Empowering the Educators

Tips for integrating new technology in the classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Amy Brandt

Steelcase classroom imageAccording to the National Venture Capital Association, investment in education technology jumped from $146 million in 2002 to more than $429 million in 2011. This month, many teachers will return to their schools to find interactive whiteboards, digital projectors and iPads installed in the classroom. With the introduction of this technology, however, new challenges will emerge as the back-to-school season kicks off.

Outlined here are some of the common questions that must be addressed when integrating new technology in the classroom — along with some tips for teachers:

My schedule is hectic. How can I possibly learn to use this technology in the time I have available? The back-to-school season is a busy one. Often, new technology is installed during the summer months, leaving teachers with little time to familiarize themselves with the product between meetings with administration and lesson plans. A dedicated afternoon of hands-on training is ideal, but if teachers are pressed for time, there are a few alternatives available. Schools can host a small group session with a variety of educators at different grades and subjects. Teachers will benefit from one another’s ideas and suggestions and can maximize the time together by developing new ways to utilize the technology. For ongoing support, schools can dedicate time during a monthly department planning period to address any questions or hurdles that have cropped up since the start of the school year.

My classroom wasn’t properly designed to accommodate this product. What can I do? The average structural age of a classroom is 42 years old. In many cases, technology isn’t used to its full potential because of physical limitations within the learning environments – thus making it a wasted investment. Most classrooms were designed for the “stand-and-deliver, sit-and-listen” pedagogies in a passive learning setting. Fortunately, even a relatively small adjustment to the space can help create an engaging environment. For example, rather than resort to rows, teachers can arrange desks in an “X” formation, allowing the teacher to facilitate the lesson from anywhere in the classroom or among the students themselves, giving every student the best seat in the room.

Who can I turn to when I need help troubleshooting? One of the most common issues facing teachers and administrators regarding educational technology is the lack of ongoing guidance. Teachers become reluctant to use the tools if problems begin to crop up or they’re unsure of where to look for support. Because of budgetary constraints, the role of the IT leader or technology department in most schools has been severely diminished or removed. Instead, schools can identify a group of student technology “leaders” who can also participate in the initial training. Students will benefit from the task ownership and can carry the knowledge from classroom to classroom as their schedule changes throughout the day.

How can I get the parents on board with this new technology? Parent participation can be just as critical to instilling confidence in a teacher. Back-to-school night provides a great opportunity for teachers to introduce the new technology to parents. By incorporating the technology into a unique demonstration, teachers can help gain the support of parents at the beginning of the school year to ensure that students continue to utilize technology in similar ways at home. Teachers can tease a small part of an upcoming lesson, or simply have each parent sign-in during “attendance” on an interactive whiteboard.

How can I use the technology to satisfy Common Core requirements within my subject? The notion that every school subject cannot benefit from technology is a common misconception. Another benefit of interactive technology is that it allows classroom information to mobilize outside of the traditional brick-and-mortar walls. Technology can be integrated equally across different lesson plans in many creative ways. For example, teachers can use technology to connect with a classroom in another country as part of a lesson on social studies. Students can log-on to virtual labs online and click to add ingredients as part of a science class. Or, teachers can save brainstorming sessions or reviews and post to a classroom website or teacher/parent portal that unites teachers, parents, and students with the content. Teachers can turn to online support groups or platforms like Pinterest for more creative ideas that will better cement the use of technology within their own individual lesson plans. After all, practice makes perfect.

For teachers, educational technology represents a new paradigm that opens countless doors to opportunities for enhanced curriculum delivery and student engagement and performance. It is important to understand support individuals to help everyone open up to a new way of learning.

Amy Brandt is an Education Consultant with Steelcase Education Solutions and former teacher and administrator. Write to: abrandt1@steelcase.com

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