Teaching with New Technology in a “New” Era
Dean Bacigalupo, Dennis, Belen-Morales, Tara Burk, Alexa Corben, Alexis Farina, David Morris, Madison Hamada, and Elizabeth Tyree
All school districts in New York State were required to develop a “Continuity of Learning” plan that could be used beyond the COVID-19 pandemic if a district is not able to have full “in person” instruction.
Dean Bacigalupo: Teaching 7th graders in this new Blended/Hybrid model, I fully understand the many difficulties student teachers are experiencing. I believe there are 3 immediate challenges that both they and their cooperating teachers have.
The first is becoming fluent in technology. Districts first had to adapt a learning management system. For my district and many throughout Nassau/Suffolk the LMS is Google Classroom. Most teachers and student teachers are not proficient in using this LMS. Within Google Classroom there is a “Suite” of applications/extensions that are helpful for online learning. Some, like Docs, Slides, and Sheets, most student teachers are proficient in. Others, like Forms, Meets, Polling, Jamboard they are not. I set up my class with student teachers through Google Classroom so they could experience a “student view” and become more fluent with this LMS. These are free to create, but there are additional extensions that can be purchased. There are a number of extensions that are also free that are linked to Google Classroom, and because of this have become popular among schools. These include Edpuzzle, Screencastify, Flipgrid, Jamboard, and Nearpod. Teachers are also creating a Bitmoji and Bitmoji Classroom. Like any technology today, they are relatively easy to learn/navigate, but users need time to become proficient.
At this point, I am learning student engagement increases when:
The second is understanding how to move from a “technology rich classroom” to building a blended/hybrid learning classroom community. Because of the “virtual” shift in the flow of information, students need to take a more active role in their education, and therefore as a teacher, I am learning that I must foster a classroom that is characterized by increased online engagement, student responsibility, respectful communication, and effective online collaboration as discussion becomes even more important when students are working remotely as students who complete work at home via computer can become isolated
- Lessons are designed for students to play a more active role in their learning. If not, students at home begin to view their computer screen like a television, and become very passive throughout a lesson/unit.
- Students need to be proficient in any program used. I assumed they knew more than me, but in reality there is much that students needed to learn, and teachers need to be prepared to teach the technology as well as the content of their lesson.
- Classroom rules/procedures must have increased accountability/responsibility for students in the learning process. To help students with this transition, I include celebrations at the end of each unit of study and regular (at least once in every 2 week cycle) conversations with parent/guardian to recognize the efforts of the student, or provide guidance if a student is falling behind.
- Teachers need to foster and develop an increased sense of autonomy and independence among their students. I have found giving students a choice in project based assessment helps to build this.
- Teachers and students are a team and must rely on each other, and their classroom built on mutual respect. They develop a learning community that works together to discover and build upon knowledge.
- Students need to know a teacher cares when they are not there. If a student is not in class, I will have a classmate text them that I know are friends or I will call them at the beginning of class. I also include a weekly message in our Classroom Stream to the entire class to remind them of the great things we are accomplishing as a group.
- The “in person” and “virtual” classes need to become one classroom. This is helped when student teams are designed to connect “virtual” and “in person” students. This also allows the teacher to connect with “virtual” students through the “in person” students in the classroom as opposed to joining a virtual breakout group.
The third challenge is really more administrative. Schools and school policies were not designed for this type of teaching, and not all students are prepared for this type of learning. Initially, there needs to be ongoing staff training on rules/routines for students to help them to succeed in a virtual setting. Additionally, there needs to be support classes for students that are having difficulty with this shift in learning. For example, if a student is not proficient in Math, they are assigned an additional A.I.S. class to help. In many cases, I am finding students that are proficient in learning “in person” are failing in a virtual setting, but there are no supports available like A.I.S. to help them to develop the skills needed. Lastly, teachers need time. Districts scheduled classes as they always had, and did not recognize that this new Blended/hybrid model required increased parent/student contact, lesson planning, grading, learning the technologies, and increased collaboration among teachers. Administrators believe they are helping by emailing links and materials to support teachers, but many are not viewing these because they are struggling to keep up with their daily lessons and grading.
David Morris: No matter how well they use tech tools, many student teachers and teachers are frequently not quite there when it comes to classroom technology. I have students in an introductory teacher education methods class do research and present about online tools. For every session students have to think of how they would teach the lesson using an LMS. Unfortunately, it is not as effective as it needs to be unless students are working at a school and have access to school accounts. I don’t focus on Zoom because I find that students already know how to use that tool. Almost every student in my class this semester in student teaching is using Google Classroom or Schoology. Some schools only have breakout rooms with this tool because it costs the district extra money to add other applications. All the Schoology programs are quite user friendly, but you can’t use them without an account.
The problem that many student teachers (and teachers all over the country) are having is that their students are not doing the work. Even in the most middle-class school districts, many students are just not signing on or if they do, they won’t turn on their video because districts do not require it. Several of my student teachers teach to black screens everyday and have never seen the students. One reported when she dismissed the class no one was there so no one left the Zoom room. She had been talking to herself for several minutes. Schools should require videos on if a student wants to be marked as present.
