Technology is critical to education, but each district, school, and classroom has its own unique challenges when it comes to the integration of technology. One of those persistent challenges is lack of educator access to professional development centered on smart pedagogy and best practices:

  • How does technology fit with the standards?
  • How can technology help students develop their creativity and critical thinking?
  • How can we adapt existing lessons for new technologies?

Hoping to shed some light on these questions, education experts Gwen Hicks and Rebecca Stobaugh sat down with Kim Brody, Mentoring Minds’ Director of Professional Development to share their knowledge.

[Hear more of their thoughts at the free webinar hosted by Education Week, Effective Integration of Technology in the Classroom, on September 23, 2015.]


Q&A: Technology Integration and Smart Pedagogy

On Educators’ Mind Sets

Kim Brody: The presence of technology in classrooms is changing a lot about education, but it’s not about replacing the teacher. How do we approach technology integration while still letting the teacher lead the way?

Rebecca Stobaugh: That’s a good point. I’ve noticed when I’m working with teachers that they sometimes get sidetracked on the tools. I always caution teachers not to focus on the tool, but to think about what you want to accomplish. What’s your purpose—what’s your standard that you’re wanting to align to—then select the tool that meets those needs. Technology doesn’t supplant what teachers are trying to accomplish.

“Technology doesn’t supplant what teachers are trying to accomplish.”

Gwen Hicks: I think it starts at the district level. The district has to look at the whole picture and ask what they want to achieve with the technology, and then decide how they’re going to support those goals and help educators get there.

The instructional leaders in the campuses need to be as up-to-date and as involved as possible, and support those goals in the classroom. Planning professional development, doing walkthroughs, saying “Hey, I found this really great tool,” modeling that with their faculty. It’s about taking that extra step to provide professional development to support not only the boxes and wires and “which button do I push,” but also the actual instructional implementation.

On EdTech Surprises

KB: What has surprised you as you’ve watched K-12 education develop and change over the years with the integration of technology in the classroom?

RS: It’s surprised me to see some school districts implement large changes and then reverse—some have gone back and gotten rid of some of the technology because the data doesn’t show any impact on student achievement. That’s due in part to spending more money on the technology and not enough money on professional development to support teachers in using those tools to really impact instruction. They’re getting the basics on what technology does, but not how that translates in a classroom to benefit instruction. There’s a mixed message: “use the technology, use the technology” but teachers aren’t provided with the frame of best instructional practices.

“We just have to continue to support teachers, share ideas, and collaborate—just like we want our kiddos to do.”

GH: I agree completely. I’ve heard many times, “We know how to work this tool, but we don’t know what to do with it.” We just have to continue to support teachers, share ideas, and collaborate—just like we want our kiddos to do. That moves that process along.

Advice for Getting Started

KB: What advice do you have for a teacher who is just starting out incorporating technology into the classroom? What are some first steps to take?

RS: One thing I’ve learned is humility. Here’s a story: it was the end of the year and I had my students create webpages on the content that we had learned, as a summary with the intent that the sites would be used the next year for instructional purposes. And I learned that it’s okay not to know everything about the technology. In fact, I would argue that it’s better to work with your students, to become co-learners in the technology and let students step up to the plate. Some of my students that were not as engaged throughout the year all the sudden became my technology helpers, and I said, “I don’t know how to do that but you do. Will you teach me?” The dynamics just changed: we had such a good end of the year that year. I had no office referrals. Everybody was just really on task.

“There’s a need for a shift from the traditional teacher role to more of a learning facilitator…”

GH: Things are changing so quickly with the addition of technology in the classroom. As educators, I think it requires a shift of mindset: I don’t have to know everything, I need to become a co-learner. There’s a need for a shift from the traditional teacher role to more of a learning facilitator that naturally occurs with this implementation of technology. That’s a hard shift sometimes, especially for teachers with a little more experience under their belt.

On Lesson Planning

KB: What if a teacher says, “Well I do have a lesson plan, but it doesn’t incorporate technology, so I’m going to have to start all over.” How could teachers adapt instructional strategies to incorporate technology without starting from scratch with their lesson plans?

