Using Digital Technology in the Classroom

This post is an excerpt from our Digital Citizenship Conference in Los Angeles. The conference was a rich environment for educators, law enforcement officers and parents to openly discuss issues and solutions for helping students shine in the digital world. All of the content from the Digital Citizenship Conference is available as a Virtual Replay Ticket.

Here are the experts who contributed to this blog:

Jayme Johnson Using Digital Technology in the Classroom

Jayme Johnson
Dir. Academic Tech
Village School

Marcela De Vivo Using Digital Technology in the Classroom

Marcela De Vivo
Founder & CEO
Gryffin Media

Elizabeth Medina Using Digital Technology in the Classroom

Elizabeth Medina
Senior Strategist
Google

Lee Fox Using Digital Technology in the Classroom

Lee Fox
Founder & CEO
PeerSpring

Joi Podgorny Using Digital Technology in the Classroom

Joi Podgorny
Online Safety Expert
Good People Collective

What are your best uses of technology in the classroom?

I work mostly with high school students, so my answer is focused on them. What I love about technology in the classroom is, all of a sudden, it starts to get loud, and the energy changes, and as educators sometimes I think, uh-oh, but also we realize that is active learning! I feel that there’s a huge opportunity that educators have in managing screen time by actually leaning in and giving the students an opportunity to use their technology that actually furthers the assignment or the work. Is technology a tool that I could use to keep students engaged? Just one quick example, we were working with a classroom that was having students stand up and do presentations, and we had a polling technology that was added in, and the students were giving peer reviews, with their phones on who was giving the best presentations. In those kinds of moments, you realize, that you’re not having to worry about what they’re doing on the phone, because the students are excited about putting their piece of the puzzle into that use of the phone, as opposed to just sitting back and listening to their fellow student’s presentation and being bored, instead, with their phones, they got to be active. –Lee Fox, PeerSpring

As educators, it’s important that we be tech savvy, so we can leverage the tools available to us to facilitate learning. –Elizabeth Medina

I think as educators, it’s important that we be tech savvy, so we can leverage the tools available to us to facilitate learning, and working with technology. I think it’s more important now than ever because when this generation of kids graduate from college and they’re looking for a job, there will be more jobs in computer science than any other field, in every state and in every industry. It will be a whole lot easier for them to be successful at work if they have a strong background working with computers and using computer science. So, it’s like it was mentioned, the energy in the room changes when a kid learns to code things, like an app, or an animation or a website. I think it’s great that as educators we can empower students to create wonderful things and really help them learn how the world around them works. Computer science is a skill that can be used at any age. Students can use it today to write their first book report, or they can use it later in college to build a website for a fledgling business to help pay their expenses. –Elizabeth Medina, Google

One of the important things I think for educators to remember is, you need to teach them the tools, then you need to kind of give them free rein and let them use the appropriate tools. So, very often with my students, I’ll say, “You’re learning, your objective is to learn XYZ. You can demonstrate that however you’d like. Figure out how to show me you’ve learned something, it could be a poster board, it could be a Google slideshow, it could be an animation that you code in Scratch. It could be a song that you write, it could be a something that you design in 3D printing”. So, however you choose to communicate your knowledge, that’s what we need our students to learn because when they get into college and into the job market they need to be able to pick the best tool for the job. –Jayme Johnson, Village School

With technology, how do you manage meeting the kids where they are at? Some kids have more experience with technology.

A way you can be an advocate for students who might be in the lower income bracket or might not have as much access to technology, or who might be really excited to learn and really in a place where they are ready to learn and their classmates might not be, would be to start a computer science club at your school. Anyone can do that, especially people who are in classrooms working with children. There’s curriculum online and you can really be a game-changer for a student in terms of introducing them to a potential career path that could be really rewarding for them down the road. –Elizabeth Medina, Google

Do you have advice for teachers who are entering this brave new world? There are teachers who may be unfamiliar.

