Archive Hosted by the AFL-CIO

Discussion: Technology and Education

June 23, 2014 By Michael Diedrich, Education Fellow

How can we make sure technology is used productively in education?

Minnesota school districts have made headlines with major classroom technology purchases. (In fact, the Saint Paul school board has a major vote on district-wide iPads scheduled for this evening.) Teachers have found many great ways to use technology to engage and help students, but classroom technology can also end up mostly unused if teachers are left unsupported.

What technology challenges or successes has your school seen?

What advice would you give district and state decision-makers about the best ways to support technology in the classroom?

Join Minnesota 2020 Education Fellow Michael Diedrich and Brooklyn Center teacher Chris Porter today from 8-9:30 am with your questions about classroom technology policies. Share your stories and your perspectives online, all day.


Post your comments or questions in the box below, scroll down to see the ongoing conversation, and use "refresh" to see new comments.

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  • Rachel says:

    June 24, 2014 at 6:15 am

    Good morning! Michael and Chris will join us at 8, but feel free to post your initial thoughts and experiences before then.

  • Michael Diedrich says:

    June 24, 2014 at 8:04 am

    Good morning, everyone! I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on what we can do to support technology in education in a way that’s productive and supports learning.

  • Michael Diedrich says:

    June 24, 2014 at 8:14 am

    Chrissie from Rochester wanted to participate this morning, but was unavailable because she was pursuing additional technology training. She offered the following thoughts in email:

    “I had 2 5th grade students to one iPad last year and even though we did some great digital story telling with it, it truly isn’t ideal to have to share. I don’t recommend a district go 1:1 unless they’re willing to pay as much toward staff development as they do for equipment.

    “So many of my coworkers use it as only a search engine because they haven’t been trained. my own training is my own initiative. Staff development funds are almost nonexistent. I think it’s a big mistake to push for 1:1 without proper funding.”

    • Terri Littlejohn says:

      June 24, 2014 at 8:33 am

      Staff development is definitely the missing link. The media center in the school I worked at has a room full of electronics that are unused or barely used. Chrissie, kudos for taking the initiative to train yourself. There are many educators who don’t. They either don’t have the time, the funds, the patience, the determination, or (like me), were already so far behind the curve, they don’t know where to start.

  • Kyle says:

    June 24, 2014 at 8:16 am

    Some of the biggest technology challenges that I have seen in the classroom have had little to do with the technology itself. Many times, training the educators, and properly communicating how changing the available technology will help them are the biggest problems.

    I’ve deployed smart boards, projector systems, iPads, laptops, medical tech, and a number of different software systems for educators to use. In every case, the places where it wasn’t used - were always where the training and communication broke down. A single bad training session and now 20 of your faculty want nothing to do with “it”. What ever that may be.

    Training is not an easy task, and the other pitfall were faculty that just didn’t want to change. Change management would be the secondary factor to where technology refreshes have gone wrong. There isn’t much advice to give on these topics, other than to keep them in mind when how new technology can be deployed.

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      June 24, 2014 at 8:49 am

      Thank you for sharing your experiences, Kyle! I have definitely seen cases where instructors resisted new technology because they were forced through bad trainings or simply expected to adopt new technology because the administration said so. Have you ever seen cases of instructors changing their minds after an initial bad experience, and if so, what did it take for that change to happen?

      • Kyle says:

        June 24, 2014 at 8:53 am

        Yes! - It took a while, but eventually through faculty in-services and weekly communications about who is successfully using some new widget or large change. The only thing I’ve seen successfully change minds is the actual demonstration of it being applied correctly in the classroom.

        • Michael Diedrich says:

          June 24, 2014 at 8:57 am

          That’s very helpful (and encouraging) to hear! Do you think it would be fair to extrapolate from this that schools, at least in the K-12 context, might be better off focusing a first round of technology purchases on those teachers who are likely to be enthusiastic about using them, and then follow up with additional purchases for later adopters as they see the benefits of the new tech in the classroom?

  • Cindy says:

    June 24, 2014 at 8:40 am

    I agree with Chrissie and Kyle that training is essential,  plus supply.  We were given one I-Pad per classroom in my school.  What to do with one I-Pad and 24 children.  I used it for AR testing and free time games.  With 4 or 6 I could of used them in small groups but am stymied on the use of 1.

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      June 24, 2014 at 8:45 am

      Thank you for sharing that, Cindy! You raise a very good point about the relationship between the number of units and ramifications for instruction. I’m curious about what sort of training or support you got when the iPad was issued to your classroom. Can you tell us more about that?

  • Joe says:

    June 24, 2014 at 8:56 am

    The cost of effective training should be built into whatever technology purchase you make. If someone is donating the tech, administrators must realize training’s hidden costs. It’s like buying a house. In addition to the mortgage, you also have to factor in property taxes, insurance, average utility bills and a ballpark on annual maintenance costs.  My guess is that a lot of folks who make these donations just assume that the schools will gladly pick this up in exchange for the large tech donation.

