Thursday, February 3, 2011

Seven ways to make better use of technology in the classroom

It's no secret new technologies are transforming education. Technologies such as interactive white boards, e-books, and open source courseware can help improve learning, boost critical thinking, and foster creativity.

But while technology has brought opportunity to education, it's also brought major challenges. Technological innovation has developed faster than most educational institutions can take advantage of it. The industry is not changing its educational practices as quickly as new technologies are coming online.

Of course, this has a lot to do with time and budgetary constraints. Schools must not only invest in the technology; they must also invest in training. And this goes beyond knowing how to use the features and functionality. Instructors must also know how to incorporate the technology into their curriculum. How do we organize it? How do we certify it?

And then there's the industry's historic resistance to change. You can find educators from kindergarten to college who prefer to teach the way they were taught, and feel adopting new technology is unnecessary.

Usually by the time an institution overcomes these challenges and implements a new technology, another tool has come out. A school might have just invested in SMART boards, for instance, and now iPads and other mobile technologies are exploding.

How can education keep up with the rapid development of technology? We need a strategic plan for bursting through our old mental models. We need to transform our classrooms into agile organizations that can respond to advancing technologies that can enable our students to learn better.

In my opinion, it requires a seven-part plan.

1. Monitor the future. Follow leading industry research and information, including the 2020 Forecast and The Horizon Report. Subscribe to top education blogs, such as eLearning Technology and The Future of Education, to understand what is on the horizon that will be impacting the way you teach. Use this information to think about what you can be doing differently today to stay ahead of the curve.

2. Hire creative and innovative educators. We need to staff our educational institutions with creative thinkers, professionals who embrace and can drive new technology in their classrooms. When hiring, educational institutions should look for candidates that are creative, innovative, and current with technology.

3. Hire lifelong learners. I think we sometimes forget that we hire educators to not just teach for today, but for the future. Educators must be lifelong learners, and able to constantly move forward with technological innovation.

4. Share models of visionary teaching. Educators should engage in regular and ongoing dialog about technology trends, and what they're doing to incorporate new approaches into their curriculum. This helps surface models of exemplary and visionary teaching that are working and that can be spread throughout the educational institution.

5. Recognize exemplary practices. We should recognize our educators' innovation and new ideas that are achieving results in the classroom. We should encourage them to share their practices and help give them the platform to do so, such as through a blog or funding them to present at industry conferences.

6. Be a prosumer. We have to be able to both produce new learning models as well as consume them. Essentially, we must take a collaborative approach to making change. At Post, for instance, all of our Master of Education students produce what we call a personal learning environment (PLE). It's a wiki-like environment where students share their projects and findings, learn from one another, and constantly adapt to help shape the future of education.

7. Harness the best tech support we can. This is crucial to deploying any new technology. The infrastructure must be in place to efficiently roll out the technology, foster adoption, and support usage.

Have you tried any of these approaches? How are they working? What other ways do you think we can make our classrooms more technologically agile?