TCEA sessions focus on tech for all ages, online learning

Online learning programs are most successful when they are well-structured.
Online learning programs are most successful when they are well-structured.

The second day of the Texas Computer Education Association’s 30th annual conference was filled with sessions focusing on STEM education, online learning, and iPods in classrooms, as well as a keynote speech from author and journalist David Kushner that focused on what makes today’s tech-savvy generation tick.

One session focused on how kindergarten through second-grade educators can incorporate technology into their classrooms and give young students a chance to experiment with technology. Alyssa Isam, Raschel Wagstaff, and Kristyn Marek, all teachers at Buda Elementary in Buda, Texas, led attendees through easy technology solutions for young children.

Some educators maintain blogs to keep parents updated on class progress, the presenters said. Special at-home activities are posted on the blogs so that students can print the activities from home or print them at school if at-home internet access is problematic. For completing and returning these activities to the teacher, students can choose a prize or special activity in the classroom.

Slideshows are another great way for young students to use technology, the presenters said. For instance, students can use digital cameras to take pictures of objects related to a lesson, such as matching the names of different plants, flowers, or colors to their pictures. Animoto, Windows Moviemakers, and Microsoft Photo Story are all viable options to help educators compile slideshows.

Podcasting can motivate young students because they enjoy hearing their recorded voice through playback, the presenters said, but it also helps with reading fluency. Teachers can use a computer’s built-in microphone or a webcam headset.

One educator used a webcam to record a student who was in the school’s Response to Intervention (RTI) program. The student’s parent gave permission for the teacher to film the student, and district RTI evaluators were able to watch the recording to better understand and identify the child’s learning obstacles.

Another session explored characteristics of a successful online learning program. Presenter David McGeary told attendees there is a multitude of K-12 online education research. McGeary is an instructional technology specialist with the Harris County Department of Education in Texas.

Educators who design the online courses they teach tend to have more success than those using a prefabricated course, he said, and teaching students in an online space can be daunting and chaotic.

But sound course design and understanding how children learn are essential in all learning, not just online learning, and can guide educators as they venture into online classrooms, McGeary said.

Research has shown that one of the top characteristics of successful online courses is having rigid expectations that are consistently enforced.

Children might never have had independent learning experiences before, McGeary explained, and educators should recognize that.

An October 2009 study suggested that by 2014, every higher-education student will be taking at least one online course. That raises an important question for K-12 educatiors, McGeary said: Do they change nothing, or do they send K-12 students on to college prepared for that online learning component?

Educators who are designing their own online courses or who are becoming involved in an online teaching program should evaluate what their students need now to be successful in education, and what they will need in the future to maintain that success, he said.

Online learning offers educators a chance to completely revamp education and create rigorous learning spaces, he said.

And one of the best things to do early on in an online course is to build a sense of community in the online space. Students need support and explicit instructions, McGeary explained; many studies have shown that without instructions, kids are more likely to try something on their own and give up than ask for help.


Buda Technology Wiki

David McGeary’s blog


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