Technology integration into the classroom now and into the future
I was standing outside the middle school talking with the technology guy for both the middle school and the high school a while back. Really great guy, family man, well respected for his work with the school district. We were discussing the issue of Bringing Your Own Devices (BOD) to school, and how that would affect, not just the lives of the students, but his IT department, and all the teachers at both schools. While I am tremendously happy for our district, I also understand the challenges we face with technology.
New Technology and Education
New technology creates volumes of work for those in IT, as well as for teachers, and administrators on tightly held budgets. How can we really gauge eLearning or mLearning (Mobile Learning) when technology doesn’t have a consistency plan? We can develop plans, but technology doesn’t seem to have any boundaries. How do you strategically plan for technology? You can equipment your labs with the latest computers and software, but technology shifts almost monthly. Once you plug it into the wall, it’s on the road to obsolete.
We can develop plans, but technology doesn’t seem to have any boundaries.
There are some key strategic questions you have to ask when you begin to prepare to integrate technology into your educational setting and/or any organization.
- How can educators ensure reasonable access for all students or employees? Not everyone can afford it.
- Will the wide variety of devices create a problem with consistency? It would be important to do research beyond specific brands.
- Ongoing discussions have occurred over the “digital divide”. Is this still an issue or is it narrowing?
- To avoid distractions from things such as social media and texting, would different types of mobile devices be more effective for use in the classroom setting?
- How can research keep up with the ever-changing world of devices and applications?
- When the novelty of using mobile technology begins to wear off, will student and employee engagement still be higher for the m-learning group?
- What are best practices for Twitter usage in a classroom?
- What external factors (age, gender, socioeconomic class, culture, religion, etc.) affect the usefulness of mobile learning?
- What situations is mobile learning least-suited for?
- How will the role of the teacher change as mobile learning increases?
- What changes will be made in teacher education to prepare them to facilitate mobile learning?
Everyone needs to be connected
It’s no secret that I used to work for a university, and one of my many hats that I wore had to deal with helping students get onto the wireless system. It was a small 5% or less of what I did. At the maximum level, I also helped troubleshoot nearly 82 computers throughout the complex. Between myself and the campus help desk, and UEN engineers, we muddled through a number of challenges daily.
The hardest part of BOD, and administering access is that there are so many different types of devices. Students have presented computers to me that was almost archaic. I’ve seen some pretty sweet devices too – ones that I would love to own. The high school and middle school would see the same. Once you open the door to BOD – you will have to accommodate all devices, within reason of course.
I have to say my favorite departments to work with were IT and UEN, at the university level. They have a thankless job some days. Other days they are everyone’s hero. They were always my hero’s. Somedays I kick myself for never having applied to UEN. Working with such highly specialized technicians and engineers was rewarding.
Looking at the problems
Here is the problem that I see. While IT usually has their hands full with a host of projects and fixes, most are not going to have the time to help students, staff and/or guests gain access to their wireless systems, nor offer technical support at the door. You have to have someone on site who can help those individuals who can’t access your wireless system, or need special help with software required by the institution or organization. It’s a troubleshooting job, not at all similar to an online helpdesk. These people are face-to-face.
While there may be extra hard wired computers in the labs for students to use, when it comes to software and what each student MUST have to accomplish their assignments – that is where it gets a little tricky. Not every student will have the same software needs. Not every teacher will use the same software. You wouldn’t want a teacher using GPS software worrying about their students only having access to software that a marketing student would need.
You can say you only have X or O software available for everyone to use, but when you begin talking about Adobe, Indesign, GPS, and other software – you run into bigger issues. A big example of an another major issue is licensing for all the software each instructor will need. If a student is required to have the software and it isn’t provided on the school computers – you WILL accommodate that students need and troubleshoot their access into your network. If the student is required to purchase software or rent it, you have to at least allow them access to your network.
Anytime you upgrade a computer system, you should be thinking about training and hiring new staff too. Be thinking about this as you develop your long range plans for:
- upgrading your computer software, and providing technical support.
- adjust your projected budgeting for new equipment & networking, as well as the impact the change will have on your employees.
- project how it will be implemented, with periodic evaluations and assessments on the finished product (technology is a change beast)
A little good news
Most wireless systems have an online dashboard for administrators so that they can add and drop computers easily just by knowing the IP and MAC addresses. The MAC address is a unique address for a specific computer. What is nice with the BOD system is that the person who generally monitors this online system can add and delete computers online, from anywhere. I would get phone calls after hours from the evening staff requesting help with a student’s computer. I simply log into the online system and “issue solved”.
The dashboard also allows you to set reminders to check for computers that are about to run out of their allotted connection time (365 days for students, 7 days for quests), and even add the IP and Mac Address along with the person information. Since I also advised students, I knew their class schedules, and I would automatically extend their time so they had a seamless experience.
Oh, lets upgrade! What does that really mean?
Administrators are the worst when it comes to IT and wireless communications. They know a lot, but they really don’t get involved with the hands-on operational part of technology. They don’t always have the insight for the long term difficulties that comes along with technology. They don’t get into the ends and outs of computers, nor the networks. Just so long as it works, that is all that really matters to them. When it doesn’t work – that seems to be when they really listen.
If you are going to incorporate new technology in your organizational structure, factor in potential new staff and/or additional man hours. You’re going to need it.
You need people on site!
Staffing also includes teachers and IT staff. Professional development for all distance and non-distance educators needs to go beyond the basics. All beliefs and values aside – some educators really do need to go back to school themselves (PhD’s, EdD’s, etc). Institutions of education cannot expect its instructors to teach over a technology medium, nor operate new technology, that they themselves struggle with. Teacher readiness may be more than just “being ready”.
If an instructor doesn’t have those lifelong learning skills either from prior education or learned through continuing professional development, they probably won’t appreciate the benefits derived from the use of technology in the classroom.
The changing classroom environment
Adults still tend to think of a classroom with walls, desks, and a teacher who will lead them in a face-to-face learning environment. With the increase of technology in the classroom, the definition of a traditional classroom is evolving. Teachers have more access to online teaching tools and grading books that help to free up their time for more core curriculum planning.
The modern curriculum is being redesigned to incorporate further blended learning environments for the student. With the use of online technology, instructors can offer a student a variety of instructional methods for learning. One day a student may be in the classroom listening to a lecture, the next day they may out in the field, doing surveys or working on experiments. The next day after that, they may be doing course work online. These new blended environments give both the instructor and the student opportunity to utilize the best of many educational methods – traditional, online, and self-directed learning.
IT has the responsibility to service all these ever changing environments. It’s not a matter of just deciding to install new equipment or software. Unless IT, teachers, and administrations are all working together in the planning and design stages, there really can’t be an assessment stage. You need those assessment stages.
Understand this when it comes to technology and education
The impact of technology is directing instruction away from a teacher based learning experience, toward a student lead experience assisted by media.
Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences (ITLS) is a universal phenomenon, offering educational technology that has the ability to reach immense audiences globally, and obviously, students are by far the largest users of that product
Designing in the Digital Age