Teachers and Technology

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As I read through various blogs and tweets I see numerous comments about teachers not using technology and preparing our students with 21st century skills. This includes Will Richardson’s Weblogg-ed where he asks; “Which leads to the second question which is how in god’s name can we talk seriously about 21st Century skills for kids if we’re not talking 21st Century skills for educators first?” Being fresh out of the “regular” elementary classroom and into the computer lab I feel somewhat qualified to enter this discussion at the elementary level.

Time of course is the biggest hurdle. Elementary teachers teach all subject areas and often feel that more and more is being thrown at them every year. So, planning takes up a great amount of their time and in the elementary classrooms there’s very little time to do this during the day. Then add on grading, contacting parents, report cards, progress notes and other various forms of paper work and it does feel like there’s not time for anything else. People that use all the latest tech tools think it’s easy to incorporate these tools into the classroom but if you’re not used to using them they aren’t intuitive and feel like one more add on to an all ready overloaded plate. Vicki Davis addresses the time issue over at her Cool Cat Teacher blog.

Another hurdle is technology ignorance. I will be the first to admit I didn’t know the difference between a blog and a wiki last November, I had a delicious account but didn’t know it could do more that store my bookmarks and I had certainly never heard of an RSS feed or Twitter. But then I had the opportunity to attend NYSCATE and my world changed for the better. If I had not attended that conference, and David Jakes full day workshop in particular, I would still be in the dark. I think it’s pretty safe to say that the majority, if not all, of the elementary teachers at my schools are as ignorant as I was a few months ago. And I am in no way claiming to be any kind of expert now nor is that meant as a put down to our teachers. I try to share some of what I learned and continue to learn by sending out a bimonthly newsletter in which I try to explain some of these tools and give the teachers links to check out. Some teachers are interested in learning more but don’t feel they have the time or aren’t quite ready, I can relate to Ryan Bretag’s post A Letter Asking for Help.

A third obstacle is lack of modeling by administration on the new tools. We do have computers in our classrooms and teachers are expected to check their email several times a day, all memos are delivered through this form. We have electronic report cards and I’m sure electronic grade books will come our way in another year or two. All teachers have been trained to update a web page on the school website. (But since it’s not mandatory many teachers update so infrequently they forget how to do it. I offer a drop in help session each month, so far no takers.) So teachers do have some computer knowledge and the administration encourages us to use the computers but they aren’t out there in front modeling by using blogs, wikis, Google Docs or other tools. I am trying to encourage them and have sent our administrators links to blogs by other administrators. I’ve also invited my building principals to look at Google Doc and add to it, neither has tried it so far. However, the administration is very supportive to me. The fact that our elementary schools have a tech teacher is rare for our area. So far this year they have sent me to NYSCATE, The Symposium-a one day local conference showcasing technology, and they are sending me to NECC. This type of support tells me that they are willing to be open to new ideas and will continue to take babysteps to becoming a district that is preparing our students for the 21st century at the elementary school. I am very grateful for this support.

I agree with Will Richardson that we need to get teachers using these tools first. At my last district tech meeting it was announced that we’ll be writing up a document on minimal competencies for teachers. We have competencies for the students and we want to make sure the classroom teacher has these same competencies. I jumped at the chance to be on this committee. Student competencies are mainly Microsoft based competencies. I hope we’ll have some other competencies for teachers as well and I plan on taking the ISTE’s NETS for Teachers with me to the meeting. Once this plan is in place we’ll decide what type of training is needed to help teachers meet these competencies. I think this is going to be a good starting point to help teachers with technology.

Now that I’m on the other side of the fence I, like so many others, am trying to figure out how to get the teachers to use more technology tools and begin reading blogs. I can honestly say I understand when they say they don’t have time but I have to find a way to convince them they need to make time in their busy schedules. I like Katt’s idea over at the Techno-Rhetoric Cafe. She is hosting a Technology Club for interested teachers. This year I’ve tried drop-in after school sessions on a variety of topics, I think 3 participants is the most I’ve had per session so far. So maybe I’ll try the club idea next year. I know I’ll never get everyone on board but I would love to have a core group of teachers working together to try new tools to help the students. Hmmm one more idea to add to my growing summer to do list. Another way I’m trying to help the teachers is by setting up a wiki with teacher resources and student links. It is a work in progress. I’m also using it as a place to show what we’re doing in the lab. Another area of strength for us is our local Model Schools organization. They offer training on a variety of topics including such things as wikis. I need to find ways to stay updated on their latest offerings and get the information out to our teachers and encourage them to attend and continue to attend workshops myself.

I love my new job and the challenges that it brings. I look forward to learning more ways to integrate technology and continue to support and help the classroom teachers as well.