CLASSROOM 21 | by Greg Limperis
I’d like to thank all of those who recognize how difficult a teacher’s job is and who want to make it easier—but let me help you realize what I as a teacher do not want. Let me help you recognize what tools do not make my life easier so that we understand each other better.
First of all, don’t buy me any technology without planning for and giving me plenty of professional development on how to use it. You see, I wasn’t born with this stuff in my hands — and even if I could figure it out — it doesn’t mean I know the best way to integrate it into my daily teaching. I need your help. Let me tell you, there’s nothing I hate more as a teacher than to see money wasted. I say this because I have so little of it. In case you didn’t realize, I’m not paid much and yes, I often take some of that hard-earned money and spend it on essentials you don’t supply for me. Because of this fact, there’s nothing worse for all of us to see, than great technology thrown in a corner because I was never shown how to use it nor given any time to figure it out.
While we’re on the subject of time, don’t try to provide training for me always on my planning period. I seldom get to plan on my planning period — let alone, learn something new. There are some days when I could do this, but those are hard to come by. Before and after school — are better, but there are other things going on in my life. If you want me to pick up using this technology and to do it quickly, then cover some of my classes so I can be in class myself where I can concentrate and focus on what you are teaching me.
Giving me technology to figure out on my own does not save me time. Instead, it takes much more time even if you gave me help. The best situation would be to give me a true Technology Facilitator. You give me a Reading and Math Facilitator to help me better teach Reading and Math, yet I’m not a Reading or Math teacher — yet I can use technology in every subject and you still don’t provide me with a Technology Facilitator — yet another way of wasting my time.
Do not give me hardware to better track data, I don’t have a secretary to enter and manipulate this data, so I’ll only be able to do a basic job with it at best. Give that job of tracking, managing and manipulating data to someone else. They will actually give me more time to focus on what is important — and that’s teaching.
If you need me to gather the data for you, then give me technology that makes it easier to do that. Don’t give me a lab full of testing software that every student in the school has to use a few times a year to gather this data. Doing so will make the lab off limits many times when I would actually like to get a class in there to work on projects.
On that note, don’t give me two or three computers in my classroom. You’re simply wasting your time thinking that I’ll get my students on them in any fair way. Having twenty-five students in my classroom and three computers is not a good mix. Have you ever tried telling a child you can use the computer for only fifteen minutes and then not again for a few weeks? What can they get done that is meaningful on a computer in only fifteen-minute chunks every few weeks?
I could give them more time on the computer, but giving each of my students an hour to use the computer once ever month or so is just not practical, either. This only causes more problems in my class and doesn’t make it any easier. Give me technology that I can put in every student’s hands all at the same time — even if it means I can only have it once a week. Having no computers in my room so that we can afford laptop carts that I can schedule out and use for a block of time each semester — is much better than having a few computers in my room that are near impossible to use because I can’t get everyone on them in any fair way.
Do not give me a webcam and expect me to collaborate. Do you know when (and which) other schools can work out the issues of time zone difference so that we might be able to collaborate on the same topic at the same time? Figuring this out and making arrangements for me would help because I often don’t know where to start, nor do I know what do once I know this. Skyping with a class half way around the globe is cool, but it won’t make my job easier unless there’s an easy way to constantly plan with people to collaborate.
Do not think that by giving me interactive whiteboard equipment, this will transform my classroom. There is still only a few people who can use it at once at the front of the room, unless you help me to realize how I can transform my teaching while using it — by making my students become the teacher of each other while using it. I need to get my students engaged, or I lose them. Once again, I need someone to help me make this happen by giving me some of those skills.
Do not give me a district website that is just that, a website. I need it to be so much more. I need it to be my own classroom website with a Dropbox space where I can place homework and assignments for all my students to access. Let me be able to add content to my page. Writing up things and getting them to someone else to add to my page is not practical and I will not use it.
Give me a LMS where I can post assignments and my students can access those assignments from anywhere. Do not give me something where the parents of my students can’t also see what assignments and activities they are working on. It does not make my life easier having to pick up the phone and call my student’s parents for everything.
I am not okay with any BYOD policy. Sounds great on the surface, but I can see the writing on the wall. What happens when I plan to use these devices in my lessons and students forget to bring then? Better yet, how does it help me when they all bring in different devices that I’m not familiar with and they need help on it to better use it on our lesson? I also can’t stop them from loading content on their own device that isn’t appropriate for school and/or results in being a distraction for my students and their learning?
Any technology that you use to better judge my performance based on my students and their performance on standardized tests — does nothing more than make me nervous. Ease my concerns on what you are actually recording on that technology by letting me play around in it as well.
As you can see, I could go on for hours. There are things such as educational content that I really need. I need a one-to-one program giving every student access to this technology so that I can differentiate instruction for all my learners. Doing so makes my life easier. Give me technology such as a tablet in my hand so I can capture and share true data about my students all the time. Give it to me with Internet access. That’s important. I need to have access to the outside world at all times.
