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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

"My screen is blue."

"My computer froze and I lost all my work."

"It didn't save."

"It's blocked."

One of the biggest distracters of technology integration is what I like to call the "technology fails." They are frequent, inevitable, and frustrating. This reason alone is why many teachers avoid integrating technology in to his or her class.

Technology fails are inevitable, but can be prevented by putting in place procedures that will allow your classroom to progress smoothly. I recently spoke with several Instructional Technology Specialists and asked them how they handle these daily problems. Their overall perception is that technology will occasionally go awry, it is inevitable, but regardless of the technology, lessons have always had their fallouts. This is how we learn and get better.

Rich Kiker, Instructional Technology Specialist from Bucks County, PA notes that, "attitude changes everything" when integrating technology into one's classroom. Kiker adds that teachers must persevere and not just give up because technology went wrong during one lesson.

The more we fail with technology, the more we will learn from it. This can only be accomplished by trying, even if that attempt requires training wheels. Teachers must take that first step and use technology, knowing fully that it will most likely go wrong.

As with any life lesson, it is a rare occasion when we get something right on the first try. Steve Anderson, an Instructional Technology Director in North Carolina, states that, "The key is to expect the failure, and have a back up plan. Now, that isn't to say to live and teach and present in fear but to think, what am I going to do if "x" happens?" Plan B must always be available whether you are using technology or not. The ability to adjust and adapt is one of the qualities of being a solid teacher.

Teaching is a profession where you have to constantly adapt and adjust on your feet. It is a profession in constant motion between the hours of eight and three. If you are trying technology for the first time, and your school is lucky enough to have an Instructional Technology Specialist in the building then take a moment to sit down with him or her and go over what you want to accomplish with this lesson. Don't simply ask them to create it for you, but have them give you some guidance on some ideas for this particular lesson. Present them with clear objectives and how using technology can enhance the learning process and produce quality outcomes.

We must realize that not trying technology is doing our students a major disservice. Again, using technology will be frustrating at first, but give yourself some time to get used to it and set up some time with your Instructional Technology Specialist. Technology is not something you have to use everyday, but sprinkle it in when you feel it is applicable and will enhance your teaching and students' learning.

Understand that the first day you attempt to use Google Docs in your composition class, you will most likely encounter one of the quotes from above. It happened to me on occasion, but it did not deter me from using technology and learning from my mistakes. In the end, technology integration made my job easier and allowed the kids time to learn in a dynamic environment and with tools that will be essential to the 21st Century Job Market.

I can also guarantee that your school will block and filter many sites. If your school blocks a site that you use don't just huff and take it. Write a short, effective proposal to your Administration and Technology Director as to why the site should be unblocked. Give them the lesson plan, standards, and outcomes. Show them that technology and this site is essential to student learning. When you put the framework around the students' learning, there are few Administrators that will turn you down.

I challenge you to try something new. Choose three tools (maybe more, maybe less) that you will commit yourself to learning this year. When you feel comfortable, integrate these tools into your lessons. Stay focused on these tools and don't try and use something just because someone told you it works in their class. Stay focused and maintain a comfortable pace. I promise you, your students will thank you for it.

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Ksword's picture

I, too, have a fear of my students working at the computers and a failure occuring. Unfortunately, I have seen computer instructors completely loose it with students, blaming them for failures...anything from pushing a wrong button to not listening to directions. Now, I am responsible for instructing my students at the lab. As so many stated before me, it is a trial and error process. We can model the problem solving skills for our students, encouraging them to never give up. I have to be pro-active and try to predict problems and solutions.

Heather Richards's picture

The thing I found most interesting in Andrew's words is that you need to have a plan B. If your technology breaks down, what is your back-up plan. In my school, the goal of the administration and the school board is to have a smart board in every classroom. That is great, except some teachers didn't want them and we do not have any professional development for teachers to learn how to use it. Essentially, they are either not using the smart boards or are just using them as glorified white boards and not in an interactive way where students are using this technology. I think we as teachers all need to remember that technology should enhance a lesson. I fear teachers are feeling pressured to use technology just to say they are using it, when in fact, the lesson they are teaching could be taught just as well without technology.

Heather Richards's picture

I fear that schools are putting technology into teachers hands without giving them the professional development and support needed to use it. In my school district, it is a goal of the administration and the school board that all classrooms will have a smart board. Sadly, some teachers never wanted one and are either not using it or it is only being used as a glorified whiteboard. Students are not using them in an interactive way! Technology should enhance the lesson you are teaching. If you can teach your lesson just as well without using technology, then you are probably not using technology to its fullest. I really liked Andrew's challenge to try 3 things. I think teachers are all at different levels of technology knowledge and comfort level using it. If teachers are allowed and encouraged to take "baby steps" to add just 3 things to their learning, that would raise the comfort level of reluctant teachers and encourage them to try even more!

Diane Sayre's picture

As a language arts teacher specializing in teaching reading & study strategies to college-prep students, I would be ridiculous to ignore the evolving gifts that technology brings to the reading / learning process. However, it certainly has been tough for me to risk "not knowing it all" and end up looking silly in front of my students! At first I hesitated because the students know so much more and use tech so much more effectively than I do. While they're flying between screens & programs, I would be content to stick with notebooks & highlighters! "My" way is not what my students need as 21st century literacy learners. Time for me to get on the tech train.

The golden ticket to personal progress has been inviting my students to teach ME along with one another. We now do much of our work in workshop-style, sharing tech success along with frustrations. I am relieved that the students still value my expertise as a coach of strategies for reading, study, and testing. And because I honestly value & promote their tech expertise, we're learning so much more together. Learning is a journey, not a destination. And it's made richer through technology partnership with my students. Can't wait to see what they share with me tomorrow!

Sherri Snow's picture

Thank you for your insight. Our school is becoming very technology based and it is getting increasingly difficult to keep up with all that we are given to use in our classrooms. It can be so frustrating when you deal with technology but don't have the proper training to go with it. I agree with your comments about the more you use it the easier it gets. That is what I have been trying to do over and over again!

Denise Timberman's picture

Heather, I can relate to not providing the professional development needed to use the technology that some of us are fortunate to have. When we are given professional development it is usually for an hour or two. I compare it to trying to cram a 40 hour week into 2 hours. It does not work!! I just keep plugging along and trying new things when I have a chance. As the saying goes, Rome wasn't built in a day and neither is technology incorporation in our classrooms.

Kim Conner's picture
Kim Conner
School Management Consultant for RenWeb School Management Software

So glad to see teachers eager to take on the challenge of learning new technology. In my years of helping schools incorporate software for grade books, report cards, parent portal, etc. I have seen such reluctance on the part of teachers to learn something new. Once they dig in and learn to put their grades, attendance, homework, etc. in electronically rather than in their old hard copy gradebooks, they see the endless benefits. The school runs more efficiently and the parents love the instant communication.

shona hendrickson's picture

I love to incoporate the use of technology in my classroom. Sometimes technology fails me but I never give up. I agree its how you look at the situation and we must keep in mind that there will be a few hiccups here and there.

I try to incorporate as much technology in my classroom. The students today are leaning more to technology so as a teacher I have to keep up with them. What I do when planning lessons that invovles the use of technology is to have a back up plan incase technology fails. Being able to switch over to something else has helped me a lot.

Heather V.'s picture

At the school I teach at for the third grade math curriculum, there is a website that accompanies the book called "Think Central". On this website there are interactive videos that teach particular lessons. Since it is interactive the students love it. However, as you stated, the technology always seem to "fail". Sometimes I cannot even get to where the videos are, because the server is too busy. This is a frustration when several people are trying to get on the same page at the same time and it causes the site to sort of have a "melt down" so to speak. I try to do math first thing in the morning to try to avoid this system overload. My plan B to this is that instead of showing the interactive video, I do an interactive lesson of my own.

Heather V.'s picture

We have a website that goes along with the math series for the third grade curriculum. The website is nice because it has interactive video lessons for the students. It actually teaches the whole lesson. The students love it because they get to come up to the Smart-board to answer the questions in the video. They love the Smart-board. However, as Andrew originally stated, "technology fails." Sometimes because the server is too busy, I cannot even get to the videos to show to my class. This is very frustrating. My plan B to this situation is to have an interactive lesson of my own!

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