The last five years have seen a tremendous shift in the way that we think about teaching and learning. While there will always be value in “reading, writing, and arithmetic” in the traditional sense, students of all ages are now accessing information through the web, social media, and other applications on both public and personal devices. Schools have obviously taken note and are now supporting teachers as they experiment with new forms of technology and social media to both deliver classroom instruction and enrich student learning. To some this change is welcome and the shift to a more “edtech” environment is natural and seamless; to others, there is reticence, uncertainty, and questions about the role of technology and how to best get started.
The question of how and where to start with technology is perhaps as important to teachers as what to do with the technology once they get started. I’ve been fortunate over the past three years to be part of a district that is extraordinarily supportive and open to new ideas. At DFHS, our teachers and students are thriving in an environment where we have essentially “turned off the filters” and embraced the idea of BYOD. Twitter and Facebook are now used as tools to promote engagement both inside and outside of the classroom and our teachers are incorporating Google Drive, Skype, QR Codes, Prezi, flipped approaches, and much more as they embrace this new paradigm of teaching and learning. We are also preparing for a 1:1 initiative where all students in our ninth grade will be provided with a Chromebook for the year.
I recently partnered up with @carastepanian to interview some of the teachers at DFHS as we prepare to present at this month’s NCTE Annual Conference in Boston on the topic of “diving in” with educational technology. In doing so, we asked the teachers for advice that they would offer to others who are at the early stages and are interested in getting started.
Here’s some of what they had to say…
1) Start Small–Don’t Shoot for the Stars (@sarahhmstern): While ambition and drive are clearly a must, doing too much right at the start is a sure fire way to become overwhelmed and to ultimately fail. It is better to focus on one approach or platform and to work out the “kinks” with a smaller population of students before fully integrating with a larger population. @sarahhmstern modeled this for @carastepanin and I as she introduced a new approach for taking quizzes on the iPad with her students. She worked out the details in advance, chose a specific population, and created a “low stakes” environment (the grade was optional) for the students. After a successful first attempt, she now plans to use the approach with all of her students as a new way to assess student understanding and differentiate future instruction.
2) Plan for Students Who Don’t Have Resources (@ms_sardinia): While many of our students have Smartphones or bring their own personal devices, there is also a population who have more traditional phones and/or do not bring a device to school. In these instances, it is important to know who has a device (and who doesn’t) and plan accordingly. When leading an in-class backchannel Tweetchat, for example, it is good practice to pair students who have a device with those who do not. In schools with extra resources, additional devices can be on hand for students to borrow for in-class activities.
3) Communicate with Parents & Administrators (@MrCohn9): Though many are “on board” with technology and social media, there a number of people who still have legitimate concerns and questions. This is particularly true with social media and the issue of security. In all instances, it is critical to be proactive with communication and to provide a clear rationale for using a specific approach. @sarahstern added, “even if you have a supportive administration, it is always better to give them a heads up on what you are doing. Articulate your thinking so that they are not blindsided if a concern is ultimately raised.”
4) Provide Alternatives (@Ms_Molloy): Having alternatives for students and parents who are either not comfortable with technology or who lack resources is a key aspect of successful implementation. When assigning flipped video assignments, for example, @Ms_Molloy will host a “video screening” in her classroom right after school so that students have access. @MrCohn9 has also created a class Twitter page (@dobbsnews) that students can use if they are uncomfortable with using their personal accounts. This works well since multiple users can be logged onto a Twitter account at the same time and can participate in a backchannel by simply placing their initials before their respective tweets.
5) Assume Nothing (@AdamoBiology): Perhaps the greatest misconception is that all students are “tech savvy” and will be prepared to jump right in with little instruction. They won’t. It is important to provide time to walk students through the steps of whatever new technology is being implemented and make sure that that they are comfortable with the process. We have seen this first hand as our school has fully transitioned to Google Docs and we have begun to require that students submit their assignments by “sharing” with their teachers. We assumed that this transition would be seamless. It wasn’t.
6) Build A PLN (@MikeMeagh): Though this goes without saying it still needs to be said. Twitter is perhaps the greatest tool for professional development for teachers and school leaders. Period. For any teacher who is interested in getting started, simply get on Twitter and start following some of the leaders in the field. For more information, see the post “Is Twitter Trending or Trendy?” (8/5/13) by @johnfalino1.
As with any new innovation, it is sometimes necessary to take a leap of faith, jump in, and go for it. Trying new ideas and adjusting to meet the needs of students is at the heart of effective instruction and also helps to keep things fresh inside of the classroom. For a more comprehensive explanation of these ideas and our other findings, please join us in Boston at #NCTE13 on Sunday, November 24th.