Communities of Practice: How do we use technology at our school?

This week for my Master’s of Educational Technology course at MSU, I was asked to examine trends in technology use within my school.  I wrote and sent a survey to all seventh and eighth grade teachers I work with (17 teachers – roughly 50% of the teachers at the school), and 12 teachers responded (71% completion rate).  These teachers have a range of experience and time at our school.

To see the full survey, click here.

I work at a middle school that puts a large emphasis on technology. In fact, I had the opportunity to sit in on interviews for a new Spanish teacher for the upcoming year and I noticed that my principal specifically looks for candidates who have used technology in the past and who do not seem afraid to try new tech tools.  My school is in an upper-middle class suburb of Indianapolis with 1:1 computers in the classroom, so each student has his or her own computer that is rented from the school or brought from home. The large majority of students have access to Internet at home.  Following the ideas of TPACK (Technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge) and PLNs (Personal/Professional Learning Networks), how can we choose the right tech tools for our classrooms and learn about new technology to bring into the classroom? Where are our other colleagues learning about new tools? What do these teachers think about when using a new tool in the classroom? When do they decide what is the right tool and when to use it? These were the main questions I used to create my survey.

Looking through the results (to see the full analysis and graphs, click here), there were some major trends that were surprising and many were not surprising.

What was not surprising?

  1. Teachers are not afraid of new technology.  Most teachers said they were comfortable to very comfortable working with new technologies in the classroom.
  2. 92% of teachers use some sort of technology as part of instruction for at least some part of the hour everyday.  Our school uses the online classroom management tool Canvas to upload documents, have an online discussion, turn in student work, or create assessments. Every student has access to this website on his/her computer.
  3. My colleagues value collaboration.  Many teachers plan together and definitely share resources with one another.  It was not surprising that they learn about new tech tools primarily from one another.  It is easy to trust someone you work with and value what tech tools they see as important.
  4. Teachers looked at many factors before implementing a new technology in the classroom.  Teachers looked at how well they knew the technology, whether the technology is reliable, and how the technology would align with the learning objective of the lesson. This fits well with the TPACK model, where teachers are looking at what they are teaching, how they will teach it, and the technology that will make their teaching most effective.

What did surprise me?

  1. 83% teachers noted that they use videos/YouTube as one of their top technologies for instruction. With this many teachers using videos, it surprises me that we have not had professional development or workshops recently specifically towards creating videos or flipping the classroom.
  2. Teachers do not have large Professional Learning Networks (PLNs).  When I asked where teachers find new technologies, only 25% cited blogs or other websites (including blogs/Twitter) as one of their top two resources for finding new technologies.  Since 92% of teachers named other colleagues as one of their top resources for learning new tech tools, where do those other colleagues learn these new tools? If these teachers joined PLNs (groups online that share ideas, resources, etc. with one another through blogs, forums, Twitter, etc.), they could have more resources to share with their colleagues!
  3. In regards to interest in professional development formats, I found it interesting that 75% wanted to attend presentation by colleagues from the same content area, but only 16% ranked presentations by colleagues from different content areas at the top of their list. Since there is already so much collaboration within departments, I thought more teachers would want to learn from teachers in other content areas.


Pulling it all together:

As seen through these responses, it is clear that our middle school is not afraid to try new technology and has the resources available (mainly computers) to use them.  As technology is always evolving, we as teachers need to evolve too.  We should not stay within our comfort zones with technology or within the comfort of our own departments.  Since these teachers already use a lot of tech tools, it would be easy to forget to dedicate time for technology-focused professional development.  Our professional development should vary in format, since teachers had different preferences on how they would like PD to be presented.  Additionally, since these teachers are already so willing to share and learn from one another, we could even have PD to explain PLNs or set up classroom observations to see what tech tools other teachers are using. That way teachers can keep up to date on what tools are available and feel more comfortable implementing them in their own classroom. Finally, since many teachers are already gravitating toward the ideas in the TPACK model, they could benefit from a focused discussion about the TPACK model so we don’t fall into the trap of using technology for the sake of using technology.

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