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A Few Simple Ways To Introduce Reluctant Colleagues To Technology

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(Cross-posted at TechLearning)

Many years ago I helped operate a soup kitchen on San Jose’s (CA) Skid Row. We were well-meaning, but not the most responsible neighbors. On day I was sweeping around the passed-out men and women on our front porch when a police car drove-up. An officer got out and started yelling me, saying that we couldn’t control thing and they received many complaints about us. As the officer continued, one of the men on the porch pulled himself up on the railing and yelled out, “Officer, Larry tries. He tries hard. We just don’t listen to him!”

I’ve often thought about that incident during my nineteen year career as a community organizer and six years as a public school teacher. I’ve framed the lesson I learned that day as a question, “Do I want to be right? Or do I want to be effective?”

The issue of educational technology is, I believe, no different. Judgmental, frustrated, and angry comments can often be found in the education “blogosphere” as people share their often unsuccessful efforts at integrating ed tech into the learning and teaching culture of their schools.

In my community organizing career, I learned that a key to engaging people to move beyond their comfort zone is to first build a relationship — a reciprocal one. A relationship entails eliciting from others their hopes and dreams, along with sharing your own. It involves finding learning the frustrations and challenges that people are experiencing. It involves looking for ways to help the other person realize those hopes and dreams and get beyond those challenges. And, if educational technology can genuinely help in those ways, then building a relationship means framing the invitation to try it in a way that speaks to what the other person wants, which may not be the way you would prefer to frame it. It is the difference between “being right” and “being effective.”

Based on the conversations I’ve had with many teachers, here are some of the simple ways I’ve introduced using educational technology as tool reluctant colleagues might want to consider — after I’ve developed or deepened relationships with them.  I’ve framed the invitations based on what they’ve said they wanted, which might or might not be similar to what you learn.  Even if they are different, these “A Few Simple Ways To Introduce Reluctant Colleagues To Technology” might provide a useful template for you to develop others.

When talking about using ed tech, I’ve found it important to stress two points — how it helps meet the immediate and direct self-interest of the individual teacher by making things easy and simple, and how it provides added value to the students’ learning experience.  I’ll discuss each of these “Few Ways” in that context.

1) Using a Computer Projector. One simple benefit for teachers is being able to easily show video clips without having to deal a VCR/DVD Projector, or the small size of a TV screen. It vastly increases the number of easily accessible video clips for all subject areas, even if you eliminate YouTube because it’s blocked by most school content filters. Yes, there are ways to access even those, but this post is about the easiest ways to introduce people to tech who might not be comfortable with it.

2) Using a Document Camera. Eliminating the need to make transparencies is every teachers’ dream if they’ve been using an overhead projector, and a document camera does the trick. Being able to have students bring their work up to easily show the class models is a great teaching tool.

3) Easily Creating A More Authentic Audience For Student Work. Students can be much more engaged in, and committed to, what they’re writing/creating for class if they know the audience is for more than just one person — the teacher. Here are some easy ways to make this happen:

To Make It Easily Viewable By Other Classmates:

Any document, including one in Microsoft Word, can be quickly uploaded to the Internet with Crocodoc or TxtBear. All you do is click on your file and seconds letter you’re given an url address for it. Once you have that, though, what do you do with it to make it accessible?

My Open Letter is a super-easy way for students to create a webpage — without registration — and also lets them copy and paste photos into it.

Kl1P lets you create a webpage without any registration required. You can paste text or images into it, and is a great way to publish student work — you get a custom url address for your page and can paste that on a student/teacher blog.

Loose Leaves is the newest web app that lets you write or paste images and automatically creates a webpage. You’re given two url addresses — one where you can edit it again and a second where others can view it. No registration is necessary.

Check This is the latest in a long line of tools that let you create webpages quickly, without registering, and that let you also paste images into them.

There are two options, I think, that make it most feasible to a “reluctant” colleague.

One is by simply creating a free blog from Edublogs (since that is the blog host that is least likely to be blocked by school content filters) and having students past the url addresses of their own creations to the blog as a comment. Other students can leave comments in the same area making observations about their classmate’s posts. Or they can just write them on a piece of paper to share. Kidblog is another option.

Another way is by having each student email their creation’s url address to the teacher. The teacher can then easily copy and paste them to something like Dinky Page, a super-easy website creation tool that doesn’t even require registration. Twextra and CopyTaste are are similar sites, as are Just Paste It, Check This, and Axess and Page O Rama. Another option is using a site like Posterous , which allows you to email what you want to appear on your website without even having to go set it up.

Instablogg is a super-easy, super-fast way for students, teachers or anybody to create a webpage, and it doesn’t require registration. You can learn more about it at Richard Byrne’s blog.

(Freedom Share is a super, super-easy way to paste and post text, and use it to create a webpage. Making it even better, you can copy and paste images there, too. You can even create a password to make it editable in the future. It makes things very easy for students to create and share online content.)

Tackk is another one.

To Make It Easily Viewable By Others Beyond The Classroom:

There are plenty of places where students can easily copy and paste what they’ve created for class so that others throughout the world can read it.  They can also get the url addresses of what they create and post it in one of the ways just mentioned so that classmates, and the teacher, can easily see it. Students can be pretty excited at the possibility, and their level of commitment can increase.  Potential places for students to place what they write (with no added work required from the teacher) include:

Timelines is a neat tool that lets users contribute towards making “timelines” of historical events with text, photos, and videos. People can then vote on which ones they like best, though everyone’s contributions appear to remain displayed.  It’s extremely easy to contribute — much, much easier than to something like Wikipedia. Google’s Knol is also another easy place to use for the same purpose.

Students can write book reviews at Shelfari, Library Thing, and Book Army.

