Technology for the classroom's sake.
December 23, 2008 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Question for students and teachers: How can technology serve you in the classroom?

I'm a classroom technology manager, and I'm curious what sort of answers I'll get from teachers and students. What would you do if you could wave a magic wand and make it happen? What sort of innovations would you enact or avoid? What sort of things would you improve? And what have you seen work in your own situations?

The suggestions can relate to anything from social media, a/v equipment, etc. as long as they help to improve the educational/classroom experience.
posted by superbird to Technology (14 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
As a grad student teaching first-year composition, I find that being in a room with an internet-connected computer hooked up to a projector helps me quite a bit. I run my classes in a very loose and conversational style, and frequently there are points in discussion where the natural thing to do is to refer to the internet, either because it helps to see what the 'net consensus on an issue is or because I or one of my students want to cite something we remember reading online. If I had a computer w/ a projector, that was possible. If I didn't... well, not so much. I sort of wax religious sometimes about how referring to sources in this way makes the form of class discussion more closely resemble what I want them to do in their papers -- "Here is what I claim, and here is _exactly_ the resource I'm using to support that claim," rather than "Here is what I claim and I kind of remember reading something a while back that supports it."

I also find document cameras handy -- it's fun to mark up sample papers for students / with students realtime.

Basically, I'm a big, big fan of any technology that will let me use conversational strategies that would be easy and natural in a group of four people, even when I'm dealing with 30.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:28 AM on December 23, 2008

Best answer: the biggest problem with all classroom technology is that it doesn't consistently work, and the teachers don't know how to integrate it properly into the curriculum. most of them--as soon as they have one single problem with whatever-it-is (smartboard, projector, etc.) they will never use it again. so it's about training and training and, ideally, being constantly on call to fix what ought to be minor problems. (plugging in the right cord, for instance, can be the stupidest thing teachers can't do. but it will stymie several minutes of class, which leads to embarrassment, classroom disruption and they'll avoid that at all costs in the future.)

as a substitute with a very good grasp of technology, i am the only one who uses the smartboard consistently in my classes. that should tell you something.

every classroom teacher should have an ability to pop out a video from YouTube whenever they want to. but like i said, it's usually more trouble than it's worth for most of them. (never mind the draconian censorship that shouldn't apply to teachers AT ALL. which was finally fixed at my school.)

*make things EASY*

never mind getting every teacher to put his/her class onto a Moodle so that absent students can make up work easily and everything is easily accessible. i've done it, so it can't be that hard. but talking about it with teachers is like being a martian talking about intergalactic peace.
posted by RedEmma at 11:36 AM on December 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Those "SmartBoard" type things are pretty good, when the teacher knows how to use it and uses it well. The public school system I go to recently decided to buy a crapload of "Promethean boards" which are expensive projector/board/pen unit thingys. It's this integrated unit that has the projector attached to the board which is attached to the wall. It's then connected to a computer, and you use this special pen to write on it. One disadvantage is that you NEED their pen. With the "SmartBoards" you can use anything. Some teachers really use the boards well and use them everyday. Others only use them occasionally. I personally think that the school system got too many of them; they could have gotten new copiers for the schools because every school in the county has a chronic problem with copiers.
posted by majikstreet at 11:40 AM on December 23, 2008

I'm a high school biology/chemistry teacher. The technology I use every day is: a LCD projector hooked up to a laptop that can get on the internet wirelessly, and EasyGrade Pro.
Being able to show student webpages and animations through the projector is one way to get my students interested and give them a visual. (I also use this setup for powerpoints). A gradebook program saves all computing time. This is also extremely valuable.
I have a set of Turning Point clickers that I use for reviews before tests. You assign a clicker to each student and it becomes like 'Ask the Audience' on the millionaire game. You can also generate reports if you want to give points/grade for number of correct responses. There is something similar to this by Centeo (sp?) that supposedly is more user friendly.
There is a cart of 20 laptops that I share with another classroom. Students can use this for research. We also find simulations for them online that they use the laptops for. This cart gets used on a weekly basis.
We have some Smartboards and Smart Airline Tablets in our department. These don't get used daily, but are great for highlighting parts of the powerpoint or webpage. The airline tablet was purchased because the woman I share it with is 5' and would not be able to reach the Smartboard if mounted.
For the sciences, we use Vernier probes along with a LoggerPro program. Students can hook up their interface to a laptop and get data collected for them. This is a great experience for my students because the real world does not use pH paper, they use a pH meter.
posted by fellion at 11:41 AM on December 23, 2008

I'm our school's IT Director, which around here means I do all things IT-related. I asked a tangentially related question a while ago, and got a few responses of SMARTBOARDS!

I'm not sure exactly what your title means, but if it includes answering questions and fixing things, do it ASAP. I know it sounds obvious, but I've seen it happen where the staff looses faith in technology because the support staff (ie, you and I) aren't there to makes things right.

