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OVERCOMING Techno-Phobia

You can master the digital life, says a Fairfax technology specialist.

By Laura Reasoner Jones

A teacher once asked me if I could help her with a personal issue. “Of course,” I said, hoping that it wasn’t too personal. Turns out she had been given a digital camera seven years before to mark the life of her new grandchild, and she had over 1,000 pictures still on the camera that she had never downloaded or really even seen. She was uncertain and frightened about how it all worked.

Yet another teacher had never used her Smart Board because she couldn’t figure out how to plug the USB cable into the side of her laptop, and didn’t want to break it.

Fear of technology is real and not uncommon among both new and experienced teachers, for a number of reasons:

• Most of us didn’t choose teaching because we love technology. We chose it so we could teach.
• Technology changes so quickly now that it is very hard for even the most ‘techie’ teacher to keep up.
• Thoughts like “I can teach well without using all this new stuff. I am good at my job and don’t need it.”

Can you blame teachers for developing techno-fear? You may show up for the beginning of a school year to find that your classroom comes with:
• An imaged laptop with 17 new or upgraded programs.
• Smart Board pens and cables to go with the mounted boards.
• An LCD projector and audio system.
• 7-9 imaged laptops for student use.
• Keys to a shared mobile lab with 16-24 charged and imaged laptops.
• A Turning Point interactive response system linking you with the online testing system and data walls which compile all of the standardized testing you will do.
• A digital camera.

Shortly after absorbing all that, you find out you must learn to use:
• Microsoft Office’s One Note program, so that Collaborative Learning Teams are truly collaborative.
• Microsoft Outlook so that you can keep up with meetings, emails, shared school calendars, parent and school system contacts and more.
• Smart Board software so all your lessons are interactive.
• Turning Point Software so all discussions and quizzes/tests can be reviewed and discussed in your team meetings.
• Online attendance/grading/parent contact system so that your attendance can be recorded before 8:45 each morning.
• Online standards-based report cards system which require you to “delegate” your students to each additional specialist teacher and provide digital evidence of how the students are working toward meeting content standards.
• Creating a course in Blackboard with content, links, contact information and assignments, and enrolling each of your students, changing their passwords twice, and teaching each child and parent how to log in.
• Creating accounts on the network for each student by using student IDs, default passwords and changing and recording those passwords.
• Teaching students how to access online textbooks at home and in school using limited resources.
• Creating accounts for the new digital leveled reader program used as a supplement, using the centrally-created passwords unique to this program.
• Saving and backing up your work and your students’ work to their computers and the off-site server.
• Figuring out how to get the online information and use county resources such as the professional development signup site, the electronic training site, and mileage reimbursement, just to name a few.
• Understanding the online site for getting substitutes.
• And, perhaps most important in this day of job insecurity, a new standards-based teacher performance evaluation system that requires you to collect digital evidence of you and your students’ success in meeting the system’s performance standards.

And people think you just talk at children all day and go home at 3:30.

Remember those idyllic college days when you thought about how you’d inspire children to learn, investigate and reach their aspirations? Remember why you chose teaching in the first place, rather than the more lucrative fields of computer science or engineering? Well, with the skills you have to learn now, maybe going back to school in IT doesn’t look so bad, after all.

As a technology specialist, I see many teachers frantically paddling to keep their heads above water. Even with the superior amount of support we provide, getting into the technology routine can be a daunting process.

From my more than 35 years of teaching experience, I have some thoughts on making that process a little bit easier to maneuver, even if you are an experienced teacher.

Make yourself a calendar with the help of your mentor or teammates. What do you really need to know first?

Is it how to log in and better use Outlook? Is it how to get into the PD site so you can sign up for and get credit for all the in-services you’re attending?

For my school, using the collaborative planning tool, saving your work, and getting the Blackboard site up and running are the first things.

Next, learn how to connect and reconnect all the equipment—the projector, the Smart Board, etc. You need to think about the beginning of school—what will you need? My school uses the closed-circuit TV to project announcements, so you need to be sure that you can see and hear the TV. We also have morning messages using the Smart Boards, so you have to be able to navigate that.

Do your kids really need to be on the student laptops the first day? Probably not, if you’re in an elementary school. Changing accounts for middle and high school kids? They can figure it out—just remind them to keep their information safe, and to follow the regulations of the system if they want to graduate.

Make a Plan
With your team or mentor, create a week-by-week plan. Make manageable goals, and carve out time to meet them. Time with technology is your friend—the more you try to use it, the easier it will get.

For example, the Blackboard password reset that has to be done each year does not have to be ready until Back to School Night, when the sites are rolled out to parents. So, that task can wait.

