Education

Talking EdTech with Teachers

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As Piktochart’s Community Evangelist, fostering community among our 5-million-strong user base is one of my primary goals. As I wrote after first joining, my role here on the Piktochart team focuses on interacting with our users at every level – from live events around the world and conference talks to jumping onto the latest up and coming social platform to chat with Piktochart users.

So far, we’ve tried a number of new initiatives. We think it’s important to share valuable content with not only our user community, but with startups, designers, educators, and marketers all across the globe. When we tried out Blab, we picked an awesome guest and gathered community questions to chat about.

Back in June, we went looking for educators to join us to discuss more about how to bring technology into the classroom. Education technology, also known simply as EdTech, refers to the creation and use of software and hardware intended to bring technology to education.

This segment of the technology world has heated up thanks to investmentfrom organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the United States government, and even tech venture capital investment firms like Andreessen Horowitz. In fact, in just the first half of 2015, private investors alone poured $2.5 billion into EdTech companies – leading to the creation of countless technologies for classrooms around the world.

Here at Piktochart, our team was thrilled to hear we were recently honored in the American Association of School Librarian’s 2016 Best Websites for Teaching and Learning. Educators have been using Piktochart in their classrooms since we launched in 2012, and we couldn’t be more pleased to know we are making a difference in the minds of students around the world.

To get the skinny on what’s going on in classrooms when it comes to EdTech – from best practices and challenges to favorite tools and privacy policies – we brought in two Piktochart users who are making a big impact by bringing technology into their school. For the first time, we had two guests on our Blab, Rachelle Poth and Mary Ottenwess.

Rachelle is a foreign language teacher at Riverview Junior-Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. She enjoys using technology in the classroom and finding ways for students to have more choices in their learning. She has presented at several technology conferences in Pennsylvania and at ISTE in Denver this past June.

Mary has been in education for 25 years. She started out in a public high school library and is now the Instructional Technology Specialist at Catholic Central High School in Grand Rapids, MI. She was the one that didn’t step back when they asked for volunteers to run the computer lab and thus her adventures in EdTech began!

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What is your biggest pain point with your school’s current EdTech setup?

Rachelle said her biggest complaint when it comes to EdTech tools, which is shared by other teachers she talks to, is the fact that things sometimes don’t go as planned with technology.

“Best case scenario doesn’t always happen when it comes to technology,” she said. “You have to be prepared for the little bumps that come along the way.”

Mary echoed Rachelle’s thoughts about technology being unpredictable. She also added that limited professional development time for teachers is another hurdle when it comes to her school’s EdTech setup.

“An hour once a month just isn’t enough time,” said Mary. “Students come in an hour late and we have a meeting with all teachers at the school. Teachers will go around and talk about what they are using in their classrooms, discuss a particular tool, or discuss a method. Because we are trying to cover so much in a single hour, hitting everyone’s skill and comfort level as well as giving them time to try the tool often means a lot of 1:1 follow-up.”

“As a workaround for time, we have teachers create tutorials to view prior to the professional development sessions,” noted K-12 EdTech coordinator Courtney Kofeldt in the chat.

What opportunities are given to kids through EdTech and how can teachers learn to embrace them?

Mary said EdTech really expands a student’s world. They can collaborate and share with not only each other, but with experts in the field. Students can use project-based learning and inquiry-learning, and they can use and develop real-world skills for college or a career. For teachers, Mary thinks technology makes things simpler.

Rachelle agreed. She believes the opportunities provided by technology are tremendous.

“Technology provides opportunities to students to allow them to show what they have learned and to use a tool that is meaningful to them. Without the technology, they wouldn’t have been as engaged,” she said. “I don’t use technology for the sake of using it, but rather as a way to increase opportunities.”

When given a choice of tools to utilize on their projects, Rachelle finds students talk to their friends about the learning curve of each software. Students work together, collaborate, and learn from each other about how to use technology.

What’s the best thing technology has allowed you to do in your school that you couldn’t have done otherwise?

Mary shared an example from her school, Catholic Central High School in Grand Rapids, MI. Using technology, a French teacher was able to bring in a video feed from a classroom in Canada. The American students communicate in French to sharpen their skills, and they’re also able to learn more about the other students culturally.

“Students are not only collaborating with the students in another country, but those next to them in their classroom too,” explained Mary. “It’s fun to watch the collaboration.”