    Also training should not just include how to turn the thing on and work it, but lesson planning in a teacher’s content area. A teacher should be given a menu of tangible lessons he/she can adapt to a specific classroom.

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      June 24, 2014 at 9:01 am

      Thank you for the comment, Joe! I think you’re spot on with respect to the hidden costs of technology—that’s certainly one of the issues Los Angeles ran into when it did a massive iPad buy, and I know other districts have encountered similar challenges.

      I also very much appreciate your point on training focused on how to incorporate the new devices or software into teaching rather than on basic use. I’d add that it’s also important to give teachers time to adapt their lesson and unit plans to take advantage of those uses. Without that time (which is much longer than whatever’s left at the end of a training session), the new technology is likely to wind up being used to do the same things teachers were doing before, just with a shiny screen.

    • Lonni Skrentner says:

      June 24, 2014 at 9:47 am

      I would argue that it is not just original training but consistent support.  Teachers need consistent people to call when they have a new idea that they don’t quite know how to implement or when things are not working as well as they hoped.

      • Michael Diedrich says:

        June 24, 2014 at 9:55 am

        This is a great point, Lonni. Supporting the adoption of new technology cannot be accomplished just in a one-and-done training. To me, this seems like another reason why it’s important to get technology in the hands of the teachers who are most interested in using it in their classrooms so that they can support colleagues more effectively later.

        • Lonni Skrentner says:

          June 24, 2014 at 10:04 am

          I agree that first adopters are critical to the success of any initiative, but when I said consistent support I meant specialists beyond your next door neighboring classroom.  Today’s teachers have a 24/7 job; we can’t keep adding items to the plate of the classroom teacher.

          • Michael Diedrich says:

            June 24, 2014 at 10:09 am

            An excellent point, and thank you for clarifying. Teachers are certainly overworked as it is, and you’re right that maintaining a support staff whose sole job is to support teachers and other staff would be a great help.

  • Lonni Skrentner says:

    June 24, 2014 at 9:08 am

    I think the best use of technology is in a blended fashion.  Students need and deserve face to face interaction with a qualified teacher.  Being able to use technology for students to work independently while the teacher works face to face with smaller groups is wonderful!

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      June 24, 2014 at 9:12 am

      Thank you for the recommendation, Lonni! I very much agree that using technology to facilitate independent work while guaranteeing students time with teachers is one effective way to bring it into the classroom. To the extent schools can help teachers and students do this to the benefit of students’ learning, the money spent on technology can be considered well spent. As others have noted, giving teachers time and support to adopt these practices is crucial, but the potential for helping students is also great.

      • Lonni Skrentner says:

        June 24, 2014 at 9:50 am

        The other idea I forgot is “flipped” class.  Its just the technology equivalent of a Lit teacher having the students read the book at home and then guiding discussion in the classroom.  Our AP Economics teacher flipped his class - lectures on line and then discussion and problem solving in the classroom.  Though I am not a great believer in test scores as proof of anything, the test scores of his students increased!

        • Michael Diedrich says:

          June 24, 2014 at 10:07 am

          There’s been a lot of interest in flipped classes, and I know some teachers have had great success with them. One major equity issue that comes up with this approach is disparities in access to high-speed Internet sufficient for the watching of videos. For students who don’t have this at home, flipped classrooms become tougher. This isn’t an argument against the idea, but it’s a piece of context districts need to grapple with, whether that means helping families pay for Internet access, finding ways to use school space before or after school for “flip time,” or some other approach. Thank you for bringing up this topic!

  • Jean Lewandowski says:

    June 24, 2014 at 9:21 am

    My district has decided not to join the rush to buy ipads and/or laptops for every student until there is more data about the educational merit of doing so.  My own view is that our students have full access to the internet through the computer lab, as well as classroom technology, including projected sources made available by our tech-savvy teachers.  There is energy and interest created in classrooms when students use Smart Boards, old-fashioned boards, and discussion generated by the shared experience of examining information together.  Too much personal technology limits opportunities to learn and practice discussion skills and engage in cooperation and collaboration in larger groups.

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      June 24, 2014 at 9:24 am

      Jean, you make a great point about remembering the importance of discussion skills, cooperation, and collaboration. It’s easy for technology to become a pathway to isolation, even during a time when collaborative work is vitally important. Districts, schools, and teachers must all be sure to keep interpersonal skills high on the priority list. Thank you for sharing!

    • Sherry says:

      June 26, 2014 at 7:01 pm

      Jean, I believe your district is smart not to go on a buying frenzey. Both iPads and laptops are expensive enough that districts should think twice before purchasing them and also should factor in the cost of training teachers to use them.
      What’s to keep kids from surfing the internet on an iPad? Teachers should be trained to use technology equipment and their judgment trusted when it comes to technology. I have seen wonderful apps for iPads in special education, especially with learners on the autism spectrum. I have also seen physical education teachers taking advantage of the easy to film movies on the iPad; great for visual and verbal feedback to the learners performing skills.