Madison Hamada: When people heard I was student teaching in a hybrid setting that has become the norm due to COVID-19, the look on their faces said they were happy not to be in my shoes. However, at least from a technological perspective, I learned a lot. I lost track of how many times I was told “new young teachers” would find the new technologies easy to use. While we may be more fluent in technology than older teachers, there is a major difference between technology and educational technology; “new young teachers” are right there with the veteran teachers in learning how to use it. I may be a pro on Instagram, but I had no idea what Edpuzzle and Kami were or how to use Google Meets Breakout Rooms until I started student teaching.
Though difficult and time-consuming to learn these technologies, teachers have a powerful tool at our fingertips and should utilize it. This unique school year provided that opportunity, particularly when interacting with remote students – not knowing if they were even ‘there’ since their cameras were off. I found that the more I infused my lessons with technology, the better my chances were that my students were ‘glued to their screens’ for reasons other than Tiktok and Netflix.
I modified activities that I would typically prepare for in-person learning and was able to engage students in this setting, but not without trial and error. I created virtual gallery walks, virtual museum tours, and utilized virtual reality and breakout rooms at every opportunity. I relied on platforms such as Nearpod, TedED, and Kahoot and created review games like Jeopardy to involve my students in the lesson daily.
My goal for student teaching was to foster a classroom atmosphere that was both intellectually stimulating and enjoyable. At the end of my placement, I asked my students to fill out a teacher review as a means of self-evaluation, to help me become a better educator. One of the most frequent comments was the gratitude for lessons that enabled them to actively participate in their education and to simultaneously communicate with their friends, which made learning more fun. The students appreciated my effort to create normalcy in a year where little exists. Although it took significantly more time to plan and create lessons, it was worth it to hear my students – whether in-person or remote – partake in lively discussion about class material “together.”
Elizabeth Tyree: I’m no longer just an educator, I am now an IT personnel as well. During the pandemic, I worked at a summer camp that was converted into an educational pod where students could come and participate in online learning while parents received childcare so they can continue to work. We had about 50 students throughout the week in grades K-8 from 4 or 5 different school districts. Each district had a unique schedule and different methods of educating during the pandemic. Some adopted a hybrid schedule, some remain fully online, some were stuck somewhere in between or switched between the two. Some schools even offered a fully asynchronous option before the school year began for parents who did not want to deal with the revolving door of school changes.
Most if not all schools use Google Classroom as their online home base. However, some teachers use Google Meet while others use Zoom for video calls. Regardless of the learning platform that the teachers use, the students are still struggling with the technology. With programs like Kami that can edit PDFs the students have generally learned how to use it, however, they constantly find issues with the program and often turn in work that is too sloppy to read. Many teachers, after months, were still learning how to use these online platforms, especially those who rely heavily on Google Classroom, which has more limitations than programs like Zoom. When simply looking at the technology there are many troubles that can arise. With every student online at some point during the week it can lead to system crashes, hackers, WIFI related issues, camera and microphone problems, and other unexpected issues. Most students do not have the developed typing skills to effectively communicate through chats when microphones are malfunctioning, and they cannot easily reach out to teachers so instead they sit back unsure what to do. Even as an adult, I cannot always figure out what the issue is and students miss out on valuable instruction. Students who are using Chromebooks, which are relatively inexpensive computers, find they have many limitations and/or technical failings. Something that I have noticed from the students’ side of the screens is that very few teachers branch out in class to differentiate instruction. When on a video call, teachers may pull up a worksheet or PowerPoint, but generally stay in a lecture-based lesson style. Students sitting behind a screen for an hour or more are zoning out as there is nothing attention grabbing in their lessons. The online learning is leading to simplified instruction that is not even using the technology to its full potential.
Technology can be very useful, but not when students spend their whole day in front of a screen. They are becoming more and more passive in their learning and missing critical learning skills. Many students struggle to read for long periods of time when the reading is on a screen, and annotating that reading is even more difficult. Teachers who rely heavily on reading during the pandemic have many students who underperform on assessments. It is not that the students are incapable of understanding the concepts, but rather that they struggle with synthesizing responses when their only sources of information are online readings. Teachers are making a strong effort in such a trying time. It is not easy to teach while relying on so much technology, so teachers should be commended for any and all good they are able to do.
