Technology Professional Development: Purposeful, Simple and Useful

Lately, I’ve been thinking a great deal about my role as an instructional technology specialist. I’ve never been a fan of “canned” presentations or random disconnected courses. I believe wholeheartedly in listening to teachers and meeting their classroom needs when they need them. As a classroom teacher, required to attain a certain amount of hours, if I had to go to a class I wanted to be able to use what I learned.

Here are a few clues as to why so many teachers leave sessions and leave the learning in the training room…

  • They could not connect the new tools to their content
  • There were too many steps to make it work
  • They lacked basic technology skills
  • The tools used in the session were not available on their campus

Let’s address a few of these, shall we?

Evaluate the Need: Start from the Purpose…Not the Tech

When I work with math teachers, I never start with tech tools. I start with two questions…

  1. What are your minimal expectations for what kids will be able to do by the end of this lesson? (I say minimal because we expect and hope that kids will take learning beyond their teacher’s expectations.)
  2. How will you assess that they have learned?

To me, the technology fits somewhere in the middle of those two ideas. We also discuss any prior knowledge that kids may have and where that knowledge fits into the equation.

Evaluating tech needs is more than just applying an app. It’s about determining the purpose and using the tech to support that. It’s an intentional process. Sometimes that process includes the introduction of a new tool or idea and sometimes it’s using what we already know really well.

To be fair, sometimes lessons are better served without technology. We have to be mindful of that as well, especially in math and science. Both subject areas lend themselves to experiences involving hands-on learning. When an idea is best examined with a student’s hands…manipulating, exploring or creating…we must be mindful of when those non-tech moments are best and honor that.

Keep it Super Simple (I refuse to use the word Stupid)

If we make it “too hard”, guess what…it’s NOT getting used by any teachers except the super tech savvy. Let’s face it. We don’t have enough of those! If you want what you’ve taught to extend to the classroom, make it as simple as possible. Teachers are already on borrowed time. They have anywhere from 45-50 minutes in most cases for students to work on activities. If you are teaching them something that takes 30 minutes to set up, 20 minutes to communicate and even more time to make it work, the hassle will scare most teachers away. There is just no time.

Consider these thoughts…

  1. What can we do, if anything to make this an “it works fresh from the box” idea?
  2. Is this as quick, simple and effective as we can get?
  3. Can I make a handout that’ll make it easier?

Technology Availability Isn’t There

In my district, we have BYOT, ipads, netbooks, laptops, labs and chromebooks. Teachers sign up for sessions and attend without having access to the tools of the session. Again, it’s about the hours and not the learning. When I train, I try to keep things as device agnostic as possible. There are certain tools that work better on certain platforms but we have to make sure that what teachers are learning applies to their learning environment. For example, why teach or plan an activity that involves the need for 1:1 relationships when teachers have 3 ipads and no access for more? As silly as that sounds, it happens…often.

Make sure that the tools you plan to teach are available to teachers to use. Consider these thoughts…

  1. Obviously, are the devices on campus?
  2. Is the website open for student access?
  3. How will students log in without student emails?
  4. Will the cart be available for every teacher that needs it?
  5. Can the wifi handle the activity?
  6. Will all student devices work and if not, what’s the solution?
  7. Can I communicate the necessities of this course to teacher before they arrive?
  8. When in doubt, revisit the purpose again!

Making it All Work!

Teachers want solutions that work. They want to know that what they do in class is right for their learners. They also want to make sure that wasted time won’t be an issue. Ultimately, we want them to be sufficient in defining their own needs and planning with supported tech in mind. The entire integration process is a partnership…period. Teachers have the best idea of where there want to go. Our roles are as simple as being here to help them get there in the most effective yet least restrictive way.

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