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Virginia Journal of Education


Getting a Grip on Technology

Some advice on navigating the new world of education technology.



by Elizabeth G. Jamerson

Teachers of the 21st century have entered a new dimension. The stereotype of the bespectacled teacher droning on through a 60-minute lecture from the front of the classroom, while clutching a stack of worksheets, has vanished. All the tools of the trade have changed. An observer walking down any hallway in any school system today can find an array of electronic devices that seems to go beyond those found in any work of science fiction from past decades. Gone are the old slide rulers and typewriters, discarded for new graphing calculators and word processors.  Interactive media boards dwell in positions of prominence at the front of classrooms where blackboards once resided. Soon, no one will remember chalk and VHS tapes will be but a fading memory.

Students have evolved as well. Their backpacks, once filled with books, now contain laptop computers and cell phones. They text message, instant message, play music on MP3 players, and download videos from the Web. Instead of going to the library to do research, they go online and Google. They shop on eBay, chat in real time, and keep their calendars on their PDAs. They live in a virtual world and hang out in “Second Life.” For fun, they play with a Wii, an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3.

The classroom stays in a constant state of flux, for the lifespan of these new technologies is limited, sometimes measured in mere weeks or days. The speed, memory capacity and processing ability of computers changes overnight. The evolutionary chain goes forward rapidly—floppy disks were replaced by zip drives, which were replaced by CDs, which have been replaced by flash drives. Bulky CTR monitors gave way to flat screen LCD monitors. The technology new today is obsolete tomorrow.
 
An entirely new vocabulary has developed—terms such as high def, wifi, wiki, blu-ray and Bluetooth pepper conversations. Slang from the digital world is running rampant. Students speak in code, texting expressions such as “TTFN”—or “ta ta for now” for the uninitiated. The code has even been adopted by the corporate world, and businessmen have been caught writing messages like “OOTO” (out of the office). These and dozens of other acronyms fly through cyberspace. The publishers of Merriam Webster Dictionary choose “w00t” (translation “great” or “yea”) as the word of the year for 2007. Spelled with two zeros rather than letters, the word reflects the growing use of the numeric keypad in the digital world. Even the classroom is not immune. The modern-day
Teacher-Student dialogue now goes something like this:

Teacher: Good morning, students. I hope you all e-mailed me your homework last night.

Student 1:  I tried to, but my hard drive crashed. [The equivalent of “The dog ate my homework.”]

Teacher: That’s no excuse. You should have backed up your work on an external hard drive. Now, we are still working on our research papers. I would like you all to get out your laptops and log-in to Moodle. I have posted a video tutorial on writing research papers and a Word document containing questions to be answered. I want you to download both to your computers so you can watch the video and answer the questions. Headphones are on the counter. While you are working on this, I’ll call you to my desk one at a time to discuss your introductions.

Student 2:  I also need some help with my Works Cited list.

Teacher:  Put your Works Cited list on Google docs, and send it to the members of your group for peer editing.

Student 2:  Okay. After I revise it, I’ll put it in the electronic drop-box.

Teacher: If anyone finishes early, I have put your assignments for the week on my Web page. This week I want everyone to use the link I provided to subscribe to the podcast on improving your writing; then finish blogging about your topic and start work on your final PowerPoint presentations.

Student 3:  When do grades go home?

Teacher:  I’ve updated grades in the electronic gradebook and they are posted online. If your parents have questions, I’ll be available on Skype tonight between 7:00 and 8:00.

And so it goes. But what does all of this mean for teachers? First, it means that the expectations placed on teachers have increased. Teachers must now not only find time to learn the new technology, but find ways to incorporate it into the classroom in a way that is meaningful. This requires a tremendous investment of time and effort. How can teachers possibly remain current in a world where technology seems to be spiraling out of control? While schools generally have Instructional Technology Resource Teachers who provide instruction and support for teachers, there may not be enough of them to go around. The following 10 tips may help.

1. Ask for training. School systems routinely require teachers to participate in a specific number of professional development sessions each year. Be proactive and ask that technology workshops be incorporated into the professional development calendar.

2. Seek out training on your own. Teaching certificates must be renewed every five years. In order to be eligible for renewal, teachers must accumulate sufficient points through course work or other professional development activities. Often teachers take courses in their content area, but according to Virginia Department of Education recertification guidelines, other courses that prepare teachers to be more effective in the classroom—including courses in educational technology—are acceptable. Consider taking a course on Web design, podcasting or some other technology application to fulfill this obligation. An online class may be just the answer, since not only would it earn recertification points, it would also provide experience using an online course management system.

Teachers interested in locating a good technology course should check the local community colleges course offerings. Generally, community colleges are very supportive and will offer almost any course for which there is sufficient enrollment. Courses offered through the community college system are reasonably priced. Teachers considering taking an educational technology course should also check their school division’s policy for tuition reimbursement to help pay for classes.

