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Empower Educators to Explore Technology in the Classroom

How one education professor encourages edtech experimentation and creativity in a professional development program for other educators.

Educator

Latoya Hardman Lewis, MA

Interim Director, Academic Initiatives and Partnerships; Professor of Education, Lone Star College-Tomball

MA in English Education, BA in English

@llteaches

“Why don’t other teachers do what you do?”

Latoya Hardman Lewis, MA, was asked this question by a student who was struggling with a lesson in another professor’s class at Lone Star College-Tomball, where Lewis is a professor of education. It echoed similar queries she had heard many times before. It got her wondering, “Why aren’t other LSC instructors integrating technology into their classes—and is there anything I can do about it?”

So when Lewis was approached by a colleague and asked to put together a professional development program for faculty members, she took the request to heart. The result was the 30-hour Instructional Technology Certification Program and corresponding 185-page manual, which translated her interest, knowledge, and experience into actionable, hands-on instruction to help other faculty members create technology-rich learning materials for their tech-savvy students.

“I took it pretty seriously because I heard that student’s voice in the back of my head the whole time,” says Lewis, “and I wanted her, and all of my other students, to be able to experience that type of learning in the other classes that they were taking.”

Lewis adds that it is exciting to imagine that every teacher she reaches will, in turn, reach hundreds of students. Her hope is that, by introducing more educators to high-tech teaching tools, more of today’s tech-savvy students will be able to learn their various subjects more deeply so they can graduate with confidence and go on to a successful future in today’s digitally driven world.

Challenge: Low-tech teaching, tech-savvy students

Given the widespread use of instructional technologies in K–12 education and the integration of computers and smartphones into daily life, most of today’s college students are quite adept at—and in fact prefer—learning with technology. The problem, Lewis says, is that many of her colleagues were still using the traditional lecture/assessment model of teaching, with an occasional plain, dry PowerPoint presentation thrown in. This teaching model, she found, was requiring students to adapt to a low- to no-tech learning environment, which often made it more difficult for them to grasp, process, and retain the subject matter efficiently and effectively.

Innovation: Empowering educators to experiment with edtech tools

Enter the ITCP, or Instructional Technology Certification Program. Over the course of one academic year, using a series of 9 sessions (3 hours each), Lewis shares a wide variety of instructional technologies that faculty can use to make their lessons more engaging, visually appealing, and interactive. Some lessons focus on helping educators spice up existing learning materials, while others demonstrate how they can create more interactive presentations (including how to make videos), as well as how to build connections with students via social media and networking.

“[The Instructional Technology Certification Program] is a way for me to help [countless] students have the ability to learn in a way that fits their learning style,” she says. “I believe every student has an ability to express what they’ve learned, but it may not be in the traditional educational way. I think it’s our duty [as educators] to try to figure out ways that we can get students to present this content to us and demonstrate mastery. If we could get this to really catch on, it could revolutionize how we teach.”

Lewis’s goal in the IT certification program is not only to teach educators how to use today’s edtech tools but also to help them become more comfortable with experimenting on their own as new options emerge. “For me it’s more about teaching them the skill of using technology,” says Lewis. “It’s not about the tool; it’s [about] how you use it and how you can incorporate it into the classroom. So even if the technology itself changes, you still are equipped: You’re well versed in technology, [so] you can adapt to anything.”

Context

Course: Instructional Technology Certification Program (ITCP)
Frequency: 3 hours per session for 9 sessions, delivered throughout the academic year, plus 1 final presentation/portfolio session
Class size: 20
In her words: “I’m really looking for people who are trying to learn new things—new ways to engage their students and facilitate learning. I have turned away adjunct instructors who have been with us [for only one] semester because I want to make sure that they are committed not only to the college but to our students as well. If I’m turning people away, it’s important that the people who are part of the program are committed.”

Instructional Technology Certification Program (ITCP)

See materials

Lesson: Instructional Technology Certification Program

Here is a look at the structure and philosophy behind Lewis’s IT certification program:

Present the pedagogy first

It is vital to gain buy-in at the beginning of any session that will ask attendees to make changes to the status quo, with which they are currently comfortable. In her written description of “Session 1: What Is Instructional Technology?” Lewis makes this compelling argument:

Our students are expected to have certain abilities and competencies that transcend the specific contents we teach, which, according to the National Convention of Teachers of English, include things like “developing proficiency and fluency with tools of technology” and “creating, critiquing, analyzing, and evaluating multimedia texts.” As instructors, this means that we not only have to help our students gain these skills [but also have to] become familiar with these tools if we are ever going to teach using them or expect our students to use them effectively.

Meet them where they are, then bring them along gradually

“Every instructor has [created] a Microsoft Word document or PowerPoint presentation. Every instructor,” says Lewis. “So, we start there, and I have them bring in documents like a syllabus, or one of their PowerPoint lectures.” Lewis then teaches them how to move away from slides showing chunks of text and toward the use of shapes, colors, and SmartArt to add visual appeal. Thus, the first few sessions cover the following topics:

  • Using tech to enhance current learning materials and lectures
  • Creating more engaging and interactive presentations with MS Word, PowerPoint, and instructional videos by adding SmartArt, infographics, and other eye-catching features
  • Getting and staying organized and tracking academic assessments and progress with various tech tools
  • Using Google applications to “create, collaborate, and socialize”

“When [these educators] try something that’s outside of their comfort zone—even if it’s not the most beautiful graphic design—it makes me feel so proud because I’ve challenged them to try something new,” says Lewis.

