The pandemic has been referred to as the biggest educational experiment in history. And it’s not over yet. But already, emerging evidence strongly suggests that teachers and other K-12 educators will continue using technology well after the pandemic recedes.
An EdWeek Research Center survey of more than 1,000 of the nation’s district leaders, school leaders, and teachers in August revealed several ways educators plan to continue incorporating technology into instruction: in the classroom, at home, and for student needs such as unfinished learning.
But it’s one thing to use technology, and another to apply it effectively. As technology grows in relevance to teaching and learning in K-12 schools, it’s critical that teachers be prepared to do the latter and that recruiters know how to identify them.
Education Week caught up with select teachers and instructional coaches who shared their thoughts on some essential practices to effectively implement technology into the practice of teaching. Some were discovered or honed during the pandemic. All offer lessons for job seekers wanting to present in-demand knowledge and skills, as well as districts and schools that are seeking truly tech-savvy teachers.
Lead with learning, not technology
Tech guru Adam Suarez provides common-sense advice that nevertheless may have gotten buried during the pandemic, as teachers rushed to provide virtual instruction to students.
“Lead with learning, never with tech,” said Suarez, a technology integration coach at Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified School District in Orosi, Calif., and co-author of The Complete EdTech Coach.
When people ask him for best practices insofar as using technology in education, Suarez demurs.
“There is no concrete definition of a best practice when it comes to technology. It depends on where you work, who your students are, and many other variables,” he said.
Suarez provides a few examples of how tech can enhance a teacher’s learning objective, rather than the other way around. An app like Quizlet or Nearpod can check students’ understanding of a lesson, for example. “You can use these tools to hold all kids accountable and see what they know in real time,” he said.
It’s simple to personalize learning with certain tech tools, he explains. With a learning management system like Google Classroom, for instance, teachers can assign different versions of the same assignment structured to students’ individualized learning needs.
Depth of knowledge over superficiality
Teachers who are looking for jobs may attempt to wow prospective employers with the breadth of technology tools they have at their disposal. More impressive, say some, is demonstrating a narrow yet deep expertise with technology.
Eric Langhorst teaches 8th grade American History at Discovery Middle School in Liberty, Mo. He regularly uses social media to tweet, blog, and otherwise communicate information about his profession.
Ruminating on his own experience incorporating technology into his teaching, Langhorst said: “I would rather utilize one or two tools really well than five or six and just scratch the surface.”
Recognize when technology complements or trumps traditional options
Countless teachers couldn’t wait to return to the classroom. But some recognized during the pandemic that, in some circumstances, technology strategies complement or even trump traditional ways of doing things.
One such strategy that Langhorst leaned on during the pandemic were virtual field trips, in which he’d introduce his students to creative professionals and their work via a video conferencing method.
Those who livened up his history lessons included an illustrator who created artistic works for the Lewis and Clark Museum and a sculptor who made a statue of Harriet Tubman. Pre-pandemic, says Langhorst, it was far more challenging to find professionals willing or able to use video conference technology for these virtual encounters. The pandemic forced people to get more comfortable with technology; hence, Langhorst plans to continue incorporating these virtual field trips and outside guests into his classroom lessons.
He also realized other technology-driven benefits during the pandemic. Introverted students, often hesitant to speak up in class, were utilizing virtual chat boxes to ask and respond to questions posed in class. “For a lot of kids, it opened up kind of a back channel,” Langhorst said.
The pandemic also made it easier for parents to engage in their child’s academic life, says Langhorst. Notoriously challenging to schedule, meetings for students with individualized education programs, or IEPs, began happening over Zoom or other virtual platforms during the pandemic, oftentimes in the middle of the school day, a practice Langhorst hopes continues. He also joins countless other educators praising virtual back-to-school nights, another invention of the pandemic.
Embrace the expertise of younger, “digital native” teachers
The sudden rise in technology use has created a flipped scenario of sorts in which young, new teachers are likely to possess more expertise than their more-veteran colleagues—at least as it relates to technology.
“They are coming out right now with way more online teaching experience, tech savvy, and skills, than any other teacher ever before,” said Kari Vogelgesang, associate director at the Teacher Leader Center in the University of Iowa’s College of Education. “They’ve had to access their own education and do their field experiences online.”
Andrew Arevalo, a 4th-grade teacher at McCabe Elementary School in El Centro, Calif., concurs.
“They are, for the most part, digital natives,” he said. But, he acknowledges, today’s new teachers will likely need the same type of support their predecessors did with things like classroom management, discipline, and other basic first-year classroom essentials.
Vogelgesang calls the unique situation “a really cool opportunity.”
“Let’s come together and do a mix and match of professional learning communities where we learn from each other,” she suggests, adding, “We’re going to have to be really clever about how we learn from and listen to each other.”
Use technology to collaborate with colleagues
The pandemic did create new pathways for teacher collaboration, if not the time for it. Teachers’ days tend to be jam-packed. There’s little time for lunch or bathroom breaks let alone brainstorming sessions with colleagues. But, says Suarez, teachers stayed in constant contact during the pandemic shutdowns thanks to video conferencing services like Zoom and Google Meet.
“For many, [this technology] has broken down the silos of traditional teaching where teachers lock themselves in their rooms and do their own thing,” Suarez said.
As this example illustrates, the pandemic forced educators to rethink many of the ways they do things, some of which could lead to permanent changes.
“I think this pandemic is going to finally give us a push,” Vogelgesang said. “I am so hopeful that we see some major changes and adjustments.”