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Technology As an Instructional Tool
The use of technology continues to take a front row seat in schools and districts across the country. This issue, the second in a series of Just for the ASKing! issues focused on navigating the digital teaching and learning world, features descriptions of the work of educators who are seeing the impact of technology on student achievement… through those educators own voices.
A number of technology enthusiasts graciously agreed to provide insights into their work. These practitioners come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences and are intimately involved with the use of technology in schools on an everyday basis. To learn more about their work, we posed a question designed to get at the heart of their practice in the use of technology as an instructional tool. The question and snippets from their responses follow.
What technological tools and applications
have you used or seen used that have made the greatest impact
on student learning in rigorous and relevant ways?
Karen Finter, Science Supervisor and Certified Local Trainer (CLT) for Just ASK’s Instruction for All Students workshop series, West Irondequoit Central School District, Rochester, New York, feels that there are numerous resources that can impact student learning but says that it is dependent on how these tools are used. She recommends “something as simple as GoogleDocs as a way to provide the digital workspace to foster collaboration, communication, the strategic placement of teacher feedback, and the tracking of the application of that feedback by students.” She further advocates “communication outward to students and families” and has found a vast repository of resources including videos, classroom lectures, photos, and digital prints that support student learning outside the classroom. She cautions that teachers “have to be sure that the resources are high quality and are at the appropriate level.” A final recommendation that improves student achievement is the use of formative assessment tools such as clickers, Poll Everywhere, and Castle Learning as ways to formatively assess student progress.
RM Pellant, Principal of the International School of Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia, writes that “Without a doubt, web 2.0 apps and cloud storage have had the greatest impact on me as an educator, integrator, and administrator.” RM continues, “Our students live and breathe technology today. If the use of technology is supposed to be as ubiquitous as air, the proper workflow using GoogleApps is a paramount step in the right direction.” He further espouses the use of GoogleDocs to “keep students organized and allow them to access their materials no matter what computer they are on. They can use online spreadsheets to keep track of surveys and use the presentation tool to deliver the information they’ve collected.”
Laura Jones, Technology Specialist and Nationally Board Certified Teacher, McNair Elementary School, Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia, feels that the use of interactive response systems has resulted in a sea of change in the learning of the students in her very diverse school. To promote learning as well as improve achievement tests scores, Laura shares that her school “built questions that reflect the standards and benchmarks of the state,” and then linked these questions to an electronic data wall that was built by a teacher in the school. She notes, “…teachers can use both formative and summative assessments… while collecting valuable and accurate data that is stored and available for later analysis.” Even more exciting, Laura has found that the use of the response system has led to “deep discussions by the students.” She explains, “Because the system creates an immediate visual response, the students can see the spread of responses to the question and can discuss why certain answers were chosen, look at misconceptions, and analyze why the correct answer is correct.”
Stu Smith, Math Teacher, Barker Road Middle School, Pittsford Central School District, New York, takes the time to seek out and evaluate resources that can make a difference in student learning. He says, “In my opinion, the greatest impact on student learning continues to come via the Internet. Educators, parents, and students now have instant access to information through their computers, smart phones, tablets, iPods, and smart TVs.” Among the many options that exist on the Internet, Stu feels that tutorials provide real benefits. He notes, “If students are struggling with a concept, pretty much all they need to do is conduct a quick search and watch a tutorial. Khan Academy has exploded and, as a result, you are seeing many more tutorial sites. TeacherTube has a variety of tutorials, many created by teachers.” Stu adds that the use of tutorials has also led to flipped classrooms where students watch teacher-created lessons at home and do their homework at school under the teacher’s guidance and supervision. In addition to tutorials, Stu has seen the benefits of online gradebooks since students have instant access to their grades. As he explains, “A student could take an exam first period, and via their phone, see the results later that morning or afternoon. Talk about immediate feedback! This helps parents feel connected and informed as well.” And finally, Stu feels that there are many advantages to the use of Edmodo, a free social media site that has the look and feel of Facebook but is customized for classroom use. The site can help educators make their classroom a community by providing teachers and students a secure place to connect and collaborate with one another. There are numerous educational applications including access to homework and grades as well as notifications and class discussions.
Nathaniel Moses, Technology Specialist, Nash-Rocky Mount School District, North Carolina, espouses the use of tablets to support student learning. “Tablets will explode throughout our schools and classrooms. Their flexibility, versatility, and mobility make them a phenomenal learning tool.” He further states, “In order to help educators integrate the use of tablets effectively, we have compiled a list of apps focused on learning goals and targets consistent with the Common Core framework. This list is driven by specific learning goals that promote critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and the creation of student centric learning environments.” Nathaniel wisely concludes, “It has never really been about the technological tool but rather effectively choosing the right classroom technology to meet the new learning standards.”
Connie Tan, Professional Development Specialist, Educare, Singapore Teachers’ Union and Certified Local Trainer (CLT) for Active Learning and Instruction for All Students, observes that shared media tools are popular with teachers because they serve as platforms for students to apply what they have learned. She explains, “When students are given the opportunity to create media related to the lesson, it encourages them to consolidate their learning and allows teachers to determine if the learning outcomes have been achieved.” She also has found that when students share their work with their peers, they become more accountable for their work and also benefit from the feedback they give and receive from one another.
Bobby Spencer, Social Studies Teacher, Henry County Public Schools, Virginia, is pleased that his district has placed an emphasis on putting technology in all their schools. He has been a school-wide leader in his quest to discover and utilize technology in truly meaningful ways. He currently uses tablets and laptops extensively in his classes. Bobby writes, “With the iPads and laptops, most of our graded assignments and quizzes are done on Quia I created an account for each student. In addition, each student’s webpage has graded assignments, practice activities such as online flashcards and review games, and study guides. I have posted virtual museum tours such as a tour of an early 20th century tenement building in New York City and a tour of the Spanish-American War museum.” Bobby also notes that students have an assigned amount of time to complete their work and that students can do their assignments in any order. He notes, “Creating all of the online content was laborious but, now that it is done, I don’t have to grade many papers and we also don’t have to rely on the textbook as much. In fact, I don’t even issue textbooks although we do use them in class from time to time.” Other technology applications Bobby uses to support his students’ learning include BrainPOP and Wikipanion (the iPad version of Wikipedia), and various podcasts from iTunes such as Backstory and the American History Guys. He concludes saying, “I am always scouring the Internet to find something useful and age appropriate.”
Although the responses to the technology focus question are varied, each proponent makes a convincing argument for the use of technology as an instructional tool. These responses should cause you to be excited and optimistic about the possibilities that exist for our students. Some of the ideas expressed may be new while many are familiar. Wherever you are on the technological continuum in your own use or promotion of the use of technology with students, it behooves you to find some idea, some tool, or some application to explore in more detail. Technology will only continue to move forward. Observing and interacting with those who are actively advancing the use of instructional technology may well cause you to discover that this is not all that complicated and enable you to expand your repertoire of ways to enhance the learning environment.
Technology Resources Recommended in This Issue
Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use only. Please include the following citation on all copies:
Oliver, Bruce. “Technology As an Instructional tool.” Just for the ASKing! January 2013. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development (Just ASK). © 2013 Just ASK. All rights reserved. Available at www.justaskpublications.com.
Free Top Ten Tips to Ask Myself as I Design Lessons
“These questions can be used to promote thinking about teaching and learning during the planning process, while teaching, and again when reflecting on the impact of the lesson either alone or with a mentor or supervisor.”