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With Larry Ferlazzo

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Professional Development Opinion

Response: ‘Be Patient’ When Dealing With Ed Tech Problems

By Larry Ferlazzo — March 19, 2016 15 min read
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(This is Part One in a two-part series)

This week’s question is:

What are the most common problems with ed tech and how can they be solved?

What teacher, school or district doesn’t have ed tech problems? We’ll be covering a specific and broader issues in this two-part series.

In this post, Larissa Pahomov, Anne Jenks, Jared Covili, Billy Krakower, and Heather Staker will share their thoughts. You can listen to a ten-minute conversation Larissa, Anne, Jared, and I had on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

In addition, readers might find previous related posts at this blog useful, Using Tech In The Classroom, as well as these collections:

The Best Places To Learn Computer Basics & How To Fix Tech Problems

The Best Posts & Articles Highlighting Why We Need To Be Very Careful Around Ed Tech

The Best Advice On Using Education Technology

Response From Larissa Pahomov

Larissa Pahomov teaches English and Journalism at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, an inquiry-driven, project-based, 1:1 laptop school considered to be one of the pioneers of the School 2.0 movement. She is the author of Authentic Learning in the Digital Age: Engaging Students through Inquiry (ASCD, 2014). Connect with her on Twitter @LPahomov:

Problem: Many ed tech programs cost money (that your school may not have). Although many apps and online programs can be used for free, the biggest and best learning management systems and online grading tools have subscription fees or use the “freemium” model, with the best features behind a paywall--and that’s not even factoring in the cost of the machines that students need to get to these tools.

What Educators Can Do: Contact companies and developers early and often to see what kind of deals or research memberships they can offer. Ed tech startups are often looking for feedback in the early stages of their product development, and will offer free access in exchange for user commentary. The same can be true of even the largest hardware manufacturers.

Problem: Most ed tech is seeking to make a profit. Although they may make articulate claims about how they care about teaching and learning, most education technology groups are running as for-profit companies. Because education is not traditionally a for-profit industry, they have to strike a balance between serving their customers and satisfying their stakeholders. And because ed tech is such a growth industry, sometimes the desire for profit trumps the dedication to education that all such companies should have.

What Educators Can Do: Don’t have your students sign up for a new product or program without some communication with the company, especially if it costs money. Test-drive the tech first and then get in touch armed with a few questions or suggestions. Companies dedicated to learning will treat you as an expert, not just a customer. Can they talk pedagogy? Do they take your feedback seriously? What kind of input did they get from educators, and are they still getting? For commentary and reporting on the many companies out there, check out EdSurge and Hack Education.

Problem: Ed tech might not value student privacy. Innovative teachers are always seeking new tools that might benefit their students, and administrations are right to let them explore and test drive the online programs for potential adoption. But who owns the content that is uploaded to content creation programs? What happens to the personalized data that is calculated by adaptive learning websites? And how much personal information do students have to provide when signing up--and what are companies doing with it?

What Educators Can Do: The challenge here is to balance safety with freedom. Make sure you are checking that companies have privacy policies in place before taking the plunge with your students. If your school or district hasn’t already developed a policy for themselves, talk with administrators and help them The Consortium for School Networking has a Protecting Privacy Toolkit that includes checklists and key questions you can use to vet potential programs.

Response From Anne Jenks

Anne Jenks is the principal of the McKinna Elementary School, an Apple Distinguished Program. She was recently named the 2015 CUE Site Leader of the Year:

The introduction of technology in education has revolutionized teaching and learning in ways that were previously unimaginable. Technology has knocked down the four walls of the traditional classroom and made it possible for students to communicate and collaborate with others from around the globe. Students are able to use technology to research far beyond the traditional encyclopedia and local library thereby improving skills in critical thinking, problem solving and creativity. In order to maximize the benefits of technology, it’s necessary to look at the things that impede its effectiveness. The most common problems are inadequate infrastructure, lack of effective professional development for teachers, and insufficient planning for implementing and sustaining the technology initiative.

In order to effectively use technology in the classroom, the infrastructure has to support the needs of the school. When the infrastructure isn’t dependable and the technology doesn’t work, teachers get discouraged and resort to more traditional methods. The ability to have reliable internet connections is essential for the effective use of technology. IT staff at the district and school level need to assess the needs and make sure that they are met before the technology is in place.

