redefine an activity using that same tool.
Task can be done without the tool. The tool is used as a direct substitution and isn’t necessary for the task. There is no functional change.
The tool allows the task to be done more easily, with some functional change.
Google Drive, Animoto, Shakespeare Searched
The task is changed significantly because of the tool. There is more functional change; in fact, the tool might allow you to do the task in a way you couldn’t if you didn’t use the tool.
The task couldn’t be done without the tool. The tool allows for designing tasks that couldn’t be conceived of without the tool.
Popcorn Maker, QR Codes GarageBand/Audacity, iMovie/Windows Movie Maker
My thinking on this grouping is that Scrible, which allows users to annotate websites and save those annotations in a library, essentially substitutes a technology tool for something you can already do. You can print articles/pages from websites and annotate them by hand. Scrible makes it unnecessary to print. ToonDoo is similar in that it allows you to create cartoons, but certainly we could always draw cartoons by hand. I see both of those tools as substitutions that don’t add real functionality. Of course, that is not to say that we shouldn’t use them. There is nothing wrong with substituting a technology tool for another kind of tool, but it is problematic if substitution is all we do when we say we are integrating technology.
I see Google Drive as having great potential. Depending on how it’s used, it can be redefining, but I placed it in Augmentation because we can certainly already use other tools to write, and we can either type or handwrite comments and feedback on that writing. What Google Drive does allow for is easier collaboration and editing of a document, so we do see a functional change. Google Drive has advantages over tools we have used to write with in the past. Animoto allows us to upload pictures and select a theme and music, and it organizes the pictures into a movie. We could certainly use other tools to do this same work, but Animoto does the editing for us quickly and easily, making it perhaps somewhat easier to use than, say, iMovie for editing a similar video. Shakespeare Searched similarly allows us to do something we could already doâ€”search all the works of Shakespeareâ€”but it adds a significant amount of functionality through the use of a search engine. We might take quite a long time to perform the same task without the tool.
I see the screencasting tools, word cloud tools, and VideoNot.es as offering something more than a functional change, however. Screencasting tools allow us to create videos of whatever we might be doing on a computer or iPad and share those videos with our students or the world. They offer opportunities to flip the classroom, or to demonstrate a technique or problem-solving process. Anything we can show someone how to do on a computer, we can also screencast. Theoretically, we could the same type of thing without the toolâ€”but the tool allows for significant modification of the task. Word cloud tools, as much as we consider them to be somewhat simple technology tools, really do significantly modify a task. Can you imagine painstakingly filtering every word in a work of literature (if the work is long, the task is even more daunting), and taking a word count, then creating a word cloud indicating word frequency based on the size of the words in the cloud? Me either. I would never do this task with students if not for Wordle or Tagxedo, which means to me that these tools allow for significant modification of a task (perhaps even redefinition). VideoNot.es allows users to annotate videos. Sure, we can already take notes as we watch a video, but VideoNot.es integrates with our Google Drive account to save those notes to our drive, and it also allows us to navigate the video using our annotations.
I see Popcorn Maker, QR Codes, podcasting tools, and video editing tools as redefinition tools. Perhaps one could try to remix or put together various pictures and videos in iMovie, but Popcorn Maker doesn’t stop there: you can also add hyperlinks and social media to your remix, and you can also collaborate. I can’t think of a tool that allows users to do all of these things (or at least not as well as Popcorn Maker), so I see it as a tool that allows us to do tasks we couldn’t do without the tool. Podcasting can technically be done with a recording device, but GarageBand has a lot of elements that allow easy creation of podcasts and music. Frankly, I don’t know anyone who was using podcasting in their classroom before these tools came along. Actually, movie editing tools are similar. I think I made a movie with classmates for English class when I was in high school. We used a camcorder, which was cutting edge technology for the time. We certainly only did the one project, and it was quite unusual for students to create video projects at that time, and teachers just were not asking us to make themâ€”most of us had no access to equipment that allowed us to make movies. Now, creating video projects is easy, and tools like iMovie make it simple to tell a digital story and edit it. I am seeing a lot more movie-making in classrooms today than I saw even five years ago. Going back ten years ago, it was rare, and fifteen years ago, when I was a fairly new teacher, no movie-making was happening in my school. Finally, I placed QR codes in the redefinition list because I was thinking of how I’ve seen them used. One project I was particularly proud of took place at my previous school. Students filmed each other working on art projects and talking about their artwork. Those videos were uploaded to YouTube and linked to QR codes. These codes were placed next to the works in exhibition around the building. This kind of interactive art exhibit wouldn’t have been possible to do without the QR codesâ€”at least not with the kind of equipment we had. Worcester Academy had a QR code scavenger hunt for Digital Learning Day this year, and I don’t think the task could have been designed without the QR codes. Because they can link to anything, they’re useful in paper projects with digital elements. For example, one of my students created film as one of his genres for his multigenre project, but when he handed in the paper copy of the project, one page had a QR code linked to the film. It was quite handy.