RS: We don’t want teachers to throw out the good things they’re doing. Rather, it’s taking a look at how technology can augment instruction in new ways. It’s saying, “Okay, where can we provide quicker feedback? Where could we include more student engagement than we’ve had? Where could we interest students more in instruction? How can we involve experts and collaborate with people outside of the school?”

GH: We can take those really great instructional strategies that we know—group work and collaboration, for example—and take advantage of technology to extend that, connecting with experts in the field, connecting classrooms around the world.

One of my staff members connected their classroom with a classroom in China. They were simultaneously studying the same concept, and they would meet together virtually to share their learning. It was a very multicultural experience, and it was also very exciting to see a different perspective for the students in our small, very rural area. It was a huge treat.

KB: I love that idea. Even if you’re not in a rural area, money is sometimes tight for field trips and for experiences outside of their classroom, so we can utilize that technology to bring connections into the classroom. I think you hit on the key of collaboration, because that’s what it’s all about.

RS: I agree with Gwyn’s idea of bringing experts into the classroom. Many of our Spanish teachers will Skype into a classroom in a Spanish-speaking country, and students will have conversations and Q&A with those teachers. It’s a great way to form an authentic connection.

Another option is a mystery field trip. Teachers will connect with another classroom, person, or place via Skype, and the students will post questions to guess where they are or who they’re with. Kind of like a “Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego?” thing.

Tech Recommendations

KB: As an educator, researching high-quality online tools can be very time consuming. They’re already strapped for time as it is, so what resources can you recommend that you see working well in the classroom?

RS: For collecting feedback, many teachers use Google Forms for formative assessment. Teachers can immediately see data on how students are performing—in addition to multiple choice, they can see comments, what students are saying, allowing that feedback to change instruction. There are also other socrative, student response–based technologies that can provide instant data. Whereas before we would collect papers and look at them overnight, now we can immediately on the spot make differentiated groups based on the needs, or move onto a different concept if our students are already mastering a concept.

In the classroom, teachers are trying to get away from that Q&A ping pong match where the teacher poses a questions and students respond. Instead, we’re looking at different ways of questioning where many students can reply and be involved in the conversations. Padlet is an application where students can post sticky notes and move those notes around to group similar ideas. Another web app is TodaysMeet, which facilitates group discussion and can act as a backchannel conversation tool.

“These are really helpful tools for teachers to help kiddos see a concept in different way and support that internalization of the learning for the students.”

Another option is for students to create real world projects that could be presented to a larger audience. Web presentation technologies, like Animoto, Prezi, and PhotoPeach—all those can be accessed online, so grandparents, parents, even people in the field can take a look at student presentations and give feedback.

GH: We can’t forget that these technologies are opportunities for remediation, as well. These are really helpful tools for teachers to help kiddos see a concept in different way and support that internalization of the learning for the students.

RS: And on the other end of that, technology provides students who have already mastered concepts with a way to extend their learning. It’s a way for them to do a project that might be a little different from what everybody else is doing but connects to the learning objectives and challenges them. So technology can be a way on both ends of the spectrum to differentiate instruction.


Want to Hear More?

To hear more advice and musings on the integration of technology in the classroom, attend the free webinar hosted by Education Week on September 23, 2015. In addition to talking pedagogy and best practices, Gwen, Rebecca, and Kim will also model technology integration during the webinar. Click here to register now.

About the Experts

Gwen Hicks (@gawhicks) has spent 27 years in education, developing a passion for curriculum and instruction along the way. In her current role as a regional administrator, Gwen works with new teachers and campus leadership to seamlessly integrate technology tools and platforms into classroom instruction. Gwen has a Master’s degree in education from West Texas A&M University.

Rebecca Stobaugh (@RebeccaStobaugh) teaches in the college of education at Western Kentucky University, where her research topics include critical thinking and technology integration. Before completing her doctorate in K-12 educational leadership at the University of Louisville, Rebecca taught at the middle and high school level and served as a principal.

Kim Brody (@KimCoreInsights) is the director of professional development at Mentoring Minds. Drawing inspiration from her years teaching English at the high school and college levels, she is passionate about helping educators connect with new ideas and continue on a path of life-long learning. Kim has a Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language from Central Missouri University.