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Teachers and Tech: Training Critical to Success

26 May 2015 by Susie Steckner

Consider this scenario in a 21st century classroom: A high school class is reading Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and students must offer their interpretations of the play.

With technology, a traditional classroom discussion and written assignment give way to a new kind of assignment, in which students create dynamic multimedia presentations. Their teacher blends face-to-face instruction with digital learning by allowing student exploration while they serve as facilitator.

The project helps students initiate deeper dialogue, boosts their confidence with presenting and delivering information to a group, and promotes collaboration. Students offer their interpretations in an entirely different way — engaging classmates like never before.

There’s no question that the use of technology in schools is becoming the rule, rather than the exception. Digital tools have added new demands in the classroom, requiring teachers to expand their range in terms of content and skills. As school districts eagerly deploy Chromebooks and tablets, they must also employ multi-faceted training programs for teachers.

Growing Tech Trend

Moving forward with tech integration in K – 12 schools is critical for student success and to get them ready for college and careers.

“Once considered strategic, it is now essential to integrate new technological innovations to help educate our children and to help close the achievement gap,” said Jim Coulter, a commissioner with the LEAD (Leading Education by Advancing Digital) Commission.

A poll by LEAD found that teachers and parents believe technology plays an important role in addressing many of the top goals for improving education today, particularly with regard to these items:

  • Providing more individualized and flexible learning
  • Offering more hands-on learning opportunities
  • Helping students become more engaged in their own learning
  • Making closer connections between the classroom and the real world
  • Exposing students to experts outside the classroom and different perspectives on issues

School districts are relying on a range of devices, apps and programs to meet these goals.

Laptops and desktops are still king in terms of devices, but mobile technology use is becoming more commonplace in the learning process, according to the Pew Research Center study, “How Teachers Are Using Technology at Home and in Their Classrooms.” Among the findings:

  • 73% of teachers say that they and/or their students use their mobile phones in the classroom or to complete assignments.
  • 45% report they or their students use e-readers and 43% use tablet computers in the classroom or to complete assignments.

Teachers said they most commonly relied on digital tools to have students conduct research online, and also used tools that allowed students to access and submit assignments online. They also turned to technology for interactive online learning activities, such as developing wikis, engaging in online discussions and editing work using collaborative platforms such as Google Docs, the study said.

When nine Kentucky teachers in K – 12 schools took part in a four-month study, they showed a steady reliance on technology, according to the professional learning company Learning Forward.

Over the four months, the teachers collectively turned to more than 70 technology solutions such as BloomBoard and LearnZillion for multiple tasks — everything from planning instruction, to personalized learning for students, to data management.

Supporting Teachers

The Pew Research Center study showed that 62% of teachers felt their school did a “good job” supporting teachers’ efforts to bring digital tools into the learning process, while 68% said their school provided formal training in this area.

In another survey of more than 600 K – 12 teachers, 46% of participants reported that they lacked the training needed to use technology effectively with students. The teachers reported frequently using technology in the classroom though they did not have adequate training and ongoing support, a survey by digedu concluded.

The Flagstaff Unified School District (FUSD) in Arizona offers a glimpse of the training transformation going on in schools as more teachers embrace technology.

The district takes a layered approach to training teachers, offering multiple opportunities to explore new technology, apps and programs.

The training is driven in part by district initiatives, such as reading or math, and also the need to build skills with tools like Google Classroom for better classroom management. Training also supports special efforts like boosting project-based learning.

Many teachers in schools around the U.S. eagerly embrace the opportunity to explore and learn while others need some encouragement. But incorporating technology in the classroom is vital, said Heather Breedlove, a technology integration coordinator for FUSD.

Teachers take part in two different peer-to-peer coaching efforts. A large-scale effort involves training 30 to 40 teachers as “tech coaches.” Those teachers then work with their colleagues, tackling something new each month such as exploring a new digital storytelling app.

A second approach involves tapping teachers who are passionate about a particular app or tool they use frequently. Those teachers go through a mini training and then serve as trainers for colleagues on that specific teaching tool.

These approaches can help “stretch the budget and grow leaders within,” Breedlove said.

The district offers iPad carts to classrooms as part of its shared device model. To enhance usage, Breedlove holds 30-minute training sessions each month to tackle a particular issue. Teachers also receive a monthly iPad survey to offer feedback and resolve issues.

The district also offers traditional “one and done” trainings, such as a recent two-hour training Breedlove conducted on creating iMovie trailers. She also incorporates “blended learning” trainings in which she meets with teachers face-to-face for instruction on tools like Google Classroom and then sends them off to learn by doing, employing the tool in their own classes.

That accountability piece of training — learn by doing and then reporting back to trainers — is crucial, Breedlove said. “If it’s not ongoing, continuous and relevant, it’s not going to be an effective change.”

New Discoveries

Breedlove noted that some teachers seek out their own opportunities to learn more about incorporating technology. The Pew Research Center study showed that as well, reporting that 85% of teachers took it upon themselves to explore new tech tools.

Teachers across the country report similar efforts, saying they are eager to learn on their own time and at their own pace.

“In the past, professional growth relied on attending local and district services that provided time to collaborate with colleagues and specialists. It was usually a ‘one-shot deal’ that was limited by our schedules with little or no support or follow up after the training,” one teacher noted in a 2013 report by Learning Forward.

“Social media, professional learning networks and web sites like the Teaching Channel, however, have allowed me to learn more on my own time, any time. Watching videos of sample lessons has been my favorite discovery. Watching lessons online, good and bad, have taught me more than any professional development I could have attended. Since the nature of our days prevent us from going into other classrooms, being able to watch videos and connect with colleagues across the world online is truly a benefit for me, as well as my students,” the teacher said.

Teaching Tools

Teachers and tech specialists both turn to a range of websites to boost teaching practices and enhance the classroom experience, including:

  • Educatorstechnology.com – A resource of educational web tools and mobile apps for teachers and educators, offering everything from great web tools for virtual field trips, to tips for using Google Docs, to apps for learning vocabulary.
  • Freetech4teachers.com – An award-winning, resource-sharing blog run by a former high school teacher and ed tech expert that allows you to search for Google tutorials, alternatives to YouTube and plenty of how-tos.
  • Teachingchannel.org – Showcases videos of innovative and effective teaching practices.
  • Learnzillion.com – A learning platform that combines video lessons for tutorials, assessments and progress reporting. Each math or ELA lesson highlights a Common Core standard.
  • Edudemic.com – A content hub that offers teachers and educators trends, tools, videos and more.

The advantages for students using technology in the classroom range from in-depth learning to better communication skills. But to pass these benefits to students, teachers must move from the comfort of the traditional classroom. They have to step into the often-times overwhelming technology-enhanced classroom.

There are a variety of resources and best practices to enter the 21st century classroom. And As Breedlove demonstrated, technologically savvy instructors are stepping up to help fellow educators take on tech in their classrooms.

Here at Insight, we are another resource for K – 12 schools and districts. With cost-effective solutions and services, we provide educators with the newest technologies and expertise needed to address all curriculum standards in a secure environment. We also offer the tools students need for deeper engagement with instruction and college and career readiness.

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