All aboard the ed-tech “train”

Technology and education.  Where to even begin?

The teaching profession, like education, has continued to evolve but how much should their futures be intertwined?

  • Should technology be further incorporated into the classroom?
  • Is it doing more harm than good?
  • Are staff well equipped to handle current technological innovations?
  • When will the current generation of ed tech be obsolete?
  • Is it obsolete already?
  • What should we do about cell phones?
  • How do we make sure that schools are on a level playing field when it comes to technology?
  • How is it going to be funded?
  • What policies need to be developed to ensure responsible usage?
  • What about the dangers of screen time?

Even with a large number of questions surrounding tech in the classroom, it’s safe to assume that ed tech is here to stay.  Teachers are going to be expected to incorporate technology into their lessons in order to provide students with the apparent “21st-century skills” that they will need in the future.  This, however, will be difficult to achieve if teachers aren’t properly trained with the very technology that they’re expected to use in class – and that right there represents one of the greatest (and often overlooked) challenges of incorporating tech in the classroom.  Teachers aren’t properly trained or even consulted when it comes to ed-tech and it turns out, this is not a recent phenomenon. The 1986 article “Teachers and Machines” laments that

School boards and superintendents initiated efforts for using the new technology; only later were teachers involved in discussions of how to install it into the classroom.  Reformers had an itch and they got teachers to scratch it for them. This pattern of bringing teachers in at the tail end of the hoopla surrounding an innovation targeted upon altering classroom practice was common in school organizations” (p. 36).

Sounds familiar.

Presently, dwindling PD days (which are often clumped together right at the start of the school year when most teachers would rather spend their time prepping their classes for the year) and budget cuts mean that there has not been the time or resources dedicated to effectively train teachers with the tech that they’re expected to use.

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“Using tech to enhance student learning is a great idea.  You should train yourself and do it!”

The “dramatis personae” in this situation are teachers, administrators (at both the school and board office level), students, parents.

The props? Devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers.  Programs used almost daily such as PowerSchool/Parent Portal, Gradebook, Google Suite, and My BluePrint.  There is also an assortment of assistive technologies such as Google Read/Write and assessment technologies (Kahoot, Socrative) that many teachers don’t even know exist.

The scenes? The classroom, the homes of both teachers and students, and division offices.

The conflict? Finding the time to properly train teachers (and parents/students) with the technology that they’re expected to use on a regular basis while also exposing teachers to new, potentially beneficial technologies.  This, of course, has to be accomplished in a climate of dwindling PD time and teacher prep time that is constantly under threat (used for meetings, data entry, and other tasks as opposed to PREP and marking). Furthermore, teachers have already spent ample time dealing with various initiatives over the years and might be suffering from increased cynicism as a result of “repetitive change syndrome”.  In addition, many parents aren’t familiar with the tech that is being used in the classroom.

What Adam Williams and I are suggesting is a module based program that encourages teachers to take ownership of the technology situation in the school (note: we will be working on our final project together but at the moment, our roadmaps are slightly different).  For now, my preliminary plan is outlined below:

The first module must occur at the start of the school year during one of the five professional development days prior to the arrival of students and will be led by an “expert” on the technology (either from the board office or, more likely by an internal “tech team”).  The focus here needs to be solely on the mandatory programs such as Parent Portal/Power Teacher, Gradebook, and My BluePrint. Time then needs to be alotted either at the school’s open house, or the first parent-teacher conference for staff to go through these essential programs with parents/students in order to ensure that they’re able to access them and provide them with a brief tutorial regarding their use.

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Parent Portal is an integral part of the school system.  Unfortunately, many parents are either unaware of its existence or are unable to log-on.

From there, the modules can focus on Google Suite, Read/Write, and other potentially valuable programs/technologies.  Each of these modules would once again be led by an expert or the internal “tech-team” that trains the staff during a PD session (ideally during a PD day in October/November).  The expectation will then be that the amount of staff comfortable with that technology has increased to the point where certain staff members can be relied upon to go into other classrooms and run a student-centred module.

readwrite
Read&Write is a program that helps students with, you guessed it, reading and writing.  The program has several helpful features, many of which are untapped by teachers (and by extension, students).

The final module (for the school year) would take place in the form of a “community of practice”.  During one of the professional development days in the spring, staff members that are comfortable with a particular technology or program will lead a session for others that are interested in learning more about that particular program.  This module is particularly appealing because it will provide staff members with the opportunity to learn about programs that could be of specific value to the classes they teach (for example if there is a program that caters specifically to math teachers or English Language arts, etc.).

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I learned about this language app from a community of practice and have recently incorporated it into my teaching.

