Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Importance of Training Teachers in Technology

By Sean Scarpiello

In education news, we are constantly hearing about schools which have purchased entire classes of new laptops or iPads for students. While it is great to supply students with these technologies, it is important to look beyond simply throwing educational money at technology. While these technologies can greatly impact the course of learning for students, these technologies are often expensive, so schools should want to get the most bang for their buck. To do this, schools should not only spend money on the technology, but also spend money on training teachers to use this technology to their full capacity. In my experience, I have seen both the good and the bad when it comes to technology being implemented in schools.

In a college level ecology class, I had a professor who brought in a class polling technology where each student was given a small remote and asked to answer or “vote” on a various answers for multiple choice questions which were made in a PowerPoint format. After polling the class, the program brings up a PowerPoint slide with the percentages of the classes answers or “votes.” While this technology would work great in a political science or psychology class, it would be interesting to see how my professor would implement this technology in a natural science class. On a daily basis, each student would pick up a remote for the lecture in the front of class. Some days, there would be a few class polled questions, while other days had a lot. This alone helped the professor in that students were actively paying attention in case there was a question on the next slide. Beyond this, the professor was able to ask questions in an innovative manner. While some questions asked the class to directly recall information, the large majority of the questions asked the class to analyze a graph or evaluate a set of data to reach a conclusion. Often times, we would copy or make special notes about these types of questions, because while the same exact question would not appear on a later exam, students were able to get an idea on the types of questions and thinking that would be on the exam. In the professor’s eyes, he found this technology just as beneficial to himself as to his students. He could get an idea of the class’ understanding of the material and see what areas could be reviewed before the exam. For the professor, this technology took some extra time and effort to learn how to implement it into his PowerPoint lectures, but overall he was innovative and successful in improving the course for his students.

In light of this example of how technology can be used creatively in class, I saw how technology can be largely under-utilized in a high school anatomy class. During the beginning of this course, my teacher had been given a Smart Board to use in class. This technology allows teachers to pull up documents on a projector and students can interact with the document using special pens. For this anatomy class, students could benefit from the Smart Board by pulling up an image of the heart or a EKG diagram and then use the special stylus to label the anatomical parts or important points of a diagram or graph. While these types of functions, as well as many others, were available on the Smart Board, they were largely under-utilized because the teacher was not trained in using the Smart Board and its software. While this was frustrating for the teacher, I felt bad as a student because the school had recently spent a lot of money on these Smart Boards which we were unable to fully utilize.

From these examples, it is clear to see that technology can be of little value if the instructor is unable to adequately operate the technology. School districts can avoid these types of inefficiencies by accounting for instructor training to accompany new technology in their budgets. While this may seem like a waste of money, it is just as important, if not more, then the actual technology. There are many teachers who have taught for decades using the same paper and pencil format. Up until the last few years, technology has been quickly making its way into more and more classrooms, so this change can be huge change for many of teachers. Therefore, many teachers need to go above and beyond to learn how to use the technology to a point where they can not only get by for themselves, but also be able to teach others to use the technology. I have talked to a teacher who is not as “plugged in” to the latest technology. He said that his students taught him how to use the new iPads that were given to his class. If schools would have a series of courses for teachers to attend to be able to learn how to successfully operate the newly implemented technology, we can expect classes to have lesson plans that are much more innovative and stimulating for students while providing the most bang for the educational buck.

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