If you are reading this blog online, then you probably already believe in the power of technology and not only the possibilities, but also our obligation to bring technology into the classroom on a daily basis. Countless studies and articles support the benefits of integrating technology into classroom instruction; technology promotes interaction and cooperative learning with peers, engages students, makes connections between the classroom and the real world, and provides experiences that could not normally happen within the walls of a traditional classroom.
Many teachers have the ultimate technology wish list; SMART boards, response systems, wireless slates, and laptops. Most buildings have a list of needs for their technology department; updated computers, ink for printers, and a reliable and secure network. Every school district has a technology budget. With looming budget cuts, where does the need to keep technology current, if not cutting-edge, fall on the priority list?
As in any situation, personal or professional, when times are tough and money comes up short, one needs to do two things: get creative and lean on others.
You need equipment. When the district cannot provide the funds to get you the equipment you want, look for grant opportunities. One way to make your grant stand out from others is to partner up with another teacher. For example, a colleague and I wrote a grant for a 24-unit SMART Response System. Passing the system between our two classrooms, allows us to reach twice the number of students for the same cost as using the system in only one classroom. It does require communication to avoid scheduling conflicts, but we purposely chose to pair up because our opposite teaching schedules make sharing the system easier.
Your equipment doesn’t work. Few things are more frustrating than outdated, slow equipment that doesn’t work like it should. Seek two or three troubleshooting volunteers in the building who can offer suggestions faster than a single tech coordinator who travels between buildings. Hold regular, brief troubleshooting sessions. For example, say the mobile lab has been acting up. Everyone who regularly uses the mobile lab should meet and discuss the problems they have encountered. The same problem may be happening for everyone and an easy solution may be found.
You don’t know how to use the equipment or programs available to you. There are still many teachers who are uncomfortable with technology. Insufficient training, intimidation, and a lack of time are all reasons teachers do not use technology to its full potential. Again, tap into the expertise of those in your building. Create a technology committee of 4-5 teachers at various grade levels who would be willing to encourage technology users of all levels of expertise. Survey the staff and find out what the current training needs and interests are. Hold short mini-sessions to teach a specific skill (e.g. how to use Excel spreadsheets, tips for using your district’s online grade book, even a lesson in using the district email.) If you are “hosting” one of these short tutorials, chances are someone has already created and posted a step-by-step direction sheet online that can be handed out to those who attend the session so they may reference it later.
You can’t get enough when it comes to technology. Free technology “education” is all around you. Search for technology blogs online. Creative teachers love to share their ideas with others. You can find reviews of software and ideas for how to use technology in your classroom. If you want to learn how to do something, all you have to do is google it. There are free, online tutorials for anything you can imagine. Share with those around you – even those not in education. Technology is used in every field and many applications can be used in multiple settings. Lastly, although we know the benefits, we often do not allow ourselves the time for learning from colleagues. Our co-workers know what we have to work with and know our students. Take advantage of this common bond and make it a point to have informal sharing sessions right before school or during lunch once a week. A member of our tech committee recently did a demonstration on using the free online file converter, Zamzar, to easily and safely incorporate YouTube videos and popular music into the classroom.
One of the purposes of technology is to make life easier and bring people together. Regardless of your skill level, the equipment available to you, and your district’s technology budget, there are always ways to improve your personal use of technology in the classroom. Work with those in your building to figure out how to make the most of what you’ve got.
By Melanie Krause, Dover Education Association