MANY SCHOOLS DON’T HAVE THE budget to stay on the cutting edge of technology. Worse yet, schools may not be making the best use of the technology they have.
The integration of technology in schools can be improved by creating a strong relationship among teachers, administrators and IT personnel. This will help schools develop better ways to use the technology they have. And they will better serve students and prepare them for the future.
As a first step on the tech integration path, create a committee and schedule a meeting to build a plan for better integration of the technology that’s already at your disposal. This plan should involve teachers, administrators and the tech department.
The initial meeting should cover several areas. First, assess the site, identifying strengths and needs. Next, each committee member should brainstorm improvements and new ideas. It’s important to share everyone’s perspective on the technology and its use in the classroom. Finally, set specific, attainable goals — both short and long term — and a date for a follow-up meeting.
When assessing the site, look at the technology available. Is it being used? To what degree? Identify technology that is not being used — or isn’t used in the most effective way — along with the reasons why. The assessment must involve everyone on the committee, since each person’s perspective will differ, and the assessment must be accurate and specific.
Karen Evans, coordinator for the Jordan Teacher Center in Evanston-Skokie School District 65 in Evanston, Ill., points out, “We still have to convince teachers that while technology may not necessarily be part of our experiential realm, it is imperative that we provide our students with opportunities to experience and master the benefits of technology-based learning within collaborative, project-based learning genres.”
Next, begin brainstorming about better ways to use technology. At this stage, don’t dismiss any ideas. An IT administrator may think something is a waste of time, while a teacher may view the same resource as an invaluable tool. The different perspectives and open communication will strengthen your relationship and benefit the students.
Before concluding the meeting, remember to set short- and long-term goals, with each person having a part in meeting the goals. It also helps if members assess each other in a positive way to ensure effectiveness. Carl Brown, principal of Manatee Elementary School in Viera, Fla., believes that people respond best when they get immediate feedback on their work.
If you ask a teacher to complete a task, you should contribute by building on that task or completing a task of equal value to the school. When each member takes ownership and actively contributes, the successes will be greater and more visible.
Lastly, set a time and a date for the next committee meeting. Set a date that’s close enough to stay top of mind, but far enough out to allow the plan to develop.
A committee that doesn’t plan future meetings can soon become stale.
Next, determine what should be included in the technology integration plan. Matt Frey, educational training and customer services manager for Brevard Public Schools in Viera, Fla., says, “We no longer ask how we integrate technology. We now ask, ‘How do students learn?’” He says this approach enables them to implement technology to accomplish greater learning. It also helps integrate technology more seamlessly into the classroom and takes Brevard closer to its ultimate goal: educating children.
So how do students learn? Research has shown that students will attain the highest level of retention after teaching the material themselves. We can apply technology to this by putting the tools in the students’ hands. Technology will not only make their peer lessons more effective, but it will also make the lessons more fun and motivating.
One key to seamless integration is to focus on learning standards — not on the technology. Rather than spend two days teaching third-grade students how to make a slide-show presentation, spend the time teaching them how to organize a story via a slide-show presentation.
Give each slide a title and a paragraph. This strategy will help students organize each idea into a separate paragraph and will make it easier to string the paragraphs together into an effective piece of writing. In addition, the ability to add pictures, clip art, sounds and animation will enhance the story and get students more involved. The students will get a writing lesson and learn how to make a slide-show presentation.
Students learn well through social settings and in peer-led groups, so set goals that will increase communication through technology. Everything from online newspapers to videoconferences to digital pen pals can increase learning and spike interest exponentially. Talking about the effects of current events on students in other nations is important, but you can also use live video and let students talk directly with people from other cultures.
Students can also express themselves to a wide audience by using online discussion groups or blogs. Teaching students with these tools will make them more comfortable with technology, while encouraging them to accomplish curriculum goals.
FOCUS ON TRAINING
Training is one aspect of technology integration that is often overlooked. Yet, how can we expect teachers to use the available tools if they don’t understand how they work? Stephen Muzzy, assistant superintendent for educational technology for Brevard Public Schools, says, “Training needs to be available anytime and anywhere so teachers can make the best use of their time and tools.”
If the administration and IT department create videos, slide shows and quick-start sheets that are available on demand, training efforts will be more effective. For example, if a teacher uses a camcorder for a lesson and needs assistance with it, online videos or instruction guides can help the teacher learn at his or her own pace. This will allow the students to focus on the lesson rather than on helping the teacher use the equipment.
Different schools have different plans, but the more specific your plan and the more targeted your goals are, the more improvement your school will realize.
After your plan is in place and has taken effect, the committee should meet again. At this meeting, reassess your school’s progress.
When you feel the partnership is reaching a plateau, it is time for the team to reinvigorate itself. There are many ways to do this, from bringing new people with fresh ideas into the group to sharing inspiring articles or books.
Used effectively, technology can be an incredibly powerful tool in education. However, the goal is not to shove technology into every instructional nook and cranny, but rather to use it appropriately to prepare students for tomorrow’s world.
FOUR STEPS TO TECH INTEGRATION
1. Create and maintain a strong relationship: Open communication and active involvement are key elements to a successful technology integration team.
2. Stop asking how to integrate and start asking how students learn: Don’t force technology into the curriculum. Instead, examine the best ways to teach and apply technology to those proven methods.
3. Foster communication: Use technology to break down classroom walls and enable students to get in touch with the world.
4. Incorporate training: Make training available anytime, anywhere so teachers and students can get what they need, when they need it.
Barrett Puschus is a technology teacher/technology specialist at Manatee Elementary School in Viera, Fla.