Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A little bit goes a long way, or, Don't give up hope

It's interesting how our perspective can change, when we look at something through a new lens. The other day I completed a survey of technology use in independent school (done by NAIS) and when it was over I thought, gosh, we're farther along than I'd thought we were! Part of me felt a bit insecure: did I misrepresent our level of technology proficiency? Certainly we're not ahead of the pack. And I think the answer is that while not all people are equally adept at using technology in the classroom, we've definitely made some long strides in the past few years.

Here's a summary. All classroom now have SmartBoards and projectors. All teachers have laptops which interface with these. Sometimes the results are surprising. Everyone knows that a laptop is convenient, but it's more than that. A laptop can really change your approach to work. In my case, rather than sequester myself in my office to use the computer I can stay out at the front counter, in the thick of thins. I can get things done at home that I would never had on my desktop there, which doesn't have all the school stuff on it. I can carry my laptop to a meeting or a presentation or even on vacation/. And because it's so loaded with software and space, I can use lots of cool tools, like Flickr and YouTube as well as MS Office.

There was some anxiety among the teachers when all these tools were introduced just a year after they'd been required to learn BlackBoard. But most of them passed over the learning curve and found they could make classes so much more participatory with the new tools. And students began creating Powerpoint reports because the classrooms had to capacity to share them. Video content from United Streaming also enhanced lessons. So we're not using technology just to say we're using it but actually to enhance and increase learning.

In the area of the new web 2.0 tools, we're just beginning, but these things catch on and spread through example and word of mouth. We've had a couple of inservice sessions were faculty could learn to produce movies, and use blogs and wikis. And just this morning I had an email from the fellow who while not a classroom teacher is assistant athletic director and is in charge of our weight training program. He was asking me, because he knew I used blogs, if a blog might be a good place for him to share information with the students. I told him the difference between blogs and wikis and suggested that a wiki was really what he wanted, it being a super easy way of creating a simple webpage, with text, pictures, and videos. I directed him to wikispaces and told him to take a look and that I'd be glad to help.

So, in both big pushes, like the sudden introduction of a large amount of new technology, and in smaller ways, by example and the "each one teach one" approach, we are definitely making progress. I think the next step is to create a mini-course for the second semester fashioned along the lines of Helene Bowers' 23 Things, for our faculty to learn on their own time. because time for in-service is limited in a boarding school, and because these are things that people can teach themselves as long as they have others to turn to.

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