  • Jack Ray says:

    June 24, 2014 at 9:36 am

    I support getting more technology into classrooms, but I am ambivalent about a mass iPad buy. I would rather see Android tablets and open source software used at probably half the cost. The savings could be used for training. The Android platform is more conducive to assisting students to learn to code, which is what we really need to be doing.

    I want us to attract more girls and youth of color to computer science and other high tech fields. I would love to hear about efforts to do so in Minneapolis.

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      June 24, 2014 at 9:46 am

      Thank you for these very good points, Jack! The Android vs. iPad difference is interesting, and it certainly seems that Android-based work would be more conducive to helping students become creators, not just consumers or users, of technology. I also agree wholeheartedly that we should be doing more to attract more girls and students of color into CS. I don’t know much about the current state of those efforts in Minneapolis, but my article today discusses this more. In the future, I hope to dive more deeply into what’s going on in Minneapolis and in other districts around the state on this front.

      • Lonni Skrentner says:

        June 24, 2014 at 9:52 am

        Are there any other districts than mine which are trying BYOD - Bring Your Own Device.  We have a method where students can select approved devices through Best Buy - Chrome Books through laptops.  We are only year two, but students seem more committed to using the device both at home and at school when they choose it.

        • Elem Teacher says:

          June 24, 2014 at 10:25 am

          I think that sounds like a good approach where feasible - do you have a program for low income students? Digital divide is a real issue in low-income districts. The idea of the “digital native” is not always accurate and can be a problem even in 1:1 programs. In my case, we have to be cognizant of the fact that about half our students do not have internet access at home. Digital literacy in all aspects becomes another big area of teaching and using tech.

          • Lonni Skrentner says:

            June 24, 2014 at 1:17 pm

            Yes we have a program for low income for both device and home internet access.  We provide codes to all students so we don’t violate data privacy - one for most students, one for reduced lunch and one for free lunch.  I know Best Buy is pretty proud of what they have done with us, and could be approached to replicate the program.  We wanted kids to choose, and yet by law we can’t give actual money to families - which is probably one reason why districts choose to distribute devices.

  • Elem Teacher says:

    June 24, 2014 at 9:47 am

    Tech adoptions are often top-down and teacher voice is ignored in decision-making. Surprising how fast you can deflate the energy of those who want to be engaged in transforming with tech when you ignore their classroom expertise deciding what they do and do not need. Those teachers should be supported and allowed to try new things which may or may not work. If we want innovative and truly different instruction with new tech, we have to let the teachers who will use it lead the way. For the most part, our 1:1 iPads fit into two categories: used for AR tests, or used for games as rewards or to fill time. And now we are adding 1:1 netbooks to 7-12 with no training, no real idea of how they will be used and only a few teachers even engaged in the discussions - it looks like it will be the 1:1 model of simply replacing paper worksheets with digital worksheets. I beliieve that I can truly transform teachng and learning in my room, but it is because of the time that I have spent on my own, because of the value that I see, and it will be done in isolation and in spite of the lack of interest and real support from our tech dept and admin. And I don’t think my situation is very unique.

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      June 24, 2014 at 9:53 am

      Elem Teacher, from what I’ve heard from others (and my own teaching experience), you’re definitely right that your situation isn’t unique. I’m glad to hear about how enthusiastic and optimistic you are about what you can do with technology in the classroom, and it sounds like you’ve put the time in on your own without much support. I know other teachers are in similar situations, even as they endure the big top-down pushes that you discussed.

      Your comment echoes what we’re seeing in some of the other responses here. Teachers who want to lead on this can do so very effectively, and usually with more impact for less cost than the big tech buys.

  • Kathy says:

    June 24, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    I have been doing substitute teaching in a district that has equipped middle school students with personal ipads.  No textbooks are used, and all homework and assignments are done on the ipad. Though I can see the many advantages of this,  I have also seen many kids hiding behind the technology.  Kids leave their ipads at home and then become classroom drop-outs because each class is geared to work on the ipad. ( No extras are available. ) Many are distracted by the technology and instead of being engaged with the current class work, they are texting others or playing games on another site. Some students are continually lost because they lack technology skills or confidence and never seem to be with the group or are in constant need of assistance.  Instead of teaching their subject, teachers are busy helping students with technology issues or monitoring students for inappropriate use.  Note taking and writing assignments seem to take much longer than the old fashioned paper and pencil method.
    In short, I am not a fan of doing away with books and notebooks. Technology has its place, but students still need to learn communication skills and responsibility. 

    I think the total ipad classroom demands a more mature learner than the average middle schooler.  Smaller classroom sizes and teachers that are well trained in technology are a must if a district is going that route.