Teachers may not feel prepared to deliver instruction using technology. Professional development is an essential element for the successful implementation of technology in education. Without it, the technology will not be used effectively or possibly not at all. When teachers are supported with the appropriate PD, they are more likely to try new things and achieve successful outcomes. This professional development can be accomplished through various means including bringing in outside trainers, sending teachers to workshops and conferences and developing leadership within the site.

Finally, it’s essential to plan for sustaining the initiatives that are in place. This includes financial planning for replacing outdated or damaged computers, devices and software as well as designing sustainable plans for implementation. A plan that relies on the vision of one person is impractical, as it will fall apart if that person moves on to another assignment. In order to be sustainable, the plan needs to be representative of the site as a whole and all stakeholders need to have input.

Response From Jared Covili

Jared Covili specializes in teaching strategies for classroom integration of technology such as Google Tools, geospatial learning, web page design, and digital devices. Jared’s background is in secondary education where he was a Language Arts teacher at the secondary level. Besides his work at the Utah Education Network, Jared is also an adjunct faculty member of the College of Education at the University of Utah, where he teaches technology integration classes to undergraduate students. In 2012, Cowrin Press published Jared’s first book, Going Google: Powerful Tools for 21st Century Learning. His second book, Classroom in the Cloud, was published in November 2015. You can reach Jared on Twitter @covili:

So you’ve just attended a great conference, or you’ve recharged your batteries through summer PD and you’re all psyched up and ready to implement a new technology idea in your classroom this year. With school just around the corner most teachers are looking forward to using new skills with their new students. The first day of school finally arrives and it happens the dreaded tech problems. It doesn’t seem to matter if you’re a tech novice or an experienced techie, we all encounter challenges that hinder our ability to integrate technology in our pedagogy. Sometimes, the issues seem to be beyond your control - network outages or district filters. While other challenges may include unfamiliarity with a program or tool.

So, what are some of the most common issues teachers face when it comes to integrating technology in your classroom? I recently turned to Twitter with this question and many were willing to share their comments.

Mary Wever (@WeverWorld) said that she struggles having enough devices to work with all her students.

This is a common challenge for many teachers. Most teachers don’t live in a one to one classroom which requires getting creative when it comes to using technology in class. While working in groups is always a good option, there are other ways to maximize your tech time that don’t require any additional devices.

A good low-tech solution is to have students design their multimedia projects using an old fashion storyboard. This serves a couple of different purposes. Students can work on putting their ideas together without getting distracted by being on a device. Another advantage is having students storyboard provides the teacher with the ability to stagger students on devices. Once students complete a storyboard they can move to a device. This can certainly be accomplished with only a few devices.

Using the cloud can also be a great way to help teachers without a classroom set of devices. By using cloud based tools, students can work on projects in collaborative teams from any device with an internet connection. Using tools like Google Drive, Evernote, Padlet, and more can increase your students’ productivity and creativity without being tied to a specific device.

Another comment from Twitter was submitted by Paulo Jennemann (@profepj3): “My biggest challenge is making sure the tech enhances the task rather than using it as a different way to do the same task.”

Technology for tech’s sake is a challenge for any teacher looking to integrate new tools into your curriculum. A suggestion to help avoid ADOSS (Attention Deficit Oh, Something Shiny) is implementing the ideas of the SAMR (Substitute, Augment, Modify, or Redefine) model. Rather than using tech simply as a substitute for an existing assignment - think of typing notes vs handwriting them on paper - technology should be used as a way to reimagine assignments or create new ideas. Maybe your students create a screencast to demonstrate mastery of a concept. Technology integration can take your students to new places and allows them to explore information in unique ways.

Using technology also provides opportunities for teachers to help students meet a variety of standards, such as the NETS - S from ISTE. Beyond learning tools, student are learning integral skills such as digital citizenship and collaborative team building. These are important skills for moving beyond the classroom and into the modern workplace.

My best suggestion for overcoming the challenges of tech integration - be patient! No one expects you to tackle everything all at once. If something doesn’t work the way you intended just go with it. Learning is a process and it will demonstrate to students you’re willing to try new things and explore exciting ideas. You don’t have to be the expert in every tool or site. Remember - you’ve got a room full of students who are more than willing to help you out!

