Introducing EdTech in the Classroom
uQualio© was lucky enough to have the opportunity to chat with Joyce Fiedler, a technology educator and instructional technology specialist, about her experiences in the EdTech space. We have an exciting interview planned for you today so let's jump in! First of all, thank you for taking time to chat with us today Joyce. Can you kick things off by introducing yourself and telling us a bit more about your job as a technology educator? Before I was a teacher, I worked in the television production field as a graphics operator. I've been teaching for 17 years and began as a special education teacher. I currently teach technology literacy to 6th, 7th, & 8th grades. My class is one marking period out of four. So, every nine weeks I get a new group of students in each grade. The curriculum is the same each marking period, but projects change based on days off, holidays, and unexpected snow days. Sometimes parts of a project may not be done based on events that affect the days classes meet. In addition to teaching a full course load, I conduct professional development and technology coaching for the staff in my building.
You've been an educator for more than 15 years and over that time have acquired certifications in many different fields. You were ahead of the curve in terms of getting involved in EdTech before it ballooned into the hot topic it has become today. Initially, what grabbed your attention and pulled you into the EdTech scene?
I am a teacher who is always looking for something new and ways to motivate my students. Personally, I like using technology and trying to do new things with technology, so when technology started making its way into education, I was one of the first teachers in my building to start using it. My colleagues would come to me for advice or help on using technology, and I became an unofficial "tech coach". Then the school I was employed with at that time started after-school professional development specifically for technology, and I started instructing teachers on new technologies to try in their classrooms. I decided I wanted to become a full-time technology coach, which I did for two years. I enjoyed it, but missed being in a classroom. I spent my time instructing teachers about cool, new technologies, but I rather had used the technologies myself with my students. Teaching and using the technologies you are promoting helps you understand it better because as you use it with your own students, you realize the positives and the pitfalls, and you can pass that on to other teachers, which assists them in being more successful with the technology implementation. I also feel that teachers don't generally have time to keep up with the ever-changing new technologies available, so that's where I come in. I spend a lot of time researching, reading blogs and articles, and testing applications before I will use them myself or recommend them to others. I like the fact that there are always new things to try on the horizon. I get bored as a teacher if I do the same thing over and over. You need to keep growing and changing to stay current and effective to find what motivates and engages your students, while having some fun doing it. Technology class should be fun and the class students want to come to. Early on, how difficult was it to get your peers to adopt a new approach and way of thinking about education? What were some of the main challenges that you faced early on? Influencing teachers to use technology was difficult at first, and I find it isn't much different now. Some teachers see the use of technology as yet another thing they need to do in an already over-crowded schedule. I try to present technology as a way to make their lives easier and a way to engage their students. The main challenge is not enough devices or outdated equipment. Believe it or not, that is still an issue due to continual budget cuts in education and technology changing so rapidly before you can catch up. Often, teachers have to share a cart of Chromebooks. When this
happens, they don't want to rely on technology because its availability isn't guaranteed. As the tech coach, I may be advocating for the use of using Google Classroom and Google Apps For Education and explaining all they can do with it to make their and their student's lives easier, but some are hesitant to use it. It is too difficult to juggle when they will have computers and use Google Classroom or have to make copies of worksheets instead. Without that consistency, it is hard to get teachers to buy into the technology mindset.
Another challenge is training. There isn't enough time for teachers to be trained to use applications correctly or understand all the functions or teachers are given a professional development day where they are bombarded with information and are overloaded and frustrated, so they don't even want to try because they don't know where to start.