Alexa Corben: Student teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic was certainly challenging, however, I had the opportunity to experience many different technological platforms to use in the classroom, especially in a hybrid setting. Along with learning about new technology, the pandemic also challenged me to design creative lessons. One thing that all the teachers kept telling me was, “we are all practically first year teachers.” By this they meant they were also learning about new technology and they had to change or redo lessons they had previously taught in order to be able to teach in a hybrid setting. The school where I student-taught used Google Classroom. I am familiar with some of Google’s “Suite” programs, such as Google Docs and Google Slides, however there are other programs, like Google Forms, Jamboard, Nearpod, and Google breakout rooms that I have never used before. Although I was not familiar with certain applications, I was fortunate that my cooperating teachers informed me on how to use them. Since the school was hybrid, I had to teach students that were in my classroom and students who were learning remotely at the same time. I felt that teaching the students who were remote was the hardest part because there were many distractions around them, and they were not required to have their cameras on. This meant my lessons had to be engaging in order to keep students focused and attentive. One program that I felt was extremely useful was Nearpod. One of the benefits of Nearpod was that I was able to play videos and insert questions while we watched the video as a class. In addition to this, I was able to see which students were answering the questions and which students were not. Students were also able to take notes while I was presenting the material which was saved to their Google Drive, so they could then go back to review their notes. Another program that was extremely beneficial was Google breakout rooms. It was important that students worked together, but because of COVID[HB1] , students were not able to work together in person. The breakout rooms not only allowed students to work together, but it also allowed students to work with others who may not be in the classroom that same day.
Dennis Belen-Morales: Teaching in this new era has been quite challenging. My students in the South Bronx and I have faced many barriers including access, transitioning, and administrative adjustments. As a first-year teacher who became a student teacher at the beginning of the pandemic I understand the struggle that students have trying to adapt to online instruction. COVID-19 turned our world upside down with many professionals working longer and more exhausting hours, including myself. As a first-year teacher my main priority has been to provide my students with conditions in which they can learn.
I teach in the poorest congressional district in the country and the financial situation of many of my students meant they lacked access to technology and the Internet. Even when they had computers, they were often outdated. To bridge the digital divide, I worked with a colleague, Pablo Muriel, to develop a website that allows students to do homework using a mobile device.
A big problem in New York City has been constantly shifting modes of instruction during the pandemic. At the start of the school year we used a hybrid model with some students online and others in the classroom. Then we shifted to all remote and by April 2021 the city planned to shift back to hybrid. This inconsistency has been tough on many of my students because as teenagers in working-class families they are often older siblings charged with making sure their younger siblings attend class either in-person or online while their parents are not home.
COVID-19 also complicated administrative planning. School coordinators and counselors struggle to design schedules that balance the needs of students with class-size restrictions and teacher schedules. Repeated changes undermine student-teacher relationships vital for educational success. The pandemic drastically changed the lives of millions around the world, including our students. The post-pandemic society and classroom will have to address the problems of interrupted, social inequities, and the availability of educational resources.
Tara Burk: I student taught at a specialized public high school in Brooklyn. In the 9th and 12th grade classes there was nearly full attendance each day, however 99% of students keep their cameras off for the entire class period. Based on my experience, in addition to making sure any technology utilized in the online classroom is accessible to all students, teachers should be flexible and adapt to the particular ways in which students are engaging with technology. Just because we cannot “see” students on camera does not mean students are not showing up to class, participating, and learning. For some students, they do not have the Internet bandwidth to turn on their camera or they are unable to because they are working or looking after siblings or have no privacy. For others, refusing to turn on their cameras may be one of the only things they can control and especially if most of their peers have cameras off it makes sense they would, too. We had students engage with the class by communicating in the chat, working on Google docs together during group work, and sharing responses in full class discussions when they can be on microphone. No matter what kind of technology a teacher uses, from Zoom to Padlet to Google Classroom, I think it is important to “humanize” the tech element by taking advantage of opportunities to connect with each student individually. If a student asks a question in the chat or on Padlet a teacher can be sure to answer it, either in the chat or during the lesson. If a student completes a homework assignment on Google Classroom, getting feedback from their teacher matters because it shows their teacher is engaged with their work and invested in their success. Since there are less moments for informal feedback, such as nonverbal communication, than there might be in a traditional classroom these kinds of connections matter more during online instruction. Finally, a teacher can use technology to check in with students at the beginning of the class and assess how students are feeling (asking students to use the “thumbs up,” “thumbs down” options on Zoom) or they can use this option for formative assessment during the lesson. Based on my experiences and observations, these suggestions are effective in building classroom community.
Alexis Farina: Who would have thought that a child’s education would be dependent on a stable WiFi connection? The Covid-19 pandemic has completely transformed teaching and learning as we know it, especially during the peak of the virus when it forced many schools to offer instruction either hybrid or remote. As a teacher in early elementary education, I wonder how much the new technology will continue to shape education? Video conferences have replaced the traditional classroom setting, online assignments have taken away from paper and pencil, teachers are teaching children they have never even met in person, students are listening to stories being told on YouTube instead of gathering on a rug. A good portion of the school day was already dedicated to using iPads or laptops. I fear technology has started to take away the authenticity of school as education has become heavily reliant on it. One of the most difficult technological situations I face is teaching a class in person while solving tech issues for students that stream in for remote learning. It requires you to split yourself in half. Tending to the students in person and online simultaneously is almost impossible, especially in the lower elementary grades. These children are not yet completely independent, and most are still learning how to read so they need an adult to guide them. When technology works, it’s great, and when it doesn’t, it’s detrimental.