March 14, 2009

Teacher you are IT - Vol. 1: Getting a Toolbox

I have been kicking around the idea of starting a new Information Technology (IT) blog post series aimed at teachers for a couple of months now. This past week, I came up with a title, Teacher you are IT while on a run at the PE field behind my local middle school. In this new series, I will visit topics relevant for teachers as they struggle to work within 20th century mindsets and classrooms equipped for a stand and deliver instructional model.

This week was also timely as I received my cherished newspaper version of eSchool News and the front page article, School IT support: Overworked... and understaffed by David Pierce. eSchool News has just completed a comprehensive survey in partnership with SchoolDude.com and the Consortium for School Networking that polled more than 600 school district leaders and IT administrators in November and December, 2008.

Here is an except. "According to our survey, the average ratio of students to district IT staff members is 491 to 1. When limited just to technicians and tech-support staff--the people responsible for fixing machines and keeping them running--the ratio is even higher: 1,021 students for every one technician. That's a far cry from the private-industry standard of no more than 150 to 1 r
ecommended by Gartner and other IT research firms.
But "technician" wasn't even the most popular response when we asked where school leaders could use more IT help. Topping the list was instructional technologist, which was cited by 85 percent of respondents. And that speaks to a key area where IT staffing shortfalls really hurt schools: If keeping technology systems up and running is a challenge, helping teachers use the technology to improve their instruction is an even taller hurdle. Only 28 percent of respondents said they have enough IT staff to integrate technology into their classrooms effectively."
As for the last sentence, I would say that the majority of that 28% are probably embedded in secondary schools. So you can see that the vast majority of elementary teachers don't receive any technology support at school or something along the line of seeing a blue moon.

Well to brighten up this doom and gloom beginning, I'm happy to say that thousands of K-12 teachers are taking matters into their own hands and empowering themselves as their own IT support system. Thanks to the many free and accessible tools available online today, teachers can create their own IT toolbox- independent of any school system conditions and designed to create and maintain educational content for their students and themselves.

In my experience, the first thing to put in your teacher toolbox are the read, write and collaborative web based applications by Google. Google Apps are at the top of the list because their suite of web apps is in itself an entire toolbox for any teacher. These applications and associated storage space are FREE maintained on Google's world wide servers by an army of 24/7 IT support.

Here is a link to web site my good friend Mary Lange and I created called Google Apps in Education. At this site we show that many Google Apps provide teachers and students communication, productivity and collaboration tools that are free to use with a registered Google Account. Here is a list of essential Google apps to use progressively use over time.
  1. iGoogle - Teachers can create a virtual desktop where all their essential applications and resources can be linked in one central place by using mini movable tools called gadgets.
  2. Google Docs - Think of having an office productivity suite of word processing, presentation, spreadsheet and form maker software accessible to you and your sharing collaborators on any Internet capable computer!
  3. Picasa Web Album - Teachers can create an online photo album to use and share anywhere with anybody they choose.
  4. Blogger - Google's Blogging tool and what I'm using here. Teachers can use Blogger as their class home page to communicate with parents and students. The instructional possibilities are endless for K-12 teachers.
  5. Google Sites - This app is not only a web site creator but by definition is a wiki where students and teachers can create web pages in collaboration with each other, how cool is that!
At Google for Educators you can discover how teachers all over the world are using Google apps across the K-12 curriculum.

So teacher, if you look around and there is nobody to help you with the integration of technology in your curriculum, what are you going to do? Are you going to complain to the people in your school and district that just don't get it and continue to beat your head up against the whiteboard! Or, are you going to be proactive and do an end-around from the educational dinosaurs and naysayers employed to protect the past?

My heroes are the teachers who find a way to be a 21st century learner; the ones who create and get a classroom presentation computer and then get a video projector and then get a document camera and then...

*Image of teacher and students from Oak Park Elementary, SDUSD