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Teaching with Technology

Teaching with Technology
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How to Learn More
by Jim Lengel, Dean of Faculty, Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, Boston (http://www.bu.edu/jlengel and http://www.lengel.net)

The panoply of new technologies available to teachers and students gets wider every year. Few educators, even the most tech-savvy, can keep up with all of the new developments in computers, online service, handheld devices, wireless networks, and new types of software. There's a lot to learn, and the rapid progress of new invention means that what you learned last year can become old hat by next semester. All of us know colleagues who keep up with the latest technologies and apply them to their teaching; we know others who have given up completely as they are overwhelmed by the pace of change; and many of us remain cautious about jumping into the deep end of the technology pool. This week's article provides some ideas for the majority of teachers who want to learn more about what's possible, but are not ready to devote all their nights and weekends to the computer.

If you wait until someone comes to teach you how to integrate technology into your teaching, don't expect to make much progress. The best way to learn more is to reach out, to your colleagues at school, to the variety of online sources of knowledge, and to the ideas you can find in books (despite the growth of electronic sources, the printed word for many of us remains the best way to learn.).

In House

An easy way to learn more about using technology is at your own school. Your colleagues and your students can serve as sources of inspiration and information, if you take the time to seek it out. Here's how:

Watch a colleague. Almost every school harbors a teacher or two whose classrooms are full of technology and who have learned to make good use of it. They wouldn't mind your stopping by and asking them to show you some of the lessons they've taught, or assignments they've given, that make interesting use of technology. Teachers go through a series of stages as they learn to use technology; a good place to find new ideas is from a teacher who is one stage ahead of where you are. To learn more about these stages of growth, connect to http://www.seirtec.org/ACOTstages.html . As you read through the descriptions on this site of these stages, and watch the video clips of teachers, you'll get some ideas of what your own next steps might be, and which of your colleagues might be in the best position to help you move ahead.

Share ideas. At your next department or grade-level meeting, take ten minutes to go around the room and each one share an idea on how you've employed technology in your classroom. Not everyone will contribute, but you'll be surprised at how many practical applications your colleagues have found for the new technologies. And don't restrict the ideas to full-blown curriculum units -- encourage people to talk about the small tips and tricks they've discovered.

Showcase your students. Mount a once-a-year gallery of student technology projects -- research reports, presentations, slide shows, videos, web pages and so forth -- that display the many ways they have used technology to explore and present the topic of the curriculum. A teacher browsing such a gallery will gather a variety of new ideas for applying technology to teaching and learning.

Ask your students. Many of our students use technology more than we do. Don't be afraid to ask them for help, or to teach you something you don't know how to do. Ask them also to suggest different ways that technology might be used to understand or explore the next topic in the syllabus. -- their experience with new devices and new software my provide insights that you or your colleagues would never come up with on your own.

Publicize your ignorance. This is not as bad as it sounds. Sometimes the easiest way to get started learning new things is to ask aloud in front of your students or colleagues, I wish I knew how to..., and then wait to see of anyone volunteers to show you how. This kind of just-in-time, peer-to-peer teaching and learning is particularly appropriate and effective in a quickly-changing field such as educational technology.

Be open and flexible. Allow and encourage students to find new ways to complete their assignments: new sources of online research; new ways of analyzing data; new tools for organizing ideas and composing sentences; new media for reporting and presenting results. Don't unnecessarily restrict the ways you allow work to be done in such a way as to lock your students out of the new technologies.

On Line

If you have been a regular reader of this series, then you know about the growth in online learning. An easy way to learn more about using technology is to explore the many web-based resources that can help you.

Find a tutorial. You'd be surprised at the number of useful, step-by-step lessons you can find on the web, to help you learn everything from making graphs with Excel to how to write a lesson plan, and many things in between. In the comfort of your classroom, or in your home office, you can learn specific skills or educational applications at your own pace. To find a tutorial, you may simply enter your question into a search engine. Try entering something like How to find a map online into your favorite search engine, and see the results.

Get expert advice. Your educator colleagues have posted hundreds of articles, ideas, lesson plans, and tutorials online. Some of the best -- in addition to the Power to Learn site -- can be found at the Apple Learning Interchange, and Kathy Schrock's home page. Most of the contributions here are from fellow teachers who have found success with technology and are more than willing to share it.

In Print

Many of us who were born in the last century learn easier from the printed word than from any other medium. Visit the library, and browse the books and periodicals designed especially for teachers who want to use technology in their work. Such as...

Teaching with the Internet: Lessons from the Classroom, Third Edition, by Donald J. Leu, Deborah Diadiun Leu, Publisher: Christopher-Gordon Pub; March 1, 2000, ISBN: 1929024207

Book Reports: I Did It on the Computer, by Merle Marsh, Diane S. Kendall, Childrens Software Press, June, 2001, ISBN: 0972260811

Linking Technology and Curriculum: Integrating the ISTE NETS Standards into Teaching and Learning (2nd Edition)
by Jeri A. Carroll, Tonya L. Witherspoon, Prentice Hall; December 18, 2001, ISBN: 0130971081

Integrating Technology: A Practical Guide, by James and Kathleen Lengel, Allyn & Bacon, 2005 (in press).


Behind all of these ways of learning more about technology lies your own motivation. Unless you remain perpetually curious about new ways of teaching and learning; and ever alert for a new technique or teaching idea; and always willing to explore and try new things, your ability to learn more will be curtailed. Keep an open mind and a watchful eye, and the opportunities to learn more will reveal themselves.

(Editor's Note: For very practical ideas on how your students can use technology to complete standard homework assignments, see the monthly column called Computers and Homework at http://www.powertolearn.com/articles/computers_and_homework/index.shtml

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