School of Education helps teachers understand technology and utilize tech tools to their potential

  • Aug. 3, 2016


INDIANAPOLIS -- The IU School of Education at IUPUI is eager to help K-12 teachers venture beyond the four walls of the classroom, using technology to reach and teach students in ways that weren't possible before.

Partnering with the School of Education brings learning design that moves beyond the implementation of a specific technology tool, said Joanna Ray, director of online learning at the School of Education.

"We help educators think through the process of creating technology-enriched instruction, from the conceptualization through the delivery," she said.

According to Ray, as school districts move to one-on-one learning environments, there is a need to fully understand the digital-learning landscape. "What happens in that digital space is equally as important as what happens in the classroom space."

That understanding doesn't come overnight. Professional development with technology is not a one-day thing, Ray said. It needs to be more strategic, be long term and build capacity for teacher leaders.

Recently, the Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township and the IU School of Education partnered to improve teaching and learning with Canvas, a learning management system.

The collaboration began in January 2016, becoming an ongoing partnership that allowed School of Education experts and 19 Decatur Township teachers to form the Next Gen Leadership Cadre to create relevant and meaningful learning experiences for students.

Initially, MSD Decatur teachers had received typical technology training for using Canvas, said Jeff McMahon, chief information officer for the school district: "It was very rudimentary. Click here, upload here."

But McMahon said that what teachers wanted was to understand the teaching theories behind Canvas and what it really means to be online, and then how to teach it the right way to engage kids.

And that, said a Decatur Township special education teacher, is what the partnership with the School of Education provided.

"What the partnership has done for us is to make us confident in our ability to help our students," the teacher said. "It isn't just another system that's thrown into the schools and then teachers are expected to figure it out. Now that we know how to use it, we know whom we can go to if we need help." 

Ray said the School of Education's goal is to help teachers understand technology and utilize technology tools to their greatest potential.

"Rather than trying to fit innovative technologies into a traditional classroom structure, we're asking teachers to rethink their existing practices and redesign learning from the ground up," she said.

Teachers, for example, might have a PowerPoint presentation they use in class, she said. They might put that PowerPoint in Canvas, where students can access it whenever they want, but it really hasn't changed how they teach.

"Redesigning the instruction with technology, however, enables teachers to make that change. With technology, students shift into creator roles. Why not ask them to collaboratively create and narrate a presentation?" Ray said.

"Now we can do things that weren't otherwise possible," she said. "We can put collective thoughts together, and students become the creators. But it really involves rethinking your pedagogical strategy, and technology enables us to do that."

It's that kind of rethinking of teaching methods that made partnering with the School of Education so helpful, said a Decatur Township high school science teacher who is part of the Next Gen Leadership Cadre.

"They push you outside of your comfort zone. You need someone to ask you if you've thought about it from that angle just to make yourself grow professionally and grow with technology usage," he said. "They are pretty effective in pushing us into thinking a little differently."

In his case, the teacher said that meant being a little more creative and a little more structured with the way he designs things.

The result, he said, "is that I do know there are kids going deeper into different topics. My goal is to just engage kids more, by developing deeper learning within my assignments, and to develop assignments that are more geared to what students find technologically interesting, to make a more enriching unit."

"It makes it more meaningful for them, so they put forth more effort," he said.

The special education teacher sees technology as bridging the gap for all learners.

"I think what technology can bring into a classroom is immense, and I think that's invaluable," she said. "The tools we can use really open the doors for a lot for students."

When teachers know how to create well-designed digital instruction in Canvas, they no longer have to stand in the front of the room to deliver content. Rather, it allows them to work individually or in small groups with students, while other students can move ahead without waiting for a teacher to give them instructions on what to do next, Ray said.

Digital teaching is simply teaching, Ray said. "School districts are encouraging teachers to design instruction and learning in these online digital spaces. It's our mission to help teachers do this effectively."  

Richard Schneider