Thursday, February 14, 2008

Free Technology For Teachers: Integrating Technology is Like Painting a Wall

In Sunday's Washington Post there was an interesting op-ed piece about TC Williams High School's (the one made famous by Remember the Titans) struggles with technology integration. Click here to read the full article.

The article starts out by stating that TC Williams has the best of all the new technology gadgets, but faculty morale is at an all time low. The author, a thirty year veteran of teaching, says that at first he thought it was just his generation that was struggling with TC Williams's new initiatives. He soon realized that even the young teachers were not happy. The author, Patrick Welsh, includes this quote from one of his younger colleagues, "It's technology for the sake of technology -- not what works or helps kids learn, but what makes administrators look good, what the public will think is cutting edge." That young teacher makes a very good point, using technology just because it's present doesn't mean that it is improving learning. It's important to remember that teachers need to be comfortable with the technology in order to be able to effectively incorporate it into their classroom instruction.

When I am teaching other teachers about technology integration I always stress the importance of getting comfortable with one application and try to use it in the classroom before branching out into another application. Typically for younger teachers trying too many things at once is an easy trap to fall into when it comes to technology. It's easy to get excited about a new piece of technology and want to go right out an use it with students. But if the teacher doesn't understand the bulk of the program that teacher and his/her students will be frustrated when things don't go exactly as planned. More veteran teachers like Mr. Welsh sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of computer applications they could use, but aren't comfortable using. The advice is the same try one computer application, get comfortable with it, then build from that base. This is like painting a wall, you have to sand and mud before putting on the primer and then finally putting on the glossy finish.

Is your school like TC Williams? Do you have advice you give to teachers just getting started with technology integration? Please leave a comment.

Free Technology For Teachers: New Free Screen Cast program is a new screencast creation program. Free Screen Cast offers a lot of the same features as Jing and other screencast programs. Downloading the software is free as is hosting and sharing your screencasts. Using Free Screen Cast is as easy as any other screencasting program as you'll see in the video below. The only criticism I have of is that they have not released a Mac version yet.

Applications for Educators
Screencasting is a quick and easy way to show rather than try to explain to students how to navigate through a computer application. While you are recording your screencast you can easily add your voice to give additional comments and directions. Screencasting could be used by students to add voice to a slide show they created on their computers. The students can easily set the timing of their voice to the slide show through a screencast.

Free Technology For Teachers: Benefits of Open Source Software

This week I have had a number discussions with various colleagues and administrators about technology budgets. It was apparent in those conversations that Open-Source software is being overlooked. Open Source software has a lot of benefits for schools, the biggest benefit being that Open Source programs are free. By using free software and web-applications schools can have more money to spend on technology issues teachers really care about. The most common complaint about or excuse for not using technology I hear from teachers is, about inadequate or and or outdated computer hardware. Use the money saved on software to invest in improving computer hardware and networks.

The other benefit of Open Source software that I share with colleagues is the benefit of teaching students to use software applications in a variety of situations. For example, I taught my Social Studies students how to create a wiki with an open source program now those students are creating a wiki as part of project in a science course. The knowledge of how to use software crosses content area lines. The skills my students learn using open source software in Social Studies is a skill that they can take with them after graduation. That said, I'm not completely against proprietary software, but I do think that those making budget decisions should investigate free alternatives before purchasing software.

To read more about Open Source software click here.

This humorous video shares another benefit of open source software.

Open Source and Proprietary Software Spoof Ad 2 from rkalajian on Vimeo.

Free Technology For Teachers: OttoBib - Easy Biblio

OttoBib is a free and easy way to create a bibliography. The process is simple, enter the ISBN of the book you're citing, select the citation style you need, and then submit your request. In seconds you'll have your properly formatted bibliography.
Below is a short video about the OttoBib service.