They can decide a question they want to learn the answer to, post it (or have another classmate post it) on one of numerous question/answer sites) and reearch and write the answer.  Good sites for this activity include Yahoo Answers, WikiAnswers, and Wikianswers (yes, the last two are indeed different sites).

They can create their own online books at Tikatok or Tar Heel Reader.

NOTE: In the second part of this post, I also talk about annotating webpages. Since I wrote that as a guest post for Microsoft’s education blog, I can’t make additions to that actual post. So I’ll make it here — I’d like to add Bounce as another easy tool for webpage annotation).

There are numerous other options, but these are the best ones.  Readers can find more at The Best Places Where Students Can Create Online Learning/Teaching Objects For An “Authentic Audience” and at The Best Places Where Students Can Write For An “Authentic Audience.”

Yes, these are all small steps. In fact, community organizers call these kinds of things “fixed-fights.” These are the small actions that have an extremely high probability of success that serve as confidence boosters to people trying something new.

The next time you’re feeling frustrated at a colleague who might be resistant to some educational technology you’re trying to introduce him/her to, why not try some relationship-building and simple confidence-boosters instead?

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

13 Comments

  1. I’d like to add another simple way to bring reluctants closer to technology: Etherpad. I have this committee which is scattered in 6 different schools. Most of its’ members are rather low-tech in terms of online collab stuff. We had to draft a plan together but getting everyone in one spot was just not justifiable, expense-wise. The initial suggestion was “conference call” over the phone (I dread these). Personnally, I was ready, willing and able to lead them through an Adobe Connect session, using different features to build a document together, but for most, this platform was just too complicated to handle. I then thought of Google Docs, but we needed to have some synchronous interaction in order to build together. Anyway, most didn’t know Google beyond its classic Search engine. Soooo, I thought I’d meet them halfway. “OK, let’s have that conference call over the phone, but everyone, please log in to this web page.” I had sent them an Etherpad blank page and at the time of the call, everyone had logged on and it took me 5 minutes to have them understand that anyone could add to the page. The flood gates had opened and in 35 minutes, we had a solid draft that everyone saved to their computer. Since, most have used Etherpad on other projects.

    There was a sense of relevancy (job had to be done), user-friendliness (Etherpad is so easy to work with), and sense of ownership (document was co-constructed; everyone chipped in).
    Demystifying web tools is the key!

  2. Larry,

    Very important question(s). I note and agree with your highlighting of “after”.

    I too have learned through experience that it is best to “soft sell” and just like with our students, share things which others will find easy and have success with (what you call confidence boosting). From there, if they make the first step, a journey may begin. But the first step is important, isn’t it?

    It is all about relationships. Also, I really think those who use technology, best mentor other teachers by example. Showing others without any demands and from there, arousing curiosity and building that relationship upon those bricks.

    One other thing I’ve had success with is “destruction”. Too often we explain and instruct others on how to “make” , “build” , “produce”. I have a kind of different approach – I ask anyone interested in something to “destroy it”. Give them a final produce and ask them to change it. Challenge them to produce something different by destroying the original. This challenge can set people off and inductively help them discover how to build.

    Cheers,

    David
    http://eflclassroom.com

  3. I was surprised to not see “Offer early retirement.”

  4. If they can’t use a computer and function within the OS, how are they supposed to make use of peripherals? I suggest early retirement as well, and a big fat FAIL.

  5. Suggesting early retirement is not the way to go. Many teachers who resist technology are still excellent teachers and have a lot to offer the students.

  6. Hello,
    The good thing about your information is that it is explicit enough for students to grasp. Thanks for your efforts in spreading academic knowledge.

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  8. I am one of those “reluctants.” The computer age is a little scary but in order to reach students, there must be technology-based learning in every classroom. These are some great, simple ideas that will help any teacher feel more comfortable with technology. I especially liked the comment about using Etherpad. We had a technology specialist (he was budgeted out, unfortunately) who was a wealth of information and would suggest tapping into that resource at your school. He was always happy to teach the teachers how to teach!

  9. I teach several classes to teachers on both sides of the technology spectrum. My “baby steps” class is open to all of the teachers at my school. I stay one afternoon a week and anyone can come in with a technology need. Some want to learn how to create email folders, others want to learn how to create charts (tables). The other class I’ve taught with a great result is the “Inspired Classroom Bootcamp”. I meet with groups of teachers for 3 days (in the summer) and show them different programs, websites, applications, and other technology tools to help them integrate technology in their classrooms using the Inspired Classroom model. This is a great class because the participants work in cooperative groups (always an effective learning environment) to build lessons and resources they can use. Regardless of their comfort level, the most successful interventions have been those that save teachers time.

  10. I’m shocked at the resistance I get from principals and school boards when I try to tell them about a FREE product I created for virtual classrooms and helping students with group projects. They don’t return calls, emails and when I do get to talk to them they shut me down before I can speak.
    They don’t understand and don’t want to either. They’re happy with their situation because it involves no change. However if you can break through to them and show them the benefits of whatever the technology then they love it. To get to that point though requires moving mountains. For this reason I believe it will take many years for education to truly adopt technology.

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  13. These are all unique solutions to get teachers cozied up to technology. But the key is what you wrote about having to stress, “how it helps meet the immediate and direct self-interest of the individual teacher by making things easy and simple”.

    To that end I believe teachers need to have a Web presence, and a very well developed one. With this they will immediately see how technology like social media, blogs, and websites, forums, can immediately connect them in so many “new” ways that they had not realized. Once they see the new modes of interaction and of marketing their own skills and knowledge, and utilize them, the feedback loop will take over. I’ve seen teachers from 25-65 get hooked and develop an online presence for themselves that they now can’t do without, and wouldn’t want to as it more fully expresses themselves and their work.

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