In all, I think the discussion of exactly why you might want to use a tool, and what it can offer in terms of fuctionality and redesign of a task, is an important discussion to have. Substituting is fine, but if we really want to get the most out of our use of technology tools, we want to shoot more for modifying and redefining tasks using technology.
I totally understand the spirit of the tweet. A lot of teachers don’t use a tool (or much technology at all), and some techy folks view asking for PD as an excuse not to use a tool. And there are probably quite a few teachers who can’t make the time for PD, but claim they don’t use tech tools because they haven’t had the PD.
The problem I have with this thinking is that I don’t understand why asking for PD is problematic. Most teachers I have worked with in the last few years I’ve been a tech integrator are quite interested in learning how to use technology. They set aside time to meet with me, or they come to PD sessions for the express purpose of learning to use technology. It makes them feel better to have a guide teach them the basics before they dive in on their own. I don’t blame them. There are several things I prefer to have help with when I do them.
The other problem I see is that when I introduce a tech tool to students, I always take time to teach them how to use it. Sure, some of them prefer to dive in and figure it out, but often, I find students are not the tech savvy digital natives they’re believed to be. There are things they know how to do, and tools they know how to use well, but they don’t know how to do everything, and there is a lot they don’t know about working with some technology. So yes, I have had students ask me to show them how to use technology. In a sense, isn’t that asking for PD?
I would much rather teachers and students both felt comfortable asking me for help when they need it than that they felt there was something wrong with asking for help. Am I just not getting it or something?
Thank you to my WA colleague Wendy for bringing this wonderful iPad app to my attention:
This app is a digital book based on an Academy Award-winning short film entitled The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. It’s a fabulous film that tells a mesmerizing story about the power of booksâ€”how we can give new life to old books by reading them, and they can, in turn, give life to us; how they can change our lives and help us write our own life story. The film comes bundled with the app, which is currently $4.99 (and a true bargain). The reader can interact with every page of the digital book. You can help Morris get lost in a book, spell with alphabet cereal, make books talk, and so many other cool events drawn from the film. As you read, a narrator reads the story to you, the text of which runs along the bottom of each page. My son and I sat down together and read it. He rarely comments on things we read, but he kept saying “Great!” as we were reading. Even though Dylan is verbal, he rarely talks (and when he does, it is often echolalia rather than a direct response), and it is unusual for him to make any remarks at all when he’s engaged in activity like using an iPad app, but he simply loved this one. It didn’t take him long before he was touching everything on the screen to see what it would do.
Two other digital books have recently been released which I haven’t had a chance to purchase yet: T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land:
And the complete collection of William Shakespeare’s Sonnets, which includes Patrick Stewart, Stephen Fry, and David Tennant (among others) interpreting the sonnets:
(“Sonnet 29” is my favorite poem, by the way.)
In addition to dramatic readings, both apps include the complete text for a new multimedia reading experience, as well as also includes commentary and notes to help readers understand the text and make connections. For the kind of experience you get with these apps, the prices really can’t be beat, especially if you consider that a good paperback copy of either The Waste Land or Shakespeare’s Sonnets, complete with annotations (never mind the media) would probably run at least $13.99.