Rachelle says that technology has allowed her to continue the conversation with students after class time ends. She found more and more that her students had questions once they got home and started working on their homework or projects, and technology allowed her to be available to them during those key moments.

“It really bothered me that when class ended, that would stop their learning process in a sense,” she said. “I use technology to bridge that disconnect. I use messaging to help.”

Do you as the teacher (or your school) assess the privacy and security of a tool before letting students try it?

Rachelle said she pays close attention to privacy and security settings before bringing a tool into the classroom. She does this by creating an account on her own and reviewing the settings herself. Rachelle also sends home a notice to parents at the beginning of the year informing them of the tools that will be used in the classroom.

She also relies on the thoughts of other teachers, and she noted these sites and communities as her go-to sources:

  • Common Sense Graphite, a community of educators who take the guesswork out of finding innovative ways to use technology in the classroom;

  • EdShelf, a socially-curated discovery engine of websites, mobile apps, desktop programs, and electronic products for teaching and learning;

  • EdCamp, an organic, participant-driven professional learning experience led by a community created by educators, for educators.

Mary added that her school has a tech team on staff who will verify security before launching a new tool in the classroom. First, they start with a pilot program and monitor progress while the new EdTech tool is being tested in the classroom. During that pilot, they will be on the lookout for glitches or security holes.

Which tool/platform/methodology has been the biggest hit in your classroom and why?

Rachelle, Mary, and participants in the chat were excited to share their favorite EdTech tools! Check out the list below:

What are 3 most important skills kids have gained in your classroom thanks to technology?

Everyone agreed that more collaboration and creativity is taking place in the classroom thanks to technology.

“I have noticed students really develop the 6C’s – Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Character, and Citizenship – when tech is integrated,” said Courtney Kofeldt in the chat.

Rachelle added she often notices that projects from her students go above and beyond her expectations. “Technology gives them that voice to speak out and be part of something when otherwise they wouldn’t have been,” she said.

Mary says teachers have benefitted from technology as a way to improve their skills, too. She notices more collaboration happening between teachers and growth of their professional networks thanks to technology making it easier to work together.

Thanks to technology, both students and teachers alike are building up their confidence. “It’s ok to have something not work,” explained Mary. “Technology allows students to take the lead. Teachers aren’t always the one with all the knowledge.”

Mary also touched on her school’s Digital Citizenship Course, which is an ever-changing movement to educate students on the proper use of technology – when to use it (or leave it behind) and best practices.

“I teach motion graphics at UCLA, and it is wonderful to see what the students create once they understand the tools,” added Eric Rosner in the chat.

How can teachers improve their tech skills in order to make classes more interactive and multimedia oriented?

Rachelle’s advice is simple:

“Just pick something and start it!” she said. “Really. You don’t know if it’ll work for you until you try it. Pick something small and give it a try.”

She suggested teachers consider learning new tools alongside students. Rather than a teacher-driven project, why not try a student-driven project? She found her students enjoy it, and as a teacher, it keeps her fresh. Use the challenge of a new tool as a learning lesson for both the students and the educator.

“Not everything is going to work, and that’s ok,” added Mary. “We teach our kids to learn from failure, and we need to do the same.”

Mary advised teachers to expand their professional network to get to know other educators. Social channels are a great way to do this – and Mary specifically suggested getting involved in Twitter chats. For a comprehensive list of Twitter chats all about education, check out this list Mary shared with us on the Blab!

What are your recommendations for someone who is just starting to use technology in the classroom, and may be a bit hesitant?

Rachelle suggested focusing on one area in your classroom you can try to improve using technology. Give a new EdTech tool a shot, use it minimally, and be patient with getting comfortable with it.

Mary suggested finding another educator who is using technology you’d like to try and simply watching them use the tool in their classroom. Finding a tech mentor is key to getting comfortable!

How can tech help all students to be engaged, to reach each student?

If students are on different levels, Mary said EdTech tools can help bridge that gap. She particularly likes Khan Academy for this purpose. She also suggested putting up a rubric for an assignment, but allowing students to choose their technology tool to complete the project.

“Students are not all the same,” added Rachelle. “By giving them choice with technology tools, you’ll see they can create anything they desire, and you learn more about them as individuals. When the choices are given and nothing is set in stone, it pays off.”


The team at Piktochart had a blast during our Blab with Rachelle Poth and Mary Ottenwess! Thanks to both of them for stopping by! If you’re interested in learning more about how Piktochart can help out in your classroom, check out a few more of our EdTech posts!

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