Despite the fact that more and more schools are investing in mobile devices and 1:1 programs, many schools are limited by cash-strapped districts and cannot afford such luxuries. As a result, many teachers are forced to share a computer lab or a laptop cart with the whole school. This can create scheduling fiascos, and it limits teachers' ability to truly integrate technology into their classrooms. For those who have access to a classroom computer or a few student desktops, I wrote a post a while back on how teachers can maximize the computer(s) in their classrooms. This time, however, I'll describe ways that teachers can get the most out of shared resources at their school.
The handling of shared resources varies from school to school. Some have these resources located in the school library. Some have a pre-determined schedule. Others have a system for signing out these resources. The system in place at your school will definitely affect the way you integrate their use into your teaching -- especially if access isn't always predictable.
Here are some tips and ideas to help maximize the time you have access to shared resources in your school, no matter how they are handled.
1) Introductory Session
If you're using a new tool or website, model it in the classroom before your scheduled time. This will eliminate time spent explaining the tool and give your students more time to use it.
2) Do It Yourself First
If your students will be creating an artifact, create one of your own and time yourself from start to finish. This will allow you to know approximately how long it will take your students to complete the assignment. If your schedule is unpredictable, try not to assign anything that will take longer than the time you have.
3) Collecting Student Work
Have a plan ahead of time for how students will hand in their work. If you use Edmodo or Schoology, have your students use the dropbox feature. If you have a Dropbox account, create a DropItToMe page and have students hand in their work to your dropbox. If your school has a public folder or your students have access to a class folder, model in the classroom how to hand in their work using this method before your scheduled time and/or create a screencast that shows them how they can view it during the scheduled time. If you don't plan for this, it will be a nightmare trying to organize student work, and you might not even be able to collect it in a timely fashion.
4) Communicate with Your Colleagues
Even if you have a pre-determined schedule, talk with your colleagues when you have an assignment coming up that will require using the shared resources. Otherwise, you'll never know if another teacher is willing to trade days or compromise to help you and your students. If you don't have a pre-determined schedule, talking with colleagues will ensure that they understand your need and that you understand theirs. It is also important to communicate with the media specialist, librarian or computer lab teacher in your building if you are using resources located in the school library or intend to use the computer lab.
5) Manage Time Wisely
To make sure that your students are able to complete the task at hand, divide the project or activity into chunks, and remind the class before beginning each chunk how much time they'll have to complete it. Yes, this goes against common sense since we all know that students work at different paces, but if you have access to resources for only 45 minutes once a week, that time needs to be used wisely. I use a kitchen timer in my lab because I've learned that my students will stop for a beeping timer more easily than the sound of my voice. Be prepared to provide opportunities for students to complete unfinished work outside of your scheduled time. This could be after school, before school or at home.
6) Communicate with Administration
The people who run your school should know about what you're doing with your students and why you need access to the shared resources. This will help when there are scheduling hiccups or if you need to rearrange your teaching schedule to fit in some time using the laptop cart or library computers.
Sharing resources across grade levels, hallways or an entire school can be a frustrating hassle, but with the right planning and preparation, teachers can still maximize these resources to give students access to digital tools for learning.
Photo credit: mia3mom via flickr