Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Using New Technologies; An Interview With An Expert.

                As I delve deeper into the world of Web 2.0 I am often left wondering how you can determine which sites are worthwhile for the students.  The amount of time and effort that needs to be invested in some of these resources is daunting, so I want to make sure that the end results are worth it.  While googling the question, “Best Web 2.0 tools for teachers” get you some results, 1.8 million, how can anyone determine what sites are actually worthwhile.  With that in mind I interviewed a fellow teacher who uses technology exceptionally will in her classroom.  Aside from being an excellent teacher she is also one of my building technology people, meaning she attends monthly meetings and helps other teachers in the building with their questions and concerns.  As any teacher or professional would know, often times the best resource is someone who has experienced the same issues that you are struggling with and overcome them.  With that in mind I sat down and talked with Jill Berge a 20 year veteran teacher.

I first asked Mrs. Berge about how she decides which web 2.0 and technology tools to use with her students.  She responded that, “She is constantly looking for new ideas, and try to choose tools that will appeal to students.  The biggest consideration however is will this offer a fresh way for them [students] to accomplish the task they need to do.”  That statement really struck me, if the resource you are trying to use is not appealing to the students, then what good will it provide you in the classroom?  It also brings up the notion that technology should not be used and incorporated into the classroom simply because it is technology.  It needs to serve a purpose and add to the content that you are already teaching.  Forcing a resource onto a student, simply because it uses technology, will often have the opposite effect of what you were trying to achieve.

I then discussed what obstacle she has needed to overcome to obtain permission to use technology with her students.  “I’ve had to work with our district filtering system to get certain sites approved, and with the publications department to get certain platforms approved for use.”  The filtering software in our district takes the approach that it is better to block everything rather than let in one thing that might not be appropriate.  While definitely the safe approach for a district to take, especially considering CIPA legislation, it is frustrating for teachers.  Basically, it makes it so a teacher must be planned out weeks in advance in order to assure any new technology that will be used in the classroom will make it through the district filters.  With this in mind Mrs. Berge concluded by saying, “I’m sure I’ve also used some tools that were not approved by the district, but weren’t blocked, so I used them anyway.”  This seems to be the approach of most teachers in my school, if the filters are not blocking it just go ahead and use it.

The final question I asked was what advice she would give to a teacher seeking to replicate her efforts.  Her response was short and to the point, “Try things out.  Be willing to have the kids take something and run with it, even if you’re not an expert with it.  Learn from students.”  Great advice to any teacher regardless of what they are trying to achieve.  I know that when I first started teaching there were many ideas and activities that I tried with students that just did not work the way I wanted them too.  What I learned was that is okay, just be honest and ask them for advice on how to change things up.  Not only will your lessons and activities improve, but students will also appreciate the input that they are able to provide.  In this day and age, teachers must realize that most of the students sitting in front of them are far more tech savvy than we are.  They are a resource that must be utilized, just as Mrs. Berge stated in her response.

Throughout the interview the underlying theme that was present was the idea to constantly be adapting and changing.  Do not become rigid in what you do and above all else try new things.  Without the need to innovate and explore, more effective techniques are not discovered and student learning suffers.  So educators, I implore you to look at what you are doing and try something new, while it might be difficult at first the rewards are worth the risk.

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