No one asked me to endorse these apps, but I’m so excited about the rich reading experiences they offer. Would you want to read every book this way? Perhaps not, but for particularly thorny texts like The Waste Land or the Sonnets, it makes a great deal of sense to include all these tools for comprehension and extension that will help readers from a variety of backgroundsâ€”learning difficulties, English language learners, disabled as well as gifted and/or avid readers. I can see the power a book like any one of these three would have. I don’t know how you feel, but the possibility of teaching these books, using these materials, is exciting. I keep thinking of Miranda (and not in the usual ironic kind of way): “O brave new world that has such books in in it.”
I regularly see blog posts sharing 10, 50, 100 apps for educators, and I haven’t written one before mainly because it seems to be well-trodden ground, but last night I decided perhaps it couldn’t hurt to share my list. After all, these other blog posts still regularly introduce me to apps I’ve never heard of, so perhaps a few of you haven’t heard of any of these apps either. I use all of these apps to help me with my role as a technology integration specialist working with colleagues both online and off and with students.
Twitter. Seems like an obvious one perhaps, and I am probably not sharing anything you haven’t heard of, but I love to use Twitter to see what other folks are talking about, what apps they’ve found, and to bookmark links (more on that in a moment). I talk with other folks in my field and also keep up with what is going on in the world of books. I follow along with #engchat discussions on the Mondays when I have time and the topic at hand is something that intrigues me. I often also use the hashtag #edtech if I want something I tweet to catch the eye of educational technology folks, but as far as I know, they don’t have a regular chat set up.
Diigo. I was an early adopter of Firefox, and early on it was kind of buggy and kept losing my bookmarks. I liked pretty much everything else about it, so I decided to search for bookmarking alternatives. Back then, the major player was Delicious. Then Diigo came along. It’s a wonderful service. Teachers can have added features for free. I can set up Diigo to automatically post my saved links to my blog either twice a day, daily, or weekly. I can also connect my Twitter account to Diigo so that any tweets I favorite will automatically be saved links in my Diigo account. This has become my preferred method of saving links because most of the good things I bookmark I find via Twitter. Diigo also has groups. You can share bookmarks with a class of students and give them access to share bookmarks, too, so that everyone is contributing to the pool of resources, and you can also create groups for colleagues. I regularly share Diigo bookmarks with folks on the English Companion Ning because we have a Diigo group. You can also tweet links as you save them. Also, Diigo has browser extensions you can use to easily save bookmarks. I can also have Diigo sync with my Delicious account so that I don’t have to add bookmarks in two places, and folks who subscribed to my Delicious bookmarks can still see my new bookmarks.
LiveBinders. I have not begun to tap the potential of LiveBinders, but it’s a tool I’m excited about. LiveBinders is the digital equivalent of the three-ring notebook. You can save resources and organize them. Links you save will be a collection of pages instead of lists of links, which can give you a better idea of what is in the resource collections. You can use them to go paperless or create your own digital textbooks. You don’t need to know anything about coding to use them. You can also upload your own files like documents, presentations, and interactive whiteboard files. You can essentially create a collection of resources on virtually any topic. An added bonus: LiveBinders shares their favorite collections on Twitter, so if you follow them, you’ll regularly come across great collections of resources.
Evernote. Evernote is one of those tools I wish had been around when I was in high school and college. Of course there wasn’t really such a thing as the Internet back then, but I digress. Evernote is a great note-taking tool. You can clip web pages and save them. You can create online notebooks that sync with your iPhone, iPad, or Android apps so you have your notebooks wherever you go. You can also use tags to make your notes easy to find and collect your notes in notebooks (different ones for each subject or topic). Evernote also connects with a series of other apps you can get in their “Trunk,” their version of an app store. The Trunk has so many cool apps that work with Evernote that it would be hard to begin to discuss them, and perhaps that is fodder for another blog post. You can use Evernote as a web app or download it on your Mac, PC, or mobile device and sync it across all your devices.
Dropbox. I don’t carry around flash drives anymore because I can save everything in my Dropbox. Users have access to their Dropboxes via Mac, PC, the Dropbox website, and mobile apps. Like Evernote, Dropbox syncs across devices. The amount of storage space is generous, and you can obtain more space with referrals or you can purchase it. You can also associate Dropbox with other apps (similar to Evernote’s Trunk). One of my favorites is DropItTo.Me, which I use to collect student work digitally. They can upload their work to my Dropbox without having access to any of the other content. You can also easily share documents with others via Dropbox without having email them attachments. I shamelessly used my referral link here, but if you do sign up for an account using that link, both of us get extra space.
