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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Technology Integration Begins at Home

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

A lot of times, I find myself working just as hard, or harder, to inspire folks as I do to inform them. While I am consistently helping all the teachers I work with to increase their purposeful use of technology in the classroom, I find that too often I am encouraging veteran teachers to come over the threshold and begin using it.

A significant challenge -- which seems sort of counterintuitive -- is the fact that these are folks who already know how to teach their curriculum. And to compound the issue, students, parents, and administrators have told them for years that they are pretty good at delivering it. And then I show up to encourage them to teach in significantly new and different ways.

Building on Expertise

Refusing to lose the great assets veteran teachers can bring to the effective use of technology, I would never suggest that they simply toss away those years of experience and start fresh. Rather, I advocate for blending current technology with their years of classroom experience, strong control of content, and thousands of interactions with kids and parents. Combined, technology and experience create an improved ability to support even more kids in becoming even more successful. (Watch this Edutopia video in which a veteran teacher takes on technology.) So here's the question: Where is the best place to begin convincing teachers who don't use technology about the power of these tools?

At home -- that's my answer. You see, I think many educators are more apt to carry technology use over from their personal lives into their professional ones than to take it on as a new part of their job. A teacher who uses a digital camera to share images of a home remodel as email attachments with her grown children has begun to understand the power of digital communication in a personal way. A teacher who uses online resources to plan a trip has begun to understand the power of the Web in answering any question one is curious enough about to ask. Once they experience the power and ease of current digital photography or Web-based research in their personal lives, the stage is set for helping them bring technology into their classroom teaching.

Making Technology a Reality

In my experience, there is one best practice for supporting teachers in integrating technology into their personal lives. A colleague in Alaska put it in action there, and I was reminded of it recently. Here's how it goes:

In the spring, all staff that have signed continuing contracts for the next school year receive this announcement: "Staff Summer Technology Buy Plan! You may purchase any laptop or desktop computer, digital still or video camera, or other digital peripheral for up to $2,000. Bring the receipt to the business office and fill out the appropriate forms, and the school district will reimburse your cost up to $2,000. During the following school year, we will take the amount reimbursed out of your paycheck over the 26 biweekly pay periods in equal installments with no interest. For interested staff, we will hold after-school sessions to answer questions and to provide advice and training for any technology you are considering buying."

The results are striking in the few school districts where I have seen this happen. Teachers who were hesitant about buying new technology were willing to upgrade. Teachers who had never owned a computer saw this as a chance to jump in. And conversations in the faculty break room began to change:

"I found a great Web site with information about bed-and-breakfasts outside Edinburgh. They have pictures and everything, so we are having a blast plotting out our trip to Scotland this summer. There must be something like that for upstate New York, Sal. I'll show you the kind of stuff we're using if you'd like. I've bookmarked them on my laptop."

"Isn't there a way to make a digital camera stop giving people red eye? Has anyone figured it out on his or her camera? You have? Great! Now, show me how to do it before it drives me crazy!"

"You have to see the pictures I took at the picnic on Saturday. You have to see a couple of them at least. What email address do you want me to send them to?"

"Our daughter Alicia is getting married this summer. I want to do one of those slide shows with pictures from when she and Anton were little kids to today, but I'm having a hard time getting the music to keep on playing through the whole thing. Didn't you do one for your Christina last year? Could you take a look at what I'm doing wrong? I have it with me on my laptop."

And so discussions are created for using technology in classrooms:

"You know, the power to use attachments with email is incredible, but with our school's system, you can do it one better. How about making your handouts for that astronomy lesson you do available as documents that kids can download? Then, when a student needs another copy of something, or a parent wants to take another look at the rubric, they can just head to your Web site! It's really easy. In fact, if you're using attachments already, you'll get this right away. Let me show you how it's done. I'll use my laptop."

And on and on goes the learning. It starts at home, then is shared with colleagues, and -- with careful nurturing -- transitions into the classroom. So what do you think? Have you seen something like this happen in your school? How would you rate yourself as a tech-savvy educator? I look forward to hearing what you think!

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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Craig's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with Casie in as much as the access to technology might not be as much the problem as the actual feasibility of the technology. I work for a school that has several mimeo's, and while they might be wonderful and I have just not mastered them yet, I am adjusting from using a smartboard. While learning to use the smartboard at first was difficult, I eventually figured it out and was much more proficient with it. Did it make me a better educator? I'm not sure on that topic. Also, as far as the two technologies are concerned, I would compare going from a smartboard to a mimeo to brushing your teeth with a twig from a tree...just not so comfortable as the regular toothbrush. In fact, sometimes I don't particularly think that the technology is easier to use and makes us any better and that is what discourages teachers, especially older ones, to just do things the way that they have been doing them for quite some time.

