You may have heard already that digital literacy and increased technical capacity are critical components of the K-12 education. I happen to agree. The problem is that public education hasn’t had sufficient means to put enough computing devices in the hands of students. Computers have been expensive and if you have had a computer lab that you could visit with your class once a week then you had more than most. Now with the evolution of mobile platforms, netbooks, tablets, and “Bring Your Own Technology” programs (like this one explained my @micwalker) there is a warm feeling in the education community that meaningful 1 to 1 access in the classroom is possible everywhere. Teachers are excited, students are stoked, and technology directors are petrified. The possibilities are endless including live streams from our classrooms, social media at the hands of every learner, and every student becoming the smartest kid in school because she can search Google on her iPad. I am energized that the promise of educational technology — a world of connected learning, collaboration, and creative design to engage and impact student achievement — may finally be mature enough to implement in all classrooms.
But before we start the parade let’s take a step back. Not every teacher, in fact, most teachers are not ready and will need significant training to prepare for this world. Furthermore, let’s be realistic in that this technology can cause significant distractions in the classroom if we do not craft a management plan that ensures appropriate use. I have managed 1 to 1 departments and classrooms for seven years and I would like to share 5 ideas I have for creating a successful, connected environment for learning.
1. Use a LMS
Learning Management Systems are basically online classrooms. They allow teachers to create a classroom web presence and will greatly enhance accessibility to the curriculum. 1 to 1 is not just about what happens in the classroom but creating a mobile environment to enhance learning with 24/7 access. A LMS will improve classroom organization, help students when they miss class, inherently build digital literacy, and add many more benefits. There are the big players like Moodle that are incredibly powerful but can be a challenge to administer. If that is not your flavor, look into some free and stable web options. I used Edmodo for years and the more I used it the more dynamic my class became — not to mention that other teachers saw how easy it was to use and began using it themselves. Score.
2. Have a Classroom AUP
Step one: Make sure your school has a strong Acceptable Use Policy. A good AUP is critical because it will support you with behavior consequences in the event that a student inappropriately uses her access. I‘m a realist and students will misbehave with technology. The AUP, with clear expectations, provides fair guidelines that can help ensure technology is being used for educational purposes and keep a safe learning environment for everyone. If your school does not have one or you think it is weak, talk to your principal and ramp it up. See these tips on AUPs from EdWeek and the University of San Diego. The AUP will be incredibly important during the rollout of a 1 to 1 program. That being said, the AUP may still not address all the pieces you need in your classroom. Set up your personal classroom rules to supplement the efforts of the AUP. Consider including pieces like “no technology during discussions” or “no more than 5 minutes on email per class period”. Keep your classroom dynamic but still manage it the best way that works for you while promoting student success.
3. Move to the Cloud
Again, the goal should be to use mobile devices and create mobile platforms for learning. The LMS will get you started but it also becomes frustrating if the productivity suite that you use needs to be installed, needs versions coordinated, and is unaffordable to students. Sure, access to these tools is available at school but how would that be mobile? My recommendation would be to connect with Google Apps for Edu. This free suite continues to expand in features and has been adopted by several state departments of education. It meets the needs of file management, scheduling, data storage, collaboration, and many more in a we-based option. Learn more from the Google Apps and Apps Certified Trainer YouTube channels.
4. Be a Steward of Technology
The principles of good teaching do not change and modeling is one of those basic techniques that can effectively impact a student. As educators we are charged with the responsibility of being change agents. If we are going to ensure the adoption of positive netiquette by our students, then we need to display these actions for them. I am not saying that teachers should “friend” their students or post to social networks a hundred times a day. In fact, I would discourage this practice, when would you find time to teach? I am saying that teachers need to be honest. Say something like this to your students:
“This stuff is new to me and I don’t know it all. But I am excited to learn it and I know that it empowers you as learners. Therefore, I am willing to embrace technology because I know it will make your education more valuable.”
Yup, tell them that a teacher doesn’t know everything, put yourself in a vulnerable position. At the same time you will build a culture of honesty, a value for life-long learning, and display a transparent and vested interest in the success of your students. Try new web tools from Go2Web20, join a Ning, and if you are really brave go to a educational tweetup. If it fails miserably then stand up, dust yourself off and be proud of yourself for trying something and taking a risk for your students. That is the worst that can happen. But what if it is a huge success?
5. Weekly Digital Citizenship
Lastly, make the enduring understanding of digital citizenship a regular component in your classroom. No matter what your subject, there is an opportunity to promote proper and meaningful use. Our roles as educators will not be fully realized unless we are able to guide students toward becoming skilled and capable citizens with an appreciation for knowledge. Leverage resources that we know well like TED Talks and The Do Lectures. Perhaps you can pull the RSS feed from Mashable’s Social Good or Big Think and have students follow them. There are plenty of options for you to choose from. I can tell you that as I made more efforts to increase my own capacity it was evident that my students were energized from it. Pulling content and resources from all of these great sites helped me learn and engaged my audience. It kept my classroom vibrant and fresh and I hope you have the same experience.
Rich Kiker is an Instructional Technology & Design Consultant and Google Apps Certified Trainer specializing in professional development for new media, web applications, 1:1 computing, online learning, and technology pathways. Formerly a Media Technology Chair and Technology Coordinator, he is now a consultant for several educational agencies, school districts, and a professor of instructional technology. For more information or to follow up please visit www.kikerlearning.com or he is also on Twitter with the username @rkiker.