Finally, all of this must be done in conjunction with tech workshops.  The expectation here would be that the school provides a tech workshop for parents following each of the modules.  These workshops would take place outside of regular school hours with additional workshops being added if the demand is there (this will likely prove to be a hard sell to teachers whose lives are already extremely busy).  The school’s website also needs to be regularly updated with helpful links to tutorials and videos regarding the various technologies that are used in the school.

Screenshot 2019-02-02 at 12.03.52 PM
Updating the school’s website to include links and tutorials to the technology that is being used in the school seems like a no-brainer.

This plan is by no means perfect and there are countless other technology related issues (see: introductory paragraph).  That said, with limited resources (both financial and in terms of time) this plan at least provides teachers AND parents with the opportunity to learn about the essential day-to-day programs (Parent Portal, Gradebook, My BluePrint) while also being exposed to other potentially beneficial programs.

Tech is here to say.  As a result, it is paramount that the affected parties be well-versed in its use.

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Author: scottgardiner12

Husband/dad, teacher, sports-geek, traveller, and cantankerous grad student. Oh, and an avid fan of both puns and sarcasm.

9 thoughts on “All aboard the ed-tech “train””

  1. I have to say you nailed it when you stated that there is few PD dollars to train teachers properly in the use of technology. With all the new programs and Apps available, it is difficult to find the correct one and then commit to the technology. I find that our division does have the personal to assist, but it is often in serviced before or after school. I often feel that it is introduced, and then “you figure it out”. Support does not end, but if a teacher does not feel comfortable with the technology, it is not a benefit.
    I also use the Google Read Write. It assists a student that I have who is functionally illiterate. This student is truly amazing and what is done with this program is remarkable. Without this technology, the student would require a scribe for everything. This adds to the student’s independence and ownership for learning.

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  2. I agree, lack of PD time and money is a huge concern. We recently got some new software to utilize in our graphic design classrooms. Luckily, we were allowed half a day of collaboration time to do some online modules, but that’s not a lot of time to train on the software, let alone finding meaningful ways to use it to meet outcomes in our courses. I appreciate you mentioning that much of this PD time comes at inopportune times like at the beginning of the year when teachers are more concerned with prepping their courses than the are with integrating the newest ed tech apps.

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  3. Great post Scott. I agree that the lack of PD time associated with technology often leads to it be under-utilized and on the bottom of the SAMR model. Your major project idea sounds great, and the modules could lead to teachers continuing to learn and grow each year, while still giving new teachers a place to start from. I look forward to hearing more about it.

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  4. Scott, very well thought out post. I have to agree with everyone who has commented. There is a lack of funding (both in time and money) for proper PD training and utilization of new tech that educators are expected to be using. I agree that it is often someone who understands the technology who introduces it to the staff and then it is a sink or swim situation, unfortunately, with limited time in the day, a lot of useful technology is not used to its full extent because the staff is simply over-extended. I am a huge believer of technology use in schools and always on board to try out new things, however, I learn these on my own time and probably know more about some of the ones I use than the experts at our division level.

    I too am looking forward to following along with your module progression, I think you are onto something that will become extremely useful in your division!

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  5. Hi Scott!
    Thanks for sharing your insightful post!
    I agree with you completely when you said that there is very little PD to support teachers on how to use technology effectively.
    And with all the new tech that is out there, there are few teachers who have the time, and some have the fear to try new technology for the reason that they do not fully understand what would be useful and meaningful for our students.
    It would be super helpful to have technology coaches similar to what some school divisions have…but unfortunately, as we know…the budget cuts are affecting this.
    I use Google read and write and Duolingo with my students to support the languages learning area which I agree fully supports our students varied learning needs.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
    Krista

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  6. Hi Scott,

    Thanks for the great read! I’m finding the same problem occurring in my own division regarding a lack of PD available for teachers to wanting to integrate more technology into their classrooms. I really like your module based approach that slowly builds throughout the year as it gives teachers the necessary time to ensure these tools are being utilized effectively. As you and Mike both mentioned, sometimes when PD is available, it’s typically offered during a time when teachers are already overloaded and don’t have sufficient time to make meaningful changes within their classrooms.

    I believe we were on the same wavelength when it came to our Major Project as Trevor Kerr and I also decided to build a PD resource to help teachers integrate technology into their teaching. We are currently building a self-guided PD resource for teachers who are new to the Connected Educator Project in our division. It is similar to your module based approach as each section of the resource is designed to build off the previous section. I look forward to hearing more about your progress as you and Adam continue to build this resource.

    Great Job identifying an obvious need in your division and coming up with what will be an awesome solution!

    -Matt

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  7. This is great, Scott! You have identified a great list of the most pressing questions that educators must answer, in the face of the technology juggernaut. And you have correctly identified, that where the rubber hits the road, at the school level, the key conflicts are around time and resources. It’s perfect, then that you are undertaking a project aimed at releasing some of the destructive pressures teachers face in this conflict zone. Godspeed!

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