Offer an array of options during each class

The focus of each session is never on one particular tool. At each 3-hour class meeting, Lewis presents 3 to 5 options for the educators to try, and then she encourages them to use whichever ones they feel work best for their personality and subject matter.

This models the philosophy that Lewis uses with her college students as well: Students should have multiple ways to complete assignments and demonstrate mastery of the subject matter.

She explains, “I’m very intentional about providing options for my students, because that’s something that we can do in our classrooms to make sure all of our students are accessing learning. We’re providing multiple ways to represent information, we’re providing ways that students can express what they know, and we’re also offering students ways to be engaged in the learning process.”

Provide plenty of in-class practice time

Feedback from the first cohort indicated that, after the introduction of each tool, the educators wanted to be able to work with it while still in the classroom. “They really appreciate that, because if I present, present, present, they get excited but then go home and forget how I did it, or they forget one of the tools I introduced them to.”

Introduce new channels of communication

Lewis’s favorite lesson is “Session 4: Keeping up in the 21st-Century Classroom,” because she spends half of the class introducing faculty to ways they can use technology to communicate and keep in touch with their students.

For example, Lewis loves the Remind app, which allows students to message their instructors (and vice versa) without exchanging phone numbers. It also allows educators to set up virtual office hours so that text messages get delivered only during the hours they select. Says Lewis, “It’s an easy way that a faculty member can have boundaries but also establish a relationship [with each student], not just for the semester but for years to come.”

Also, in “Session 9: How to Handle Social Media and Networking in the Classroom,” she addresses social media etiquette, as well as websites and apps (other than Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) that allow students to “capture what they are learning and express that learning in a social way.”

Assess what they have learned … and celebrate

After every session, Lewis’s students have a homework assignment: Take 1 or 2 of the tools they have learned about and incorporate them into their classroom instruction. Lewis wants the educators to implement what they have learned in class right away so that the program can have an immediate impact on their students.

For their final assessment, the educators in the IT certification program combine all of their homework assignments into a digital portfolio. Then, during the final (tenth) class session, which is a graduation ceremony, they recap their experience in a 3–5-minute presentation of not only what they have learned but also how it has affected them, their instruction methods, and their students.

“And then,” says Lewis, “we have cake and punch.”

Defense

Lewis has encountered some questions from educators regarding who retains ownership of the whiz-bang lessons they are learning to create. She offers the example of a software tool called Prezi, which can be used to create presentations. “[Educators in the ITCP] may ask, ‘Well, who owns these presentations? Are they my property?’” says Lewis. “That’s not what I’m worried about. I tell them, ‘If you’re creating something that you want to sell and market, then don’t do that for the classroom.’” (Note: Software websites offer details on rights information for their particular products.)

The other concern some faculty members voice is that students will abuse the technology—either by using it to contact them at all hours or by including inappropriate content or comments in online tools. Lewis reassures them: “This has been my response, and this has been my experience. If you have a relationship with students, and if you are giving them access to you, then you are not the norm, and they respect that,” she says. “I think that when students see that you trust them, that you are willing to [create an experience] tailor-made for them, they respect you more as an instructor.”

Outcomes

In the 2 years since the program’s inception, out of the 40 students who started the program, 17 received certification in the first cohort, and 15 in the second. (Hurricane Harvey played a role in preventing a higher number of the latter group from completing all of the work.) Interest in joining the program is growing, and in order to provide individual attention to each educator in the ITCP, Lewis has been able to accept only about one-third of those who have applied.

The most important outcome is that the educators in the ITCP are putting what they learn to use and improving the learning outcomes of their own students. Anecdotally, Lewis has proof from her first cohort—she and a government instructor had a shared student that semester. “One day, [the] student came to me and said, ‘My government instructor is starting to use some of this technology, and it’s really helping me.’ And I told her, ‘Well, he’s in this program I’m facilitating.’ And she got so excited. She would come back and tell me, ‘Guess what he did this time?’” Lewis says. “Students notice that, and it has really helped them with their learning. Hearing stories like that has been very fulfilling for me.”

In the future, Lewis would love to expand the program, condensing the most important components and facilitating 1- or 2-day workshops on other Lone Star College campuses. She is also hoping to develop an online curriculum that can be used by educators at other institutions of higher learning.

Student feedback

Lewis administers an anonymous survey after the program ends, and she has received very positive comments, including these:

“I feel enlightened and confident to have learned so much and will feel brave to explore new things that are being developed every day and use them to enhance information literacy. Thank you!!!”

“The entire experience was so amazing. I cannot believe how much more I am able to do with my classes.”

“This is one of the most amazing programs that I have been a part of!”

A member of the current cohort recently sent Lewis this note, which gets to the heart of why she feels the IT certification program is so important:

“This program forces us to step back and rethink the big picture of the why we teach instead of reverting to the same way we’ve always done things.”

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