Mac’s Dictionary app. Sorry PC folks, but you are missing out on a great app. Mac’s native Dictionary app has been in my dock since I have had my Mac, and as a matter of fact, just yesterday, I was teaching my students with Macs how to use this app. We are talking about word choice, and all of you English teachers have read an essay in which it was clear a student looked up a word in a thesaurus and used it without making sure they understood what the word meant, leading to unintended and often humorous consequences. I showed them that this app allows them to look up a word in the thesaurus, and all the synonyms are hyperlinked, which allows you to click on the synonyms and see the dictionary definition so you can be sure you know what the word means. On a related note, I was pleased to discover that Merriam-Webster’s dictionary app is now free for iPhone/iPad with ads. You can get a premium version with no ads for $3.99. Ads don’t bother me much. A few of the students in my class whipped out their phones and downloaded that app yesterday when I brought that up in class. The Merriam-Webster app has a hyperlinked list of synonyms after the word definitions. Dictionary apps like these should be seamless parts of our workflow now because they add the hyperlink functionality to the traditional dictionary.
iCal and Google Calendar. I group these apps together because I use them together. I sync my Google Calendars with my iCal app, which also syncs with my iPhone’s calendar. I find that copying and pasting events is much easier in iCal, so I created my teaching schedule (we have a weird rotating schedule at my school) using iCal, but I add appointment slots to my calendar using Google Calendar. Folks can sign up for time to meet with me, which ensures they have my full attention for one-on-one training. I wouldn’t know where I was supposed to be at any given time without these two apps working in sync with one another. Google Calendars can also be shared so that folks can collaborate.
Things. Things is not free, but I like it. It’s a good to-do app that I used all through grad school to keep track of due dates. Most recently, I set up a project using Things to keep track of all the things I need to do as part of my relocation to Massachusetts. As I think of more things, I add them to my to-do list. Things also has an iPhone/iPad app that syncs over wireless with Things on my Mac. Everyone probably has their favorite to-do app, and different apps work for different folks, but Things works for my own particular workflow. Things makes sure I do what I need to do when I need to do it, and it feels great to check items off that list.
Wix. Wix is a great website builder that has flash and HTML 5 templates, many of them free. I think it would be great for creating student portfolios. It has a drag-and-drop user interface. You can use it for free, but premium accounts allow you to use Wix on your own domain, eliminate ads, and also come with unlimited bandwidth, extra storage, Google Analytics site stats, and other goodies (depending on the premium level you choose).
WordPress. I have been using WordPress for years after trying other platforms such as Movable Type and Blogger. WordPress is great. You can install it in a flash, and you can add plugins that give you more options. For instance, I have plugins that automatically post my blog posts to Twitter so my Twitter followers know when I’ve updated, and I also have a plugin that helps me find great Creative Commons-licensed images on Flickr to use in my posts. The sky is the limit with WordPress. In fact, I recently learned from Wes Fryer via Twitter that WordPress powers nearly 15% of the world’s top million websites. In fact, 22% of new active domains are using WordPress. Students and faculty can both use it to blog or manage content on their websites.
I’ve heard many people say they think the subject with which is hardest to integrate technology is history. Nothing could be further from the truth if you have a little imagination! The folks at The History Press proved that yesterday with their live Twitter commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic. Followers could read events live from the viewpoints of passengers, Captain Smith, officers, crew members, and nearby ships in real time as the ship approached its doom. This kind of idea would be great for commemorating any historical event. Students could do the research necessary to plan such a Twitter event and select a date (an anniversary would be great, if possible) to hold the event, then drum up interest and build excitement as the event approaches.
A project like this has a built-in authentic audience. Students need to think about the audience who will read their tweets and draft the tweets in advance. They would need to find out, if they can, the exact timeline for the historical event. Students can feel experience history “live.” I know that as an audience member, I felt like a part of the event, almost like I was watching it happen. I was glued to the Twitter feed. Creating a Twitter commemoration would give students intimate knowledge of the historical event and even allow them to take on roles as major players in the event. I can’t think of a better way to learn about history. After all, isn’t that what made Oregon Trail so much fun?
Obviously, this kind of project has other implications. A book’s events could be reenacted for a reading/English class, for instance. More ideas for integrating technology in history to come. Exciting stuff!
Sarah Horrigan asked in a recent post on her blog, “What makes a good learning technologist?” I love this question, and it strikes me that I’ve never even really reflected here on what makes a good English teacher (that’s a separate post for another day, though). This year was my first year as a technology integration specialist at my school, and while I am kind of green as far as the role goes, I have some definite ideas about what a good technology integration specialist looks like.
Sarah and I agree here. I don’t know how to do everything, and since I only have one year’s experience, there is much I haven’t tried. However, one thing I do have is curiosity. I want to learn how to do things, and I’m willing to try, even if I don’t know how. I also want to learn more about how others are integrating technology and keep up with news and trends. I actually like learning in general a great deal, and sometimes, even when I’m frustrated by a problem, I like the challenge of learning how to solve it myself. The other day, for instance, my MacBook’s fan was going nuts, and it looked like Spotlight was the culprit, but I couldn’t figure out what on earth it was trying to index that was taking so long. I tried various solutions until I discovered a command I could input into Terminal to find out what it was indexing, and it turns out my computer was just unhappy that I had not moved the entire Audacity folder into Applications instead of just the application itself after a recent software update (which the installation instructions did, after all, tell me to do). Once I moved the folder, the fans immediately settled down. I was really frustrated by the problem, but I felt great that I figured out how to resolve it (with the help of Google).
Helpful and Approachable
One of the things some old school IT guys get zinged for is how aggravated they get whenever someone wants help. They grab the mouse when someone they are working with doesn’t move fast enough or click the right spot. They sigh and roll their eyes. They don’t listen. As a result, folks just stop asking them for help unless they are forced to do so, and can you blame them? Who wants to feel like they are putting someone out just because they need help learning how to do something? I don’t ever want to be that person. I want teachers to feel they have learned something after working with me, and I want to support them in their learning. Sometimes it is frustrating to work with someone who has very minimal technology skills, but we only perpetuate the problem if we roll our eyes, sigh, grab the mouse and do it ourselves. I have found a little bit of patience goes a long way. I use the same skills I learned working with students when I work with teachers. I haven’t found them to be that different after all (unless perhaps more set in their ways and less willing to try things, but even that varies). If I am approachable and willing to help, people are more likely to seek my help when they want to try a project in class.
Good technology integration specialists seek out opportunities and approach teachers and students with their ideas. It doesn’t do to wait for classroom teachers to come up with their own ideas for using technology, although they do come up with some great ideas. A technology integration specialist, however, is a leader in this area, and teachers and students look to the technology integration specialist to generate ideas. The technology integration specialist shouldn’t feel afraid to approach even reluctant teachers with ideas for integrating technology. Obviously, teachers may resist and even turn you down flat. However, if they can be convinced that your idea is either going to 1) save them time or make something they do easier, or 2) be more engaging for them and for their students than something they already do, then usually you can convince them. When you can’t, you should just keep gently trying. Teachers don’t give up on their students and just decide that it’s not important to teach their students, say, how to solve quadratic equations or how to write a good argumentative essay. We keep plugging away, sometimes feeling frustrated. We hope the students will understand the importance and relevance of what we teach, and we understand it’s our responsibility to sell students on the importance and relevance of learning. Technology integration specialists are no different. They need to help teachers and students they work with understand the importance and relevance of using technology. Why? Because Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach is right when she says, “The truth is that technology will never replace teachers; however, teachers who know how to use technology effectively to help their students connect and collaborate together online will replace those who do not.” It is the technology integration specialist’s job to help teachers learn this important truth and to give teachers they support they need to learn to integrate technology. It is the technology integration specialist’s job to help teachers understand technology is not a fad or an add-on, but an important part of how people today learn and work, and students need to be able to learn how to use it effectively for both work and play.
