Insights: Using Tech in the Classroom
Response: The Best Ways To Use Tech In The Classroom
Carla Arena asked:
How do teachers make informed decisions in relation to a balanced use of technology in the classroom? Where can new teachers become better informed about best practices for technology use in the classroom without becoming overwhelmed and discouraged by the overload of information?
It’s a great question, Carla, and particularly timely in light of last Sunday’s major New York Times article on this topic. In order for me to use any kind of technology in my classroom — beyond a document camera or showing a YouTube clip on my computer projector, I need to be able to answer yes to most of the following questions:
1) Does it take me less than one minute to learn the basics on how to use it?
2) Will it take less than one minute — with guidance — for my students to learn to also learn the basics on how to use it?
3) Does it provide a value-added benefit to student learning over a similar activity using basic classroom tools? (Note: I’m not thrilled with using the term “value-added” because its main use has been in the context of a questionable teacher evaluation system, but I can’t think of a more accurate word to use here) You’ll find that this particular piece of advice is also emphasized by the guests I’ve invited to respond later in this post.
For example, research and most teacher’s experience indicates that it’s important for students to see and experience that they are progressing — that they’re learning and getting better. One simple way I use technology in my class to make that progress visible to both my mainstream and English Language Learner students is by having them record a short reading of their choosing periodically during the year so that they can see their improvement in prosody and fluency. I prefer to use the Fotobabblesite, but there are plenty of other options.
In addition, studies have found that having students write for an “authentic” audience beyond just the teacher helps them feel motivated to do a better job, andplenty of online opportunities, including communicating with “sister classes” from around the world, can provide those venues, as well as offering exposure to different cultures.
I will admit, though, that sometimes even if using tech offers no clear advantage to “old-fashioned” means, there can be value to using it just to provide students with a change of pace.
4) Is it a tool that I believe can be used regularly in class? I’m not interested in spending time learning about, or having my students spend time learning about, a tech tool that will be a “one-shot wonder.” Of course, I might start out believing it can be used regularly but, as I tell students when they start reading a book — if you find you don’t like it, go back and find another one.
5) And, lastly, though being able to answer yes to the previous four questions usually outweighs a negative response to this one — Can it make my life a little easier? This can particularly relate to tools that may not be ones that I ask students to use. For example, there are multiple sites that let me develop “playlists” for videos and songsthat I might incorporate in lessons. That ability definitely makes it easier to “curate” and use them.
The Internet provides an extraordinary opportunity for educators to learn from the mistakes and successes of their colleagues from around the world in using technology in the classroom. Tens of thousands, if not more, of teachers and administrators regularly ask and answer questions and share their best practices with each other, not to mention working together online with “sister” classes.
I’d like to recommend three resources that people might find particularly helpful as they explore using tech in their classrooms: