This is the first of a multiple part series on technology in education. I call it digital education rather than digital learning because technology can play a major role in our schools in ways beyond instruction and learning. Much of the focus in the media lately has been digital instruction with massive open online courses, open source materials, blended instruction, or bringing gaming into the classroom. This will be a part of this series but not the entire focus. Technology can be used in schools to improve communication, organization, efficiency, promotion, and so much more.
I have recently served as a co-chair for an action planning team in our building. Our focus was to develop the part of our school’s strategic plan that focused on increasing or improving digital learning in the classroom throughout the school. Our successes, but more importantly or struggles and challenges, have prompted this series to discuss how districts (mine included) can use technology to improve the lives of students, teachers, and administrators and how they may be missing the boat by getting in their own way.
Part 1: Social Media
The first area of technology where schools desperately need to catch up is the area of social media. When Facebook first became popular across the country and could be accessed by high school students, school administrators freaked out. Our first reaction was to block everything. How strong can we make our filters? How can we monitor students every move online? That turned out to be a way of thinking that set secondary schools back several years when it came to technology innovation. To this day most social media sites are blocked on school networks. The rational behind it is completely logical. It is a distraction. It can be used to communicate inappropriately. It can (and is) used for cyber bullying and harassment. So the question remains, how can schools harness the tremendous power of social media to make a positive impact on students?
- School promotion. The school administration, athletic teams, co-curricular organizations, many of the individual classes and teachers, and service groups should all be participating in promoting their organizations or causes through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, blogs, and all other media that may be available. The most effective way to do this is through school-side organization with common hashtags or similar-themed pages. Research tells us that a more engaged student body will connect with their school and grow strong bonds which leads to higher achievement in the classroom.
- Organization. Schools, especially large schools, have so many things going on and so many moving parts that they community and even the students have a hard time keeping track of everything. A well-organized social media plan will work to provide needed information to students and parents about all that happens in the school. Everything from club meeting times to parent-teacher conferences to this season’s basketball schedule can be distributed easily with the right social media outlet.
- Classroom engagement. Teachers should not be afraid to bring these sites into the classroom for instructional purposes. Just recently I did a discovery activity with my 10th grade geometry students. They had to measure certain lengths and angles in a trapezoid and come up with their own general properties about a trapezoid. The catch…they had to tweet their answers using a specific hashtag. I had a feed of the tweets projected onto smartboard and we discussed some of them as they popped up. Did they use of Twitter teach them the properties of a trapezoid? No. But it did spark conversation and interest that otherwise would have been difficult to come by with that activity and gave them something that they hadn’t necessarily seen before.
While there are challenges that remain in utilizing these technologies in schools and teaching students how to use them appropriately, they are a fixture in everyday life for our young people. To ignore that is to skirt our responsibility as responsive educators. If you have a unique story of how your school or district uses or misuses technology, email or tweet at me or just leave a comment below.