Integrating Technology: Edutopia discussion

EdutopiaApril19

An updated post from a prior blog I wrote for Edueto Magazine.

Integrating Technology: Getting Started with the First Steps
RELATED TAGS: Technology Integration,Classroom Technology,All Grades,All Subjects
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Rachelle Dene Poth
Posted 04/19/2016 9:36PM | Last Commented 04/19/2016 9:36PM

Every day, there are tons of discussions to be found through social media, online resources, conversations with colleagues and more. Becoming involved in Twitter chats or being a member in a Google Community or other Learning Network, are ways to access some of the resources that describe the best ways, the best tools, and the best ideas for integrating technology in the classroom. Educating oneself about the tools available and best strategies for integrating technology into the classroom is never a bad idea. But the most important thing is that there has to be a first step. Teachers have to take a chance and find some way to integrate technology into the classroom. Not all teachers may feel comfortable with the idea of technology integration, and 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 continue to be more tremendous and innovative changes in technology available.

I was an 80s child and I have grown up in the age of computing, fascinated at the opportunity to program computers in 7th grade. Because of this fascination and continued interest in learning about the tools available, incorporating technology into my classroom was not something I was afraid to do nor would I consider that it has been a seamless process either. Risks are always involved when trying something new such as integrating technology. With any new venture comes many questions such as where to begin, how to begin and what is the best way to use the new tech so it does not interfere with the learning process.

Getting Started

So where to begin? This is the most difficult question when first starting. There are some things that you have to ask yourself. How comfortable are you with computers and web 2.0 tools? For several years, I had been using technology with my students in the form of some online language learning games and activities, or occasionally had students’ complete projects using word processing or some other presentation software. Besides these occasional activities, other than audio and video resources for my course, the technology use in my classroom was limited. Although at the time, I thought that I was really providing a variety of technology opportunities for my students.

The Changing Point

I had attended a national conference and realized that there were so many possibilities out there for enhancing learning experiences and new ways to engage students, so I reflected a bit to figure out what I could add to my classroom that would benefit my students and bring about positive changes.

I also asked myself, what is it that I am not offering my students, and also, what is something that the students could do as well, to enhance their experiences.

For my classroom, it came down to what I have referred to as a “disconnect” between my students, our class and their access to the vital resources. I focused on finding something that could make a difference. I decided to start with finding a way to facilitate communication.

Communication Resources: Why We Need Them

We have all experienced this in our classrooms. How many times have your students come in to class after a long weekend, with questions about the homework, that they did not complete because they did not understand it? And then there are the times when students missed class and appeared the start of class, wondering what they missed in their absence. These situations led me to find Celly. Celly is a messaging tool that can be used in many ways. When I started, it was simply a way for me to send reminders to students, to be accessible for their questions, to provide helpful resources and to be available when the students needed, which often was later in the evening or during the weekend when they were working on their assignments and had the questions appear.

So how did this impact my classroom? It quickly helped to solve the problem of the “disconnect”. Integrating Celly into my classroom was the first step in a series of changes that I made to my classroom procedures that has brought about many positive changes in the educational experiences I provide for my students. Most importantly for me, it provides the students with a way to get help when they need it. If this sounds like something that could benefit your classroom, try one of the many great messaging tools available. There are many choices and it simply takes starting with one, working with it and seeing how it can impact your classroom and students. Once you feel comfortable with your choice, then start thinking about another way that you can add to the learning experience in your classroom. Just remember to find what works best for YOU and your students, that is an important aspect to keep in mind. Integrating technology is great when it adds to the experience and provides new opportunities and extends learning and communication. But the important thing to remember is that it has to be beneficial for your classroom.

Another Step for Communication and Collaboration.

After some time had passed and new ways for using Celly had been found, I started looking for something else that I could improve in my classroom. This would be the next step for you as well. It might be finding a way to keep your class materials organized and accessible for students or find the requirements for a project that’s due the next day. Or maybe you post some many web tools and review activities that you have shared with them. If these sound like some areas that may be beneficial, then what you need is a Learning Management System or a classroom website. 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 options for creating websites, 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 Edmodo has been 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, Google Classroom, Weebly or even use Wikispaces as a way to post resources and links. No matter what you choose you can’t go wrong. Creating a space online for your class materials and to communicate with your students is a great idea and you will see the benefits of this.

Making the Decision

In my experiences, referring back to that feeling of “disconnect”, I hope it is clearer now how these two tools really helped to solve that problem. By choosing a messaging tool or creating a class websites or using an LMS, either would serve to promote the communication and collaboration with the students, have class materials and resources readily available, but in my classroom, having both of these in place enhances the learning experiences and support I provide for my students. I have new options for ways to communicate with students, different ways to assess their learning, and students have more support available through these communication and collaboration tools.

So now it is your turn. Think about your students and your classroom. Ask yourself, what is something that could help make the learning experience better? Is there something that you would like to change? Think about it and when you figure out what that one thing is, do a bit of research, find a tool, start small and build. Try it within your classroom and give it some time. You may decide that it is not working as you had hoped, and that is part of the learning process. Give it some time. It is a risk to try something new and different, but well worth it. Sometimes we are successful and other times we are not, and this is something that as educators we need to experience as well. We have to model challenges and struggles for our students, to show it is okay to try something new, to set goals, and that there will be challenges along the way. It is part of learning, reflecting and continuing to grow.

If you have wanted to integrate more technology into your classroom, now is the time to start. Find something, work with it and keep going. It is an ongoing learning process and well worth it for you and your students.

So keep wondering, taking risks, and be persistent.

But more than that, be patient. Learning has no time limit.

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