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Technology Tips For New Teachers

Caleb Clark is the director of the Marlboro College Graduate School EdTech program, where he also teaches and helps with academic technology support. He has been a Web geek since 1994 and an educational technologist since 1999. Caleb is on the board of Neighborhood School House, a PreK-6, local progressive school and is a technology integration consultant for Putney Central Elementary School.

I'm the director of an educational technology master's program. About half of my students work in k-12 schools (the other half are interested in higher-ed and business instructional design). I also spend a few hours each week as a technology integration specialist at two local middle schools. Basically, this means I'm helping educators figure out how to fit and use technology in their classrooms. I'm often fielding questions like, "How do I use iMovie?" or "What does it take to make a Wiki for my students?" Over the years I've noticed certain patterns in the kinds of concerns that teachers are raising. Below is my advice on how to deal with these concerns from figuring out which tools to use for your lessons to helping students become self-motivated about using technology for their work.

group of students working on a computer
  • 1. Tools: When it comes to figuring out which technology tools to use in your lesson plans, let go of needing specific software knowledge, and focus on student learning. Many teachers stress about which software to choose for projects and then stress about how to use that software. Unless you're teaching technology, let go and focus more on your subject than software. In this digital age, there are more tools than ever. You don't have to get caught up learning all of them. Instead assign your students a project - like asking them to make a movie or a slideshow - and they'll be bound to find 10 tools to complete the assignment that you weren't even thinking about. Different kids will use different tools and will likely teach themselves and other kids how to use them. Your job is to focus on the content - review the movies and make sure that your students understood the assignment, and what you were trying to teach. Help them rework the content if needed.
  • 2. Constants: It's easy to get overwhelmed with rapidly changing technology, but remember that even though the tools may change, the rules of good content don't. Some things are constants: the Library of Congress has always been an excellent source for photos, the rule of thirds has always improved artistic compositions, copyright was a necessary consideration long before the Web, and literacy still means the same thing whether or not "media" is in front of it. Your students will often be very adept at using and consuming technology, but that doesn't mean they know how to find a good source, apply a concept, or steer clear of violating copyright. Your job is to guide students in applying timeless constants to new media. Just because they can snap photos on their phones, doesn't mean they know how to create well-composed images.
  • 3. Cameras: And, on the subject of cameras - use them! We live in a digital world now. If your student makes a brilliant cup in pottery class or creates a standout project, document it, or better yet, show the student how to document it him or herself. People almost expect this, and it can give both you and the student a chance for reflection on the project. You can document more than you think with a camera. Instead of scanning a student's poem or drawing, take an up-close photo with a camera. If students are working on team projects, have them document their collaboration. Ask students to use a digital camera to record short videos about what they learned from assignments. Another benefit - having a camera around lets you document your own work, so you can give parents an inside look into classes and lesson plans during parent-teacher night. For more information, I've created an online tutorial for teachers on how to use any camera.
  • 4. Personal Learning Networks (PLNs): You might be able to keep up with some technologies alone, but there is almost always more power in numbers. We are living in an age of incredibly fast-changing technology. Just imagine the first two decades after the printing press came into widespread use - at the time, teachers' entire lives must have been upended. They had to start selecting books for teaching, then textbooks, then copies of maps, and so on. The education world has shifted again in a big way. Your best hope to keep up is to rely on your peers. Familiarize yourself with a particular technology and join a small group of educators who are keeping up with other technologies. You'll be able to keep up-to-date on more tools and share different ideas for implementing them. More on PLNS.
  • 5. Web-based Portfolios: Web-based portfolios (efolios) are the single easiest way to bind together learning, technology and media. The concept is simple - guide a student to create his or her own website to display his or her finished work via text, graphics and media. Google Sites and PBWorks are good free tools. This seemingly simple task will allow students to engage in self-reflection, increase media literacy, and hone their technology skills all at once. Students are faced with questions such as: Who am I online? What kind of job do I want? What's my best work? What did I learn? What do I believe in? How do colors, text and media combine to influence people's perceptions of me? And, building an efolio is intrinsically motivating to most students since it is personal, social and creative. Furthermore employers are increasingly asking prospective employees to provide a simple link to their resume, bio and work samples, so figuring out how to build an efolio is highly relevant for both you and your students. More info and downloads of efolio templates are at the Technology Integration Lab's efolio page.