When computers were first being made available to classroom teachers in the Des Moines Public School in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I was one of the first to raise my hand for one. In those days, teachers willing to learn about computers or incorporate them into the classroom were hard to find, so I had little trouble securing computers when they were available and I was often one of the few English teachers with a teacher station and student work stations for word processing. I felt that then, as I do now, that the writing process is enhanced by integration of computers into the instructional process. But there was little access to the Internet or attempts to use it as a learning tool. The teaching of all things Web was usually left to the school librarian who didn’t have the time to really teach students how to use search engines effectively. In my last two years, I was frustrated with the lack of access I had to the Internet in my classroom in terms of blogs and social networking. I knew there had to be a way to incorporate these things in the teaching of writing.
Today there is more access to and integration of computers by teachers and openness to social media in my old school district. Business teachers like Judy Renoux of Hoover High School use the Internet for research and can import YouTube vids and graphics into PowerPoints as well as construct websites and make movies.
Teachers use social media like Myspace and Facebook in curriculum relevent ways that have turned web surfing into something other than a toy or way to pass time in the eyes of students which is something that needs to be addressed if the Internet is ever to be seen as anything more than entertainment by the masses.
“There are some teachers who incorporate it into their curriculum. I do to a degree and so does Pilcher. Many teachers are using wiki’s and blogging. As those things get accessed and utilized for projects, we see fewer kids trying to abuse the privilege,” Renoux explained.
Timm Pilcher, Hoover’s journalism and media teacher, uses blogging to cover the legal and ethical issues of social media participation. His students use Blogger and create blogs that range from niche to multi-topic and he attempts to instill in them the understanding that they are “part of a larger cyber community and that there are inherent rights and responsibilities”.
Pilcher was in favor of the districts new direction.
“I pushed for openness because I think it is the classroom teacher’s responsibility to TEACH how to effectively utilize all forms of electronic communication. Otherwise, we are sending students out entirely unprepared on what is and is not appropriate in this digital age.”
But as ready as he and other teachers are the system itself isn’t necessarily.
“I don’t believe the district ‘pushes’ this kind of technology enough,” he says.” I have heard stories of blogging being discouraged because they fear irresponsibility, but I have no problems.”
Des Moines isn’t the only school district where technology and its possibilities are not being embraced as enthusiastically by administration as it is by forward thinking teachers and eager to learn real world skills students, Marsha Cutill-Price, a middle school language arts teacher in Illinois has found the pace at which technology makes its way into schools for teachers and students to use frustratingly slow. She is one of many teachers who integrate the Internet into curriculum if she could.
“Unfortunately because of technology restraints in my district, I am unable to explore wiki’s, but many great teachers do use them. I have a class blog and even that has been a battle with our archaic technology director.”
Social media extends beyond lessons plans too. Teachers in the Elk Island school district in Alberta, Canada, have class pages on school websites where the post weekly agendas and links to online learning sites and tools for their students. According to the Washington Post, some schools have Twitter accounts where parents can keep up on the latest news and there are teachers blogging their classrooms, like Betsy Blumberg of John Eliot Elementary in Massachusetts. Already a blogger, Blumberg began a classroom blog to keep parents in the know about class room projects and student achievements.
With state budget shortfalls currently forcing drastic cutbacks in education spending, it’s difficult to predict how the use of technology and the integration of social media will fare in the immediate future. Public school systems are not widely known for their ability to stay current with the latest technologies and innovations, but it seems that if the access remains, there are teachers ready and willing to make use of it.
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