December 2018 (Vol. 9, No.12)
Demand for Accessible Ed Tech is on the Rise
When we hear the term accessibility, we tend to think of making technology available to students with disabilities. However, there are a number of scenarios that can make technology inaccessible to students – for example, in addition to students with disabilities, students whose second language is English, students who do not have access to the Internet or whose access is spotty, and students in classrooms that do not have enough devices for everyone.
Part of the reason why many of these accessibility issues have not been adequately addressed is that the vendors who design ed tech products are not well-versed in the issues that teachers and students run into when they actually use the products in classrooms. Vendors typically rely on screen captures of students using the products and survey responses to gather feedback on how their products are used during class. Some vendors, however, are starting to see the value of observing teachers and students in the classroom to see the challenges and successes associated with the products. These in-person visits, though, tend to be expensive and are usually sacrificed in the name of cost efficiency.
When educators and schools demand that vendors start addressing these issues, that is when change is possible. Luiza Aguilar, the executive director of Perkins Solutions, a consulting firm on digital accessibility housed at the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts, said that ed tech companies are increasingly integrating universal or human-centered design into their products, which schools also use to design everything from curricula to programs to customer service, which should help companies create products that address a range of accessibility issues. Organizations like Perkins Solutions also help school districts work on making their digital presence more accessible, from websites to content and documents that are used in classrooms and offices.
If you would like more information or training on how to address accessibility issues in your classroom and school, please contact OTAN at email@example.com or call us at 916-228-2580.
Making Edtech More Effective
In our push to add more and more technology into our classrooms and schools, we should always be mindful of how to make the most effective use of the technology. It isn’t just having technology for technology’s sake; according to Jack Lynch, the CEO of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, edtech should be purposeful. It should free up the teacher to do more important work with students, not take over and replace the teacher with a nameless, faceless experience.
In HMH’s fourth annual Educator Confidence Report, 94% of more than 1,200 teachers either agreed or strongly agreed that the most important quality of the learning landscape is the human connection that a teacher makes with a student. In the report, 96% of respondents said that they have seen benefits from the use of educational technology, but 53% also said that they worry that a focus on using technology for learning is coming at the expense of personal connections between teachers and students. So, how do we use edtech effectively in the service of supporting relationships between teachers and students? Lynch sees at least three ways:
- Building teacher capacity – using technology to mechanize certain instructional and administrative tasks, improving workflow and freeing up a teacher to focus on things like providing more feedback on student work.
- Deep insights into learning – using data to inform and improve instruction, not just collecting it for the sake of collecting it, to match activities and resources to student needs and provide more differentiated, individualized instruction.
- Targeting instruction – using technology to address the differences in learning styles and levels among students, in order to refocus teacher time on intervention or one-on-one work that targets these differences.
Lynch points out that the most effective learning solution already exists – the ability to develop a connection between teacher and student. We need to remember the place of edtech in that connection to use it most effectively and not compromise the relationship.
Getting Connected and Staying Connected
In addition to providing face-to-face and online training, OTAN attends a number of conferences throughout the year. OTAN is pleased to attend and present at the CATESOL Annual Conference in Anaheim on December 7 and 8. You can view the OTAN sponsored sessions by clicking on this link: https://catesol2018.sched.com/exhibitor/support77
Going to conferences, large and small, is a great way to strengthen your professional development and connect with colleagues who are interested in similar topics. In the age of social media, it is now possible to extend the conversations and learning long after the end of a conference. Many people use social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to stay connected to people they first meet at a conference or similar event as a way to continue their professional learning.
A recent article, though, asks the question – what is a connected educator? The author Mike Messner suggests that, just because a teacher has a computer with Internet, linked to the outside world, doesn’t automatically make one a connected educator. Even having social media accounts doesn’t guarantee true connectedness. Messner says that it’s how a teacher uses social media that determines how connected the teacher is. Is the teacher participating in social media conversations about new teaching practices? Is the teacher integrating social media in their classroom in formal and informal ways with fellow teachers and their students? Is the teacher solving classroom problems with students and staff by leaning on the wisdom of their social media connections?
In other words, are you strengthening human connections via social media?
If you are attending CATESOL or other conferences in the near future, make sure to network with your colleagues and make connections. Use social media to stay connected to your new friends and dive into new conversations for your own professional development and personal enrichment.
Personalized Learning: The Latest Fad or Here to Stay?
According to a recent survey by the news service Center for Digital Education, personalized learning is currently the No. 1 educational technology priority around the country. In the article “The Future of Learning? Well, It’s Personal,” Anya Kamenetz presents two ideas about what personalized learning is:
- At your own pace – The use of software to allow each student to work through a pre-determined body of knowledge at her or his own pace.
- Personalize it all – An entirely new way of doing school, centered around student goal-setting and not necessarily focused on technology. Students work independently as well as with other students on projects, and teachers act more as facilitators and work with students one-on-one rather than focusing on direct instruction.
We already see a good amount of personalized “at your own pace” learning with students working in programs like Khan Academy and those that help students complete credit recovery. In Putnam County (Tennessee) schools, Canvas is the learning management system and a mix of Shmoop, Edgenuity, MATHia, and IXL round out the personalized learning program that the schools offer students. The main advantage is that each student can work at their own pace to complete their work, independent of other learners. Critics, though, point out that there is little to no collaborative work among students which would provide its own learning opportunities, and there is very little room for creativity, curiosity, and creative problem-solving, skills that are required for 21st century work and further study.
The other concept of personalized learning is to personalize it all, a radical departure from traditional schooling. A good deal of money is going into this, from big funders such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. It’s trying to turn the motivation and responsibility for learning over to students and move teachers into a very different role as facilitators, from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side.” For the few schools that have been at it for a while, there is a palpable excitement among students, teachers, and families for this new model. It is, however, proving to be a difficult model to implement without enough supports for teachers. Teachers need to learn how to transition from guiding a class full of students through a common enterprise to now managing a class full of students each working at their own pace, with the right mix of independence and collaboration.
Time will tell whether personalized learning, with or without technology, is here to stay.
The Continuing Debate: Should Students Be Allowed to Use Cellphones in Class?
A recent article explored teachers’ opinions about student use of cellphones in the classroom, a topic that has been discussed for a few years now and remains contentious. The ubiquity of handheld devices compels teachers and schools to have policies in place, either for or against or somewhere in the middle, to deal with students and their devices.
Some teachers are all-in on cellphones, planning for their use in lessons. Students can use their phones for research, for translation, and for how-to videos, recording experiments and lectures, and in a few cases, to teleconference into class if they are sick. Some teachers, on the other hand, have banned them all together, convinced they are a distraction and unable to overcome the allure of the electronic device. Those teachers have come up with ways to have students check their phones into a secure location before class and retrieve them at the end of class; some schools have the entire student body check their phones in when they arrive at school. One of the first studies of cellphone use in the classroom, a study entitled “Dividing attention in the classroom reduces exam performance,” would seem to bolster the claim that allowing cellphone use in the classroom negatively affects students’ long-term retention of what is being taught, in turn affecting their performance on classroom assessments.
A recent development on cellphone use in schools is the discrepancy between schools actively purchasing other devices for students to use like desktop computers, laptops, and tablets, and using technology for administrative functions, but not allowing or restricting access to cellphones. Perhaps situations like this help educators better zero in on the place of school and personal devices in class and the most effective uses of devices and applications in the learning process. It seems, then, that we still have a ways to go before consensus on student use of cellphones in the classroom.