3. Form a support group with other educators at school. The group can meet over lunch or after school briefly once a week to share technology tips. Teachers can then share skills with each other. Or time can be set aside for sharing information at department or grade level meetings. Those wishing to branch out into cyberspace can join an online community of practice for support. Sites, such as MERLOT (www.merlot.org/merlot/index.htm), allow users to share advice and resources with others. Networking is the heart and soul of technology.

4. Locate an online tutorial for an area of interest. Many great tutorials are available for free on the Web. For example, Microsoft in Education provides help for students and teachers for using technology. Located at www.microsoft.com/education/tutorials.mspx, the site offers detailed, step-by-step directions for integrating Microsoft products into the classroom. Another example is “How to Create Your Own Podcast,” found at http://radio.about.com/od/podcastin1/a/aa030805a.htm, which takes the user from the beginning to the end of the podcasting process. These online tutorials have the advantage of being free and can be taken anytime, including during planning periods, at night and on weekends. The only thing needed is an Internet connection.

5. Get to know the library/media specialist. Often, much of the hardware and many of the technology resources are located in the media center. The specialists can supply information on what is available and provide instructions on how to operate the equipment. Many schools have laptop carts, GPS units, classroom sets of Palm Pilots, or LCD projectors available for checkout. If the media center does not currently have the desired technology resources, library/media specialists have annual budgets for ordering materials and equipment, and they may be able to procure these resources.

6. Locate and read the school’s technology plan. This plan normally contains an inventory of all technology resources available for the division and identifies the location where they are stored. See if any of these resources would benefit your classroom instruction and then make arrangements to use them.

7. Build your own library of online technology resources. Many great sites exist on the Internet just waiting to add zest to your classroom activities. For example, Thinkfinity (www.thinkfinity.org/home.aspx), sponsored by the Verizon Foundation, provides links to lesson plans, interactives, worksheets, sound clips, assessments and reference materials—all free of charge to educators. Other online repositories exist that are great for specific content areas, including NASA Education (www.nasa.gov/offices/education/about/index.html), American Memory (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html), and Grammar Bytes (www.chompchomp.com/). Teachers can locate great activities such as educational games, Web quests and puzzles that increase student motivation. Begin your list by asking other teachers in your subject area what sites they have found.

8. Buy a book. There are many great books out there to assist teachers in using technology in the classroom. Teachers can browse online or peruse the shelves of the local bookstore. Rather than buying, teachers can also check out books from nearby libraries, particularly those affiliated with colleges or universities.

9. Attend a conference or workshop. Schools commonly include money in the budget for professional development activities such as attending conferences and workshops. Ask colleagues to recommend a good conference and see if funds are available to attend. Often the conferences provide hands-on sessions and resources to bring home. An added benefit of attending conferences is making contacts with educators at other schools who can offer advice and support.

10. Create a personal plan for improving technology skills and incorporating them into the classroom. Set aside a specified time each week to develop technology skills. The time may be used to read an article, observe another teacher, or practice using a new piece of hardware. Update your lesson plans or curriculum guide. Look for places where technology can be seamlessly incorporated. An old lesson plan can be revitalized by using an LCD projector to show a video clip, by including a Web quest or podcast, or by using an online assessment.

Teachers can do all of these things to improve their technology skills. What teachers cannot do is put their heads in the sandbox. The technological parade will continue and those who cannot keep up will go the way of the dodo.

Technology can be a tremendous asset to the classroom. Technology helps students develop 21st century skills necessary to be successful in the workplace, increases student motivation, appeals to multiple learning styles, increases productivity, and assists students with disabilities become successful learners. However, to realize these benefits, teachers must map their journey through the brave new virtual world, or they will be hopelessly lost in cyberspace. And to all of those who have already entered the digital jungle—w00t!

Jamerson, a member of the Cumberland Education Association, is the county’s technology coordinator.


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An Organization That Can Help

Whether you’re an educator in Virginia schools who already feels pretty comfortable with several forms of educational technology, or you’re one who’s just beginning to find your way into a whole new world, you’re bound to find like-minded colleagues in the Virginia Society for Technology in Education (VSTE).  

VSTE was founded in 1986 to serve as a community of educators using and learning about technologies that will help better prepare our students for life, both professionally and otherwise, after their schooling.  

The organization seeks to promote excellence in the use of educational technology and in professional development opportunities for educators. VSTE’s website offers links to continuing education opportunities, partnering organizations and resources, along with plenty of networking options. 

VSTE also has access to a broad range of nationally-based resources, as the state affiliate of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). 

To learn more about both groups, visit www.vste.org or www.iste.org.

 


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