Paul's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My school district received a grant this year for nine smart boards around the school. Twelve teachers are using these nine smart boards. I am lucky enough to be one of those teachers. I am still a younger teacher at the age of 26 with four years of experience, and I think that helps me use the technology in the classroom. I have grown up with an Internet and computer based lifestyle. I find videos and animations daily to share in the classroom. This keeps the students interested and involved in the classroom. I do think that it is harder to get the older generation of teachers to use this new technology. We have three teachers I would consider to be an older generation of teachers. One has done a wonderful job of using the technology because he used his own laptop daily in class before the smart boards were introduced. The other two teachers seem to be having problems using the smart board for more than a fancy whiteboard. They are starting to get the hang of what it can do, but it has been much slower. Neither of them has Internet at home and just like the article talks about I think that hurts their use of the smart boards. They do not have a way to relate the new technology with anything they have done in the past so it is difficult to grasp how to use it. If anyone has any suggestions on how I can help these teachers, or how I may be able to use the technology better it would be great to hear from you.

Lee Banks's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

That is a SmartBoard nightmare. I don't think they are meant to be used like that. Surely, your district is going to be shelling out more money in repairs than necessary. Schools have to make technology "accessible." I don't think your example fits the bill and I would be hesitant to use the SmartBoard. Mine is mounted in my classroom and I use it every day. I don't have time to play with it as much as I would like and explore it's capabilities, but I could not teach without it now.

Rebecca Brown's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I, too, had to take a technology course as a part of my undergraduate degree, and I have not used ANY of what I learned since I became a teacher. (At least not for classroom instruction). In that course, we learned how to design a web page, which came in handy when I arrived at my current school district. Each teacher has his/her own WebPage, and it was easier to design based on that information. However, I also learned how to design a Web Quest, which I have never used and no longer remember.

As I stated in my first comment, a lot of how technology is used in schools has to do with availability. If a teacher ends up in a school district with little technology, much of what is learned in those required technology courses is lost.

Marian's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a substitute teacher, so I do not have access to the new technologies that my district is using. One of the new technologies is the Promethean board. I have no idea how to use it and have never seen one being used. When ever I think about having to learn how to use one I get a little anxious. Having to learn something new, especially technology. I am not the kind of person who uses technology. I barely know how to use my digital camera and I do not know how to put pictures on my computer. But like most other things, if shown I will likely succeed. I love that my district is using projectors and elmos instead of the old overheads my teachers used to use. I used them prior to being a sub. so I know how to use them. They are so great. You do not have to use transparencies and everything you put under the elmo shows on the board in color and as is.

marian's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a substitute teacher so I have not been able to use many of the new technologies my district is using, such as the Promethean boards. I have never used one and do not know how one works. When thinking about technology I get a little anxious. I do not know how to use most, but I am willing to learn. It sounded like the incentive mentioned above worked out for that situation. It was great that teachers were willing to learn at their own pace and then when comfortable they could use it in their classrooms and with their students. I loved that they were willing to help each other figure everything out. I am not really into technology, but I am willing to learn and try it.

Trinecia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Over the weekend, our wing of the school recieved smartboards. I entered my hall with great excitement from some and also fear from some of my plder colleagues. The older members feared the new technology. They could not understand why this board is blocking their whiteboard and where were they suppose to do all their board work now. I tried to encourage and explain some of the great things our smartboards will have to offer our students.

I agree with the author, if our vetern teachers will embrace the technology at home it will not be such a terrifying experience in the classroom.

Allison Barker's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Technology integration has been a new avenue for my teaching career this year. In my previous position in Fairbanks, I was not fortunate enough to have these resources. I have had previous experience with Assistive Technology, such as a dynovox, touch screens, and GoTalks, mainly for communication. This year now in Colorado, I have a document camera, video camera, digital camera, accessible laptops for my students, projector, and smartboards available for use etc. I teach Significant Support Needs students at the elementary level and any time I can incorporate technology into my lessons, my students motivation and interest peaks! They absolutely LOVE showing off their work to their peers via the projector, or reading into iPods for fluency. This is the avenue for our students to succeed, and this is the future for them.
I enjoyed reading this article and as I read it, I immediately thought of my mother. She has been teaching for almost 20 years, and I can't tell you the many phone calls I get about making a slideshow for this presentation my class did, or how do I email you these pictures? My mother, wants to learn how to integrate technology into her classroom, but more importantly in her personal life. I agree with Mr. Moulton, that in order to use technology fluently in class, it is imperative to apply it to your daily life. Our students don't become excellent readers without practicing at home, so why would technology be any different? I am proud to say that my mother bought her first laptop this year!
Allison Barker
SSN Teacher
Douglas County School District, CO

Tonya Borns's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you. It seems sometimes Districts in their haste to get teachers the new technology, bypass the other important matters. I have a laptop and LCD; however, they are loose and I have to stop and plug them in whenever I want to use them. I use the same plug for the overhead so it's always a tangle of cords and equipment.

Tonya Borns's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree, it is difficult at times to keep up. I actually embrace the fact that my students know more than I do in some technological areas. Sometimes they are the best teachers for their peers. They are definitely more interested when some type of technology is being used in the classroom.

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