While I don't necessarily know what your school needs or wants, a few words of advice on how to get technology to serve the classroom rather than sit around underutilized and/or abused (an area I still struggle with):
The Smartboard has worked wonderfully, and I think the number one reason is the teachers who got them not only requested one, by they also give us an entire year's lesson plan of how'd they utilize the SB. Any time I go into their classroom, the class is immersed with using the SB and love it. Afterward, they also went on workshops on how to use them. Unless a teacher knows how to use the technology and wants to learn, it will not get used!
Now, we didn't require the teachers to have a lesson plan made up in order to get a SB- they did it on their own volition, which showed myself and the administration that they'd actually utilize one.
In the case of a SB, unless ya'll have means to do so, I wouldn't suggest necessarily go about putting one in every classroom because the money could very well be spent better elsewhere. That goes for any technology though.
Except, in my experience, projectors. I don't know what it is, but every time I purchase a new projector & cart, it immediately finds a permanent home in a classroom. Our teachers love to use them, all the way from grades 1-12.

Before my time, the school got a mobile cart of laptops. As one teacher put it, "I tried them once, and it took forever to load up. I put it back and never used it again. Also, I didn't know how to use it!!" From what I've heard, the cart was rarely, if ever used after the first week. I asked around, and the number one reason why? The teachers didn't know how to implement the technology into their classroom curriculum., training, training! When we got the SB, they had to go to workshops on how to use them. We're in the midst of implementing a 1-to-1 laptop program, and we're putting significant money into staff development. If your teachers do not know how to use the technology given to the, they will not use it. If it does not work well & "fast," they are liable to never use it again.

And as far as training goes, also make sure the administration is on board. Use teacher workshop days if you have to (we are). TRAINING IS A MUST. If you administration does not understand this, it will be an uphill struggle.

Ask the teachers. It is amazing what technology needs our staff has, and I never hear of until I'm in their room to fix something and they're, "Oh yea, we need x y and z," right after I created my budget. Don't create expectations that they'll get anything, but it's always good to keep this information in the back of your head. If you have 75% asking for projectors, you know you're on to something. If 10% are asking for projectors, but 75% talk about needing a new computer, adjust accordingly.

As for avoidance, to be precise, avoid giving technology just because you can. Unless there's a need for it and it's determined teachers will use it, spend time and resources elsewhere.
Avoid new projects without followup. 2 years ago, I did a workshop on an online content management system (a href = "">Moodle) and screwed up because I didn't do any followup work, so it went by the wayside for all of us. If I did it again, I would have been in contact with the teachers afterwards to see how things were going, put on an advanced workshop, etc. Live and learn, as they say.
posted by jmd82 at 11:44 AM on December 23, 2008

I am not currently a student, however I have K-12 students in my family and know some educators. As a student, my daughter has found incalculable value in the way her school uses -- assignment and attendance details, due dates, faculty and administration contact are all facilitated by the way her school makes such extensive use of the site and the way both faculty and administration enthusiastically support its use. As a parent, my only complaint is that the thing doesn't hook up to email very well and that to "email" teachers or faculty I have to give credentials to a site and then use a web form.

Every classroom has an inexpensive projector, which lets teachers present visual concepts using a computer. Some of them still prefer a whiteboard, of course, but some have jumped in with both feet to using A/V aids in the classroom.

My son's school is a bit more old fashioned, and has a shared computer lab that classrooms get to take turns using. For elementary education, I personally think that's for the best since it's too easy for technology to become a distraction at that level.

An educator I know is a science teacher at a school with an networked attendance system. He constantly complains that it is the only piece of Windows software he absolutely must run. Being able to take attendance cost him about a $50 investment in virtualization software merely because of a shortsighted technology decision with a vendor lock-in ("Why isn't this a simple browser app?" is what he says about it). When you're looking at technology for your school, ask yourself if you're about to tie your own hands with a vendor relationship or platform requirements.

"What sort of innovations would you enact or avoid? What sort of things would you improve?"

I'm going to go with my general approach to technology, here: Automate routine or annoying tasks in the best possible way. Implement electronic communication so that it is the easiest path, the channel of least resistance. Take advantage of networking by allowing people to share resources. Always put the task of the user ahead of the technology requirement. Wherever technology gets in the way of the job, remove it or replace it with something that works. Strive for consistency in implementation and have a vision and architecture plan, but allow room to adapt to real world needs.
posted by majick at 11:45 AM on December 23, 2008

A quick one: having image projectors means I can use color pictures from the internet in a Powerpoint/slide show format as discussion prompts rather than black and white photocopies, which is nice, since I'd have to get the pictures onto paper and then copy one for each student, when it might not be important for them to have a copy. Saves time, saves paper.
posted by mdonley at 11:53 AM on December 23, 2008

Unless you have a healthy proportion of tech-savvy teachers who want to learn & use the more specialized things like smartboards, I'd focus on getting a consistent, easy-to-use level of technology across as many of the classrooms as makes sense, rather than putting high-tech options in one or two places. A projector on the ceiling, a computer with internet access, and a dead-simple way to turn them both on and off. If you have faculty moving from one classroom to another, the consistency becomes very important. As has been stated many times, if they can't figure out how to use it pretty quickly, they'll ignore it forever.

