I can honestly say that I have never seen an overhead projector outside of a school, yet each fall, fleets of these antiques are rolled out of supply closets like aircraft carriers, gliding along corridors on carts complete with spools of clear film and cases of markers, ready to stain fingers and bore minds.
Whenever I stumble across a teacher whose red fingers belie a love of the overhead, I put on the full-court digital press. "Have you thought about trying to use Web 2.0 tools in your classroom yet?" I'll ask. Most often, the answer is no. By far, the most commonly quoted reason that the overhead still dominates instruction are limited numbers of classroom computers. "I only have two computers in my room," they'll say. "What am I supposed to do with that?"
My answer: Tons of stuff. How do I know? Because I only have three computers and an Internet connection in my classroom and we've jumped off the digital deep end!
A few suggestions:
Starting a classroom wiki as an easy first step into the virtual pool. These collaborative websites allow any user to add and edit information from any computer that has access to the Internet. My students have been jazzed by our wiki, creating over 80 pages of content related to our classroom curriculum since October. Providing opportunities for students to reflect on and revise their own thinking about school lessons is a great way to reinforce learning. efore long, your children will be posting to your wiki from home, from the computer lab, from the public library...and from the two computers in your classroom.
Best of all, learning to use a wiki is a lot like learning to fall off a bike—anyone can do it the first time you try! Wikis have editing toolbars that look just like most word processing programs and require nothing more than finding the "save" button to make updates. Most wiki services offer free wikis to educators. My favorite service (and I've tried each of "the big three") is PB Wiki.
Next, fire up a classroom blog or discussion board that gives students the opportunity to debate meaningful issues related to your curriculum with one another—and with an audience beyond your classroom. Blogs make student work public, bringing a measure of transparency to content conversations and student thinking that is rarely seen in traditional classrooms.
Students learn to listen to alternate viewpoints, shape their own thinking about topics, and wrestle with topics they may otherwise have never tackled. Don't believe me? Check out this post written on a student blog called The Blurb that questions what makes one heroic. Blogging is also easy...and free. Many teachers blogging with students have set up classroom forums using Blogger, a Google tool that is becoming more and more sophisticated over time.
Need another idea? Start some simple pod/vodcasting with your students. Recording audio reflections on stories and classroom curriculum has become easier than ever with new tools like Voicethread that allow users to narrate simple slide shows with nothing other than a microphone and an Internet connection. I created my first Voicethread for use in my classroom today in about 25 minutes. It's titled Looking into Faces, and it is designed to introduce my children to people from countries around the world. Like all of the other tools I've mentioned, Voicethread is free.
What leaves me most excited about digital tools is that each time I show my students what I've created using Web 2.0 tools, they come up with ten new ways to use them in their work in five minutes. Completely unintimidated, I see engaging applications and continued growth for months on end. That's just how kids who have grown up connected roll. Soon, I become the novice again, learning new tricks from twelve year olds.
That reality convinces me that incorporating technology into classroom instruction is rarely a hardware or software issue. In fact, I doubt that any number of new computers and whiteboards will significantly change instruction at all. Over investing in bells and whistles has gotten many districts nothing more than classrooms decked out with really expensive overhead projectors.
Instead, we need to invest in professional development that exposes teachers to the tools that our students have already adopted. As Marc Prensky wrote almost two years ago in his Edutopia article Adopt and Adapt, "If we want to move the useful adoption of technology forward, it is crucial for educators to learn to listen, to observe, to ask and to try all the new methods their students have already figured out, and do so regularly."