Recently, I have done a lot of thinking about teachers, school districts, and technology as I work on my graduate courses for my Ed Tech degree. I have come up with a term to describe a goal for teachers: teacher technology independence. Many districts around the country will be cutting budgets again this year. And if technology does not go out with the budget, support for technology most likely will. Schools and teachers want great tech tools for their students, but districts cannot always deliver on those tools or the necessary training for effective implementation. Even when the money is there, decision makers at the district level do not always know what tools will be best for your classroom. Teachers can benefit from being independent of all that, by learning what free tools are out there, and understanding how technology works and how student learning is affected. Teachers know what is best for their own classroom and what will work for their students. We cannot always rely on our districts for technology support. In the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, here is part 3 of my series of Tips for Teacher Technology Independence:
As school districts cut costs, they may cut support for certain technology tools. This could come in different forms. Instructional technology specialists may be let go or never hired in the first place. Course management and digital media tools may be abandoned to save money. District technology trainings may become less frequent. If you find yourself in a similar situation, and you want to learn about using technology, take a look at the following suggestions.
What Teachers Can Do
Look into free or lower cost options for online tools.
If you end up using something that works well, let the technology department in your school district know that these options are there for teachers to use. Maybe they will be able to integrate the free tools and save money in the process.
Google Apps for Education can be used to replace Blackboard or other course management software. This suite of free apps includes document management and creation, sharing, email, calendar, and discussion tools like Google Groups. Many of the collaborative apps also have discussion and commenting features embedded in them.
Edmodo could also be used to replace Blackboard. The service offers much of what Blackboard offers with more social elements included. You can create assignments, calendars, and manage documents. It offers many features for discussion and interaction via computers and mobile devices. The best part about Edmodo is that using it is so easy and is modeled after social networks, rather than course management tools.
Do more with what you already have.
It is likely that your school and district have online and software tools available that you have not heard about. Ask your technology support staff about what types of tools are available. After all, the software is there for you to use! You can also explore some of the tools that you have already used. Find out what other features are included. Reflect on different ways you can use the software. Practice using it more effectively, and ask others for help in figuring out how to do that.
If your district is not offering training, ask for one. Sometimes technology specialists who do not even work at your school will travel there if enough people are interested. Ask your colleagues for help and create your own informal training session. Search the web for helpful resources. It is amazing how many people offer their expertise online for free! For more information on training and professional development, see item #6, above.
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