Technology in the UDL Classroom

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Overview

The rate of development of and innovation in technology in the last couple of decades has been to the benefit of educators looking to support students in different ways. Technology has become much more affordable and portable allowing for districts, schools and parents to purchase and make available to students to support their learning.

The current movement towards simplicity and personalization is changing the face of how we use technology. Think about how many personal devices you have or have access to on a daily basis. You may own a desktop computer, a laptop, a tablet, a smart phone. Each device is set up to your preference as a user. Technology is getting smaller, faster, sleeker and all of it is getting relatively more affordable.

Technology allows for the flexibility and responsiveness that UDL aims to facilitate for students in the classroom. While implementing UDL does not require technology, technology does facilitate flexibility and personalization. For example, if a student struggles with reading, providing an electronic copy of the text and pairing it with text-to-speech software makes the text more accessible. Electronic text is also customizable by the student in terms of the font, font size, font colour which may help the student.

Some school districts are embracing the idea of BYOD (aka Bring Your Own Device). IT departments are setting up separate WiFi networks at the school to host student owned devices on the school network. Teachers are finding new ways to leverage student owned technology in the classroom whereby the focus is not on merely finding, accessing, and recalling  information, it’s now about how students use that information to create meaning and relevance in their own lives.

Technology is not without its problems. Costs related to purchasing, maintaining, repairing and replacing technology are considerations that require attention.

Are you afraid of technology? Are you afraid you might look like you don’t know what you’re doing with technology? Do not worry. Time again, teachers who have welcomed technology into their classrooms without the ‘know-how’ all say, “The kids teach  me.” or “We figure it out together.

Having your IT department on board is crucial to making technology work in the classroom. Whether they be school or district based, IT personnel are the ones that can help set up and troubleshoot issues as they arise. IT departments like to be consulted and informed of new technology initiatives beforehand so that resources can be directed accordingly. Building a friendly working relationship with IT people will get you far. If they are on board with your efforts, they are more likely to respond quickly when needed. They might even come up with brilliant ideas that you didn’t know were possible in your district. As IT departments in school districts insist of formal protocols about what hardware and software is supported and how tech support requests are handled, issues might arise when IT policies dictate educational technology related decisions. For instance, some IT departments around BC have stipulated that they are a single platform district which means they will only support one operating system, for example Windows. In these districts, there is no room to incorporate iPad labs or Android portable tablets.

Technology should be viewed as a tool in the UDL classroom. It should not be the focus. Technology should be viewed as an alternative or additional tool for students who need that flexibility to support their engagement in the classroom.

Technology is prolific. It is everywhere. And while it may not be as readily available as we would like in some of our schools, educators, parents and students have an expectation for its inclusion and use for learning. Most schools in the province have a computer lab, some schools have class sets of netbooks or tablets such as iPads that students have access to from time to time.

Technology that is up to date and functional in the classroom can provide students with a multitude of options in how they learn in the UDL classroom. Technology is not the solution. It is an option. It is a tool.

In this video, teachers with varying comfort levels with technology, share their thoughts on including technology in the classroom.

Technology is not necessary to implement UDL in your classroom but what it does do is provide more options and flexible tools for educators and students to facilitate learning. (Check out the Idea Gallery and click on Unplugged to filter classroom strategies that do not require technology.)

Introducing and including technology in the classroom will take planning and careful consideration.

The following tabs speak more on the top 5 things to consider. (Scroll back up to the top to see the tabs.)

Time

It’s always going to take a little longer than you think.

Teachers who were new to including technology in the classroom over the last two years all report that time was a major factor. It took them time to plan, learn, troubleshoot, train, include, prepare, research, set up, and maintain technology use in the classroom. It may sound daunting but all the teachers who tried it reported that it was well worth their time. And as they became more comfortable with technology, they became more efficient as time went on.

The amount of time needed will vary and depend on your comfort level and experience with technology.

Students nowadays are very comfortable with technology. They are not afraid to try new things and often use a trial and error method to figure out how technology works. And in many cases, students are proud when they can show the teacher how to do something.

Technical Support

Having the backing of your IT department is going to be crucial to making sure that technology issues are supported and resolved in a timely fashion.

IT departments provide the infrastructure support that is required in order to enable and maintain technology use in schools. Be sure to include IT personnel in the preliminary planning discussions for including technology in your classroom. They will be able to provide you with the do’s and don’ts when selecting technology that they are able to support in the district. IT departments are usually concerned with the security of the district and school networks, compatibility of hardware and software on those networks and managing man power to maintain those networks.

IT personnel may also bring to your attention some of the things that you had not considered, for instance:

  • Are there enough power outlets in the classroom to support the charging of the devices?
  • Is there enough bandwidth support in your classroom (e.g. proximity to a network ‘drop’) for the devices to connect to?
  • What are some secure storage options?
  • How will your devices connect to a printer or scanner if needed?
  • Are the devices and software programs you are considering supported by the IT department? Are the devices or software programs compatible with the existing networks?
  • Are there costs associated with installation of larger equipment? Who pays for installation costs?
  • What is the expected response time should technical difficulties arise? Are there specific types of issues that would not be supported by District/School IT personnel?

How many?

One device for each student?

There have been several initiatives around North America in education to provide a 1:1 ratio of technology to student.

Is this ideal? Why or why not?

While a 1:1 ratio of technology to students may seem ideal, not all students need access to technology all the time. Teachers in classrooms that have a set of 6-10 devices often report that the learning in the classroom is much more collaborative in nature because students sharing technology also share their ideas.

Rules, Routine and Expectations

Having access to technology can be exciting when it is introduced into the classroom. Setting up a common understanding with students about when and how technology is to be used will help everyone have a more enjoyable experience with the technology.

Establishing rules and routines will help students understand what they can or can’t do with the technology.

Some sample rules, routines and expectations:

  • Students will treat equipment with respect.
  • Students will treat other student’s work products stored on the computer with respect.
  • Students will not install new or uninstall existing software programs or apps.
  • Students will return the device to the charging station after logging off and powering down equipment.
  • Students will help set up equipment as assigned
  • Students will not exceed time limits especially if a classmate is waiting to use the equipment.
  • Students will use the internet appropriately.

Focus

Technology is never the goal or focus of learning. There will be time needed for students to familiarize and learn how to use the technology as a tool but keep in mind that the focus for students should be the curricular learning outcomes and the powerful ideas.

When planning your lessons, do not make technology the focus unless it truly is the focus.

Remember, technology is a tool. The learning outcome for your lesson is not that students will use technology to write an essay or create a PowerPoint presentation, but rather that they will demonstrate their learning by using the available technology.

BYOD

Bring your own device is something that more and more districts are beginning to accommodate.

Technology has become much more personalized and affordable in recent years and students tend to have their personal mobile devices with them at all times.  It is important to establish expectations about the use personal devices in class. Some teachers are uncomfortable with these personal devices because of the potential distractions they pose. Access to personal handheld devices means that students have access to up-to-date information which might negate text

How might not harness the power of the devices.

Watch this video of a student Simon who uses his own mobile device in class and his teacher’s take on it.

What’s your take on it? How would you have reacted if you saw Simon sitting in class with his feet up using his iPod?

Dave Searcy is the teacher of Law 12 in Penticton. Let’s revisit his take on having his students use their mobile devices for class activities and assignments.

If you were to allow your students to use smartphones in class, what might some activities be that they could complete to achieve learning outcomes?

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