Integrating Technology: Why should educators make the move?

This is a blog I wrote for the Online Magazine Edueto about integrating technology and how I started with my own classroom.

Blog Link:  Edueto

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It seems that recently there has been an increase in the discussion about the best ways, the best tools, and the best ideas for integrating technology in the classroom. The one thing that all of these themes have in common is that technology does need to be integrated into the classroom, regardless of what level, what course, and what topic is being covered, the possibilities with technology infused into the learning environment are limitless.

Teachers may find themselves on varying ends of the spectrum of what I will refer to as being technology savvy. Teachers who have taught around 20 years or were 80s children like myself, have seen many changes in the world of technology from the entrance of Apple computers and programming in the early 1980s to the start of the Internet in the nineties to cloud computing and other emerging technologies today. There will be more tremendous changes on the horizon.

I find myself in a unique grouping in that I’ve grown up in the age of computing, so for me, adding technology into my classroom was not something I found to be a daunting task. I would not consider it seamless either.  However, with that being said there are always risks involved with starting a new venture such as integrating technology and there are many questions one might ask about where to begin, how to begin and what is the best way to use the new tech while adding to the learning and not having it become an interference.

So where does one begin? Well it depends on where you are now. Have you been using computers and technology or is the concept completely out of your area and new?  In my experience as a foreign language teacher, I had been using some games and activities, and the typical computing tools like word processing and other presentation software, but other than that, the technology used a few years back was somewhat limited in my classroom to audio and video and the occasional use of the Smartboard. But then a period of change occurred, and I realized that there were so many possibilities out there for adding to the learning experience and engaging the students and so I asked myself one question. What am I missing?

This initial question quickly led to additional questions. What is it that I am NOT providing to my students and alternatively what is it that my students could be doing better?  What are they NOT providing for our class?

With this initial question, I placed the demand on myself to seek an answer, I wondered what I could do differently to bridge what I have now termed the “disconnect” which I felt was occurring. So I began my search for ways to solve this problem of disconnect and sought to find one thing that I could change as a way to make a difference. What I came up with is that we needed a better way to communicate. And this may be where you find yourself.

Have you wished that your students would be able to ask you questions when they have a question?  That when you find a good resource or perhaps want to remind a class of something after an extended weekend or break, that there were a reliable way to do that? If you are answering yes to these questions then what you need first is a messaging tool. That’s where I started, & I found Celly which enabled me to send reminders to students, to receive their questions, to share resources and to be available when the students needed, which often was later in the evening or during the weekend when their questions appeared.

So what did this messaging tool do? It began solving the problem of the “disconnect”. It was the first step in a series of changes that I made to my teaching style and to my classroom procedures that have brought about many positive changes in the educational experiences I provide for my students, but more importantly it has enabled them to have more access to the help they need when they need it.

Once I felt confident that this tool was working, I began to think about something else that might need improvement. This would be the next step for you as well.  Perhaps it’s a way to organize your class materials so students can get those extra copies of the papers or find the requirements for the project that’s due the next day or try some of the many web tools and review activities that you have shared with them. If these sound like good ideas to you, then what you need is a Learning Management System. For myself, this was the next step and after some research I found Edmodo. I have made presentations at conferences and my message is the same, which is this:  There are many wonderful learning management systems available and depending on where and what you teach, Edmodo may or may not be the best choice for you.  But I believe that each classroom should have a common site.  For my classroom it is a great choice.   I have worked with many of the other options and I can tell you what you might want to know about them. I have continued to use Edmodo because my students stay with me throughout their Spanish studies, and it makes sense to keep them in the system, so they can see their growth, so I can track their progress and have access to the materials which then become a part of their digital portfolio. Maybe an LMS is not what you want but instead you choose to create a website, for example through Google sites or Weebly or even use Wikispaces as a way to post resources and links.  No matter what you choose you can’t go wrong. Centralizing your materials for your class and your students is a great idea and you and they will benefit from it.

Going back for a moment to my initial word of “disconnect”, perhaps it is clearer now how these two tools really help to solve that problem.  Individually either one would work in my favor to promote the communication and collaboration with the students and to make class materials and resources available, but the combination of them builds even more into what I can offer because the students can be assessed, they can have their voice expressed in many ways using Edmodo or Celly and each year we can track their progress through Edmodo.

So I ask you, what would help you the most? If you were asked to name one thing that you could change or would like to change, figure out what that one thing is and start small and build. Take a step, work with it and then add something else. You may find that your first choice is not the best but it takes action and follow through. So that means give it some time. Trying something new can be a challenge and it is definitely a risk.  It may work and it may not, but as an educator it is our job to actively be taking risks, facing challenges, working toward goals to completion. When all is said and done, we take the time to look back and reflect and that’s what you must do as well.

Did you find an answer to your question or did it bring about additional questions? Keep wondering and keep seeking more information. Be curious.  Be persistent.

Technology changes every day and there will be many opportunities to find the perfect answer to your question, it just may take a little bit of time, but that’s okay. Learning has no time limit.

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