Should It Stay, or Should It Go?

Technology innovations abound in education during the time of COVID. Are they all necessary?

Dan Malleck Flickr

Full disclosure: One of my nicknames in my immediate family is “gadget girl.” If it’s out there, I want it. This school year, however, I have learned there is a huge difference between wanting tech and needing it to be more effective. Here are a few thoughts in innovative technology adopted by teachers during this time. Should they stay in our toolbox, or could we teach and learn better without them?

Robotic Cameras Should Go

I use my robotic camera each day I am in the physical classroom because I have to. However, I hate it, and not just because I have to be on camera. It’s a waste of money, in my opinion. Instead of those, I wish each student had been given a printer, reams of paper, and ink, so they could print materials for themselves and take their eyes off the screen.

Yes, it’s important that they see the teacher. We have webcams for that. What if we write on the whiteboard? Well, I don’t, but if I did, I would figure out a way to use the webcam in my computer to show my whiteboard. Instead, I use my personal tablet as a doc cam (see below). Students who are in the classroom with me can join the web conference to observe what I am doing on the table, or I can share it to the flat screen. (Yes, I am privileged to have a flat screen at my disposal.)

I wish the investment made in the robotic cameras had been put to better use.

Tablets as Doc Cams: Stay

My whiteboard has been half-covered by the flat screen, so it has become a place to post my regular schedule and other stuff I don’t erase. I also have a shelving unit left for me by my predecessor right in front of the whiteboard, just as she left it. Using the whiteboard is not easy, so I tend to project materials to the flat screen instead.

Last semester, my son used his tablet to take notes during lectures and to do homework when it involved diagramming. I decided to see if I could do the same as I was teaching, instead of using the keyboard to highlight and type — a process I find clunky. Well, with the help of my tablet and note-taking software, I can now share materials with my students and mark them up as I would if they were on paper, and I was using a pen and highlighter. I forgot how much of my thinking was tied to annotating documents! My ability to think has been enhanced by using this tool.

As a bonus, your students no longer have to take photos or screenshots of your annotations on the whiteboard, because you can save your work to PDF and upload to the LMS (learning management system).

The LMS: Stay, but…

The learning management system has been around for decades. As a trainer in the corporate world, I hacked a Moodle installation to work for my organization as well as I could muster (it’s open source and Moodle encourages users to figure out how to make it work for their context). As a central repository for all things learning, the idea of the learning management system is fantastic.

Most LMS’, in my opinion, could do much better with this idea. The LMS we use is all right, but it’s cumbersome, and the grade book is terrible. The integration with our student information system (SIS) is lacking in several aspects, including the transfer of grades, assignment flags, and comments.

Many teachers have to learn how to use the LMS independently, with little formal training. The training provided for our LMS, and the just-in-time help is poor. To better serve learning communities, LMS providers need to improve their documentation and training resources.

Students, too, find it difficult to navigate our LMS. For this reason, I have provided my own training and have sent newsletters with tips on how to make it work for them. Why isn’t there a guided tour for students, or more just-in-time help? There are services out there, and Moodle has had such a tour, which teachers and administrators can customize to suit their community’s needs.

The mobile app, too, is not nearly robust enough. In some ways, it’s terrific, such as allowing students to take images of their work and submit those images to assignments. But it could be better by allowing students access to more materials, like videos embedded as files into the course, and an internal browser to view webpages inside the app instead of forcing the student outside it.

So, the LMS should definitely stay. It’s a juggernaut. It’s a repository for learning materials, strategies, and assessments. Archived courses hold materials that will work for future classes. It’s a communication assistant, too, able to send messages and keep a record of those sent. It centralizes the activities around teaching and learning. I look forward to continued improvements.

Digital Whiteboards: Please Stay

Students love digital whiteboards in my school. They find them to be an excellent way to collaborate and be creative, once they get used to them. For me, watching the students work and providing feedback in real time has been a pleasure. Please stay.

Online Office Suites for Collaboration: Please, Please Stay

Letting students jump into a document or a slide show to edit it as they see fit has been tremendous! In our office suite, we can change the view to grid view and watch all the slides at once. It’s amazing. I can provide real-time feedback, too, which only enhances learning by addressing misconceptions right away.

Some Software for Online Formative Assessment: Go, but…

Some software for online formative assessment should probably go. Instead of allowing for collaboration and pulling students out of isolation, I feel like it pushes them back into isolation — for example, when activities are assigned for homework. I understand the notion of personalized learning and appreciate it. However, at this time, the more interaction we have with students, especially during formative assessment, the better.

If the software is used for classwork, though, there are arguments for keeping it, especially for data collection.

Software to Help with Writing: Go

There are programs that purport to help with writing, but my students and I do not find them as useful as writing instruction, practice, and writing conferences. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has a long way to go. Perhaps we are doing something wrong, but I think writing is a process best approached with human interaction, and that seems to work better than a program.

Programs That Check for Grammar and Style Issues: Oh, Please Stay

As I write this, a program that checks for grammar and style issues is following along. It suggests ways to improve my writing, which I can accept or reject. Students need that writing instruction from a human being, but could benefit from the support of a program like mine that identifies issues and explains the issue during practice. Users decide what to do with the suggestions. Over time, users correct themselves before that word or phrase is typed! In other words, the software trains you as you assume more control over your writing.

I wish every student had access to a tool like this one.

What Should We Add?

I want to start a conversation with this post. What else should we add to this list?

Thank you for reading this post.

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