Friday, 20 March 2009

Getting Started on the Road to Technology Integration

Integrating technology into your classroom instruction can seem like a daunting task the first time you try to do it. The first attempts at technology integration can be extra daunting if you started teaching before computers were the ubiquitous machines that they are today. But even if you're a digital native, integrating technology may not be as easy you expect, because as we know, being able to do Algebra and teaching Algebra are two separate tasks. Likewise, being able to use a computer and being able to teach with a computer are two separate tasks. I learned this the hard way, hopefully I can help you avoid having to learn the hard way too.

In schools that do not have one to one computing programs, using a computer may not be a daily occurrence in a student's life. The school that I work in has over 1200 students, but only four computer labs with a total of less than 80 computers between them. Students who are not regularly in one of the computer labs often forget their network ID's and or network passwords. If you plan an online activity and get to the computer lab only to discover that 25% of your students have forgotten a piece of their log-in credentials you either lose time trying to get them onto a computer or they lose out on the activity. To prevent this situation from happening, I maintain keep a list of all of my students' network log-in credentials. Once your students are online, if they are using a program that requires them to have a user name and password, make a list of these too. While this may seem like an obvious thing to do, it wasn't obvious to me the first time I took a class to a computer lab.

Cloud computing is awesome. Every document that I have created in the last year is on my Google Docs account because I know that I can access it from any Internet connected computer. Web 2.0 tools like wikis and blogs are great too. Wikis and blogs give students the power to create and share with a small audience or a global audience. The one thing that these tools must have though, is an Internet connection. If you do enough activities online, eventually you'll run into a situation where your class is paralyzed by a slow or broken Internet connection. Have a back-up plan. This is something that we're all taught in teacher training, but for some reason I see teachers forget this when they plan Internet based lessons.

If you're a digital immigrant this scenario is more likely to happen to you than it is to a teacher that is a digital native, but the solution is the same. Your class is settled in, they're working on the task you've given them, they're learning and enjoying creating content online, and then someone runs into a problem that you don't know how to immediately fix. Rather than getting flustered or trying in vain to fix the problem, turn it into a learning opportunity for you and your students. If you present the problem to the class and let each student try to solve it, chances are one of your students will figure it out. As long as they have a saved copy of whatever they are working on, students (particularly younger students) are willing to try just about anything on a computer.

Selecting a resource
Selecting a resource to use in your technology based lesson plan is much like selecting any other material for a lesson plan. Consider the objectives of the lesson or assignment then choose an appropriate web resource. There are way too many choices of resources for me to begin to give specific recommendations for each subject area, but I can offer some general recommendations. You can find more than 1200 resources for all subject areas linked to my blog Free Technology for Teachers. The search box in the top, left corner of my blog is very useful for finding resources by tag words. The key to successful integration of any web resource is to have a good understanding and familiarity with that program.

Blogs are great tools for a variety of classroom objectives. Students can create individual blogs or contribute to a group blog as an exercise in journalism. Group blogs are also great to have as a living and growing record of the topics studied and knowledge gained by your students.

In some applications wikis are a better tool than blogs. In most cases it is easier for the first timer to add pages to a wiki than it is to add pages to a blog. If you would like your students to create a reference resource, wikis are a better choice than a blog. Last year students in my Contemporary World Studies course built a wiki about Africa. Each student was assigned a country to research. Each student then shared what they learned on their own page in the wiki.

With a little planning and practice technology integration can become a seamless part of your lesson planning.

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