Why are you using technology? Or more importantly, how are you using technology to better the learning in your classroom and/or school? If you are like me, then you’ve had your fair share of technology screw ups. Projects that didn’t make sense (but used the tech you wanted to bring in). Activities that were ruined by a crashing website or some technological problem. And of course you’ve probably dealt with the students, parents, and teachers that want to do things “the old way”.
In order to make sure you are using technology the right way, you must first “start with why”. If your students understand the “why” behind your technology use, then the class will have a purpose and technological glitches and issues can be worked through. If they don’t understand the “why” then any small issue could turn into a major problem.
Here are 7 ways I’ve been using technology for a purpose in my classroom and as a staff developer in my school. I’m sure there are many other ways to use tech with purpose, but these are some of my favorites!
1. To Collaborate in Real Time
Remember when Google Docs broke onto the scene? It was magic. Students writing and sharing in real-time, able to see what the other students are doing and saying, while still working on your own part of the project or activity. Flash forward 7-8 years and now “real-time collaboration” is a must for most online software. This type of technology allow project-based learning to be monitored, documented, and done outside of the school hours.
At my school we have been using Microsoft OneNote (as well as the Google products) to collaborate in real-time. Whether it is staff planning together, students working together, or a combination of both…this technology has so many learning purposes.
2. To Reflect and Share
I used to have my students journal in their marble notebooks. And during certain activities I still do (like Writer’s Bootcamp). However, what’s nice about having students journal online and share “in the cloud” is the ability for their classmates to see what they have to say.
This is why I suggest blogging throughout the year, and not just as a project. Make blogging a part of your student’s life and you’ll be able to see which topics, ideas, projects, and activities really impacted them. Sometimes it may not be what you thought…and sometimes their simple act of sharing will bring the class together in ways you never could have imagined.
3. Better Research
After I finished writing my Master’s thesis on ‘peace education in the 21st century’ I talked with my mom about her writing process in graduate school. It sounded awful… She would have to go to the library, find a resource, read almost the entire resource, make copies of the pages she wanted to use, and literally “cut it out” and “paste it on” her typewritten document.
Technology has made research simple and more time efficient. I’m not talking about typing a question into google, I’m specifically focused on searching journal databases like ERIC through places like Ebscohost. A nice search phrase will turn up hundreds of peer-reviewed results which can be sorted many different ways (such as by date or full-text article). Those articles that you choose can then be automatically scanned for your keywords, read the specific parts you want, and use what is applicable with a simple copy and paste and proper citation already set up and ready to go.
How often do we really teach students how to research in today’s world? Or do we expect them to learn on their own like we did?
4. Write and Re-Write
Using tools such as Google Docs, the new Microsoft Word, or Draft students are able to write and edit on the fly. They can get feedback from peers and teachers…and then choose whether or not to accept that feedback on their writing. Technology has changed the writing process in much the same way it has changed the research process.
The most important part of writing is the revising and editing. Yet, we often take it for granted. Instead let’s use the technology to track what types of changes students have made, and if they are making the same mistakes in their writing over and over again. That way, the “re-writing” process can have a direct impact on how much they improve and change some of their writing habits over time.
5. Make Something (that matters)
This may be my favorite way to use technology with a purpose. Students now have the ability to make movies, songs, pieces of art, websites, apps, games etc–with technology. However, too often we ask students to make something that does not matter. We ask them to make a movie or poster or presentation that has no direct impact on the world around them.
Instead, let’s challenge ourselves to start making technology matter. Make iMovies that can be uploaded to Youtube and have a purpose. Make games with a meaning. Make apps that matter. Yes, there is a time for fun and games. But if that is all we use technology for in school…then we shouldn’t be surprised when that is all students use technology for once they get out of school.
6. Keep a Digital Record
Digital portfolios are a must. Not because colleges will want and need them in the future (which is happening sooner than you think). Not because it is a cool way to show off what you’ve done in class. Digital portfolios are a must because they show learning growth.
The best way to show how much a student has learned is through a digital portfolio. You can look back over time and what they’ve created, written, and done in school. And how that work has improved (and in what ways) throughout their schooling. When students know their work will be on display and recorded, they also take pride in what they do because it will last.
Ask yourself, are you making “digital fridge art” or something worth keeping?
7. Mastery Assessments
Think about the last time you gave an assessment. I’m sure you prepared students for it during class, gave them materials to study, and supported them during the assessment. However, there were definitely a few students who struggled on this assessment. What happens next? You can either give them a re-take, give them another similar assessment, or say that is there only chance.
If you gave them a digital assessment you’d be able to see exactly which questions they got wrong in comparison to the entire class. You could see how much time they spent on the question and if the answer they chose was way off base…or close. You could tailor a new assessment based on just the problems/questions they got wrong and make sure they achieved mastery on those topics before moving forward.
Technology should change the way we do assessments forever, yet sadly many of us still give tests the same way we did 10 years ago. This is a tech purpose we can’t avoid any longer.
Innovative Teaching Challenge #5: Use technology for a purpose. The next time you use it in class make sure you explain the “why” to your students. This is an important step that we often forget to do. Also, we want to hear how you are using tech in your classrooms. Please share your “purposes” in the comments below!
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