Make a second goal to designate artifacts for your evaluation evidence and learn how to archive them digitally. Then give yourself small rewards for keeping up with this plan.

Take Advantage of Training and Tech Support
Participate in any training offered. Usually there will be in-house training on programs or equipment, either through central office or your school. Don’t be afraid to use the tech support your system provides. Yes, it may be a little embarrassing for you to call the Service Desk, but their job is to help and support you. They’ve heard it all, won’t laugh at you—and they know everything.
There are also multitudes of online opportunities for free training or support. One site we love is Free Technology for Teachers,, where you’ll find a snapshot of great sites, using all levels of expertise and interests. If you’re using interactive white boards, another great site is Yet another fabulous one comes from Great Britain: Not only is this incredibly informative, it is fun to read and pick up the differences in education.

It’s very easy to become overwhelmed by these sites, so once again, set some goals. Decide what you need most, or how you could contribute to your team’s learning. Perhaps your school is using an interactive response system. Instead of each teacher trying to puzzle it out, one could take the lead and become the expert, teaching and showing others. Maybe you could become your team’s go-to member on resources for teaching and reinforcing math concepts taught to your grade.

Do Not Ignore It!
Don’t make the mistake made by many overwhelmed people—ignoring the whole thing and hoping it will go away. Technology in schools is never going away. You need to reach a comfort level so you can concentrate on teaching.

You can learn this. I say this from real-life experience: my own. I left my job as a preschool special education teacher to become the project manager for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standard’s online professional development in 2001 and had never opened a laptop. But I learned how, and to use Outlook, edit digital video and write html code because I had to, and I spent the time I needed to learn it. I was 50 years old with two girls in college. I mean it—if I can learn it, you can learn it.

Find a Technology Mentor
Somewhere in your school are people who just adore using technology and who are both expert and helpful. These traits are not necessarily found in the same person. Find someone who will not make you feel stupid when you need to have things repeated, or something very “simple” explained.

Ask this person if she/he will help you, and then be sure to let your principal know that she/he has agreed, and how grateful you are. We all need to be known for our good deeds.

Live On a Need-to-Know Basis but Keep Your Eyes Open
Seriously. You don’t need to know everything, and certainly not right away. What do you need? What are the four most important things you need to get through the first quarter?
Do you really need to know how to make Smart Board activities? No—there are thousands to download. Do you really need to know how to manipulate Excel to analyze data? Probably not, as you don’t have a lot of data yet. Do you need to know how to take attendance online? Absolutely.

You get the idea.

But also keep yourself open to things that seem interesting to you, and things that you might want to start learning. You may find the idea of creating class wikis intriguing. You may want to start a class blog. You may want to start digital portfolios for your students. Put implementing these great ideas on hold until things are running smoothly, and just do some research so that you can start trying new things when you can fully focus on them.

Find Good Ways to Save Things
There is nothing more frustrating than remembering a site or an article you’d like to try, and not being able to find it later. At the beginning of the school year, begin a collection of “things to try” in a safe digital place so that you can go back when you have time.
Join Pinterest and begin looking for cool things. Follow people who have found good ideas. Save your own choices there and they will also be there for you later. Make a folder on your desktop and save shortcuts from the great websites you visit.

Do Not be Afraid
Don’t be afraid to click and don’t be afraid to open. I tell the teachers I support, “Unless you drop it or pour water on it, you really can’t break it. “ That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t respect it, but tech support people can usually either fix anything or return it to its original state.

Try things. Open up that program that you have never used and see what it does. Play around with your computer settings: change your desktop picture, make the icons bigger, or use different fonts. It won’t hurt the machine and you will begin to feel empowered.

Use the Help feature. I try to model this for teachers, because there is never anything wrong with asking for help. If you want your email to work better, go into Help and see what you can do. Play with the View menu. Use the right-click on the mouse to see what other things can be changed. My favorite saying? “Right-click is your friend.”

You can do this.  You can. Remember, you are a teacher partly because you want to serve as a role model for kids as a lifelong learner. Show them that you are always learning, too. You’ll be amazed at yourself when you look back at the end of the first, the second and the third years. You’ll have learned so much. And perhaps you can become the technology mentor for that scared new teacher down the hall who will look up to you in wonder.

Jones, a member of the Fairfax Education Association, is National Board Certified in Exceptional Needs. She’s a school-based technology specialist and spent two years as the Teacher in Residence at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, where she learned to open laptops and shoot, edit and produce video supporting accomplished teaching. She has published two books, and is working on two more. She claims to be “really old.”


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