Education technology integrator and curriculum designer explains how to pick the right tools for schools and districts
With so many education technology tools now available, how can school and district leaders implement the best choices? According to one veteran tech-savvy education technology integrator, there are a few ideas to consider when implementing technology. One of the biggest considerations? Put yourself in students’ shoes!
“It’s not just about the technology or the technology other schools and district are using,” said Jane Englert, learning designer and technology integrator at Ephrata High School (Pa.). “It’s understanding the needs of your students, as well as how to integrate the technology seamlessly with your curricular goals for the class.”
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According to Englert, there are a set of education skills she calls Pack Skills that she uses as a guide for her school. The mentality, explains Englert, is “I CAN:”
- Think critically
- Collaborate with others
- Find and use information with precision to solve problems
- Fulfill needs and pursue interests
- Choose flexibility
The first school education project that featured Englert’s Pack Skills was for a science project called “It’s Elemental.” Students in the Principles of Chemistry class worked on video productions to enter into the “It’s Elemental” competition sponsored by the Chemical Heritage Foundation.
Students decided if they wanted to enter the education competition as part of a group or as an individual entry, and over the next two weeks, brainstormed ideas; researched their selected element; wrote scripts; developed storyboards; and considered props, music, and more to create videos entered into the competition.
One student even ranked in the top five nationally.
“It’s not just about creating videos or using cool video software because students like it, it’s about combining both: easy-to-use education technology that students find engaging but that can also serve a purpose. In this example, it was for demonstrating science knowledge for a national competition that would also give recognition to the school,” said Englert.
From theory to practice
Another critical component of education technology integration is considering the scope of the curriculum and taking into account the standards that need to be covered.
An example of this in Englert’s school was through a world history project, based on students transitioning from world cultures to modern world history.
“We knew we not only wanted students to reveal their depth of knowledge, but also demonstrate parts of the new Common Core Standards, like writing and understanding digital mediums,” she explained.
Englert chose a tool called Glogster, which allows students and educators to create GLOGS, or online multimedia posters with text, photos, videos, graphics, sounds, drawings, data attachments, and more. Englert heard of Glogster through an education technology listserv.
Englert noted that another consideration when choosing an education technology tool is how the tool can best be utilized to maximize students’ learning potential. For example, for this history project, Englert suggested the teacher base the project off of a question.
“Instead of saying ‘Build an interactive poster about an event in history that interests you,’ the teacher and I decided to develop a series of questions based on the curriculum that the students would then have to answer using multimedia as tools for expression,” she said.
For example, a question could be “Did iconography play a part in World War II?” Students could then also ask more questions as part of their GLOG project, using videos, images, article excerpts, and more to complete the project.
(Next page: There’s a process you should follow)
In another recent education technology integration Englert designed, students used student response systems, or clickers, for in-class instant formative assessment.
When choosing which technology to implement, the “focus is not on whether tool use improves outcomes, but why,” she said. “Clickers work because of the increased opportunities to respond and the role of feedback in instruction. Not because students just like clickers.”
Watch SMART’s video on how to best use student response systems in class:
Englert also explained that many topics as part of the world history project centered on Eastern European history, because many students’ families in Pennsylvania have Eastern European backgrounds.
“It’s essential that when you consider a project that you take into account student interests and backgrounds, as well as your local school, district, and state culture. By incorporating these considerations, students can not only better relate to the content they’re producing and learning about, but hopefully taking the work home to include family.”
To have a better selection of student projects and to also maximize student creativity, individual students were also asked different questions.
“Part of choosing the technology and developing projects around the technology is understanding the individual strengths of students, as well as their desire to be a creative individual. That’s why we decided to have different questions for each student.”
She noted that the questions varied in difficulty as well as content, based on individual learning styles. For instance, if some students needed a broader question to be able to go more in-depth, then those questions were assigned to them. However, if some students needed more structure so as to better understand the material, they were assigned those questions.
Focus on the process
A large part of being able to successfully implement education technology and technology-based projects is in detailing a schedule, said Englert.
For example, in the world history project, Englert and the teacher decided to draft a project schedule for students, describing what parts of the project come first, middle, and last; and also when each part should be completed.
“When students left the class every day they would place a sticky note with their name next to the schedule that was available on the whiteboard. Then, the next day, students would again mark where they were on the schedule, allowing the teacher to see where each student was in their project on a daily basis,” she said.
So really, it’s not just about having a whiteboard with a schedule and cool little sticky notes, continued Englert. It’s about using that education technology to make learning more efficient.
To make teachers’ lives easier as well, Englert always makes a list of all of the standards, Common Core or otherwise, that are being integrated within each project.
“One complaint I often hear from teachers is: ‘Projects take too much time.’ I think this is because without having a visual list of all the standards covered, teachers sometimes don’t realize that even though a project takes time, it’s worth it for all the standards it can pack in at once,” she noted.
(Next page: 6 considerations to keep in mind)
Englert noted that, when it doubt, there are six areas of education technology integration to take into consideration when considering tools and project design:
1. Put yourself in the role of the student; remember: it’s about the student experience.
2. Know the curriculum.
3. Know what the teacher wants to accomplish with their students.
4. Don’t dismiss the education technology already on-hand.
5. Accept that there will be “uh-ohs.”
6. Leadership can be from the middle.
Next on Englert’s education technology integration? iPads for grades three and four, and using Edmodo and edWeb to communicate best practices, lesson ideas, and practical experiences for personalized professional development.
“Our work is never done when it comes to education technology,” said Englert.
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