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.

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.


We had a good discussion today about whether or not our school should go ahead with the idea of being a one-to-one school, that is a school where every student has their own laptop.

Actually, we did not discuss that question so much as we have been over the issue many times before and everyone on our Info-Tech team seems to agree that, in order to achieve the educational needs of the 21st century, technology must be ubiquitous within the school.  If students are really to be using technology as a tool in their daily work, be it science, math, art or whatever, then they need anytime, anywhere access to said technology.  So, we already all agree that we must provide anytime, anywhere access to technology at ISKL.  What we discussed today was when that might become a reality, what kind of timeline we might be looking at and other issues surrounding how we might get there, what we need to do and what some of the questions are surrounding the implementation.

Some questions/issues we raised:

What grades would get laptops?  Not Kindergarten certainly.  So, which students are we actually talking about and which grade or grades would we start with (assuming we can not just jump in and give 2000 students laptops in one year.

What kind of computing device are we talking about?  MacBooks?  PC’s? Tablet PC’s?  OLPC’s? Asus EEE PC’s ($400 mini-laptop)? Alphasmart Dana’s?  Something else entirely?

How will we support them?

What kind of PD will we offer to teachers to prepare them for a room-full of laptop-toting students?

That last question garnered our greatest attention.  Without good professional development and training, laptop programs tend to fail out of the gate.  This is a crucial piece.

More on that next post.