Come up with a good way of tackling different problems in the curriculum, based on the tools available. –Marcella De Vivo

I think understanding that teachers don’t have to master all the tools, they just need to be familiar with them, get pretty good at one or two that are their preferred choice and let the kids guide them in the ones that they like too. Then, together come up with a good way of tackling different problems in the curriculum, based on the tools available. And there’s new stuff coming out all the time and kids are the ones that keep up with that. The kids can propose different tools that they’re using, new ones, that teachers may not even have. But kids will tell them, “This one you need to pay attention to.” –Marcella De Vivo, Gryffin Media

It’s also ok, and it’s hard for teachers, but it is also good for them to be comfortable to say “It’s ok that I don’t know”. It’s okay to say you don’t know, and it’s even better to say, “Let’s learn together”. And to model how you research and how you learn. I had a student ask me a question and my reply was “I don’t know, and no one’s ever asked me that question, let’s figure it out together”. And so, I opened up Google, and, without pre-searching, I just did a really good keyword search, and we skimmed the results and just narrowed them down – ‘ok, these first three won’t work, but this one has a good summary, let’s click it on it.’ So I modeled to them, how to develop good keywords, how to do a quick search and then how to learn the answers to the questions that they had. –Jayme Johnson, Village School

Is there any kind of teaching practices that you would recommend to people who are managing these technologies?

Screen time isn’t a negative thing but there are times when students don’t need to be on a tablet. –Joi Podgorny

Teachers and parents rely on tools and videos to help with managing screen time. Screen time isn’t a negative thing but there are times when students don’t need to be on a tablet or their phones. –Joi Podgorny, Good Social Collective

I would say don’t use it as a babysitter. Technology is not a babysitter we don’t like our parents to use technologies as a babysitter so you shouldn’t do the same thing in the classroom. Classroom time is very valuable and you don’t want to squander it. But at the same time, be mindful of your curriculum, and what’s the outcome and the curricular goal you have for your students, and then decide which technology tool to use, or whether to use technology or not. Be mindful about your purpose and your outcome and then kind of backward design your lesson, what do you want the learning outcome to be, and then how can you best leverage the technology to achieve that goal. –Jayme Johnson, Village School

Everything that you’re creating digitally is a digital artifact that actually promotes who you are. –Lee Fox

Well, I love using free choice with the students. Like, how do I use Instagram in the classroom, or Twitter, or Snapchat? I think that one of the best ways to do it is, again, having the students come up with ideas of how to leverage the tools they are already using for their own assignments. And also, honing in on the fact of everything that you’re creating digitally is a digital artifact that actually promotes who you are, your story, what your capabilities are, it proves your next-step-readiness. So, “What tools would you all like to use if we were looking at whatever your assignment is?” They will they will help you come up and craft the assignment. It’s really cool because then they’re into it, they’ve already bought into that assignment. How would Romeo and Juliet communicate today? Then they get into rap songs, they’re using YouTube, or whatever they’re using. It’s the excitement again, that active learning that we love to see that happens as a result of asking those questions. –Lee Fox, PeerSpring

What about managing screen time that is self-initiated– that is not on task? Like texting in class, or just like not paying attention because they’re playing some new app?

Rethink how you set up your physical environment to promote students using digital tools in a productive way. –Jayme Johnson

Teachers cannot sit at a desk in the front of the room and have student’s devices open. So, I’m changing the setup of your classroom, the physical layout of your classroom, it’s an important thing to do. If your students are on Chromebooks or laptops or tablets, set your classroom up in a way that you can see everything, put your desk in the back of the room or set it up in a horseshoe shape, or just walk around. You cannot just be stationary at your desk anymore. If your students have tablets or phones, it’s a little bit trickier, but if you’re constantly walking around, your presence is the best, the most powerful tool you can use. If they know that you could walk by and look over the shoulder at any moment, they are much more likely to be on task. Really rethink how you set up your physical environment to promote students using digital tools in a productive way. It might have to change the way you teach, and it changes the way you plan your physical environment, as well as structure lessons. If you just say “We have a 45-minute class, write your paper”, and then go sit at your desk, that’s not going to be a productive use of time. –Jayme Johnson, Village School

TeenSafe is helpful. It started as a monitoring tool and that was what they’ve done for five or six years, and then about a year ago, they developed the “pause button” because they realize that you can monitor all day, but you can’t monitor everything. And kids get bored. So, this button is so cool. The parent will connect it to their phone, and then they will schedule, or physically just say, “Okay, you’re in school, it’s 9 o’clock, you’re supposed to be in class”, you literally pause it from your phone, and it just shuts down all of the apps. You can choose which ones it shuts down and which ones it doesn’t. It’s amazing because the kid will still be able to call if they need to call for emergencies but anything else is just unavailable. –Marcella De Vivo, Gryffin Media

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