Education Technology can be applied to a wide variety of class technology solutions, ranging from full suite video eLearning platforms that connect teachers with their students to smaller apps which tackle just one specific task. What are main tools that you use in your classes as your go-to EdTech kit? There are so many ed tech tools available and the list is growing, but I think the most influential is Google Apps For Education. They are a suite of apps including word processing (Google Docs), spreadsheets (Google Sheets), presentations (Google Slides), and more that allow users to simultaneously work collaboratively on an assignment. Google Classroom is the delivery system for how to communicate and compile assignments and resources all in one central location. A teacher can virtually run a paper-free classroom with the use of Google Classroom. Notes, assignments, quizzes, projects, and resources can all be accessed through Google Classroom, which can be accessed on any device with Internet capability. Through the use of Google Classroom, all materials needed to complete each project is available at all times to students, so they can access them if they are home sick, away on vacation, or need to complete a project at home. Those are some tools I use from a teacher side. For the students, there are numerous apps we utilize, but two of my and my student's favorites are Flipgrid and Powtoon, and both are free. With Flipgrid, students record video of themselves and view classmates videos. After each project I have students complete self-reflection Flipgrids, where students reflect on their performance, discuss how they would improve, gauge their opinions, and provide suggestions for me on how to improve the project. Flipgrids are created in private, and students can say something they wouldn't have the courage to say otherwise, which encourages honesty. Powtoon is an app to make animated videos. Each element on screen has the ability to be animated and timed. After our unit on Digital Citizenship, students create an original story to animate based on previous lessons (digital footprint, social media, cyberbullying, copyright, fair use, plagiarism). Whenever I use Powtoon, students are so engaged, they never visit a website they shouldn't! Besides being a technology educator, you also coach other teachers on how they can integrate technology in their classrooms. Tell us what it's like teaching teachers! Each teacher is different and each application is different. The result is always better if a teacher asks for assistance for something they want to do rather than told to do. I've had teachers learn something new one day and put it into practice the next, and some that need more time. Like with any new skill you learn, the more you practice and use it, the better you will become. The initial challenge I encounter the most is a teacher talking themselves out of using technology. So many teachers start by telling me that they aren't good at technology. I try to encourage them into realizing that they just need to try and see how it goes. It is all a learning experience for them and their students.
Being an EdTech advocate, how do you go about balancing the use of technology and the traditional aspects of learning with your students? That is tough when you are the tech teacher. My job is to teach the use of technology, so there is almost nothing to teach without using the technology. Technology should be used to enhance lessons and not replace them for the sake of using technology. There are a few lessons where we have discussions and I created a Makerspace Unit, where students rotate amongst stations they choose that include LED circuits, KEVA Plank Challenges, origami, Strawbees, marble runs, duct tape challenges, paper airplane challenges, toothpick bridges and more. The students also make prototypes for the Design Challenges, which is done without the use of a computer. But, for the most part, devices are used each day. It is the nature of my subject. The EdTech scene is in constant flux. Older tech is being regularly updated and new players are entering into the scene each month. Can you share with us some tips and techniques that you've found to be effective in keeping abreast in the field of EdTech? I'm assuming you read a lot of EdTech blogs? I subscribe to various blogs to keep up with new technologies and use a social media account strictly for that purpose. I take part in some online chats and Q&A sessions, but mostly just viewing my contacts posts and see what others are doing gives me plenty of new ideas. Using a social media network for a Personal Learning Community is a great way to stay connected, ask questions, and get ideas.
There is so much debate about the positive and negative impacts of technology in the classroom. Some traditionalists would like to see less. Technology visionaries want to see more. It's an old world vs new world debate. What's your take? I think anything you do gets "old" if you do it repeatedly. A mix between the old and new works best, and remaining unpredictable. Whenever students get to use crayons or markers they get so excited because it generally isn't used as often in middle school. Even with a favorite app, if you use it too much it gets tiring. Use tech only when it enhances your lesson and doesn't make the task more difficult. For some, tech is more efficient, but not for others. I continually tell my students that they need to find what works best for them. When my students are working on their podcasts, I provide a Google Doc for them to answer some questions and write a script. A student asked me once, "Can I write mine on index cards?" I asked her if she found that easier, and she responded yes. So I told her it was fine and to do what worked for her. Using technology is not a "one-size-fits-all" tool. Part of growing and maturing is to learn what works best for you and use it. I know teachers that prefer students print out their work, so they can write on it and make comments. I find it better for me to use Google Docs and the Comment feature. In education, just like life, there are several ways to complete a task, and students need to find out what is best for them, and that may be different for each student. Lastly, what one piece advice would you give to aspiring teachers who are planning to integrate technology in their classes? If you are hesitant, take it slow. Try one new thing. Take baby steps. You don't have to jump into the pool all at once. It may fail miserably, but students will appreciate you trying to do something different, and often they figure out how to fix it, which empowers them.
Thanks for joining us today to speak about your experience in the EdTech space. To our blog readers, if you'd like to learn more about Joyce Fiedler you can visit her website here.
Picture credit - Wokandapix