Blended Learning

What do teachers want even more than new technology? Training on how to use it

Austin, TX. – With apps for everything from annotating poetry to understanding literature through hip hop, it might have seemed teachers in attendance at the sprawling South by (SXSW) festival last week were hungry for new tools and technology.

Tim Thomas (Hereford MS Library Media Specialist) and Lisa Dai Venker (Golden Ring MS Library Media Specialist)at a professional development meeting for middle school library media specialists in Baltimore County.

Tim Thomas (Hereford MS Library Media Specialist) and Lisa Dai Venker (Golden Ring MS Library Media Specialist)at a professional development meeting for middle school library media specialists in Baltimore County.

After all, a dizzying menu of new classroom technology prevailed; there was even an interactive playground to try it all out.

The RobotsLab was on hand to demonstrate math and science concepts using what else? Robots.

New products like ClassroomIQ promised to give teachers their time back by helping them grade. From Berlin came a new way to learn languages called Unlock Your Brain.

Yet many teachers instead are clamoring for training on how to use this new technology to do what they do best – teach.

In a new nationwide survey of more than 600 K-12 teachers, 50 percent reported inadequate assistance when using technology in the classroom, according to a survey from digedu, a Chicago company that partners with schools to integrate technology in classrooms.

Some have reported feeling left out of the debate around the role of technology to improve teaching and learning.

“Teachers show up at large, industry-driven conferences feeling more than a little like middle school students at their first dance. They want to be there so badly but they are completely confused as to how they fit in and what role they should adopt,’’ Shawn Rubin of EdSurge wrote in a column after last year’s festival.

Something of a backlash followed. As my colleague Anya Kamanetz points out, the SXSW festival this year not only drew more teachers, but also had plenty of students.

I found many teachers with lots of questions and strong opinions. In one panel entitled “When Does Ed Tech Just Become Education,” an audience member stood up and angrily denounced the absence of a teacher on the panel. The crowd cheered.

I couldn’t help wondering how teachers are adopting to a whole new way of delivering education known as “convergence,’’ – a phrase describing the transition to digitally focused classrooms that Miami-Dade County Schools Albert Carvalho spoke passionately about in a keynote address.

Teachers also must adapt to new devices and techniques like blended learning, aimed at giving students more control over where, how and when they learn – often partly online.

Some schools offer incentives for teachers; I also heard a lot about “blended learning coaches,’’ to help with digital transitions.

But what happen if teachers are resistant? The question came up during a panel entitled “Go Big or Go Home: Scaling Personalized Learning.’’

A reply came quickly from Kenneth Eastwood, superintendent of schools in Middletown, who has been recognized as one of the “Top Ten Tech Savvy Superintendents,” by eSchool News.

“Teachers who use technology will replace those who don’t,” he replied.

It’s a lot more complicated, of course, as Benjamin Herold of Ed Week notes in his recent story on the challenges school districts face when they want to run or replicate schools with a technology-based focus.

After the conference was over, I put in a call to S. Dallas Dance, another tech-savvy superintendent who is immersed in the digital world and wants make sure teachers are ready to meet students in it.

In Baltimore County, he’s pushing the district of 174 schools (he’s visited all of them) toward a digital conversion; he’s also identified specialists “who have to be fully knowledgeable about instruction and [have] a willingness to learn how to imbed technology’’ into classrooms, he said.

Dance acknowledged that some teachers are resistant, but more are enthusiastic.  He added that it helps to keep the focus on curriculum and training – especially in a district where all students will soon have a digital tablet to bring to school.

“Curriculum drives it; not the device,’’ Dance said. “The sticking point is training to make it work.  If [school systems] think of it as a device, things will get dicey. It is what you are trying to do through the device that counts.”

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Liz Willen

Liz Willen, a longtime education reporter, is proud to lead an award-winning staff at The Hechinger Report. She got her start in newspapers as feature… See Archive