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).
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.
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.
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.
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.).
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.
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.