Planning to Use Technology in a New School: What to Consider

Plan! on a computer screen

Planning to Use Technology

Technology provides significant levers for teaching and learning, but to use it effectively teachers must be prepared. Beyond knowing a specific technology, or having a certain skill set, discrete explicit planning is necessary. Moving between schools, or entering a new school—either as a teacher or as a practicum student—you encounter different ways of doing things, different tools, and different rules. Think of it like a morning routine. Generally speaking,  you might expect that people wake up, get dressed, wash, eat breakfast, & brush their teeth before leaving the house each morning. In reality, the order of those activities vary—in fact the inclusion of some of those activities vary—from house to house and person to person. How technology is handled from school to school is a bit like that. Each time you enter a new school, you need to get your bearings and reorient yourself—especially to the school’s policies, resources, infrastructure, & learner population.

When you plan to use technology, you can come at it from a couple of different directions. You  can start from the technology end (the policies, hardware, software, etc. existing in the school) or you can come at it from your learner end (the content area, potential activities, learner needs). I like to know my constraints first.  I like to look at the rules of what I can do, what I’ve got to work with—so that I can then plan what’s possible within those technology limits. This planning framework is derived from my approach. This is what I would recommend to student-teachers in my Faculty of Education @ Vancouver Island University, or anyone else who asked me.

Julia’s Points to Consider When Planning to Use Technology in a New School: (Version 1)

  1. Policies:

    1. AUPs: Find a copy of the school’s acceptable use policy or AUP if you haven’t been given one. This document is critical as it governs what can or can’t be done on the school’s systems. If you want to access Facebook for a class, but the AUP prohibits it, you could have issues if you try to use it. If you want to use a tool that is outside the AUP parameters, you can always develop a rationale and have a discussion with the school administration. You might be able to put forward a proposal for a pilot project. Note: If your school does not have an AUP, you should work with it to draft one. If you are interested in AUPs, take a look at the links here.
      1. Ask for AUP in school or district front office. You can also ask administrators, or school technology staff.
    2. Media Waivers: Determine if the school has any media waivers for students and parents/guardians. This will govern whether you are able to use student images in your online/offline publications. You also need to be aware of who has NOT signed a media waiver as you are responsible for preserving that individual’s privacy. There may be serious safety issues—e.g. hiding from an abuser—or other reasons. Note: If your school does not have a media waiver and uses students’ images or content online, you should work with it to draft one. If you are interested in waivers, take a look at the links here.
      1. Ask for waivers in school or district front office. You can also ask administrators, or school technology staff.
    3. Permission Slips: Some schools require permission slips for certain online activities like posting in a Wiki, or using a social networking site. Find out if your school does. If they don’t, it might be something you consider. Taking students out on the web is tantamount to taking them on a field trip off campus. It should be treated with the same seriousness. Permission slips allow families to make informed decisions—and to participate to a certain extent—in decisions about their student’s online lives.  Your school might have a generic template, but more often, a teacher might draft one and have it approved by administration. Note: If your school does not have a permission slips for online activities, you should work with it to draft some. If you are interested in permission slips, take a look at the links here.
      1. Ask about  technology/online permission slip templates in the school or district front office. You can ask administrators, or school technology staff. Remember that colleagues may have online permission slip forms as well.
    4. Approved Services: Some schools specify which online services may be used in a school. For example, one school may allow teachers and students to use an class portal like Engrade, while others may consider it a privacy risk. Some schools use Google Documents while others do not. You need to determine if there is an “approved” list of
    5. Other: Some schools have discrete policies governing areas that may not be covered in an AUP. You need to determine which—if any—other policies exist, so that you can be aware of how they might affect your use of school technology. If you are interested in other policies, take a look at the links here.
      1. Ask about additional technology policies beyond the AUP, in the school or district front office. You can ask administrators, or school technology staff. Remember that colleagues may have online permission slip forms as well.
      2. Some potential stand alone policies:
        1. Email use
        2. Social networking
        3. Dealing with a technology incident of concern (e.g. cyberbullying)
        4. Communicating with families & community online
        5. Privacy protection
  2. Resources & Infrastructure:

    1. Available Hardware: you need to do a quick survey to determine what types of hardware are available, the extent to which/where it is available, & when it’s available (if a shared resource, determine how you book it).
      1. Ask school or district technology staff about available technology. Colleagues might know as well. You can also ask in the front office.
      2. Some types of technology to ask about:
        1. Computers: does each classroom have a teacher computer? Other computers? Computer labs? Are labs portable or in a fixed room? Do computers have sound cards? Internet access? USB slots? Etc.
        2. Digital projectors
        3. Speakers
        4. Document cameras
        5. Web cams
        6. Video cameras
        7. Interactive whiteboards (e.g. SMART Boards) or tables
        8. Clickers (a.k.a. student response systems)
        9. Mobiles (netbooks, iPods, iPads, smart phones, tablets, etc.)
        10. Note: If you are planning to use mobiles—whether they are the school’s or borrowed from the district—and want them to have internet access, make sure you check with your school or district’s technology staff to ensure they can get online. Sometimes this involves the creation of accounts, opening networks, etc. and can take time.
        11. Other?
    2. Available Software:
      1. Many types of general productivity software are available in the “cloud”—for example, Google provides word processing, presentation, spreadsheet and form making software online for free. These may require specific browsers (e.g. Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Safari). Other times, you may want to work offline and need specific software installed on a piece of hardware. You should do a quick survey to determine the types of software available, the extent to which/where it is available, & when its available (if it’s on a shared resource, determine how you book it).
        1. Ask school or district technology staff about available software. If something portable isn’t available at the school level, you could ask at the district level.  Colleagues might know as well. You can also ask in the front office. Sometimes, district or school technology staff list available software information on a website.
        2. Some types of software to ask about:
          1. Internet browsers & add-ons (Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Safari, etc.)
          2. Email—does the school provide email accounts for students & staff? (Outlook, Entourage, Thunderbird, etc.)
          3. Word processing (Word, Pages, Google docs, etc.)
          4. Presentation (Power Point, Keynote, Prezi, Google docs, etc.)
          5. Spreadsheet (Excel, Numbers, etc.)
          6. Audio editing (Garage Band, Audacity, etc.)
          7. Video editing (Windows Movie Maker, iMovie, etc.)
          8. Web authoring (Dreamweaver, iWeb, Kompozer, etc.)
          9. Web conferencing (Skype, Elluminate, etc.)
          10. Interactive Whiteboard drivers & software (e.g. you may need SMART Board drivers & SMART Notebook installed on your laptop if you are using a SMART Board.)
          11. Response system drivers & software
      2. NOTE: Sometimes hardware is installed in one  or two classrooms only, and while it may be the actual property of the school, the resident teachers feel ownership. You need to tred carefully in this circumstance. This does not mean that the technology is out of bounds, but you need to use your SOCIAL graces to gain access. You might ask to observe the colleague using the technology a couple of times, then ask if that teacher might have a day, block, or period when the technology is not in use—so that you could try it—alone or with your class. In general, if a single instance of technology is installed in a school, it is good practice for the administration to make some provision for a mentorship and sharing model-along with getting the technology comes a professional responsibility.
    3. Internet Access: Access to the Internet is an important aspect of technology use & can be affected by a number of factors. You should determine:
      1. Bandwidth—this will affect how much data the school/district can send/receive at any given time. Ask what the school’s bandwidth will support in terms of whole class or group uses. For example, what happens if 3 groups want to Skype with classrooms in Taiwan? What happens when your whole class uploads a video to YouTube.
        1. Ask school or district technology staff about Internet access considerations.
      2. Filtering—Are there content or specific site or service filters in place? Determine if the school/district is blocking any sites you want to use. Some schools block YouTube, Facebook, etc. If you really want to use those filtered sites or services, you may need to negotiate some pilot or one-off projects with your school administrators and technology staff.  It is also good to know how attempts to access banned sites or content is logged and who has access to that information. For example, in a practicum placement, a librarian overseeing a mobile computer lab expressed concern to a university supervisor that a student-teacher was attempting to accessed blocked content.  The librarian could not say what content or site. People can assume the worst, so it’s imperative that you know the parameters of what you can use according to your school’s AUP, and its filtering procedures. This student-teacher may have simply been trying to show an educational YouTube video in a school that blocks YouTube—but the librarian wouldn’t know that.
        1. Ask school or district technology staff about Internet access considerations.
      3. Storage: Determine where students can store data. Is there virtual storage on the school/district server? Are all students responsible for carrying data on memory sticks or flash drives? Also determine the limits of that storage and whether it can be increased for special projects. If students are creating digital products, you should have some idea of the maximum size of the files or folders to determine how that data will be stored. For example, what do you do if students are creating videos but can’t save them anywhere because the files are too big? Determine where you can store data as a teacher and what your storage limits are. If virtual storage is available, ask if/how you can access it from home. If you can access your storage from home, can students?
        1. Ask school or district technology staff about storage.
    4. Computer Permissions: Nothing is more frustrating than attempting to download a software the day before a class, only to find out you don’t have administrator rights on the hardware. In many schools & districts, the ability of download & install new software or hardware is reserved for specific technology staff. You should always know what permissions—or rights—your account has. If you need software downloaded, but don’t have administrative rights, you will need to plan with your technology staff where and when the installation occurs. Remember, some software/hardware combinations may not be possible because it conflicts with existing software/hardware on the system. Don’t let your lesson or activity plan hinge on technology, until you know it is compatible and can be installed in time. If you need the installation in 1 week, I like to ask for it 2 weeks in advance. This allows a cushion of time in case the technology staff have to deal with some other critical issue. I then check-in by email about 2 days before the scheduled date, to see if the technology staff will get to it ‘in-time’. In reality, a lot can go wrong with technology, and the support staff may have lost sight of your item’s due date. I like to use email—rather than a call or a face-to-face discussion—because it creates an item in someone’s inbox while a call or discussion can be readily forgotten.
      1. Ask school or district technology staff about permissions for students and staff. Permissions may vary by hardware or software—try to determine the permissions specific to the tools you are using.
    5. Available Support: Determine who is available for support with regard to the specific technologies you might use (hardware, software, online service, etc.). These would be  your go-to people when a specific hardware or software crashes. In smaller districts you may have one or two people responsible for a broad range of hardware & software. In larger districts, there may be more staff—and they may specialize. When you have some idea regarding the hardware and software you are likely to use, it is a good idea to know who in the school or district supports it if you have issues.  It’s also helpful to identify any colleagues who are using the same or similar hardware or software—as they might be able to provide some initial level support.  Sometimes specific hardware or software may come with vendor support. If the hardware or software you are using came with vendor support for the end user like you, get the name of your contact with that company & his or her contact details (email, phone, etc.). Be aware, though, that some vendors only provide “tier 2” support. This means they expect you to access your school or district go-to person. If that person can’t solve the issue, it’s that person who contacts the vendor—NOT you.
      1. Ask school or district technology staff about the support available for the tools you are using. You might also ask the front office who they consider the “techie” teachers—as they can be good names to know if you are looking for some other support venues. Be sensitive to these teachers’ workload. Often “techie” teachers are providing a great deal of professional support to a school ‘off the side of their desk”—meaning the school has not provided them with release time or funding to provide this support.
  3. Learner Context:

    1. Demographics of the class or school: these should be a formal consideration in your technology planning & use. You need to determine the extent to which students have extracurricular access to the technology you plan to use. This determines whether you complete all technology components in class and whether you plan technology access time before school, during lunch, or after school. If demographics indicate that students need additional time for access in-school, you need to structure this in a way that does not marginalize the “have-nots”. Such additional access time should be framed as an “everybody welcome” time. You could partner with another teacher using technology and trade-off supervision times. Think about other activities that could occur during that time—like some technology mentoring. Maybe a tech savvy student could mentor YOU in something!
      1. Ask for your demographic—especially socio-economic indicators and access to technology in the region’s homes if they have it—from the school’s front office or counseling department. If they don’t have it, they’ll know where to point you. Your school district office or local statistics branch might also have useful information.  You can always ask your colleagues, but be cautious of those who may use lack of technology access as an excuse not to use technology, or others who presume that everyone has a computer and internet access at home.
    2. Specific learner needs: Technology is one of the most flexible tools to address a variety of needs. First, you must know what needs your learners have. Review the makeup of your class so that you can determine what—if any—specific needs there might be. For example, do you have students who need to use audio? Your planning might involve finding podcasts on a topic—or have them create podcasts on a topic. Visual learners might benefit from a video demonstration of a technique—or creating one. The general population of students also benefit from being exposed to these types of resources and activities. In providing variety, you should not marginalize any students. If resources and options are available to all—no one stands out as a ‘special’ case.  When you begin to incorporate multimedia, or specific software, you need to determine the hardware, software, and internet infrastructure necessary to support their use. For example, your school’s internet connection may not support 30 students trying to stream a YouTube video. That’s not something you want to find out on the day you run the lesson! If you know this, you can find tools that allow you to download the video and show it off line. You will need to know the students’ needs to plan what technologies would be the most beneficial to your area of study & your students. Then you need to cross reference that with what resources are available.
      1. For specific student needs, check in with your school’s learning assistance teacher, Special Education teacher, or Education Assistants assigned to your class. Most schools have a person responsible for contacting teachers at the beginning of each year or semester with specific cases. If you aren’t contacted by such a person, determine who heads the Special Education efforts in your school. Stop by to see that person or fire off an email as a “check-in”—along the lines of “School [or semester] start-up is such a busy time for us all. I’m sure you’re quite busy seeing to all your students’ needs. I thought I’d just get a jump on my planning if possible. Is there anything I need to know about my [insert class name here—so s/he doesn’t have to guess] class this year/semester? I’d like to make sure I address any specific needs in the class.” You can also ask any teacher who might have had your class or group before. Again, be sensitive to any potential biases.
      2. Once you determine the learner needs, & identify potential technologies to use: Make sure they comply with school policy. If you would like to use something outside of policy parameters, meet with the school administration to see if you can get permission to run a pilot project. Ask your school technician or technology guru, “I’d like to do [insert item here] with my class. Are there any issues that might interfere with this? If there are issues, are there any alternatives or work-arounds you could recommend?”

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