Sarah mentioned this trait also. I feel it is critical for technology integration specialists to be active participants in a variety of networks, including Twitter, Facebook, Ning communities, and professional organizations like ISTE. I also think they should be active online. If they don’t have their own blogs, they should be using Facebook or Ning blogs to reflect regularly and think out loud about technology integration. I realize I have a bias toward blogging because it was blogging that introduced me to technology integration in the first place. I was never what I would call a tech savvy teacher until I started blogging, and I taught myself most of what I know now, which leads me to my next point.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong with asking for or expecting professional development on tools you plan to integrate, especially if you are a regular classroom teacher and technology is not where you live. However, if it is where you live, I think you need to be willing to teach yourself lots of things. You need to have a willingness to try out a new tool. I taught myself HTML using a variety of online resources (of which, Lissa Explains it All, a website designed by a young girl to teach HTML to kids, was by far the best). I had to do some light coding for a website I used to have, and before long, I was designing my own templates. Next up: I want to learn Java and Photoshop and, well, actually a lot of other stuff, too. I could take classes, but I like the idea of trying to learn these things myself, too, and truthfully, I think figuring out how to do things on your own, finding your own resources (whether those resources are books, people, websites, videos, or other tutorials) is the best way to learn.
Sarah mentioned this one also, and at the risk of simply cribbing her entire post, I had to include it. If I am not passionate about the possibilities of technology in education, I probably should be doing something else. If I’m not passionate about technology, I’m not going to seek out opportunities to help teachers learn about it and use it in their classes. I’m not going to continue learning about it myself. I will slog to work every day and not make a difference in the lives of the teachers and students I work with. Passion ties everything else together. It is perhaps the most important quality a technology integration specialist, or any teacher for that matter, should have.
What qualities do you think a good technology integration specialist should have?
Bethany Smith asked a great question on Twitter this morning:
I don’t remember learning much about technology integration when I was a preservice teacher, but then that was 1996-1997. We thought we were advanced for using email to communicate with each other. I’m not sure what has changed in the intervening years, if much of anything. I have found, contrary to popular belief, that young teachers do not necessarily know as much about technology as older teachers think they do, nor do younger teachers necessarily naturally integrate technology. (For that matter, I don’t think kids know as much about technology as teachers think they do, at least not using it for school or work, but that’s a separate blog post.)
The key word in instituting technology integration as part of a preservice teaching program is integration. Technology shouldn’t be an add-on, or else preservice teachers will only come to think of it as such in their classrooms. Asking preservice teachers to create lesson plans and assignments for their college courses that integrate technology and then reflect on how that technology might be used in their classrooms might be effective. An e-portfolio would be a great start. preservice teachers could share it with prospective employers. It can be hard sometimes to find a job with no experience, and a great portfolio can encourage administrators to take a chance on first-year teachers if the portfolios show the young teacher to be thoughtful, engaging, organized, and involved in their field. That portfolio should include a blog. When I was a preservice teacher, my classmates and I had to write weekly “think pieces” about an issue we were concerned about. We passed these around in class so that our classmates could be exposed to our ideas, and of course, they were graded by our professors, too. A blog would be a natural forum for such thinking aloud.
Other artifacts that might be included in such a portfolio:
Evidence of understanding good presentation practices. I have seen some horrible PowerPoints in my day (often created by teachers and administrators), and teachers cannot be expected to teach students how to create good presentations if they themselves don’t know how. Presentation skills are a key part of any preservice teacher’s education.
Evidence of having created an online PLN through Twitter or through a group such as the English Companion Ning (or equivalent for subject matter). A link to the Twitter account or biography page should be sufficient.
Evidence of having created a wiki, perhaps as part of a group assignment for the course or perhaps as a repository for lesson plans.
As more teachers are flipping the classroom, I think an important piece of the portfolio should include a lesson delivered via audio, and a lesson delivered via video (could be a screencast). The topics should be well chosen in that they should be topics easily taught and learned via this method.
A link to the preservice teacher’s Diigo profile. I think social shared bookmarking has been one of the most fantastic tools to come along in my fourteen years as a teacher. It’s a quick, useful way to share great resources that can be integrated with both a blog and a Twitter account as well as your browser (depending on which one you use). I happen to prefer Diigo to other bookmarking systems myself, but it’s not the only game in town. Any professors teaching preservice teachers could make that call.
