Teachers Using Technology - How Our Teachers Got Started

Most teachers will tell you that they like technology, but there are a few things that might stop them using it. These usually fall into some broad categories:
  • Tech fatigue: one ‘next big thing’ after another in education
  • I haven’t found an authentic purpose for it yet that will deliver real change
  • The technology isn’t reliable/exactly what I need
  • I don’t have time to learn how to use it
  • I’m not confident about my ability to do a good job with it
  • I don’t like technology/I don’t need technology in my classroom. 
When we asked teachers recently how they felt about using technology, many of them confirmed that this was how they were feeling. They also talked about needing more training and support.

Unfortunately, the research is starting to show that technology-based PD isn’t really the best way for teachers to develop their skills. Technology moves too fast for anyone to be able to be constantly on top of it. Increasingly, it’s better to take up some of the opportunities that we talked about in a previous post.
That’s all well and good I hear you say, but why do some teachers seem to ‘get it’ a lot earlier than others? Why do some teachers embrace technologies so deeply and so willingly? What motivates them to seek other like-minded people, or devote some of their spare time to learning new skills?

We talked to some of these teachers, and there were a few common themes:

Being ‘Ready’

Firstly, they agreed that you need to be ‘ready’. If you haven’t seen the value of technology, or haven’t seen it used in amazing ways, you might not understand its potential. This is why it’s even more important for people to be sharing their stories (via blogs, TeachMeets, Google+ posts). Going to events like the Google Summit helps too: Nicole from Macgregor Primary School said that the Google Summit was a big factor in motivating her to learn more about technology.

This doesn’t mean that people that aren’t ‘ready’, aren’t good teachers, or don’t know anything about technology, it just means that they’re not ready to make it work for them in the classroom. The complication here is that sometimes readiness is thrust upon teachers: they’re placed in a teaching team that is already doing lots of things with technology; they’re in a school that is making a ‘whole-school’ effort (which isn’t a bad way to go, as Fraser Primary School found out). But with the right mindset - which most teachers have - they can become ‘ready’.

“If we’re going to learn, we’re all going to learn together”

This was the attitude of Amanda, who teaches in the LSUA at Caroline Chisholm School. And her approach to learning along with her students has worked well for her. She has gone from having just a basic understanding of coding and robotics to an upcoming presentation at the Adelaide Summit in October.

For some teachers, admitting they don’t know everything can be very challenging. After all, isn’t that what teachers are? The font of all knowledge? It took me a long time to convince my son that I didn’t know absolutely everything just because I was a teacher!

When it comes to technology, sometimes there are people that know more than us, and sometimes they’re our students. We know this is true, we’ve seen it at Wanniassa Hills Primary in young students, and at Amaroo School where they take it to a whole other level.

One of the things we see among teachers that successfully integrate technology is that ability to let go of all the control and rely on their students (or indeed others) to fill the gaps in their knowledge. Monique at Wanniassa Hills told her students ‘we’ll learn together’. The students in Sami’s class at Macquarie Primary help each other and help her. Teachers at Richardson Primary and Macgregor Primary visited other schools and classrooms and actively sought help from their peers.

Learning from each other

Learning new skills from teachers based in your own school context can be very powerful. Schools have always encouraged teachers to share their skills with their colleagues, and often include learning activities around ICT. At Alfred Deakin High School they believe that learning to use ICT in order to improve learning outcomes is so important that a dedicated staff meeting is held every term to share “Best Practice”. This is in addition to the one day at the start of the year that is devoted to ICT professional development, with teachers presenting a variety of sessions in a conference style. This includes activities like QR code hunts and rapid-fire sharing sessions to ensure teachers get the information and help that is most relevant to them. PLC meetings are regularly given over to peer learning too.

Learning from each other can make it less confronting and teachers know that if they implement something they’ve learned during the in-school sessions that they might not be the only ones doing it. There is enormous power in shared understandings.

Find something that works for you

Teachers are already good at what they do. Technology just gives them the opportunity to make some things better. It can be hard to know where to start, so most teachers just pick one thing that they think will work, and decide to give it a go. For Nicole and Renee it was Docs, for their colleague Donna it was Sheets. For Monique and Tina it was Classroom and for Sami it was Forms. They put their efforts into learning more about it and made it work for what they wanted to do with their students.

Above all things though, teachers are always driven by their desire (their passion!) to make things better for their students. It’s only when teachers can find an authentic use for the technology - that will contribute to better outcomes - that they will see a real need to learn and develop their skills.

Think BIG but start small

Most of the teachers that are doing good things with technology in their classrooms didn’t start with a show-stopping, Earth-shattering bells and whistles technology, they started with something small. They tried things out, went at their own pace (always forward though), and worked through any issues or problems that they came across. Once they saw that working, and delivering an outcome for their students, they were much more likely to keep going.

Active Learning

All of the teachers that we have talked to that are using technology well in their classrooms are actively engaged in building their knowledge. They don’t wait for an appropriate PD, they look up videos on YouTube, they Google search, the tap into online networks on Twitter and Google+. They ask their peers (and their students), visit schools and attend TeachMeets and GEG events. As we mentioned earlier, this is the way that professional learning is headed, particularly around technology. Having a learning mindset and an understanding that technology change is a constant reality will ensure that teachers can always keep up with these changes.

Using technology in the classroom is important. Using it well is even more important. If you’re looking at how you can start, think about what some of our teachers have done and see if there’s something that you can relate to.