Schools need to make technology a consistent part of the school day and invest in technology training for teachers.
Kids learn how to be tech-savvy almost instantly. And there are many teachers who live and breathe technology. But numerous teachers are digital immigrants. Technology isn’t a part of their classrooms now and wasn’t part of their training years ago.
Ponder this. If we took a teacher from the 1900s and put him or her into 90 percent of today’s classrooms, that teacher would be able to walk in and start teaching very comfortably. Yet, if you took a surgeon from the 1900s and put him or her into a typical emergency room, that doctor would not know what to do or how to run the equipment. Imagine an operating room in which the medical equipment sat in the corner collecting dust. Then think about the average classroom.
When we launched a personal digital assistant (PDA) program at River’s Edge Charter Academy in 2005, we took the position that technology is not a pullout piece. It should be a consistent and constant part of the school day. We don’t create “pen and paper labs” for learning, so why should we reserve technology for the computer lab?
So, we’re providing our seventh- and eighth-grade students and teachers with PDAs. They cost less than notebook computers, yet they help socialize our students with technology. Also, the PDAs allow the students to explore a new way of digital learning and enable them to prove themselves before they get a notebook PC.
By the time our students graduate from middle school, they’ve received a positive impression of what technology can bring to education. But it’s not just the students who need to learn how technology tools can improve education.
Before launching our initiative, we invested in training and preparing the teachers prior to the start of the school year. We knew that, for the project to succeed, the teachers needed to learn about and explore the technology and to get comfortable using it.
Most school systems spend a tiny percent of their budget on training. Yet, until the training happens, the technology won’t become part of the curriculum if the teacher is a digital immigrant. Many teachers must be shown, through training and examples, how technology tools can improve instruction. Otherwise, the integration of technology and curriculum won’t take place.
However, we’re creating a vicious cycle with numerous technology integration projects. The computer either sits in a corner or in the back of the class — mainly unused or underused.
So, how can we solve this problem? Here’s my recommendation to vendors: Don’t sell a product to a school unless you’re willing to provide training. In fact, why not bundle training with the product?
What teacher would not want to hear a pin drop in the classroom because the students are so engaged in learning? If we take the time to show how technology will help classroom teachers achieve their goals — more, better and faster learning — they’ll make the time to invest in mastering the language of technology.
For more details on River’s Edge Charter Academy’s PDA initiative , turn to page 38.
Tina Sartori is the technology administrator at River’s Edge Charter Academy in Palm Bay, Fla. She’s spent 14 years working as a middle school principal and a social studies teacher. Sartori is now working on a Ph.D. in Education Technology at Pepperdine University.