All Was Fine Until It Wasn’t
Before the pandemic, I could teach students the difference between who and whom, but when it came to technology, I was completely lost. Thank goodness our school was using Synergy to record attendance and grades–that I knew how to do! As for posting and accepting assignments online? No, thank you–that seemed too complicated.
I had a colleague who was a magician when it came to navigating Schoology. She would click on this and that button and poof–create colorful folders with assignments that she linked from Google Drive. I was thoroughly impressed!
When the pandemic happened, our school, like many others, quickly transitioned to distance learning. There was no time for training. Some techy teachers shared a few videos about the basics of setting up Schoology folders, and then we all went home to somehow make distance learning work.
As district directives and expectations changed on a weekly basis after we transitioned to distance learning, the common refrain from my administrators was “We are building the plane as we are flying it.” That was a cute catchphrase to explain and excuse the weekly changes, but we teachers had no cover. We had to scramble to find realistic, workable ways to deliver lessons and engage students, tout de suite.
I took a mental inventory of the tech skills I had. Yes, I knew how to use MS Word and Synergy, and I could muddle my way through some aspects of Schoology and G Suite, but honestly, I was pretty clueless. I did manage to look up how to use Zoom, but just when I was comfortable with it, the District announced that Zoom was no longer an approved platform. We had to transition to Google Meet, which was another new thing to quickly learn.
Determined to not feel overwhelmed and helpless, I turned to social media. I joined teacher Facebook groups. Every morning I would also hop on my elliptical and watch at least one new YouTube video about an online teaching resource.
The first education technology tool I dove into was Schoology. I easily learned to set up assignment folders in advance and made them visible to my students when I was ready. Turns out, what my magician colleague did was pretty basic. There was so much more to Schoology.
The second resource I decided to explore further was G Suite because it is widely used. At first it was “cool” to have my students post ideas and collaborate on Google Jamboard, but eventually I wanted students to have structured discussions with more depth and accountability. So, out with Jamboard and in with the Schoology discussion forum, which allowed students to post long reflections, respond to one another, and create and share audios and videos.
Schoology Wouldn’t Load My PDF Tests
As useful as Schoology was, I could not get the assessment tools to upload a PDF. I watched an entire Schoology playlist of how to use all the newly added assessment tools. There was nothing on how to put a complete PDF into a quiz or a test. This became an issue when my students needed to prepare for the ACT. Yes, I could attach a link and tell the students to split their screen or move between two tabs, but that was too clunky.
I searched for a solution. Several teachers suggested using Google Slides and attaching the PDF as a background. That was brilliant, but it quickly became problematic. The tutorial videos featured elementary school worksheets with large graphics and very little text, whereas my students needed to read long passages of text with almost no graphics.
Another edtech tool that I thought was fabulous was EdPuzzle. It allows teachers to take almost any video from YouTube or an existing video on EdPuzzle, cut it down to the desired length, and then add questions. This is a useful tool for reinforcing class lessons, promoting engagement, and having students respond to multiple choice and higher order thinking questions. It does, however, take time for a teacher to find the right video, edit it, and type up questions, but with EdPuzzle, students will never just passively watch a video again.
Many teachers find communicating with parents and guardians to be challenging. Oftentimes, emails and voicemail messages disappear into the abyss. A tool that is highly useful is Talking Points. Although I still use Synergy, Outlook, and the phone to contact parents, Talking Points has been my favorite go-to resource for communicating with parents and guardians. It allows me to type a message on my computer and send it to parents and guardians in the form of a text message in whatever their home language is. It also stores all my text messages for future reference.
I realized that in order for whatever new technology I learned to stick in my brain, I had to teach it to someone else. Therefore, regardless of how busy I was, I made time to share with other teachers anything new I had learned.
A gripe I have with many teacher professional development workshops is that most of the time teachers sit and listen instead of doing hands-on learning. I have sat through some horrendous PD workshops where the presenter would just read off a hard-to-see PowerPoint to the audience! Therefore, whenever I help others, I like to break down my demonstration into three to five steps. I explain the why’s and how’s as I demonstrate or walk them through a process. I also have them put their hands to it.
There is no doubt that this past year has been a trying time. One positive takeaway for me is that when it came to sink or swim, I forced myself to swim and learned new edtech tools. The experience changed my image of myself. I had been too comfortable with the status quo. I stayed in my lane, which meant showing up to teach language arts and leaving the tech stuff to the “tech experts.” Now, I realized that I could be both: a teacher who loves her content area and enhances it with instructional technology use.
With the ease and limitless ways to teach online, education has been forever transformed. For example, the use of paper and pen might become obsolete and only used when certain students need the accommodation. This will drastically cut down on the trips to the copy room, not to mention all the trees we will save. Another benefit of using these edtech tools is that students won’t be able to use the excuse that they forgot their homework. Even the excuse of not having their Chromebook will no longer work because most, if not all, of these tools can be accessed by cell phone. Students also have 24/7 access to the lessons. In fact, many of my students had babysitting duties and other jobs during the pandemic but were able to complete their class work at a time that was convenient for them.
As a teacher, I am thrilled that all my lessons are shareable and portable. I am already thinking of ways to tweak them over the summer. I could be on a trip and easily access any of these tools. For a teacher who used edtech tools only on a limited basis before the pandemic, I now find them to be essential for teaching. I don’t think I will ever return to how I used to teach.