Technology: Supporting Good Teaching Since the Discovery of Chalk

Technology: Supporting Good Teaching Since the Discovery of Chalk

Your students are all lost. You are certain that none of your goals for the lesson have been met. Johnny is starting to misbehave. If you are teaching grownups, you might see him glaze over or start to scroll on his phone. Little Johnny is actively exploring the interior of his nose as he eyes up Melissa’s pigtails. What are you going to do?

Bill Nye the Science Guy! He’s cool, right? A library of really great videos can save the worst lesson and give everyone some information to take home. Every teacher knows this.

However, in your heart of hearts, you know that this video is no replacement for that lesson that bombed. The students might take home some information, but that information will not become part of their lives if you do not help them to use it.

True education is risky. You have to try new things. You have to innovate, experiment and explore. Sometimes, lessons bomb. I teach an online course on Race and Racism. Talk about complex! Sometimes the conversations flows and I can see students coming to a true realization of the role that racism plays in the economic injustice of society. Other times, I say something wrong or too abruptly and my students close down. I am working on the edge of their understanding about critically important information. It is not all going to run smoothly.

Write the Golden Rule 100 times. As long as people have taught, they have relied on technology to support their lessons. Teachers need devices to support and create the mind blowing moments that happen when students are really thinking deeply. However, writing “I will love my neighbor” over and over again will not result in a change of heart and mind. In my Race and Racism course, I have video clips, Quizlet activities and thought experiments ready. These activities are sometimes used to inspire thinking; other times, I whip them out when the class needs something new.

Technology can enhance good teaching. Once you have established yourself as an educational force, technology can enhance your curriculum. Technology lets you travel to distant places, watch incredible footage of everything from sky diving to penguins fishing for their suppers. It even helps you differentiate your instruction to make sure that each student is getting what she needs. That is the beauty technology. It can support you on your quest to transform your student’s minds. Technology isn’t going to do anything by itself.

Tips for integrating technology into your classroom:

Here are some tips for integrating technology into your classroom and using it to support your educational goals.

Teach Students How To Use Technology: Do not expect them to effortlessly figure things out. While it certainly seems that this generation can figure things out more effectively than their elders, they can’t always find the “Submit Assignment” button. At the beginning of the semester, do not take anything for granted. I always run an orientation to the WizIQ classroom before I actually hope to teach students in it.

Establish protocols for the use of technology: In my face to face classes, I have the students sitting at desks so that I can easily glance over their shoulders. The temptation to check email and Facebook is too strong for most adults to resist, so of course kids can’t. We should make it really easy for everyone to stay focused. Also, as soon as my live students enter the classroom, they know that they are supposed to start their computers and open the assignment that they are working on. In my online classes, I often ask students to prove that they are ready before I give them the link to the classroom. I might, for example, ask them to open and share a Google Document with me if we are going to be working on writing assignment or do a Quizlet activity to prep their minds for a lecture.

Don’t Bombard Students With Tech Tools: When I taught little kids, I would open the classroom library gradually. I had the library wrapped up like a big present, and we would slowly un-wrap it, day by day, over the first few weeks of school. One day I would introduce the section on Biographies. The next day, we might welcome the science section. We would talk about each genre and explore the contents. We have to recreate this experience for online learners- especially the young ones. Each technological tool can be a special gift, which is there to help them learn and participate. Over the span of a course, I might introduce the “Small Group” function in the WizIQ classroom in one lesson. On a different day, I might teach the kids how to be “Co-presenters.” I might share with them them polls or give them a tutorial on sending private messages to me during the class. Each of these tools deserves their own mini-lesson. Respecting the tools will help the kids use them effectively.

Have Real Experiences Instead of Virtual Experiences, Whenever Possible: The technology is the tool. The learning is what we are after. That means that we have to send our children outside and into the world, books and experiments that we want them to learn about. I am teaching an online course about the Big Bang. Essential to this course is assigning the students an outdoor pilgrimage to look for the important stars in the night sky. I want the kids to look at the stars and think about how those very stars generated the Carbon that has created our bodies. They can’t get that sense of wonder in front of a computer screen.

Don’t Make Learning All About Content Consumption: Content is important. You can’t have much of a conversation (nor an understanding of the world) without it. However, that content needs to be embedded in love. Yes, I know, “love” is a fluffy and undefinable word. It makes you think of puppies and roses. But, you also know that love is so much more. Love is what makes us care. It is what makes the content matter. It is the reason that we are bothering to learn at all. Whatever “love” you embed your content in, be it love of the subject, love of people or love of the earth, don’t even bother teaching without it.

Technology Is Only A Medium And Not The Whole: So, ask yourself, what is “Your whole”? What is the reason that you are here? What are you trying to teach? What matters to you? Then, figure out how technology can support your goals.


I am a teacher, hiker, mother, dancer and home-maker. I have taught pre-school through SAT prep. I am exploring ways to create on-line learning communities for home-schooled middle school and high school students. In particular, I am starting a low-residency on-line middle school. I would like to help young people explore important ideas while enjoying their lives! You can learn more about my programs at www.onlineclassesforgroovykids.org.

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