How to integrate technology when nothing works right

June 22, 2013

in 21st century schools, ed tech, education conferences

I’d love to do more with technology in the classroom, but I don’t have the equipment and infrastructure I need. What can I do? That’s the question we sought to answer at this morning’s Hack Education 2013 unconference in San Antonio, Texas. A group of about 25 educators had some casual conversations in a session we called Effective Tech Integration with Limited Classroom Resources.

The following info is a combination of the notes I took during our discussion and my own elaboration. If you’re a teacher with one iPad for 30 kids or you have a handful of sporadically-working computers in your classroom, I hope you’ll find some helpful ideas below:

integrating technology with limited devices

*  Build the foundation for tech skills and integration. Do storyboarding with sticky notes. Have students write their “tweets” on paper to start. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the whole imitating-the-internet-on-paper strategy. However, when I think it about from the approach of a stop-gap measure when technology is limited, and as something that will make tech tools easier for kids to use when they DO get a chance to go online, I can get on board with this a bit more.

* Get your media before you go in the classroom so you can use it unplugged. When you’re at home, download images or other stuff from the web, and then save them on a flash drive (or better yet in Dropbox) so you can access them on your school computer where downloading speeds are too slow. If your school blocks YouTube, download YouTube clips at home using KeepVid, drag them to your Dropbox folder, and voila, you can open Dropbox at school and play them there. Be sure to check copyright restrictions and fair use guidelines, yada yada yada.

* Use a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) system. If kids are really motivated to complete an assignment (i.e. if the assigment is relevant and meaningful), you will be shocked how many iPads and iPods kids have at home that they’re happy to bring to class. [I will say as an aside that this isn't a great solution for many teachers in tech-poor schools because those teachers aren't always super comfortable with using technology in class (after all, how comfortable can you be when you've never had a chance to do it?). BYOD has lots of management challenges that can be daunting for a tech newbie, but it's a fantastic idea for those who are willing to take on the challenge.]

* Encourage students to use the technology they have at home. Even in low income areas, most kids have access to a smartphone or computer at some point in their day. Figure out which kids in your class don’t have this access, and make sure they get a chance to go on the one or two computers you do have at school.

* Get parents on board so they will make sure kids have more tech access to the tech at home (or will take them to the local library to use computers.) This is especially important in the lower grades, because elementary school kids often get kicked off the family computer when an older brother or sister needs it for homework. Explain at Back to School Night how you will use technology and how valuable it is for the kids. Show photos and videos of previous classes and what they achieved so parents get excited about the possibilities.

* Apply for grants to get more technology. Maybe this year you only get enough money for one iPad. That’s fine. Next year, get another. Build each year! Use Donors Choose. Once you can show what you did with just one device, you’ll have more people willing to give you money for additional devices.

* Remember the motto: “It’s better to ask for forgiveness later than permission now.” If you know your district is inconsistent about which tools they will let teachers use, just do your thing quietly. Tie everything tightly to the standards and have clear learning objectives so it’s easier to justify what you did.

* Let go of the mindset that technology should be used all the time. That perspective causes us to discard really solid educational practices. Plus, teachers tend to get frustrated and feel like they can’t do it “right” (meaning, do it all), so therefore they’ll just leave technology out altogether. Instead, integrate technology into just one part of a lesson plan–it can be just one of many ways that kids learn or practice a skill.

* Don’t assume there has to be a computer for every student in order for you to use technology. In fact, it’s often better if there isn’t. Management is actually much easier when students are working in small groups/centers/rotations and only a couple of kids are online. This also prevents students from all being pigeonholed into doing the same thing at the same time at the same pace.

Use computers in centers. If you only have a few devices, set up a rotation so that each kid gets a chance to go on them once or twice a week.

* Let students choose whether or not to use technology for certain projects. Students can be given lots of options of how to show what they know, and some will choose not to use the tech component, freeing up the computers for those who do. That sends a great message to kids: there are lots of ways to learn and create.

* Remember that cameras are technology, too! It’s often much easier to access cameras than computers, and there is so much you can do with a camera, especially if it has video capability. For example, you can have kids explain their work on video–they love to watch this! If you take photos of students’ work, you can easily create a slideshow with it at home.

* Use technology for projects so that computers are only needed for part of the process. When students are creating digital stories, half the process is done offline (writing the script, planning the characters, rehearsing, etc.) You can rotate kids through the computer step of the process as they get to it. Personally, I love this idea. Rather than trying to think of tech integration ideas that can be used daily or in small, toe-in-the-water type ways–think big right from the start! The tech component is less intimidating when it’s only a small piece of something you’re already doing. Plus, you don’t have to worry about managing the whole class on computers at one time, which can be very stressful, especially if you’re less tech-proficient.

* Step out of your own technology bubble and idea of how things “should be.” You can use technology without being connected–an offline device is still a device. Be open to other possibilities. Don’t allow yourself to give up simply because you don’t have the perfect equipment. You don’t have the perfect students, either, and you haven’t given up on them!

* Take baby steps. Projecting a picture using an LCD projector is not the same as having kids create dynamic content using technology tools, but that doesn’t mean it’s a worthless exercise. Start with whatever you’ve got and whatever you’re capable of learning how to do right now. Teachers get intimidated if they think they have to do too much too soon, so remind yourself that little changes add up to big ones.

Embrace technology even when it doesn’t work the way you want it to. As I’ve written before, if you allow yourself to get irritated over technology mishaps, you’re either going to 1) be frustrated all the time, or 2) stop using it. Technology limitations and mishaps keep us humble; they force us to stay in the position of learner. And THAT, if nothing else about the situation, is a good thing.

Do you have a shortage of computers and other technology in your classroom? How do you make the best of it? Share your ideas in the comments.

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Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and has turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has published 3 books, launched a blog and webinar series, designs curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Check out the free teacher resource pages for photos, tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sanez Cabraal June 23, 2013 at 7:42 pm

We schedule our sessions so that we could borrow laptops from other classes.

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2 Laura Qualley June 23, 2013 at 7:42 pm

Excellent article! I think my students have learned a lot about problem-solving, patience and frustration tolerance by watching me trouble shoot my Smart Board glitches throughout the year. I loved your comments about doing some pieces off-line… You also reminded me that everything doesn’t have to be perfect and all figured out too…that sometimes a little technology is better than no technology even if the pieces aren’t all figured out. I think the best part is showing them that teachers are learners as well, and we are not all-knowing. We have to grow and change as the technology does. Sometimes I even learn from them, and they LOVE it when they can teach me something.

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3 Reagan Tunstall June 28, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Hi Angela!
I wish we would have been able to talk more! You are fabulous!
Reagan

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