Also, I've not had much interest in document cameras. Most people complain the resolution is too low to read regular text on a page. So you have to print special pages for the document camera, but by that point you might as well have put it in a digital slideshow in the first place.
posted by echo target at 12:37 PM on December 23, 2008

Best answer: Love my Smartboard and I use it all the time.

I've also heard good things about Teachertube, but haven't looked around it enough to judge for myself.

Other technology my school uses include:
- email - I can't really remember the last time I got a paper memo.
- Classmate grading system (we've been through several already and most teachers just want to use Excel)
- Laptop carts that house about 25 laptops and can be used in any classroom (as long as the network is working)
- Classroom Spy for making sure students are doing what they're supposed to be doing
- MS Word, Excel
- Photoshop in our Digital Media classroom and for any teacher that wants it
- all of our forms (request a day off, lesson plans, etc) are Adobe Acrobat forms and available on our teacher website.
- hand scanners on our two major entrances, so teachers can enter without keys
- Cisco wireless phones for all the teachers. They pretty much suck though because they're dependent on the network to be running properly, and sadly it's not as dependable as it should be.

Most of it has been great, but like I mentioned, we've been through a lot with our grading system. We've gone through two already and are on our third. I don't like it as much as the last one we had, but it seems to be easier for the teachers to use.

Also, our network sucks. The tech guy is under qualified for the position and it shows. All the technology I listed above is great- but only when it's working. Investing in someone who knows what they are doing is priceless.
posted by NoraCharles at 12:53 PM on December 23, 2008

Two most important things:

1) Training

2) Assessment

Having technology is useless without (1), and unless you do (2) you have zero idea how much the dollars spent have actually helped. Small-scale trials and massive amounts of follow-up need to be implemented before just spending money on things for the sake of having something shiny to point at.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:00 PM on December 23, 2008

One thing that I saw during my undergrad years was the rise of campus wifi; and honestly, the utility of it in the classroom was pretty much nil. Laptops in the classroom end up being a distraction, even more so with the advent of Youtube. Some teachers claim it just means they need to be more engaging and out-compete the Internet. Good luck with that.

Teacher training is hands down the number one factor in making use of classroom technology. The more hands on the better; just giving a lecture to teachers will not be enough. Especially in K-12, where technology aptitude is not part of teacher state certification.

I'd really appreciate it if people stopped using spreadsheets in the place of row oriented databases. But I won't hold my breath on that one.
posted by pwnguin at 2:21 PM on December 23, 2008

I'm a law student at university. The day Oxford University Press etc. release their 600+ behemoths in a format that I can use on an e-ink device (Kindle, Sony Reader), will be a very happy day indeed. Lugging around tons of heavy books is not cool. Same goes for statute books etc.

Of course, I'll definitely be finished by the time they do, so...
posted by djgh at 6:35 PM on December 23, 2008

600+ page behemoths.
posted by djgh at 6:36 PM on December 23, 2008

For 3 years I was an IT Administrator for a K-12 school district of 5 schools (approx 600 computers). Here are the things I noticed:

1.) Teachers ALWAYS need more technology training. We all know the cliche that students are more technologically savvy than grownups. We need to work harder at closing this gap. It would help teachers feel more confident and capable, and it might just foster better teacher-student interaction if the students felt like teachers actually "get it". At my district during the beginning of the school year, teachers got 1 day of "technology refresh" to introduce them to upgrades and new software we had installed over the summer. Thats laughably inadequate.

2.) It always fascinated me how some classrooms completely embraced technology and others seemed to have no interest. Library, Technology and Business type classes all had fairly decent computer labs. History, Math, Music,etc had nearly none existent technology integration. I think thats really sad. You're missing a big opportunity there to catch the attention of the youth. Why cant someone in Math class write a computer program that deals with classic math equations?. Why cant someone in Music class create a Youtube mashup video showing the history of music that influenced genre direction from early spirituals to rapper Lil' Jon? Perhaps other schools are doing things like this and I'm unaware, but it should be encouraged more.

3.) Standardization. One of the big projects we did while I was working was to standardize equipment, software and policies across all schools so that teachers could team up more. It was my impression that teachers (intentionally or not) get isolated in their classrooms and dont collaborate as much as they should (or have time for). I wish teachers understood the benefits of collaboration more, and got more training on tools like online forums and collaboration software. Teachers should have a certain amount of time a week dedicated free and clear to "professional development" (and I dont mean that time in the afternoon on sunday cramming to get things done before monday school :P

It was a challenge for me because our district was K-12. The technology solutions that worked for K-3 may not work for 4-7, or for 8-12. I had to constantly adapt my thinking to help give each teacher the appropriate solution for his/her needs.

With the exponential explosion of information on the internet, its more important than ever for teachers/students/parents to work on understanding how to search/find the best/appropriate information for the homework/task they are working on. If I could wave a magic wand and do one thing to give a school district a technological edge it would be mandatory technology classes (K-3 would be "computer basics", 4-7 would be a little deeper technology training and 8-12 would be highschool level research, information literacy and making sure they understand how to best use technology as the tool it is to further their learning (whatever topic it is they choose to make into a career)
posted by jmnugent at 7:13 AM on December 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

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