Troubleshooting in Digital Learning Environments

ISTE Coaching Standard 3 provides seven benchmarks for creating and supporting effective digital age learning environments to maximize the learning of all students. My focus is on benchmarks e & g:

e. Troubleshoot basic software, hardware, and connectivity problems common in digital learning environments

g. Use digital communication and collaboration tools to communicate locally and globally with students, parents, peers, and the larger community

My Question

How can I help teachers and students to become confident, resourceful, and responsible users of digital technologies?

My Resolution

As I explored my question, the resources I found support professional development that moves teachers beyond learning only the basic technical operations of educational technologies and allows time for teachers to discuss and plan with their colleagues the pedagogical shifts that may need to be made in order to be successful users of technologies with their students.  My research also supported the forming of communities of practice (CoPs) in which teachers can play, troubleshoot (and even perhaps fail) in a safe environment before being expected to take the plunge in their classrooms.

Before New Technology Roll-Out

Teacher input should always be considered whenever a school is considering adopting a new technology. This can be accomplished through focus groups both before and after a decision is made. For example, one of the actionable items on my school’s technology plan was to investigate and adopt a learning management system. To begin, we convened a focus group comprising teachers from each grade band (K-2, 3-5, 6-8), as well as our Director of Technology (to advise on IT) and Chief Operations Officer (to advise on budget) and asked them to evaluate the available options. When our focus group teachers had decided on an option that they wanted to further investigate, we moved forward with setting up an online demo with a representative from the chosen LMS. Ultimately, we did not move forward with adopting the new LMS, because of budget issues. However, if we had moved forward, we would have had a group of teachers who felt more confident because they had been involved in the decision-making process and had the opportunity to “test-drive” the new LMS before it was rolled out to the whole school. So, what’s the take-away from this example, in terms of combating “learned helplessness” and increasing “learned industriousness”? Teachers who feel agency in choosing the tools they use will be more inclined to figure out how to use the tools. They then can become models of trouble-shooting and resources for teachers who need help mastering a new technology tool.

During New Technology Roll-Out

When designing professional development for teachers to support a new technology roll out, PD planners should avoid a “one-and-done” approach that focuses only on the basic technical operations of the tool. Also, administrators should plan time for teachers to reconvene at a later date to share out their newfound best practices, and to bring up any technical or pedagogical concerns. In a Converge Special Report: “Digital Teaching and Professional Development,” the Center for Digital Education points out that, “Digital teaching without sufficient professional development is guaranteed to be short lived by a select few, but with robust professional development supported by institution leaders, the lifespan will be long and fruitful for many.” Professional development that addresses only the basic technical operations of a new technology, be it application (e.g. class/student blogs) or device (e.g. iPads or Chromebooks) may leave even the most tech savvy teachers with lingering questions about how to best integrate the technology into their curriculum.

Furthermore, teachers need dedicated time to play, in the company of their peers, who may include teachers who share their level of technology expertise, as well as others who are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Teachers who quickly become proficient can become coaches for colleagues who need support. Sam Carlson and Cheick Tidiane Gadio write, “Key to successful teacher professional development programs is a modular structure, corresponding to different levels of teacher experience and expertise using technology,” and that, “Adapting materials to teachers’ comfort level and starting points is essential” (2007). When professional development is structured in this way, “…teachers new to technology can be exposed to the full series of professional development modules, while those further along on the learning curve can enter where their knowledge and skills stop, and help their less technology-savvy colleagues along” (Carlson & Gadio 2007).  Carlson and Gadio advise building an “ongoing community and systems of support from peers, mentors, and experts,” in other words: a CoP.

I have been lucky enough to participate in a number of CoPs, with educators across the country, within a private schools cohort, in my graduate studies, and within my own school. In each case I found myself fluidly switching roles from learner to teacher, depending on the topic and my level of expertise. I learned more from these highly collaborative learning experiences than I would have in an isolated independent learning environment. Beyond creating a learning environment that allows teachers to become confident, resourceful, and responsible users of digital communication technologies, a CoP models the type of learning environment teachers will need to create in their classrooms, where no one is helpless, and everyone – given time and support – will become a master!

Works Cited

  1. Carlson, S. (2007). Teacher professional development in the use of technology. In C. T. Gadio (Ed.), Technology for Education. Retrieved from http://www.ictinedtoolkit.org/usere/library/tech_for_ed_chapters/08.pdf
  2. Center for Digital Education. (2011). Digital Teaching and Professional Development. Retrieved from http://images.centerdigitaled.com/documents/CDE11+REPORT+FINAL_V.pdf

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