Posted on 10/21/2010 at 10:18 AM by Global Reach

by Jim Christensen

 I was an early adopter of technology when I began teaching. I really was open to how technology could change the way I taught and always wanted to find those tools and methods that could make the process of learning in my classroom really hum. Back in those days it actually was pretty simple. The range of tools were relatively limited and anything we did carried with it a certain wow factor. I remember my classroom as being a place where my students worked with the coolest tech devices available. Oh my, how things have changed. I am convinced that the very coolest technology tools now available are carried by each student and are limited or banned by many schools. What piece of information can’t a student access if given a smart-phone and five minutes? This thought actually makes me very thankful that we no longer stand on the nuclear brink with Russia! I wonder what those missile launch codes are?

As we planned for tech development in our school, we did what at that time was a pretty unique process. We defined each of our users in groups. We identified the staff as teachers, administrators, cooks, janitors, bus drivers, and secretaries. We identified elementary, middle, and high school students. We identified subgroups based on involvement in activities. We identified parents, extended family, and community members without students. After identifying each group we began to brainstorm what each group should be able to do. We created lists of these activities that we thought technology should allow each of these people to accomplish as it related to the school. We dreamed big and didn’t allow the simple fact that it was impossible to get in our way. We just dreamed and wrote it down. Then we starting matching available technology to our dreams. We ran out of money before running out of dreams, but it was quite a start.

I recently looked at that old document. We can now do just about everything we dreamed and more. We accomplish some of the tasks in ways we didn’t envision. No one mentioned texting, but we did talk about the ability to easily communicate. Texting just happens now to be the cool tool. It is amusing to me to compare what it use to take for me to get the word out to the teams I coached if we changed practice or trip departure times to what it takes now.

So what should you be doing related to technology integration in your classroom? I like to attend workshops and learn what teachers are currently doing. I have heard many people explain the latest sliced-bread software, web site, or technology.   It seems you can never do enough, but I think it might be easy to do too much.

I think it all comes down to your audience and what they need to accomplish. What tool fits what you need. No one has to do it all, but you do need to understand how technology pervades what you do and let your students use authentic tools to accomplish their tasks.

We can also eliminate our concerns over location. For awhile all we heard at every tech conference was “the world is flat.” No, I know for a fact that it is round. I traveled to India last January and the sun was not up there while it was shining on Iowa. What I also know is that the shape of the world and the distance only mattered to me while I was on the airplane. The rest of the time I could access everything I needed from India in just about the same way I did it from my desk in Sioux City.

As a result of being in India I work a lot with students and teachers there concerning projects. We arranged for a team of students and a teacher from Pakistan to visit northwest Iowa. We used Google docs, Google mail, Google chat, Google audio, and Google video to prepare for the trip. All of this we did at no cost with pretty good quality. These tools made it possible for us to do some things that could relate to many classrooms.

We did some interesting things preparing for the Pakistanis to visit. The first thing we did was to create a budget spreadsheet on Google docs that was shared among people and organizations that were going to help with funding. In this way the principal players in the group could understand and be a part of forming a budget with which we could all function. Closely related to this we established a schedule google doc so that the budget could be related back to the activities that were actually going to be accomplished. Next we established a google doc where we attempted to identify and solve the issues that we might face.

The issues doc was fun. The top of the page contained a statement of purpose and a list of goals for the project. Then came a five column chart. In column 1, any of the participants could write down a concern, what we called an issue. An example would be “What will we be eating? Our beliefs require us to eat meat that has been prepared in a particular way.” Column 2 was my chance to write a reply to the concern, ask further questions, and explain it from my viewpoint as an Iowan. Column 3 was the location for the Pakistanis to reply to me. In Column 4 we collaborated to post a draft solution to the issue. Column 5 was the location where I wrote a statement that was the result of our discussions and something of which we could all agree was a reasonable solution with which both sides could be happy. This may all sound like a lot of work, but it was an incredible experience. We ended up with about 25 issues being identified and we worked through them all.

As we worked on the issues using the doc the students would prompt me to look at their new comments by sending me Facebook messages. Often the messages would include phrases in Urdu, their language. This led to the establishment of another google doc. The “Teaching Jim to talk like a Pakistani” doc is a real highlight for me. On it we capture phrases in English, Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi, and Arabic. Whoever added a phrase typically put in their name, as well. Now I often copy and paste some of these phrases into chat messages and Facebook posts. I am actually beginning to recognize some of the things the kids send me. I am encouraged that despite my advancing age, I can still learn!

The bottom line here is that we need to be prepared to give students access to appropriate tools and have the necessary training in place to assure that they can use the tool safely and effectively. Given tools, kids can take off and run with them. We need to be open to this need and not block it. We need to continually consider the audience and what they need to do, and then facilitate the process within our classrooms.

This might turn in to a lot of fun!

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