Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Why, What and How of Technology Integration

This article is cross posted at the Technology & Learning Advisor blog.

If your school district is anything like mine you have been deeply entrenched in creating Professional Growth Plans (PGP) and Student Growth Objectives (SGO) for the better part of last and this school year. With all of this busyness we can lose focus of the continuing need for professional development and research to improve our craft. It’s time that school leaders let us all get back to what we do best, teach, no matter what evaluation model you may follow.

With that in mind, and that fact that we are getting bombarded by ed tech companies all the time, we need to have some guidelines to follow when it comes to integrating new technologies. I recently attended a symposium that reinforced some standard, and maybe forgotten, guidelines to follow for the integration of technology both in the classroom and district.  The keynote speaker, Joshua Koen of Passaic Public Schools in NJ, did a great job outlining some important things to remember before we purchase and integrate technology into the classroom.  Here are some of his points with my own added:

1. You need to have a good reason why.

If you can’t specifically answer why you want to integrate a technology into your curriculum you need to go back and rethink your process.  With shrinking budgets and more demands on all staff you have to do your homework and not be won over by the hype that technology vendors create in their products. We need to approach it with a critical eye and look at marketing campaigns with the same media literacy skills we try to impart in our students. From the top down, we have to make sure that it will improve instruction and that we can’t use an existing technology, in an innovative way, that does the same thing. We live in a more technologically open world now than ever before, with lots of great free tools, so we should really have good reason why before asking  to purchase new classroom technologies.

2. You have to know what you want.

As the saying goes “Sometimes you don’t know, what you don’t know.”  We have to be sure that we know exactly what we want to accomplish in our classrooms to make the biggest impact. Teachers have to be researchers and work with their technology and curriculum people to get the right fit for what they want their students to accomplish. Have your administrators or tech director call vendors and ask for demo units that will allow you to run a proof of concept trial before making the purchase. This is really important since we all know that we don’t always get what is advertised, or it’s just not the right fit.  I have seen this happen too many times and it creates frustration and the technology ends up not being used. Only the classroom teacher can know if it’s the right fit, so don’t force it, and ask the vendors for those demos.

3. Have a plan for how to make it happen.

We all know how important planning in education is for success. Looking back at the first step and remembering the reason why you want the technology will drive the planning process. Teachers need to collaborate in their professional networks, and look at best practices to help inform their decisions and instruction. If you do make the purchase, put the time in on the back end with professional development and training before you introduce it to the students . Start slow and pilot it with a chosen few students to give you feedback since they are the end users that should matter most. Most of all innovate as you progress and leverage this new technology to go beyond it’s initial purpose. Just like any tool a multi-tasker is much better than an expensive, specialized, single  use one. Finally, by all means share your experiences with your colleagues and your Personal/Professional Learning Networks (PLN).

By following some common sense guidelines you can save yourself, and your district time, money and frustration. You can also make the most of the district's funds, improve instruction, and create an authentic and collaborative learning environment that will help you and your students achieve those professional development and student growth goals and objectives.

Monday, January 28, 2013

App Review - Pento Notebook for iPad

This article is cross posted at the Technology & Learning Advisor blog.

I recently downloaded a new app for my iPad, Pento Notebook ($2.99), that I believe can give some of the more popular notebook apps some competition.  Now, don't get me wrong, I think that there are some great apps our there, but Pento takes a different approach and that is what makes them standout in my opinion.

Just like any other notebook app you can create and label as many notebooks as you like.  They have all of the common tools for writing, drawing, and text insertion. Including settings to change colors and pen width.  They even include some cute emoticons. But, what set this app apart is its ability to create rich multimedia notebooks.

What makes this really app shine is the "Grabber."  This tool allows you to "grab" different types of media. If you want to embed a video from a web page into your notebook page you simply touch the "Grabber" on the left side of the page and select "Browser."  Then browse to the URL you want and find the video. Once the video loads, by the way the browser loads very fast, touch and hold your finger on it and a menu appears with a choice to "grab" the video.  Once you do that it takes you back to your notebook page and embeds the fully functioning video.  You can then further manipulate its size and position, even annotate over it.  This can also be done with text, pictures, etc.  The "Grabber" tool bar also has a selection for Twitter that will pull up your Twitter stream and let you grab tweets and embed them as well.   You have the options of using pictures, videos and music that are already on your device.  You can take your own pictures or video recordings from within the app and embed them as well.  When you are all finished with your notes you can save them within Pento or share a page via email, Twitter or Facebook.

Imagine the innovative uses of this in the classroom. Research can be saved, and annotated over, all in one convenient place.  Students can make multimedia pages on a topic that can be shared with their teacher or classmates.  Overall, I think that this is an app with a lot of potential that will spark your creativity the more you use it.  I would definitely recommend adding it to your app list of must haves.

Here is a video that shows Pento in action: