Recently I wrote a post in reaction to a conversation I had about technology integration. On my post I suggested that instruction should come first when integrating technology. I surmised that a teacher should look at their instruction and find ways to use technology to enhance and extend. When sharing my thoughts with several of my colleagues, I was reminded while this may be a great approach for the teacher that has a harder time with the merits of technology in the classroom, the majority of the teachers are READY for the tools. Tools that push them to extend and enhance what they already do in their classroom.
I am reminded of two events that have happened this year at my school that could support that technology comes first. We began the new school year with a new LMS (our third in the last four years). Although this new tool was easy to promote and exponentially better than our last system, teachers are now realizing the potentials of communication, collaboration and online blended learning. For many of my colleagues, the tool had to come first in order for them to be exposed to this awesome potential. With only TWO months into implementation, many teachers are surpassing the bare minimum requirements and using this tool in ways they could not have accomplished, so easily, in the past. Even now that we have access to an incredibly easy tool, I will still need to have a few “instruction first” conversations with teachers to help them find ways of integrating this technology into their instruction.
Another example of a tool first situation allowed me to have an incredible conversation about the need for an iPad. Our principal has offered an iPad to all the instructional leaders (department and curriculum leaders). One of the teachers turned down the device. Instead of accepting this and issuing it to someone else, I decided to find out why. The teacher welcomed the conversation and immediately asked me to explain to him why he would need one. Although I don’t recall the entire conversation, I do remember trying to help him realize the ipad’s potential to be a consumption device to help him organize all the news, blogs and academic information he reads in one place, via RSS. With the iPad he could then store and curate information to access later, via diigo bookmarking, instapaper, and evernote. I finally shared how I felt the iPad was an incredible tool to promote social learning. The teacher already had a page on facebook (for a select audience), but now could easily share to other social learning sites like Twitter. Sharing in this manner could help reach a larger audience. I went on to describe the difference of doing this on his desktop OR laptop. I also explained that the ipad allows you to change your learning posture to a more flexible, comfortable one. Many of us still only use a computer while sitting at a desk, even if we have a laptop. The ipad has allowed us to take our learning anywhere. Now we can easily browse, read, store and share information sitting comfortably on the couch or in locations without a desk. This conversation could not have happened if we didn’t have the opportunity to focus on the tool first.
So, what comes first, technology or instruction? The answer is simple, yes….
I feel that in order to really support successful technology integration in schools, you need to know the readiness of your colleagues and respect the fact that some need more time. It is also vital to recognize that some device or resource might be the transformational ticket our colleagues need to see the value of digital learning. Some teachers are ready for the tools first and others need the extra conversation on how it fits into their instruction. That is okay!
Mindmapping/Brainstorming tools are no longer just tied to the software on the computer (loved kidspiration and Inspiration back in the day). This software lacked important components, communication and collaboration.
Many free online tools have emerged that can do what the old software does and provides an opportunity to integrate more of the 21st century skills we should expose our students to. These online tools can help model communication and collaboration while giving the students access to this online resource at home, where they can control their pace/learning.
Here are a few of my favorite online mindmapping/brainstorming/collaboration tools that are free.
GoogleDrive – docs.google.com
Many of us have experienced the collaborative nature of working on a Google document simultaneously with a colleague. We might have been only adding text and not taking full advantage of the tool. With any Google document, you can insert tables, images and drawings to support the need to present more of a visual representation (mindmap) of what students are thinking and planning.
Pros: All students will soon have a Google Account and can easily share with classmates.
Con: Can be confusing to work with larger groups (more than 4) at one time. There tends to many options, menus to either get lost in or distracted by.
Suggestions: Provide a template of a graphic organizer to get them started. Can upload a graphic organizer or draw one.
Is it Mobile?: Students can access and edit using the Google Drive app on all devices.
This resource (from a team in Denmark) provides many tools for creating a mindmap.
Pros: Can create a public board that kids can join as a guest. There are just enough tools to get the job done…very few extras to distract.
Cons: Can be confusing to work with larger groups (more than 4) at one time.
Suggestions: May want to start using this with one assigned ‘driver’ at first. While one student ‘drives’ the other students work together to navigate the system.
