Monthly Archives: July 2008

New teachers: Digital teachers?

Are new teachers ready to take on teaching in ways to support 21st century literacy skills? Current research says no. There are a variety of reasons for this, but tech skills and knowledge appear to NOT be the reason. New teachers typically have good technology skills. They use the Internet to help them prepare lessons and to find professional resources. They may use computers to communicate with parents and to complete daily tasks at their schools. Still, many new teachers are using technology in pretty much the same ways as their more experienced colleagues.

Many people believe that new teachers with tech skills will be able to change the way that technology is used in schools. However, right now  this assumption does not seem to be true. So why might this be the case?

  • Teachers in general tend to teach how they were taught. Teachers come to the profession with years of experience as a student. This framework and set of beliefs about teaching is difficult to change.
  • New teachers may have a desire to use technology in a new ways with students but may face numerous challenges to obtain this goal. Research indicates that new teachers frequently feel frustrated with the lack of technology access for their students.
  • New teachers also lack models for how to use technology effectively with their students. As indicated above, teachers tend to teach how they were taught. However, while a tech-savvy teacher might be motivated to use technology with their students, they may face many road blocks that make it very difficult. Mentor teachers may not support technology use or they may lack their own models.
  • The culture of the school may not support a new teacher’s desire to do something new with their students.

We have a long way to go in terms of supporting our new teachers to use technology. A school-wide technology plan with the support of school leaders and mentors is essential.

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Baby steps: Start small, but start!

After doing many technology workshops for teachers (K-12 and higher ed.) in many different settings, I am convinced that many faculty members feel so overwhelmed with technology offerings that there is a tendency to just “say no!” to the idea of using it at all. I think the solution to this issue is “taking a baby step”. Start small. Keep growing.

Why the reluctance to change? Most teachers lack models for using technology. They just aren’t sure what to do. Many teachers argue that they have been very successful teachers without using technology in the past. So, why start now? Teachers may also see very little value in using technology or they may have very little in the way of technical support. A lack of technology support is especially true for many K-12 teachers. Teachers may have a lot of fear of using technology. They may have tried a technology and it didn’t work well or they fear looking like they don’t know what they are doing in front of their students. They may have very limited access to technology. In light of our nation’s focus on testing, teachers can’t get into labs. However, I believe that educators have an obligation to find ways to help prepare students for their future and this includes integrating technology into curriculum. In fact, 21st century learning skills includes those ideas that reach beyond technology, however, integrating technology can clearly support many of these objectives. Here is a link to the Framework for 21st Century Learning.

I will soon write more about the the compelling research about why we need to push harder to do a better job in in this area. Beyond engaging and motivating our students, when used properly, technology can increase student achievement.

So- start. Start small. Take a baby step. I would argue that this should be true for those who already feel comfortable integrating technology. Challenge yourself to learn a new technology each year. Find support. Talk to the digital natives and let them help you! Carefully observe how students are using it. Ask some questions:

  • Are there ways to support higher level thinking with this technology?
  • Can I integrate this into what I am already teaching to enhance and engage students more fully?
  • How can I provide a framework for its use but still support student creativity and empowerment?
  • Where can I get technology support and help when I need it?
  • Do I have a plan if the technology isn’t working?
  • Is there someone I can partner with to try a new technology application?

A baby step approach to technology integration:

For Faculty: Start small. Try a new application each year and work through the fear. See if my list of questions is helpful.

For School Leaders: Understand that teachers need support. Encourage and reward small steps. Remember that each of your faculty are in a different place. For one teacher, checking and sending emails to parents and students may be a big leap. For another teacher, having students create digital videos to show their learning may be an appropriate goal. Support ALL of your teachers as they learn and grow.

For Tech Support Personal: Make yourself available to your educators. Be patient and make sure that you provide hands-on support. Sometimes educators may come to you after they are already frustrated. They may have spent a lot of time already trying to solve a problem. Write out an FAQ sheet /webpage for easy to solve common problems that your educators face.

For educational technology trainers: Provide HANDS-ON support and be available for follow-up. Don’t come in and give a bells and whistle show and then walk out the door! All learners need practical hands-on experience. Additionally, not every person in a training session is at a point where they will be ready for the training. If you overwhelm your audience and cause frustration, you may actually push faculty in the opposite direction.

Technology for learning-that’s the point…

As I began to think about this blog, I wanted to make sure that the focus stays on how technology can support learning. I am the first to admit that I am tempted to be swayed by the bells, whistles, and excitement that new technologies can offer. I tend to be a “yes” person when it comes to technology as I am not afraid of change, in fact I embrace change. However, educators who use technology need to think carefully about how technology is supporting learning objectives. That being said, sometimes we don’t know how technology can support learning until we play with it a bit. From my own experience, as we begin to use a new technology we move through stages as we begin to understand the technology and we begin to see how it can support learning. Sometimes it is our students who teach us how a technology can support learning. I am currently playing around with Twitter- and am thinking about how I might be able to use this in a teaching situation.

That being said the research on technology for learning tends to support a number of themes:

  • The learners should be engaged with the technology as much as possible. Specifically, the learner should control the technology, not the other way around. For example, in most cases, drill and practice software games keeps learners out of the driver’s seat and thinking at fairly low levels.
  • The technology should support higher level thinking. Typically, this can be seen when the learner is engaged in inquiry-based learning or project based learning. (Think- constructivism!) For example, learners who create a digital video project to demonstrate their learning are most likely working at a higher level.
  • Certain technologies are better at supporting certain content areas over others. For example, students in mathematics should be exposed to graphing calculators. Science students should be working with probes and digital scales.
  • HINT: The students should be using the technology– not just the teacher! Many teachers are using technology on a daily basis but they have not made it a priority to get their students using it. For example, using a Power Point project each day with your students really does not constitute an optimal learning experience.

It’s time to really examine HOW we are using technology in the classroom and WHO is using the technology.

SisuTech: What’s it all about?

Me.Looking.aheadWelcome to SisuTech. This blog is hosted by me, Chery Takkunen. I have been an educator for over 16 years, having taught people from 5 to 65! I am currently the Chair of Graduate Education programs at The College of St. Scholastica. I have been fortunate to work with both undergraduate and graduate students in traditional settings as well as in online and blended learning environments. While I am currently working in higher education, I also have eight years as an elementary teacher. What I am most passionate about is the potential for technology to positively impact student learning. My experiences as a teacher at every level and my research continue to demonstrate the power of technology to engage and motivate learners. I am continually intrigued at how young people are using technology and how educators can capitalize on new technologies in the classroom and in online teaching environments. It is my belief that educators have an obligation to prepare students for a global environment. Technology can be the catalyst to produce this change.

What’s in the name: SisuTech? Sisu is a Finnish word that frequently means determination, perseverance, spirit, guts, and sometimes stubbornness. Being of Finnish heritage this word has personal meaning for me. This word also is a good reminder about the type of attitude that is necessary to bring about change in an organization.

Welcome to Sisu Tech.

This site focuses on the powerful ways in which technology can support learning. Your ideas and comments are welcome.