On Top of Technology
There’s a pop culture scenario from Saturday Night Live (SNL) that parents and teachers of a certain age might recognize—that of IT specialists heckling office workers whose computers have frozen, crashed or otherwise shut down.
Enter the tech expert, who after making several snide comments pushes a button or two and voila, problem solved; or had there been a problem in the first place? The IT specialists make it clear that the computers are in good working condition but that the people who use them clearly aren’t.
Enter Kyle Pace and his team of five dedicated trainers who help teachers use technology effectively in the classroom. As an instructional technology specialist for a school district in the Kansas City area, Pace defies any SNL-like stereotypes in the media and in real life. Take, for example, this statement he makes on his blog’s bio: “I want to help teachers not feel intimidated by technology, but to gradually embrace it and feel more confident using it by providing continual support.”
Pace’s investment in teacher-tech development comes through in conversation as well. Continual support is key, he says. Many school districts have understaffed tech departments, where one or two people install, fix and maintain the machines. “I’m fortunate to work in a district where technology in the classroom is a priority,” says Pace. At conferences, he hears from teachers who don’t have specialists for training or support. “[They] have said, ‘I hope teachers in your district know how lucky they are.’”
A SMART Board in Every Classroom
Pace has a sense of how lucky he is to work in his district. “We’ve come a long way,” he says, citing district-wide initiatives including one that equipped almost every elementary school classroom with a SMART Board. The district is gradually getting its entire curriculum on Blackboard. Teachers throughout the district use eInstruction Clickers, and high schoolers have the opportunity to take online classes.
Still, with the current speed at which technology advances comes the inevitable observation: “We still have a long way to go.” As Pace sees it, the forbidden frontier is social networking, where teachers get much of their information; and kids’ access to mobile technology. “It would be great if kids were allowed to bring their own devices to school,” he says. Schools could play a pivotal role in teaching kids to produce rather than consume—letting them see productive ways to use Facebook, for example. “We need to give kids the skills to know how to do it right, to use it for good,” he says. Many companies have tapped into online collaboration, and this will likely become part of the business world of today’s students.
Let’s Get Digital, Digital!
Not surprisingly, students in Pace’s district want technology in the classroom. “The elementary grades are always excited about it,” he says. Interacting with clickers or the SMART Board generates added enthusiasm around the learning experience. To this end, says Pace, “Students should be touching the SMART Boards more than the teacher.” The older students live and breathe technology and are used to having access to a dizzying array of mobile gadgets. “They don’t want to be unplugged at school,” he says.
As enthusiastic as he is about the latest teaching tools, Pace first and foremost wants teachers to be comfortable using electronic media and technology. He sees Twitter as a great resource for teachers who may not have access to a support system within their districts. “Twitter plays such a big role for teachers who don’t know where to start,” he says. It allows them to learn about another educator’s experience and then make an informed decision based on what they’ve learned. As for teachers in his district who are considering ways to use the available technology, “I tell them ‘Don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel or that it has to be this big, grandiose thing.’”
Kyle B. Pace established his website as a place to share knowledge of educational technology and can also be found on Twitter. Before teaching educators how to use technology in their lessons, Pace taught elementary school. He co-authored the book Integrating Technology With Music Instruction, which was published in January 2009.
By Kathy Satterfield
Kathy Satterfield is an editor and writer with more than 10 years of experience specializing in educational media for children. Most recently, as Senior Editor for TIME for Kids magazine, she managed the content of the 2nd- to 3rd-grade News Scoop edition and researched, reported and wrote for the 4th- to 6th-grade World Report edition. Kathy has also written for Grandparents.com and Fairfield Parent magazine.