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March 14, 2013 | Volume 8 | Issue 12
Table of Contents
Top Five Technology Tools
Teaching and Leading in a "Facebook Meets Face-to-Face" Environment
Tiffany Della Vedova
Among the thousands of technology tools created to enrich the educational experience of all learners, a handful have proven to be the most transformational to my own experience as an educator.
These few have erased the walls of our classroom spaces and opened up new ways to connect, both inside and outside of our schools.
When I first began exploring the potential of opening classrooms for 24/7 learning, Skype was among the initial tools I used. Through videoconferences I was able to workshop with students and further differentiate instruction, in addition to sharing resources in real time.
Over the past five years, Skype and similar tools have grown to include collaborative and education-specific initiatives, such as Skype in the Classroom. More recently, Google+ Hangouts allow for enhanced video opportunities with shared documents and presentations. EPals is another community that has enabled classrooms all over the world to connect and has brought a level of relevance to learning.
4. Open Online Curriculum
It is difficult to categorize the multitude of tools in this category. They range from open courseware made available by MIT and other universities, to Khan Academy‘s learning and practice software, to the visually stunning Google Chrome extensions in science, language, and a number of other subjects.
The ones we have integrated most thoroughly are free, flexible, and student-oriented. Using these tools has enabled us to offer access to differentiated resources and numerous paths to learning, moving the teacher from the center of the stage to the center of the learning net.
3. Learning Management System (LMS)
There are a few frontrunners in this category, but we have searched for products that are free, connected, and efficient. I've used Edmodo and Schoology, both of which fit these criteria.
The course spaces within the LMS extend students’ classroom experiences into a virtual, contained environment. For teachers, they offer an array of tools, such as gradebooks, standards integration, and learning communities. This year, I created a course in Schoology for professional development in our school as a means of goals setting and sharing professional learning outcomes.
For students, the course spaces not only provide a place for discussion and collaboration, but they also build a bridge to a fully online class experience. I cannot overemphasize the importance of building this bridge to prepare students for online learning.
2. Social Media
Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, have been the big bad wolf of the school environment for as long as educators have been aware of them. Thankfully, this perception is changing, and more educators are capitalizing on the power of social media in schools.
Teachers are now leading students in the use of social media for service and advocacy. An example of this in my school is our student-led @FindingGreenNYC initiative, which spreads information about preserving green spaces in urban environments.
Facebook has been a powerful tool for our faculty, who are split between four buildings. Through a group faculty lounge, we can share resources and celebrate together despite logistical obstacles.
Pinterest is a useful resource-collection tool for many educators, who have used it to collaborate with others inside and outside their school while "pinning" educational resources onto an eclectic mix of personal and professional boards. It provides one space for the many facets of our lives.
1. Google Apps
By far the most transformational of educational technology tools we have implemented is Google Apps for Education. The way we use Google Apps transcends any one particular element of the school environment because of its influence on student work, collaboration, digital citizenship, differentiated instruction, documentation, and communication.
As teachers, we use it to plan together and build institutional memory. Those of us who teach older students use it to create, manage, and assess student learning. We use it to communicate with our students and teach them how to communicate with us and with one another in a virtual environment.
It has helped us provide different tiers and processes of learning by inviting students to differentiated documents, and we have even used it to run mock online classes.
Many teachers new to Schoology or Edmodo ask whether they can replace Google Apps, but they serve very different purposes. LMS courses and groups are spaces, like classrooms, that exist in an online environment. Google Apps can be analogous to any number of tools in a classroom: textbooks, binders, centers, posters, dictionaries, plan books, and so forth. The individual chat feature and the document share chat also provide a means of communication not available in either LMS.
Besides, why get rid of one when both are free and integrate with each other? The combination of Google Apps plus an LMS should be the starting point for a school looking to create blended learning spaces; they are powerfully complementary.
In a recent documentary for Qualcomm's Spark, our head of school, Gabriella Rowe, pointed out that more and more the idea of educational technology is simply becoming education. The path to such seamless integration, in which technology is not the spotlight but rather the vessel for learning, is the careful selection of tools.
The list of most effective platforms will undoubtedly vary from school to school and educator to educator. However, these tools will all have one thing in common: they will have layered the complete education experience with connectivity so that learning does not stop at the classroom door.
Tiffany Della Vedova is head of the preparatory division at the Mandell School in New York. Vedova will present on blended learning at ASCD's 2013 Annual Conference in Chicago, Ill., Saturday, March 16, 8:00–9:30 a.m. central time. Learn more about her Annual Conference session here.
ASCD Express, Vol. 8, No. 12. Copyright 2013 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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