Is it mobile? Yes, conceptboard can be accessed on any device through the Internet browser.
Check out this tutorial created by a group of teachers I worked with this summer. For more videos >>>
Is a new online application (created by a Russian team) that was recently shared by Richard Byrne @freetech4teachers.com. This resource is very similar to Conceptboard with some great features.
Pros: Easy to use interface. Includes tools, like the link tool, that make it easier to create a mindmap. Also includes a presentation option. Connects to Google Drive.
Cons: Students will need to have an account (or a shared account) to access a public board.
Is it Mobile? Not at this time. Does not work on an iOS device and does not have an app.
These are three of my favorite. What online mindmapping/brainstorming resource have you integrated into your instruction? Please share in the comments section.
During a recent meeting discussing the disruption of new laptop carts in my high school I made a statement that warranted a reaction that totally surprised me. I simply stated that technology integration should not be forced and technology should not be used for technology sake. The teachers around the meeting table talked about their relief in hearing me say this and talked about their perceptions of an expectation of being forced to integrate.
This conversation reminded me of a quote from an influential principal that supports educational reform through the integration of technology. Chris Lehmann states,
“Technology must be like oxygen: ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible”.
Providing more access to computers is a great start. It prepares us for the fact that our students are bringing their devices to school (now taking advantage of the school’s wifi) and for the potential of being a 1-to-1 school.
It is not about the tool, but what pedagogy that is behind it. Great instruction can only become better with the proper integration of technology. When thinking of where technology fits into your instruction consider this;
What lessons/Units can benefit being enhanced?
Can you help your students understand how to improve their writing by providing comments on a collaborative document shared in Google Drive? This online tool gives the students access to your comments on one live document. Google Drive allows for an easy way for peer review and collaboration.
What lessons/Units can be extended out of the classroom?
Can you use a Discussion Board in Schoology to continue the classroom conversation from home? Online discussions give the teacher the ability to keep the dialogue going while measuring the understanding of their class and getting the chance to hear from everyone in the class including the reluctant learner or the learner that needs more time to formulate their responses.
What lessons can allow for student’s to choose the way they are summatively assessed?
Can technology help provide authentic assessments by allowing students to use digital tools to express their understanding? Students can utilize many free online tools to demonstrate what they have learned without having to always take a multiple choice/essay test.
What lessons/units could lend themselves to be more creative if time allowed?
Providing students with computer access to plan and get an early start on a project could help students use their in-class time more effectively. Also, allowing students to choose their digital tool will make the assignment more engaging and relevant.
What lessons encourage inquiry?
Can the nature of the inquiry reach out beyond the walls of the classroom with use of the Internet? Allowing students to think outside the box and seek out their own information to guide their learning.
Although much of what we do in our classrooms without technology is great, it may not be meeting the needs of our students. They live in a digital world with information at their finger tips, communication tools that allow them to converse with anyone, and free resources that they can use to creatively express themselves. If some of what we do in our class room is not infused with technology, we run the risk of not being relevant.
I have focused on helping teachers integrate technology into their instruction for 15 years and I have failed and succeeded along the way. I feel I have failed when I am focused on the tool and not the instruction. Yes it is important to know how to use certain software and hardware. However this professional development must be focused on instructional benefits and gains. This is is when we will all find success.
A blogger and associate professor, Scott Mcleod recently wrote a blog post (What are educators’ professional obligations to learn from social media channels?) that hinted to the raised expectations of using/understanding technology in the classroom, and for social learning. It was a great post, but the best part was the reaction in the comments. Many educators felt attacked and defended the ‘analog teacher’ that does not use technology, yet is an effective teacher. I count myself extremely lucky to work in school district that makes instructional technology a priority and work with teachers that are open minded.
The conversation started on June 21st, but is still being shared on Twitter. Scott’s last tweet about this post in reaction to a tweet from @gillytoon
Scott McLeod shares the entire interaction on his latest blog post – The ups and downs of educational technology advocacy
Resources to extend learning:
7 Ways to Transform Your Classroom via Connected Principals by David Truss