One of the most important things a teacher needs to learn when integrating technology is flexibility. Sometimes things go awry when you’re trying to integrate technology, and it’s important that teachers are able to change course if the technology fails. The Internet sometimes goes down. Sometimes the projector bulb burns out. Lots of things can happen, and it’s important that teachers include, as part of any lesson plan integrating technology, their backup plan for what they will do if the technology fails.
As part of their preservice teaching program, teachers should also learn how to search. Using boolean search strings will save them time and help them find resources they’re looking for quickly. Learning how to use the everyday tools of teaching, including projectors, the Internet, videos, and the like should be an essential part of a preservice teacher’s education.
To steal an idea from Melissa Scott, time to share tools, perhaps a weekly session, would be great. The way I would probably set this up is to ask preservice teachers to sign up for time if they have found a cool tool and then present and demonstrate that tool to their fellow preservice teachers. Before long, teachers would have quite a toolkit to take with them to their first job. Any tools that could more easily be shared via a Diigo group created for the preservice teachers would not necessarily need to be shared via presentation, and there should be an expectation that the preservice teachers will make use of Diigo, contributing shared links and also saving links.
It’s also key that preservice teachers understand the importance of rehearsing technology. Teachers who fiddle with tools they aren’t sure how to use in front of a group of students are wasting time and hurting their credibility. Try out the tools and figure out how they are used before asking students to use them or before using them in front of students. Don’t rely on students to be your tech support when you get stuck, which leads me to my final recommendation: learn basic troubleshooting. Most of the troubleshooting I do for other teachers, they could do themselves if they tried searching for the problem online. That’s the first thing I usually do anyway. I’m happy to help teachers. I don’t mind troubleshooting. However, they could save a lot of time if they learned how to do it themselves. It isn’t the best use of the IT department’s time to restart your computer if it freezes up when that is something teachers themselves could have done much more quickly on their own.
I have seen a tweet circulating among several folks on Twitter with basic text as follows:
“I have yet to have a student tell me they can’t use technology in class because they haven’t received any PD on it.”
While I understand the frustration behind the tweet, I disagree with its basic message, which is that there is something wrong with a teacher who wants to receive professional guidance on technology before using it. The subtext is that we should all be able to use technology without help, and that if we say we won’t, then we’re just whining. We’re not willing to do what we ask students to do.
First, students who are unfamiliar with tools do often balk at using them. I have found that younger students seem to be willing to play around with a tool until they figure it out, but there is a fear of failure that we tend to develop, as well as a notion that we should learn how to do things effortlessly or quickly, as we get older, and I have frequently encountered high school students who shut down in the face of using unfamiliar technology. A case in point: several years ago, I asked my students to do a poetry project on VoiceThread. The tool was unfamiliar to them, and they really fought learning how to use it. When they finished their final projects, I have to admit that only one of the groups really produced work that met the standard I had in mind. It was a technology fail on my part because I didn’t do much training in how to use the tool with the class. I expected them to be willing to dive in, explore, and figure it out. That my students didn’t produce the work I was hoping for was partly my fault. No, none of the students complained to me that I hadn’t showed them how to use VoiceThread. I don’t think it occurred to them.
One of the common refrains I hear about integrating technology is how important professional development is. While it’s fairly common for technology to be mandated with little or no professional development, I think most thoughtful educators feel professional development is a critical piece of technology adoption. I do believe that exploring a new tool, trying out new things, playing around, is the only way to really learn how to use new tools. But we also have to remember that not everyone is comfortable taking that initial step alone. A professional development session that introduces the tool and offers participants an opportunity to try out the tool when a technology “spotter” is nearby can be comforting and helpful. Also, not all tools are easy to learn without professional development. I happen to think my school’s content management system, Edline, is well nigh impossible to learn without some help, especially for teachers who have never experimented with their own websites before.
We shouldn’t criticize teachers for asking for professional development. We should celebrate it. It’s not the same thing as being resistant, which is how I think this tweet characterizes teachers. Yes, some teachers are resistant, but those teachers are resistant even after the professional development, and in those cases, it’s not really the technology that is the issue: it’s more about change. Teachers asking for professional development want to learn to use the technology in the most effective way so they don’t waste their time and their students’ time floundering around with tools before integrating them in their teaching. There’s nothing wrong with that.