Our district is in its second year of working in a digital format at the middle school level, and the transition to the online world has gone pretty well! Naturally, it is an easier path to travel for some than it is for others, but nonetheless, a journey well worth taking. Now I am a creature of change, so I actually love it when things get mixed up a bit. It keeps us from getting stagnant in whatever endeavors we are pursuing. I also love technology. BUT, and this is a big ol’ but. . . . . I am not a techno-native! Yes, I remember back in my high school days when our school actually got its first computer. It was such an exciting and thrilling occasion, because our school was so advanced! They even built a computer “lab” in a small area between two classrooms. There was a nice counter built all the way around the little room and the walls were half glass so you could see inside and ponder its greatness! On the day when they unveiled our new treasure each class of the school was given the opportunity to line up and parade by the little lab to catch a glimpse of our very own computer. Now, that did not mean that you got to touch it. No! That privilege was saved for the special ones who took classes and mastered computer programming first. You see, you needed to know the language of computer programming to even attempt using one, and if you didn’t know what you were doing you could actually do some damage. Then the computer would be out of commission until someone came along with enough knowledge to reprogram it. Of course in those days, with only one computer in the building, it was more of a novelty than a tool. I did get to use it twice though and I felt like I was stepping into the future! Maybe in some ways I was.
I went on to work as a graphic artist for electronics engineering after graduating from high school and in this job I had the privilege of working with autoCAD. Now that was a bit of technology that was well advanced for its time; LOVED IT! However, the rest of my adult life was pretty much technology free. That is until I started working for my current school district. Yes, the Neosho RV district in Southwest Missouri is working hard to offer its students an education that is more suited to their current and future world. We can’t do that without technology, now can we?! And I have got to tell you, getting down and dirty in the tech world, learning how to use what’s available to us is definitely worth it even if it does feels like a painful, blindfolded wrestling match at first!
One of the most important things to remember if your district goes digital and you are a digital foreigner: most districts and educators go through phases in establishing their technology based world. So, don’t panic when you feel bombarded by it all, “Do this . . . try that . . . CHECK. THIS. OUT!!” Naturally, districts will put people on their technology team who truly “get it” so it is okay that it all makes sense to them and not to you; don’t buckle under the pressure. The truth is, we are usually the ones putting pressure on ourselves. Our fabulous technology teams are the scouts and the forerunners in this crazy wild experience because they have the ability to find a seemingly endless array of technological tools. What’s more, they are excited to show us all of these wonders with the hope that they can help make our jobs easier and more effective for our kids. But that doesn’t mean that you have to master everything that they have found! What our technology coaches want is for us to try something that we can wrap our heads around. If that means that of all of the things you try only one app or program makes sense to you, use that one and your team will celebrate when the light comes on and you truly get it! For some of us it just has to come one step at a time, but one step is much better than an open circuit. (Did you catch that? Open circuits do not let the energy flow. Nothing. No light. Haha.) Pretty soon you will be trying so many digital tools that YOU begin sending the TEAM something that you find! Now that’s pretty cool.
It is at this point that you are ready to take a long hard look at all of the technology that you have tried and evaluate whether or not they are most effective for you and your students. I recently a great experience with this when I was absent from school for three days. The lessons that I already had planned for my students were very involved STEM work, which is a nightmare for substitutes. Since I wasn’t well enough go to school to set up something else for them I was concerned, what was I going to to do?! Well I found the answer right in my own home. Since our school district uses Canvas as a platform for our classes I decided to see what I could prepare for my students digitally.
I spent a little bit of time looking for options that the students could complete on as independent work and I downloaded some materials that would work. Then I posted an assignment on Canvas that included all of the information students would need as well as links to the documents they would complete. Students were even able to post their completed assignments on Canvas so I look at what they had done. For the first couple of days this was all that I could manage. However by the third day I was feeling well enough to look at my computer more and I began my day by logging on to GoGuardian.
This is a program that enables teachers to monitor the computer usage of their students, which is exactly what my intentions were that morning, but things quickly progressed into something very different. At first I did check the student screens and enabled chat so that I could “encourage” students who were off task to close all tabs other than their assignment on Canvas. There were a couple of students who needed the re-direction but most were on task. So I watched their screens to see if the students understood the content and instructions. As I saw students who were struggling, I messaged them individually, offering guidance and clarification. It did not take long for the entire class to realize that I was there and at that point greetings and questions started flowing in. Soon, I was able to see a common issue for the students and I sent out a group message to all students at once explaining what they needed to know. . . . . is this starting to sound a lot like walking through the class and monitoring student progress? Exactly! I was doing just that, virtually. What a freeing experience that was! I had been worried about my students handling their work productively in my absence but Canvas and GoGuardian had provided a solution for me! For the rest of the day when I saw students had logged into class, I started their work by giving whole group instructions, answering any questions that they had, and provide the same support that I normally do, in real time . . . from my home. This was a phenomenal experience for me, and showed me the true value in technology when it is used as a productive tool. Not all technology has the same impact on education and we shouldn’t use every app and online service that comes along simply for the sake of using it. However, those gems which prove to be useful can bring education to a whole new level for teachers and learners alike.
So, don’t let technology scare you or even frustrate you. Dig in, one app at a time and see where it leads you!