Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Course Reflection

My current graduate course – Understanding the Impact of Technology on Education, Work, and Society – is coming to a close. The past eight weeks have been exciting and challenging. This post is a reflection of what I have learned about the impact of technology in education and how I will apply that knowledge in my classroom.

In what ways has this course helped you to develop your own technology skills as a professional teacher?

When I first received the textbook for this class, I couldn’t wait to get started. I was already familiar with the concepts of blogs, wikis, and podcasts. Prior to this course, I had started a couple of blogs on my school website. I had also created a wiki in a session I attended at an educational technology conference. However, I was not using these tools to their full advantage. My use of blogs and wikis was similar to my first few weeks using a Promethean board. I was only using the most basic features. In other words, I used these tools to do some things differently, rather than using them to do different things. I learn best by doing, so I was thrilled that the course assignments focused on creating, developing, and modifying resources using Web 2.0 tools. Rather than read about each tool’s features and capabilities, we were actively discovering and experimenting with them. Working collaboratively with my fellow group members also enhanced the learning process, as the sum of our group’s accomplishments was greater than anything we could have done individually. As a result, I feel very comfortable integrating blogs and wikis into my instruction. Perhaps the most challenging technology assignment was creating my first podcast. Actually, recording the interviews was easy. Editing and splicing together clips from different recordings required a good deal of effort and numerous tries before I got a product that I felt was adequate. My students enjoyed being part of that assignment and I can definitely see the educational possibilities of creating podcasts on a regular basis.

In what ways have you deepened your knowledge of the teaching and learning process?

This course provided a wealth of information and ideas through its many resources. The concepts of digital natives and digital immigrants were new to me. Through the course resources, I have learned a lot about the ways in which digital natives learn. I can remember watching my son play video games and wondering how he could carry on a phone conservation while making split-second decisions on his next “move” in the game. Now that I understand how digital natives learn, I realize that he definitely fits that description. I also can identify some of those same characteristics in my students. There is no doubt that they can multitask. They also expect immediate feedback on what they do in class, just as the images on video games react instantly to every move made on the controller. To reach and truly engage these students requires interesting, relevant, and interactive lessons.

In what ways have you changed your perspective from being teacher-centered to learner-centered?

This is my third year of teaching. From the beginning, I have tried to make the learning process in my classes more student-centered. I know that they lose focus if they are not actively involved in the lesson. I try to avoid “drill and kill” activities. Rather than focus on rote memorization and regurgitation, I want my students to think critically, to analyze the situation and determine the best way to arrive at a solution. This course has reinforced the idea that I am a guide and coach, but the students must also take responsibility for their own learning. Once students know that their opinions and ideas are needed and valued, they have a bigger stake in the educational process. I also depend on them for feedback on what works and doesn’t work in the classroom. If a particular technique or method does not help, then I need to change it. Instead of waiting until tests are graded to find out whether or not they understand, continuous feedback from the students will help me make appropriate adjustments before the assessment is given.

In what ways can you continue to expand your knowledge of learning, teaching, and leading with technology with the aim of increasing student achievement?

I am constantly looking for opportunities to improve the quality of instruction in my classroom. The required course work for my Master’s Degree is one of the ways that I will continue to gain more knowledge about learning, teaching, and leading with technology. In addition, I attend workshops, conferences, and in-service training sessions with the goal of improving and enhancing my students’ educational experiences. Through this course, I have learned the value of following blogs as another source of information and ideas. Just as I learn best by doing, my students will achieve more by becoming active participants in their own education.

Set two long-term goals (within two years) for transforming your classroom environment by which you may have to overcome institutional or systemic obstacles in order to achieve them. How do you plan to accomplish these goals?

My Algebra I Honors students are beginning a wiki project to develop their own study guide for the End of Course exam. This will be the ‘maiden voyage’ and I am sure we will learn a great deal about what works and what doesn’t. We are starting late in the school year, so the end product may not be as comprehensive as we would prefer. The long-term goal is to develop a complete online study, practice, and review resource for each course. Each new class of students will continue to refine and expand the course wiki. By actively editing the material, students will increase retention, understanding, and application of the course content. One of the biggest obstacles is limited student access to computers, which leads to the next goal.

My second long-term goal is to expand my students’ access to technology resources. Currently, we have one computer lab with 30 desktop computers. At any one time, three or four of those may be out of service. For 90 of the 180 school days, the lab is unavailable to core subject teachers due to keyboarding classes. Approximately, 30 days are reserved for computerized testing. I am lucky to be able to take my classes to the computer lab 4 days each school year. That simply is not adequate to prepare them for the 21st century. Possibilities include expanding computer lab hours, so that it is open to students before and after school. I have even considered asking for permission to open it several Saturday mornings during the year. Of course, the ideal solution would be to simply increase the number of computers. That requires money. There is nothing in the budget for that, so I am investigating various grants that may give us the funds to purchase additional computers.

As this course comes to an end, I believe that I have the knowledge and resources to design educational activities that will encourage collaboration and communication. I have learned new ways that students may present and share information with their peers. These activities will also encourage students to take responsibility for their own education by providing the tools they need to succeed in the 21st century.

The course resources have also provided critical information that could help me “sell” our administration on the importance of technology in education. I can now provide specific information on the benefits of allowing cell phones and MP3 players in the classroom. My plan is to develop several lessons or units that incorporate personal technology devices and still address the state standards. In addition, I have strong evidence of and personal experience with the instructional benefits of allowing access to blog and wiki sites on school computers. I am now better prepared to lead my students into the 21st century.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Technology on a Budget

Like many teachers and schools across the country, we do not have enough money in our budget for adequate technology resources. I am actively pursuing other options for funding. However, I know that my students bring the latest technology to school every day. Most of their cell phones have greater computing power than the personal computers we owned 10 - 15 years ago. While I can understand the concern that students may use cell phones for personal texting during class or cheating during a test, I believe that it is possible to take advantage of this "free" technology for instructional purposes. It wasn't until this past Christmas that I "caught up" with my students in terms of cell phone technology. They often laughed at my previous phone and its limited capabilities. I am still discovering new features on my phone and it has been exciting!

Imagine what you could do in a classroom where everyone had their own computer, every day. Currently, I am lucky to get my classes into the computer lab four days each school year! Yet, every day, my 8th grade students walk into each of their classrooms with the technological power to send voice and text messages; record still pictures, audio, and video; surf the Internet; employ GPS; solve mathematical calculations; send and receive electronic files through BlueTooth connections; check weather conditions around the world; communicate globally using tools such as Skype; follow breaking news stories; get up-to-the-minute statistics on sports, the stock market, gas prices, or any other data that is gathered electronically. Imagine the possibilities for using this technology in every subject: Math, Science, Social Studies, ELA, Music, Art, etc. Doesn't it make you wonder why schools go to great lengths to ban these devices?

As teachers, it is our job to prepare our students for 21st century careers. We cannot do that if we do not embrace 21st century technology in our schools and in the classroom.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Learning to Podcast

As an assignment for one of my graduate courses, I had to create a podcast. This was truly a challenging learning experience! I interviewed four of my 8th grade students about their knowledge and use of technology in both their social lives and their academic lives. Interviewing and recording was fun. Editing, splicing, and creating the final podcast took quite awhile. The most difficult part was trying to upload the podcast to a site where it can be accessed publicly. I certainly hope this works!