With a new school year rapidly approaching, educators, students and parents are filled with enthusiasm for a successful year ahead. As an educator the beginning of a new school year brings with it new ideas and the desire to improve upon our practice. Every year we strive to do a little better, be a bit more organized, add more variety to our lessons, try and reach those seemingly unreachable students and do the best job possible for our students and ourselves.
Perhaps this is the year that you are thinking of introducing technology into your practice. Technology you say… I already use an overhead projector, Multimedia projector, have a Smartboard, etc. Well maybe this is the year you introduce an e-learning aspect to your practice. First of all it is important to note that technology is not the be all and end all many people make it out to be. Technology will not replace good classroom practice and sound pedagogy. A great teacher will be a great teacher whether they use technology or not. So now that we have that cleared up many of us still see technology as being complementary to the learning process and a way to engage students with devices and applications they are choosing to use in their spare time.
The difficulty comes in deciding what to introduce, how to introduce it and how to effectively use it. Another difficulty is the nature of the teaching profession. Once the school year begins it is self-preservation to use tried and true methods of teaching and learning rather than move outside your comfort zone and try something that may or may not work. The hectic nature of the profession makes it difficult for new ideas to be introduced and implemented in the same school year. That is why now is the perfect time of year to start thinking about our practice and what we want to accomplish this upcoming school year. Many of us have started to turn our attention towards September and are beginning preparations for the classes / courses we will be teaching. Here are a few suggestions on e-learning strategies that can be easily introduced and allow you to get your technological feet wet:
1. From Poster to Prezi: Convert an existing project you have to an online assignment utilizing presentation tools like Prezi or Empressr. Both sites are user-friendly and can be picked up fairly quickly even by the most novice of students.
2. Put that Smartphone to Good Use: Many students these days carry a Smartphone with them these days. Why not have students film a short video of themselves and e-mail the results to you? You can have students film themselves conducting an experiment or learning a concept. Minimal prep required and will add a new twist to handing in homework.
3. E-mail Me: Collecting assignments or homework can be difficult at the best of times. Keeping track of late assignments or students that are absent can take up valuable prep time. Why not have students e-mail assignments to you? You have the luxury of a timestamp that tells you exactly when the assignment was turned in and it provides an opportunity for students that are absent to submit assignments from home.
4. Class Blog: This takes a little more work to setup but with sites like Tumblr, WordPress, Moodle and Edmodo much of the work is done for you. Developing an online presence for your course is a very powerful way to start to remove the walls of learning and allow for students to engage with content outside of the classroom. It is also an excellent way to bring parents into the fold by providing them a window into your classroom. More on this in later posts.
5. Social Media: This is another tricky one to do well but an easy one to start and play with during the course of a school year. Developing a Facebook site for a club or team is a great way to stay connected and disseminate information to people quickly and effectively (make sure you check your school districts policy on Facebook before proceeding). Twitter is another service that allows teachers to step outside the box and provide enrichment opportunities for students by tweeting out links to videos, blogs, discussion boards on whatever topic is being discussed in class. It can also be used to broadcast homework information and test dates. I have found this to be a great way to remove the excuse, “I was away so I didn’t know…’ from the students repertoire.
6. Laptops and iPads: if your school has access to these devices take advantage of it. Bring them into your class and simply have students play. The level of engagement, from my experience, has been extremely high if not 100% each time I brought these devices in. The work the students do on the device need not be difficult… it might as simple as looking up information for a project or completing a homework assignment and e-mailing it to you. The idea is to introduce the idea of e-learning into the classroom and then develop more meaningful ways to take advantage of these technologies.
These are in no way the only entry points to tech integration in the classroom but they might be a good way for the tech-reluctant educator to dive in and see what potential technology holds for their practice. I welcome your comments and feedback. I also would like to hear if you have other ways educators can get their technological feet wet.