Teacher Development

Train Yourself: A Guide to Online Tech Tutorials

Be your own tech support: Get technology training from your computer.
May 22, 2008

You know your students benefit from technology, and in a perfect world, your school would have tech support that not only fixed your computers but also trained you on the latest software applications. If, however, you lack the support staff to show you the ropes, you can find a number of resources online. Educator-focused sites offer up searchable lesson plans, tutorials, and relevant Web links and videos. Read on for recommendations from tech-savvy educators.

Nortel LearniT includes free downloadable lesson plans -- with rubrics and teacher prep time included -- that use technology, from creating an academic digital portfolio to holding a virtual science fair. For example, your students can make a Claymation video. There are links for getting started, a detailed student assignment, and a grading guide to measure the final product. To get high marks in this lesson, the projects have to be detailed and well researched, and they must show that the students used the technology with a specific purpose.

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The site breaks down lesson plans by technology. For instance, the Claymation project is part of the section on video productions. This page also lists the subject and grade level for each lesson plan, so you won't waste time clicking on a project for high school juniors if you teach sixth grade.

Teachers who want to use various technologies in the classroom are the target of techLEARNING.com, which features a blog with rants and raves about technology as well as articles, product reviews, and a discussion group where teachers can post tech questions.

One recent article highlights the advantages of using interactive whiteboards and provides a guide to various models. Another article offers ideas for using iTunes in the classroom, such as teaching Spanish by playing popular songs translated into the language.

Kathy Schrock, administrator of technology for Nauset Public Schools, in Orleans, Massachusetts, has compiled a categorized list of useful sites for educators. Click on Literature and ELA (English language arts), and you'll get a list of sites that offer classroom tips and projects (not all technology based). For instance, DigiTales provides ideas and resources for digital storytelling, complete with scoring guides. Schrock's page also has a digital-gadget guide, which offers links to sites about podcasting and using digital cameras in the classroom.

There are also links to lesson plans and ideas for interactive-whiteboard activities, such as how to use one with secondary school math students. A professional-development initiative in Missouri called the eMINTS National Center also offers tips on using interactive whiteboards.

For tutorials on how to use certain software applications and troubleshoot minor technology problems, Schrock and Harry Costner, a video-journalism teacher at Gunston Middle School, in Arlington, Virginia, recommend several sites: Internet4Classrooms has a list of tutorials organized by category, Teacher Tap provides a similar list, and Atomic Learning offers tutorials on more than a hundred applications for teachers and students, including Blackboard 6 and Easy Grade Pro 4.0. It has a user forum, and the materials are available via a subscription service.

Costner says the Atomic Learning tutorials are appealing because the chapters are clearly organized, and the videos usually don't exceed two minutes, which makes them easy to understand and use in his classes.

Still can't find what you need? Schrock says teachers can locate hundreds of tutorials created by tech-support personnel and educators by performing a proper Google search. But you have to be specific. For example, if you're looking for help with the current version of Microsoft PowerPoint, she suggests typing in "PowerPoint 2007 tutorial" rather than just "PowerPoint tutorial."

Teachers also can use the Google Advanced Search page to narrow down what they're looking for. Similarly, on TeacherTube and SchoolTube, you can do a keyword search to get video lessons on a variety of topics. For example, search for "digital scrapbooking" on TeacherTube, and you'll find an example of how to use the digital scrapbooking site Scrapblog.

Using technology as an integral part of the learning process moves students beyond simply being computer users. "Students need to see that technology does not just happen in the computer lab once per week. It's a tool that we turn to in order to solve a problem or communicate an idea," Schrock says. "The more comfortable and experienced students are with hardware and software, and the more knowledge they possess about etiquette and intellectual property, the easier it will be for them to use technology skills and practices in their everyday lives."

Alexandra R. Moses is a freelance writer in the Washington, DC, area who specializes in education.