Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Interactive Whiteboards - Is this the Answer?

Imagine entering a classroom where not only is the teacher out of their seat, but all of the students as well. Students are actively engaged in a discussion and writing their thoughts on a white board using a stylus. One student decides that each student should have a definite amount of time so he adds a countdown clock with a buzzer to the board. Each time the buzzer sounds, the student hands the stylus to another student and their time for writing their own brainstorming thoughts begin. You may wonder what is really happening here. Can this be learning? Will this help improve test scores? How can students learn in this chaos?
Not only are students learning, they are engaged. Interactive whiteboard technologies have opened up the transfer of knowledge, once thought to only come from the teacher, to students working collaboratively and sharing what they know with each other. Whiteboards allow students to write down ideas, manipulate data in ways once thought unfathomable, and save as text or images to a computer for use later. Teachers no longer need to recreate lessons from day to day but can simply open the saved file in order to continue where you have left off.
Using a computer, projector, and one of the many different whiteboards available on the market today, students can now become actively engaged in the lesson being taught. Virtual dissections can be performed with students each taking a turn using the virtual scalpel and tweezers to look at the inner parts of a frog. Collaborative stories can be written and revised on the whiteboard in clear view for all of the students to see. During a brainstorming session, each student can have their turn in listing their ideas for the specific topic being discussed. By simply selecting the Internet web browser available, the students can explore the Internet using their finger. How exciting would it be to be able to research things instantly and literally at your fingertips.
Studies have shown that students thrive when given opportunities to create their learning environment. Of course, they still need the teacher to direct them, but the students will find the way they learn best, be it auditory, visual, or kinesthetic, or, quite often, a combination of all three.
Are whiteboards the answer? Not always. However, when given the opportunity using the whiteboard, knowing the result will be reaching all students in their own way, this is a technology that must be considered. After all, it wasn't too long ago that computers weren't in the classroom either.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Technology Integration - New Ideas, Technologies, and Instructional Strategies

Developing instructional strategies for greater collaboration and technology integration is one of the most difficult aspects of any technology coordinators job. Schools will spend millions of dollars to bring in the hardware and software but getting teachers on board is more important than the equipment itself. If the teachers aren't willing to modify lessons to incorporate technology, than even the newest and best equipment is not worth anything.

Providing professional development is one key component to technology integration but it is not the only one. While technology coordinators can show teachers how to integrate technology, until the teachers have time to use it, any professional development is wasted. Most teachers I have spoken with simply say they do not have the time to create lessons using technology. Most also feel that the students must have something on paper or it isn't a good lesson. Once the teachers feel comfortable using other technologies like blogging, podcasting, or wikis, then, and only then, will they feel comfortable using this technology with their students.

Once the professional development has been presented, it is important to give the teachers time to try out the new tools. If teachers are never given time to try things out, they will never utilize the tools in their teaching. Also, the training needs to be in small pieces because if too much information is presented, the teachers will think that it is to difficult and stick with old, tried and true ways.

Initially, having each teacher create a blog and having the staff comment on each others blog is one way to get the teachers using that technology. Once they realize how easy it is to have online communication, teachers will utilize this type of technology to enhance classroom discussion. This is an excellent way to extend the learning outside the classrooms. Furthermore, should a class end before all questions have been answered, a simple posting of the question will allow all students that wish to be heard a way to be heard.

Online collaboration using wikis is another way teachers can share ideas with each other. Beginning with a theme, each teacher will be able to share ideas related to the theme. Looking at the different ways to achieve curriculum goals, the teachers can then work together to create an integrated lesson and not duplicate efforts.

Podcasting is another useful tool in the classroom. Teachers can create a podcast of a classroom discussion and make it available for students to use as a review or for students that were absent the day of the initial discussion.

Using the various technologies listed, teachers will become familiar with technologies the students use daily which should, hopefully, alleviate the fear of the unknown. Students can be involved in helping the teacher develop the blog, wiki, or podcast which gives them a sense of ownership as well as helping them take responsibility for their own learning.

Finally, providing the teachers with some sample lessons that have simple instructions will help the teacher develop the confidence they need to feel more comfortable. Once they experience their own sense of accomplishment and see how the students are taking to the lessons, they will begin to look for ways to incorporate additional technologies on their own. The first step will always be the hardest but once they take it, they soon will be running. As the technology coordinator, it is important to always be supportive of their efforts, even if it takes reteaching a technology several times.