Sunday, July 3, 2011

8 Ways to better integrate technology in education

    
     Whether they like it or not, teachers need to find ways to embrace the technologies that students have around them every day. One of my colleagues often said something which I think is indicative of the  thinking of many teachers who resist technology integration. She argued that we need to get back to teaching reading and writing and the other basic skills that students need to learn. In her mind, technology is just a distraction which takes time away from the more important learning skills. Personally, I think that this is a common response that teachers have when they don't feel confident using new technologies and serves more as a defense mechanism rather than as a logical argument.


     If technology is used as a substitute for the curriculum, rather than as a tool to enhance teaching a learning, then her argument is certainly well founded. It is imperative, however, that technology not just be used for the bells and whistles that it can offer, but instead, its use be well thought out so that it aligns with the curriculum and the pedagogical underpinnings of that curriculum. Learning goals should remain paramount but if technology is a tool which helps to achieve learning goals while also enhancing student motivation and engagement, then why not use it? After all, our students are growing up around computer technologies of all kinds and are comfortable using them for communication, collaboration and finding information. From their cell phones, to online gaming platforms, to personal computers, children have access to amazing tools which we need to learn to harness for the benefit of teaching and learning. 




     Of course, as someone who is comfortable with technology in the classroom, it is very easy for me to make this argument. The reality is that there are still thousands of teachers and schools out there who are not integrating technology (well), largely because they are not quite sure where to get started and their lack of understanding leads to a lack of trust in the role of new technologies in education. 


     Often, the response is to put up barriers to "protect" students rather than to tear down these barriers while also teaching children how to use the technologies responsibly.  Many schools, for example continue to block access to sites which are very popular outside of school, including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Are we really protecting students by simply blocking popular social media in schools? Would it not be better to give students access to these sites so that we can take advantage of learning opportunities to get students using these technologies in ways  that helps their learning, while also giving them the skills to use the technologies responsibly and in ways which help keep them safe online? 




      In many ways, the debate over whether or not to allow access to popular social media in schools is not much like the debate over whether or not to offer sex education in schools. In the real world, children are exposed to harsh realities, and educators can decide to either let them deal with these on their own or give them the knowledge and skills they need to be better prepared do deal with these realities. 


     You many be asking yourself how it is I started off discussing technology integration in schools to the banning of popular social media in schools. I think this jump is necessary and one that often gets made when schools consider more access to computer technologies. People are always going to bring up the "what if" questions related to whether or not students will use the technologies productively and safely. What if we give them a computer and they waste time playing games? What if we give them access to email to collaborate and they waste time chatting? What if we give them access to Facebook for community building and they reveal inappropriate details about themselves? What if we let them bring their cell phones to school and they use them to SMS to friends? 


     With all of the pros of embracing technology in schools, there are always the list of cons. But what if we realize this and establish clear guidelines about acceptable use and then trust our students to be responsible? Those who don't act responsibly will have to deal with the consequences just as in the case when they violate other rules in the school.




     To achieve effective technology integration in schools, here are eight suggestions that I have to help make the process go smoother: 


1. Have a technology specialist whose job it is to focus on technology integration.   


The responsibilities could include: 
  • Plan with teachers to ensure that technology is used to help meet outcome goals of the curriculum. 
  • Find the best websites, software, apps, etc which can serve as effective tools to enhance teaching and learning.
  • Provide ongoing PD with teachers as needed to help all teachers feel more confident with using the new technologies and how to integrate them into the classroom.
  • Work with school administrators to establish acceptable use policies for students. 
  • Develop a good working relationship with the IT department so that a balance can be achieved between open access and security.
  • Develop contacts with other teachers and schools interested in technology integration so that experiences and resources can be shared. 
  • Offer information sessions for parents regarding the role of technology of the school and how they can help to ensure that their children are using technology responsibly and safely at home.
2. Provide PD funding and opportunities for teachers to attend workshops and training courses to make them more confident with technology integration. 

3. Offer access to at least some popular websites for learning purposes while also having open discussions about how to use these websites responsibly and safely. 

4. Listen to what students want and give them some control over the technology tools they can use. 
an even choose student technology leaders who are in charge of aiding other students and teachers with using technology.

5. Allow students to bring in personal devices which can be used in education (cell phone, iPod, tablets, netbooks, etc). 
You could have them sign an appropriate use agreement so that they are aware of their responsibilities with the technology at school. 


6. Celebrate work that has been done using technology. 
This could be done in a variety of ways, including: 

  • A website where all students and parents have access which shows off work that has been done. 
  • Screens around the school (or in the library) which display what children are doing. 

7. Make learning as authentic as possible so that projects are student driven and linked to real life.
Apple's Challenged Based Learning website could help you get started with doing this. 


8. Make sure your school has the infrastructure and access needed for technology integration to occur: 
  • Be sure you have the required bandwidth and wifi access points 
  • Try to avoid having computers being limited to computer labs.
  • Students and teachers should have access to the technology as needed so that its use is more natural and not separated from day to day activities.