Really Expensive Overhead Projectors….

I can honestly say that I have never seen an overhead projector outside of a school, yet each fall, fleets of these antiques are rolled out of supply closets like aircraft carriers, gliding along corridors on carts complete with spools of clear film and cases of markers, ready to stain fingers and bore minds. 

Whenever I stumble across a teacher whose red fingers belie a love of the overhead, I put on the full-court digital press. "Have you thought about trying to use Web 2.0 tools in your classroom yet?"  I’ll ask. Most often, the answer is no. By far, the most commonly quoted reason that the overhead still dominates instruction are limited numbers of classroom computers. "I only have two computers in my room," they’ll say. "What am I supposed to do with that?"

My answer: Tons of stuff. How do I know? Because I only have three computers and an Internet connection in my classroom and we’ve jumped off the digital deep end!

A few suggestions:

Starting a classroom wiki as an easy first step into the virtual pool. These collaborative websites allow any user to add and edit information from any computer that has access to the Internet. My students have been jazzed by our wiki, creating over 80 pages of content related to our classroom curriculum since October. Providing opportunities for students to reflect on and revise their own thinking about school lessons is a great way to reinforce learning.  efore long, your children will be posting to your wiki from home, from the computer lab, from the public library…and from the two computers in your classroom. 

Best of all, learning to use a wiki is a lot like learning to fall off a bike—anyone can do it the first time you try! Wikis have editing toolbars that look just like most word processing programs and require nothing more than finding the "save" button to make updates. Most wiki services offer free wikis to educators. My favorite service (and I’ve tried each of "the big three") is PB Wiki.

Next, fire up a classroom blog or discussion board that gives students the opportunity to debate meaningful issues related to your curriculum with one another—and with an audience beyond your classroom. Blogs make student work public, bringing a measure of transparency to content conversations and student thinking that is rarely seen in traditional classrooms. 

Students learn to listen to alternate viewpoints, shape their own thinking about topics, and wrestle with topics they may otherwise have never tackled. Don’t believe me?  Check out this post written on a student blog called The Blurb that questions what makes one heroic. Blogging is also easy…and free. Many teachers blogging with students have set up classroom forums using Blogger, a Google tool that is becoming more and more sophisticated over time.

Need another idea? Start some simple pod/vodcasting with your students. Recording audio reflections on stories and classroom curriculum has become easier than ever with new tools like Voicethread that allow users to narrate simple slide shows with nothing other than a microphone and an Internet connection. I created my first Voicethread for use in my classroom today in about 25 minutes. It’s titled Looking into Faces, and it is designed to introduce my children to people from countries around the world. Like all of the other tools I’ve mentioned, Voicethread is free. 

What leaves me most excited about digital tools is that each time I show my students what I’ve created using Web 2.0 tools, they come up with ten new ways to use them in their work in five minutes. Completely unintimidated, I see engaging applications and continued growth for months on end. That’s just how kids who have grown up connected roll. Soon, I become the novice again, learning new tricks from twelve year olds. 

That reality convinces me that incorporating technology into classroom instruction is rarely a hardware or software issue. In fact, I doubt that any number of new computers and whiteboards will significantly change instruction at all. Over investing in bells and whistles has gotten many districts nothing more than classrooms decked out with really expensive overhead projectors.

Instead, we need to invest in professional development that exposes teachers to the tools that our students have already adopted. As Marc Prensky wrote almost two years ago in his Edutopia article Adopt and Adapt, "If we want to move the useful adoption of technology forward, it is crucial for educators to learn to listen, to observe, to ask and to try all the new methods their students have already figured out, and do so regularly."

 

4 comments

  1. J.D. Williams

    I am really lucky in the amount of technology I have available in my classroom. I have a SmartBoard and 24 laptops for the students to use. I couldn’t imagine using an overhead after having the interactive whiteboard. I shouldn’t have that many laptops, but the carts had just been sitting in the library for a few months, so I kept taking them to my room. I figure I can at least store them in a place that they are going to get used. A lot of teachers seem intimidated to even try something new with technology.

  2. Dana

    Question: How do you handle a classful of students and three computers? Do you let them post to the boards and blogs once they’ve finished classwork and homework? Is computer time assigned to each student? Do they share in small groups?

  3. Ariel

    Thank you for these tips! I hate overhead projectors! One thing I wish I had was a laptop at school with an LCD projector. My school got computers for every room last year, and we are now trying to get teachers to maintain class pages with assignments, etc, using echalk. I’m finding it to be a slow, somewhat confusing, and aesthetically unappealing program, however.
    After reading your post I started a blog for my English classes! This is so exciting and Blogger is easy to use and looks good. I can’t wait to go back to work after the break and get my students onto it! Thank you again for the push!

  4. Mike

    Ah yes. Technology. My district surveys us routinely on our use of technology, and it’s a part of teacher evaluations. The survey questions ask us things such as if we’ve made good use of our laptop computers. We have no laptop computers. At least no teacher who is still living has ever been known to confirm such a thing. the dead keep their secrets, and, apparently, the never-seen laptops. I guess you can take something with you after all.
    My district is easily a decade behind the state of the art. No. I take that back. Can a district that has only within the last two years purchased computers for teachers that allow them to play CDs and DVDs, but certainly not to burn them, be honestly said to be only a decade behind?
    Letting kids do things on the internet? I laugh in the general direction of your USB port! Our filtering software is so bizarre that it all but prevents students from doing completely innocuous research papers, yet just a week ago I received–quite unbidden–an e-mail solicitation for penis enlargement featuring full color illustrations of the promised results being admired by less than fully attired young ladies who were seemingly quite please by said results.
    I suspect such things aren’t uncommon in American education. Widespread computer use? OK. Maybe someday…