Tech in the classroom takes perseverance

Over the past week I’ve been reminded of two lessons about using technology in the classroom:

  1. When using an unfamiliar tech tool/app/method in the classroom for the first time (or the first time in a long time), expect some level of chaos…even if you have planned your lesson diligently.
  2. If you use a tech tool/app/method in the classroom on a regular basis, (or even a 2nd time in close proximity) the chaos diminishes and powerful learning can take place.

Last week I had my students use a quizzing app called Socrative while we did a quiz based on video clips on the use of camera movement in films. We had used this app earlier in the semester–some students had even downloaded it on their phones–but you would have never known it from the login confusion that reigned. One of the things I like about Socrative is that the login for students is so simple: they don’t need a separate user name or password; they all simply type the same “room number” every time we use the app.  But, as I was reminded, even simple uses of technology, complete with written and verbal instructions, are somewhat chaotic the first time.  After what seemed like endless trouble shooting and problem solving, we got through all seven quiz questions. (Thank heavens for the invaluable second set of eyes and answers from a talented EA!)

Icon for Socrative Student   app

Icon for Socrative Student app

At the end of this seemingly chaotic experience, I used a feature of Socrative that I wasn’t as familiar with–the “Exit Ticket” –to ask the kids a final question: “Would you rather do this quiz on paper or a digital platform like we used today?”  Despite the crazy episode we had all just endured, the overwhelming majority described why they preferred the digital platform; only 3 out of 20 students would choose to do the quiz on paper.

Buoyed by their tolerance, I converted the next day’s quiz to the Socrative platform as well. (On a side note, I do not applaud Socrative on the convenience of transferring existing quizzes to their program).

This is where lesson number two comes in. Day two was like being in a different world. Bellwork instructions for the day were to grab an ipad or take out your phone, login to Socrative, enter your name, and wait for the first question. Chaos didn’t come to class on day two! Classmates helped each other out if they were stuck, and shortly after the bell rang, I was using the teacher version of Socrative to push the quiz questions to the students as I showed each film clip. It was as if we had used this program every day for a month!

On day one, I was deeply reminded of why so many teachers don’t use technology in their classrooms on a regular basis.  Even those who are enticed to try something new easily become defeated by the chaos of that “first time”. Try teaching a class to sign into Google Drive or share a Google Doc with a classmate for the first time, if you doubt this chaos theory! Or try getting a group of students (or teachers) to submit responses to a ‘text’ poll for the first time. Students’ inability to follow written or verbal instructions seems to increase exponentially with a piece of technology in hand! The first time. After that, the critical mass of students who can help other students problem solve quickly shifts; the process becomes easier and easier each time.

There will always be students who are less adept at using technology, but when the majority learn the routine, the chaos ends. For example, in a different class, students have each written about a dozen different blog entries.  Most have the routine down, and the instructions ‘to blog’ are followed as seamlessly as answering a question on paper. Yet after a dozen practices, a few students get stuck at the same steps almost every time.  No chaos however, because the critical mass of students can point them in the correct direction if I am not immediately available.

Final advice:

Don’t be surprised when your well-planned technology-reliant lesson turns to chaos when introducing something new.

But don’t quit after the first time, because it will get better, and it will be worth it.

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