Teaching with Technology

by  Jennifer Hirashiki

A lot of my early teaching years were done without classroom internet, computers, and apps.  I taught in the same room as my students and we had plenty of avenues of interaction.  My teacher-training program prepared me well for this environment!  A few years ago, I became the academic director for a large ESL school in Southern California.   We started integrating computer lab and iPad classes into the curriculum.  I would love to say that it was perfectly implemented and it was a smooth ride, but I think you know that I would be lying!  It was actually a disaster.  Students hated sitting in front of the computer for 80 minutes, and iPads were nothing special to the typical middle-class student.  In addition to this, we had struggles with internet outages and connectivity issues.  Many teachers (myself included) were ill equipped to make good use of these tools in our classrooms.  I couldn’t help but wonder why technology use was so successful on a personal level, but left the students and teachers so discouraged in the classroom.  It became my personal mission to gain a clearer understanding of this breakdown of technology in education.  To make a long story short, I learned that it takes more than a shiny tablet or computer to engage students.  It takes planning and seamless integration with a specific purpose for successful implementation.

If we fast-forward a few years, we can now see that online learning has taken a front row seat in education opportunities.  Due to the widespread accessibility, we can learn anything online.  While this opens up a myriad of opportunities, it also creates new teaching challenges.  Earlier, I mentioned that students weren’t fooled by our shiny iPads- they were looking for the purpose.  In online learning, students want that same purpose. It isn’t enough to use a computer for accessibility and fall back on traditional class techniques with a “shiny” app for support.  We need to take our integration to the next level and use it as an integral part of our online classes.  The question is where do we start?

Teaching in  MA TESOL program at Westcliff University gives me the chance to try out lots of ideas with technology in the classroom.  It is hard work to convey meaning, check comprehension, and communicate online!  I teach weekly video lessons via Zoom and this is the only time I get to “see” my students.  Due to the nature of an online classroom, it can be a challenge to keep students focused and engaged as well as able to interact with different technology tools.   Each class that I have taught online has had challenges with engagement.  It isn’t enough to have a video class, we need to look for tools that can maximize the engagement in an online platform.  Fortunately, with the constant evolution of technology, there is always something new to try.  Wanting to avoid the tech integration for tech sake, I try to think of how I can fully engage my students in a way that mirrors in-person engagement- with success.  I would like to now share some of my tried and true technology tools for teaching online.

  1. Competition, formative assessment, and timeliness can be seen in survey or quiz-type games. Zoom, Poll Everywhere, and Kahoot offer opportunities to drive student interaction and focus.  Sometimes, it can be hard to gauge our students’ understanding (especially the quiet ones who fly under the radar).  If we use survey or quiz tools, we can collect data for all of our students and use it to our (and their) advantage.  These tools can draw students in and help them learn to self-check as well.
  2. Collaboration is key! Students can learn a lot from their instructors, but they can also learn from one another.  From group projects to in-class assignments, the range of the Google Suite tools can satisfy us all.  If we are teaching a video lesson, why not open a Google doc for an in-class group project?  It is easy to view, tell who contributes, and use for class reference.
  3. Change things up once in awhile. PowerPoint has its pros, but Google Slides, Prezi and Screencasting can give a much-needed variety to the class.  It also teaches students about other great tools for presenting.  Not only are these useful for student projects, screencasting is great for touching base with students in a personal way, without needing to look presentable.  Since you are sharing your screen via recording, it is easy to pull up a specific document or reference the syllabus for further instruction or communication.
  4. Find your professional learning community (PLN) and get organized. Teaching can be a lonely profession.  We, teachers, tend to take on a lot of responsibility, reinvent the wheel, and work alone.  Through social media PLNs such as Twitter and Pinterest, we can learn from one another, share ideas, and collaborate.  Gone are the days of paper mountains of lesson plan materials!  Pinterest can keep you organized and be accessed ANYWHERE with internet.  I love the ideas I find from other educators and the sharing accessibility is wonderful.

Becoming familiar with these tools is only the first step.  We need to figure out how to effectively integrate this technology into our own contexts and diverse teaching fields.  I challenge you to choose one of the mentioned tools and work it in.  Ask yourself: What works? What doesn’t work?  How can I adjust it to fit it in my lesson?  Is the integration seamless and does it have purpose?  By asking these questions, we can hopefully begin to move past the point of adding technology out of necessity, and come to a point where it is a necessity.