The problem, as you can see, is that I’m busy and I don’t have time as it is. If you’re going to give me technology and tools to make my job easier, then you need to do so with just as much detail being put into giving me support. Give me an online group where I can collaborate and learn from my peers. Give me the support I need and the tools that can and will save me time and make my life easier — but by not doing so, you are sure to waste more of my time and definitely not make my life easier. Realize this: I have a curriculum to teach and I need to engage my students. I need them using tools in school that they use at home. I need learning to be fun, yet at the same time, purposeful. Give me direction; give me guidance — and most importantly, a network of support.
Help me join a professional learning network. Collaborate with me. Give me training. Share great lessons and ideas you have used and that you know work. Technology will always be changing — but good, engaging learning has stood the test of time. Help give me the tools that make that happen and you will make my life as a teacher easier.
Greg Limperis is Supervisor of Instructional Technology for his district in Lawrence, Mass. He is the founder of the very popular Technology Integration in Education professional learning network, reaching thousands of educators worldwide. Greg has shared with others what he knows and they have joined him in sharing their insights as well. Join them in bringing about change using your 21st century skills.
Great article, Greg. I agree with you about a great many of the things you say, but I’m grateful to finally get my five computers, even though I teach up to 27 kids in a class. I work it out, rotate in groups, or have some kids do it at home. I know, not ideal. As such, I wish for wireless and BYOD. Most of them are better at using their “d” than me, so feel like I’d be saving myself funding issues and infrastructure issues if it were allowed.
Because of limitations, I’ve chosen tech platforms that I can use in or out of the classroom. I put my materials on Learnist, which they can access in and out of the class. I made a class blog on WordPress and use Twitter. The kids get tweets with links to my Learnist boards or they know to find them on the blog. They can access them from anywhere at any time. If they have a mobile device, they can take them on the run. Sadly, BYOD is against the rules, though. I’m in “do the best I can” mode, which is better than before when I had nothing.
Luckily, so many of these platforms are universal or easily learned UIs and I can get kids up and running–they figured out Learnist right away, Twitter’s universal, anyone can use a blog, and one day a student said, “Hey, can we use Piktochart for this?” I hadn’t taught it or done it before with them, but they were up and running quickly. Yes, they did have to group up and share, but we made it work.
You’re right. It’s an awful lot of half-funded “on the fly,” which can be frustrating. I’m going to run with it anyway, though, because I don’t want to go back to the days of scrap paper. Maybe it’s not ideal, but I’m working hard to figure out the best way to deal:)
Greg, you’re right on target with your remarks about the typical teacher’s situation. I have a problem with the entire discussion about education technology. What is meant by “technology” in this context? Is it hardware (e.g. IWB), software (e.g., typing tutor), cloud services (e.g. Google docs), or something else entirely? Without a cogent and clear definition, we don’t know what we’re talking about.
The ideal new technology for your classroom would not require training or at least so little that it doesn’t matter. This new technology would cost very little, at most dollars per student per year. It would drop right into your classes without any real effort at integration because it will meet your curricular goals right away. It will engage students, not entertain them.
The greatest new technologies will do all of this with self-pacing, some form of differentiation, and will reduce costs AND teacher time. They will use the best known pedagogy.
The above goals apply to my own work in creating new educational technology. I’ve chosen to work in cloud technology (before that term was coined) and in my own field of science, being a scientist myself. I’ve eschewed the memory-oriented approach as already having too many vendors and not fitting with my concept of how to teach. I chose the science lab as my target because that’s where students learn scientific thinking and where they begin to understand the nature of science. The outcome is the only system with online hands-on labs. It’s about time!
I have to totally disagree.
Should we, as teachers, get better access to technology and PD? Yes. But do I trust a district body composed of non-teachers to make that happen? No. In fact, that creates an even bigger problem. Have you ever sat in a mandated technology training with a bunch of people who were just ordered to “collaborate” using “the latest technology”?
I am saying this from the perspective of a young teacher (I’m 29, have always had a computer, and have taught for 9 years in California public schools), who has done more professional development around technology than probably any other teacher in my building – hours in conferences, both in person and virtual, hundreds of Google+ hangouts, learning from other educators, connections made on Twitter – and yet most of my colleagues won’t benefit from it because we’re not given the time to do so. There are a few teachers who see what I do and ask lots of questions. They are doing genuinely exciting things and the collaboration that happens between us is one of the best parts of my job.
But the main reason they don’t get to benefit from this extensive training is not time. It’s exactly the attitude in this post. Resentful, and yet expectant that someone else will just hand them the tools they need to keep up with the digital age in which we find ourselves.
Would it be great if Staff Development days were run like EdCamps and the participants in the room could direct and select their own PD? YES! Would it be great if we had the technology to do our jobs more effectively? YES! But is the answer to make teachers join an PLN, collaborate, learn how to use new technology (with all the different levels at which the teachers in one building are), and be “supported”?
No. The answer is to show teachers what is possible, and then give them the time to figure out what (or if) those tools can improve their classroom. The answer is to turn over PD to teachers to use the expert knowledge in the room to teach each other.
And waiting for someone to magically hand them the technology, the training, the support and the motivation to implement them is just as bad as the current approach.