Response From Billy Krakower

Billy Krakower is an elementary school teacher in New Jersey’s Woodland Park Public School district. Billy is an ASCD Emerging Leader and is also co-moderator of the #satchat and #njed Twitter chats and co-founder of EdCampNJ. Connect with him on Twitter @wkrakower:

The most common problems with ed tech are establishing clear technology policies that are updated regularly, trying to keep up with the different tools that keep appearing. Unfortunately, not enough proper training is provided for educators to keep up with all of these changes.

School districts need to work with the administrators, teachers, students and parents to establish sound policies regarding the use of educational technology in their schools. It is imperative that all voices are heard in the formation of these policies. We must have policies that will ensure not only the effective use of technology in schools but to ensure it is used safely and responsibly. These policies need to be reviewed periodically and updated.

Every day, new, wonderful, amazing technology tools that will help change the education landscape are presented. At ISTE 2015 I got to see some of these tools first hand. I found it overwhelming and it seemed quite a few of the tools overlapped each other. I find it nearly impossible to keep up with everything that is happening in technology. The way I effectively respond to this large demand is either try out some of these tools myself or find out what my colleagues on social media are sharing about which tools are working for them.

The second part of the common problems with ed tech is the lack of proper training. Ed tech tools are often purchased for staff without proper plans in place. This seems to happen often in districts across the country. There are ways in which to respond to this issue. Administrators need to provide proper training for the tools before they are used with students in schools. I would also like to see students field-testing the tools before they are extensively used. Classroom teachers need to work with the tech support teams in schools so they are be shown how to embed these tools in their lessons. Support must also be provided once the tools are being used with students.

Response From Heather Staker

Heather Staker is the president of Ready to Blend and a spokesperson for student-centered learning. She is the co-author of Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools (San Francisco: Wiley, 2015). She co-founded Brain Chase Productions, which stages online-learning challenges disguised as worldwide treasure hunts for K-12 students:

For schools, education technology (“edtech”) is a broad category; it includes everything from student information systems and digital gradebooks to data networks and Chromebooks. When I talk with educators about blended learning in particular, however, two questions about edtech usually top the list: What is the best online math and reading content? And how can we patch together a variety of online programs into a unified platform, ideally one in which students have to sign on only once to access all the providers (“single sign on”) and teachers can monitor progress across the variety of providers on a single dashboard?

Part of the reason that schools struggle with the first question is that online content providers are not forthcoming about the efficacy of their programs. They claim that their program works for “all types of learners,” when in fact, all software works better in some circumstances than in others. Content providers could serve the market better by researching the specific circumstances in which their solution does NOT work and then alerting customers to those anomalies.

Meanwhile, those who are asking for the best online content should sharpen their question. Rather than search for “the best,” look for the content that fits your specific circumstances the closest. Do you need a fully online course or only supplemental instruction? What can you afford? What experience would be the most engaging and intrinsically rewarding for your students? Do you want software that adapts automatically to the performance of each student, or do you need software that puts the teacher in control to select which modules to assign? Most buyers find that these questions help filter content options and allow the best fit to emerge organically.

A tougher challenge arises as schools grapple with how to patch together a variety of online programs into a seamless user experience, both for students and teachers. Administrators complain that it’s hard to get the data out of software providers and that the data don’t connect easily to the standards and the data from other providers. The bad news is that no perfect solution exists yet for this problem. Several organizations are creating work-arounds to cobble together several programs on one platform. Companies such as Education Elements, Clever, and Schoolzilla offer valuable services to help schools patch together systems and data.

The good news is that the edtech industry is shifting toward modularity. Software platforms called “facilitated networks” are emerging that facilitate the development, sharing, and curating of user-generated content in modular bites. A prime example of this is the Khan Academy platform, which hosts over one hundred thousand exercise problems and a growing library of microlectures. The platform is open and nonproprietary to allow others to add new topics. Other facilitated networks that allow--or soon will allow--users to write and add content include Agilix’s Buzz, Activate Instruction, Knewton, and Declara.

The most likely scenario is that over time, the emergence of facilitated networks will change the way that schools think about piecing together content. These platforms will create a standardized way for users to write and share content, thereby allowing students to experience a range of content but within a single sign on, unified environment. In five years, these networks will make the problem of managing content and data in a blended setting much easier.

Thanks to Larissa, Anne, Jared, Billy and Heather for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

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