Monica Burns first started working with educational technology in 2011 when she was teaching at a New York City school that was becoming a magnet school. The school received federal funding that included money for classroom technology.
Starting in the fall of 2011, Burns spent two years working in a one-to-one environment with tablets in an elementary school setting. As a result of those early experiences, she began speaking and sharing what she learned locally with other districts. Today, she’s a full-time consultant and runs Class Tech Tips, where she blogs and writes about educational technology and works closely in the classroom with administrators, students and teachers. Her book, Tasks Before Apps: Designing Rigorous Learning in a Tech-Rich Classroom, was published last fall.
Connect IT blogger Amy Brown spoke with Burns to discuss how technology can enhance a classroom experience.
BROWN: What are some tips for teachers seeking to inject technology into their courses?
BURNS: Teachers need to be purposeful and thoughtful about the reasons they are using different tools in the classroom. Students must learn to become creators, work collaboratively and explore topics they are curious about on the devices. First, teachers have to identify what the learning goals are for students. Is it going to be content-specific, like understanding the causes of the American Revolution? Or is it big picture, such as learning how to collaborate more effectively with others? Once they identify the goal, then they should design a program so that the digital tools can enhance the learning experience.
BROWN: With the American Revolution example, how can technology enhance the experience?
BURNS: The technology gives students access to resources they might not have been able to access in the past. This could include accessing primary source documents from the National Archives, or finding footage of re-enactments and pulling up artifacts or images on their devices easily. From a consumption and research perspective, it transforms that experience entirely.
Students can also “show what they know” to create a product that demonstrates their understanding. They can do public service announcements where students can persuade other students to take one side or the other on an issue. Or, it might be that they are re-enacting a piece of history and sharing it with a local historical society.
BROWN: What other types of technology tools should districts take a look at?
BURNS: Districts should look at new tools that help students access a virtual reality experience. Sure, I’m very excited about the prospects for Google Expeditions, but there are also lots of low-cost resources where a teacher can attach Google Cardboard to a smartphone and transport a student to a place where they can better understand a science topic or learn more about the setting of a book they are about to read. I’ve had the chance to work with students and teachers around the idea of how to use VR tools so students can take virtual trips to locations around the world they might not have a chance to visit.
BROWN: What questions should districts be asking if they are interested in deploying a one-to-one program?
BURNS: There are a lot of decisions that come into play. Some schools choose a device because it works with a full keyboard or it works well with a specific testing application. Device decisions work best when school leaders think carefully about how students will be on-the-go using educational resources to enhance learning. Once they know that, they’ll be able to figure out which device works best for their population. Sometimes the testing app becomes a part of the decision, and I think that’s unfortunate. It really needs to be around what the students need to create content.
When it comes to actual dollars, in some cases, it might be a PTA group doing the funding or a teacher raising money for one or two Chromebooks to use in their classroom. But with the districts I work with, it tends to be top-down and the districts get funding from Title I or Title III to serve specific populations. Overall, it’s important for parents to be a part of the conversation and that there continues to be communication as to why certain tools are being brought into their child’s classroom.
This article is part of the "Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology" series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.