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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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Leigh's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach 5th grade in Southern California, just outside of Los Angeles. I have vivid memories of computers gradually being introduced into the classrooms for student use, and laptops slowly appearing on the desks of teachers. The "younger" teachers quickly embraced the new technology and raced to create projects that would best put the computers to use. "Older" teachers resisted and despite numerous in-services and informal meetings, never quite seemed to get the hang of it. The reason? It did all start at home. The younger teachers had been raised with email and computers, and recently graduated from colleges equipped with giant computer labs. They had a certain comfort level with the computer that the veteran teachers just didn't possess.

It has taken time (a lot of time in some cases!), for all the teachers at my school to embrace the internet, learn how to add an attachment to an email, create simple slideshows using iphoto on the macs, or set up a spreadsheet to record grades. What has truly made a difference is the time, energy, and patience of teachers helping each other. It also took the support of our district to provide in-service training each year, for the past several years.

I rate myself as fairly tech-savvy, but I would love more ideas about how to use new technologies in my classroom. I should probably ask my students what they would like to do because I am sure they are more expert than me!

Lynette's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Technology does start at home, then implementing it in the classroom. Then you will feel comfortable to move onto other areas in technology. I am in the middle when it comes to technology. I know some, but I need to learn more. I use a Smart Board in my class and as soon as that is turned on I have their attention. I do ask my students for help in the computer lab and in the classroom. They seem to know more than I do. I do find that it takes more time for me to plan a web base game to use in my classroom. I am trying to figure out how to save time in that area. We are living in a high tech world and it is a challange to keep up.

Sarah 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think part of the reason why experienced teachers are intimidated by using the Web in the classroom is that much of the Internet is not curated, and shows up at random amidst countless ads and inappropriate Web sites (think about the clutter that comes with a Google search). My company's newly-launched search engine www.sweetsearch.com only searches from sites that have been vetted for quality and legitimacy by the team of expert Internet researchers at findingDulcinea.com. I see human-powered search as an essential part of the classroom - students are presented with only the best sources when researching a topic, but still must learn to be discerning (perhaps even more so) in order to select which sources to consult or cite in a paper. For experienced educators, the addition of a human element could make the Web much more welcoming.

Susan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am one of the older generation teachers who did not grow up with technology in the home. It has been a bit of a struggle for me to make the appropriate changes needed to accept technology in general and in my classroom. When I was first certified I was not required to take a technology class and I avoided where ever possible. That was 25 years ago when cell phones where huge contraptions that no one wanted. What a change since then! Technology has creeped into our homes and schools via phones, television and time saving devices. I clearly see what is happening and I sincerely regret not taking that technology class back in the early eightys. Just think how far along I would be now. I am changing and am currently seeking an advanced degree in technology integration in my classroom. Now I am the person in our building encouraging others to use their computers and available technology.
There is hope for the older generation teacher.

Rebecca Brown's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am one of those "young teachers" who likes to use technology; however, I think some of the technology issues with veteran teachers in my school district is that it is not available. First of all, I am usually the first person my mentor teacher comes to when she is not sure how to do something on the computer. (I taught her how to send an attachment). I often share letters or documents that I've created on the computer with her.

Secondly, our district does not have a lot of technology. We have three computer labs in our elementary school, a portable lab of laptops, tvs with DVD/VHS players, and overhead projectors. Each teacher has a desktop computer and most of us have two desktop computers for students in our classrooms. While this may not sound like "not a lot," I think of schools that have Smart Boards and the connections to connect the computer and TV so that the classroom can view a clip from websites such as United Streaming. I used a United Streaming video clip in a lesson last year, and I had to rely on the technology coordinator in our building to bring the projector and laptop to my room. Then, when I was finished, I had to have her come back to get it....inconvenient! At the school I taught at previously, they had a mere cable that connected my teacher laptop to the TV. With this connection, I could show DVDs, video clips, and PowerPoint presentations from my laptop.

I think that veteran teachers can become more comfortable with technology, but unfortunately, so many school districts simply cannot afford it!

Andrew's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What a great way to get teachers and educators involved with technology. Thre reimbursment plan sounds like it would be succesful just about anywhere. I agree that to get techers into technology, they need to feel confident in what they are doing. Having teachers get involved with technology in their personal lives is the best way for them to learn about it and carry it over into their classrooms. I find myself buying and playing with new gadgets all the time that I could possibly use in my class.

Charley Gryn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My students had been using the old Apple HD iMovie program rather than the new iMovie program in my English 10 and Video Productions classes. I reationalized that the older program was easier to manage and edit. Honestly, I did not want to bother to learn the newer version. Yet, last year, when many of my students used the updated version because they liked it more, I knew I had to change. So, last summer I decided to take a camcorder home with me along with my laptop in order to learn to use iMovie effectively.

The topic I chose was my home masquerading as a hotel at a resort-Chateau Gryn. The reason I chose this topic was that I would make and send DVDs to my five brothers who are reluctant to travel 300 miles to visit my wife and me.They are city dwellers while my wife and I live in the country. I shot various parts of my house with my wife as the tour guide. The bathtub became the indoor jacuzzi; the computer room with a few shelves of books became the library (with free Wifi!); the back yard was a golf practice range; the lake behind our house was part a varitey of ourdoor activities of swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving. I even got footage of the Goodyear blimp flying overhead and stated that blimp rides were available for "an additional fee".

I then edited the footage and inserted some photos I had gathered. We don't have scuba diving, but I got some footage of scuba divers at a sunken wreck, in order to spice-up the project. I narrated the finished cut, inserted some music and titles and, most importantly, learned the ins and outs of iMovie during my summer vacation.

I burned DVDs, sent copies to my brothers, and at the start of the school year gave a copy to my Curriculum Coordinator, who shared it with all the administrators. I received some tech credits (contractually, we have to earn 12 tech credits per year) and many of them wanted to book a weekend at Chateau Gryn.(haha)

Oh, yes, my brothers, while they enjoyed the video, still have not made a trip to the country to visit us.

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