The IT in the Classroom Imperative

I was recently having what has become a very frequent conversation for me.  The conversation surrounds the different ways of ensuring students get the IT skills they need, through IT classes or IT in the classroom, through IT lessons or integrated IT in the classroom, through IT teachers or classroom teachers, in computer labs or in classrooms with laptops, on a schedule or as needed.

I found myself saying something I have grown fond of and that is “Computer teachers, or integration specialists if you like, are charged with helping teachers integrate IT into their lessons.  We expect that from them.  But classroom teachers are not formally charged with getting help.” (I am long-winded apparently)  Classroom teachers are not expected to integrate IT in a formalized way, like in their job description or through performance evaluation criteria (at least not in the schools I have worked at).  Even when you have a whiz-bang IT specialist who gets out there and plans with teachers, it too often is an uphill battle and that person can become very tired of making folks do things they don’t want to do and change when they are happy doing what they are doing.  If integration doesn’t happen, the IT specialist is seen as ineffectual but classroom teachers are rarely seen as complicit in that failure, at least not openly and individually.  “They” may be seen as such, as a grade level or team, if they act as such as a grade level or team, but classroom teachers are rarely fired because they did not integrate technology into their curriculum (at least not in the schools I have worked at).

What makes teachers learn new methods, integrate technology and change their practice?  What makes them embrace tech tools in their teaching?  What would make them go to the IT specialist spontaneously and say “Hey I want to learn about podcasting because my students need to know how to do that to improve their learning.”

And then it hit me (I am slow on the uptake apparently). That is exactly what would make them say such a thing: if it were true and they knew it and believed it to be so.  If a teacher knew that the students in their classroom would learn better, more, and with greater effect, because of an IT tool, they would want to use it.

Teachers will do what is best for kids or what they believe is best for kids.  That is the IT imperative.  Professional educators will change their practice and learn new skills if it will benefit the kids.  PD, therefore, must make that case.  Not the case that IT is easy or makes teaching or learning easier.  It doesn’t. IT often makes things take longer and is actually harder.  But the benefits, the long term learning benefits, outweigh that.  PD must show that, convincingly and repeatedly.

EARCOS 2008: Jeff Utecht Students as Creators

Today’s web is a social medium.

Teacher’s are no longer the gate-keepers of information.

Youtube in the classroom:

  • videos available on virtually every topic
  • copyright? creative commons license
  • students already using youtube, give them something to do while they are there
  • if you can’t find it on YouTube, create it

Web 3.0:

  • semantic web

Web 4.0

  • web OS

Club Penguin, Second Life virtual worlds

Alumni sites should be set on FaceBook, instead of independently.

Professional Development for a One to One Laptop Program

We have been discussing the idea of going to a one-to-one laptop to student ratio at our school.  Today we met with our admin team and clarified some of our ideas.  We are talking about beginning the process next school year and phasing in the program over several years beginning with Grade 8 and possibly Grade 5.  Grade 5 would be the lowest grade to participate in the program and it would, over several years, grow to include all students in grades 5-12.

A key issue raised today was that of professional development.  How to we ensure teachers are ready to have every child in their classroom equipped with a powerful learning tool / distraction factory?

Firstly, I should back up and remind you, gentle reader, why we are even considering this idea in the first place: learning.  Today’s learners are “digital natives” who are immersed in technology everyday or at the very least are growing up in a technologically saturated world.  There are few to no jobs any student at our school will hope to have that will not involve computers and technology.  Their own social world is already being altered by chat, texting, MySpace and the like.  The way students live, learn and communicate today is vastly different than the way we did when we were in school.  But our teaching has not changed to keep up.

What our team is proposing is a philosophical switch from viewing technology education as a separate subject with a separate set of skills to an approach that sees 21st century skills as inseparable from the technology tools at our disposal.  We are trying to help teachers see the subjects they are already teaching in the light of the digital world and to use those tools in their units and lessons in a more natural way.  In order to do so easily and effectively we feel that students and teachers will need to have anytime/anywhere access to those tools.

Our first step, then, is to give teachers their own laptop.  You can learn a whole lot more about using a tool if you have one yourself to use at work and home.  Using a laptop to do the things you want to do for enjoyment, like FaceBook, YouTube, email, IM, Skype, etc. helps you get comfortable with the tool and takes away that fear factor when you come to work and have to use that tool in your teaching.

In conjunction with giving teachers laptops is the critical issue of professional development.  Training, not in using the laptop specifically, but in planning relevant, effective units and lessons that incorporate the technology at your disposal.  We have many experiences within our group and have suggested different approaches.  One idea is to buy a curriculum and possibly have trainers come from the US from Intel or Microsoft.  Both companies have well-developed, proven training programs for teachers in technology integration.  Microsoft, or more precisely the Gates’ Foudation sponsors the TLP (Teacher Leadership Program) and Intel has its Teach Professional Learning Program 2007.

What we will do remains to be decided.  That it is vital is certain.