Technology Tools

A recent TeachNet Blog post “Blended Learning – So what is all the fuss?” gave a very clear and informative understanding of Blended Learning. It really is well worth a second or even third read for any teacher so that they can come to terms with the new classroom reality.
I think it is true to say that our current understanding of the traditional classroom has been consigned, for the moment anyways, to the history books! Pods, socially distanced pupils, hygiene regimes and so on have all eroded the school environment that we were all once used to! Throw into the mix the pupil, pupils or even whole classes that have to “Self Isolate” for a period of time while still engaging with their schoolwork and we can easily see how teachers have had to tear up the “Handbook” and reinvent their teaching methodologies.
Whether it is Blended, Distance or Remote, each model brings challenges for all of the education partners, teachers, pupils and parents. Teachers now have to take into account technology access both for themselves and also their pupils.

Teachers, understandably, have no control over the technology available in the home; pupils used to working with a Chromebook in school might have to use an iPad or a laptop in the home. Pupils might also be the last to have access to a laptop in the home if a parent is working from home during the normal 9 to 5 timeframe or if an older sibling also requires time on the laptop.
One thing that a teacher can control however is the applications in use; a core set of applications, familiar from the classroom, can be of great benefit.
Just before the Halloween Mid-term I was privileged and delighted to deliver a Zoom webinar to parents on behalf of the Education Centres of Ireland under their umbrella organisation, the ESCI (Education Centres of Ireland) who were tasked with supporting, in this instance, parents of Very High Risk pupils; these pupils are unable to attend school on a regular basis due to health reasons during the current pandemic. They are engaging with their teachers via online learning platforms such as MS Teams, Google Classroom or Seesaw.
During my preparation for this event I found that one of the over riding issues that parents highlighted from the original “Lockdown” event was that their experience with Online Learning was very negative because some teachers simply provided “Lots of Homework” type activities with little or no “Teaching / Instructional Activities”. Parents really appreciated the efforts that many teachers went to in preparing concrete instruction using video to explain new curriculum topics such as in Maths. Pupils were able to view these in their own time and at their own pace allowing for greater confidence and understanding when subsequently attempting assessments based on the topic.

Synchronous lessons with class based pupils and home based pupils presents any number of issues, none more so than GDPR and privacy; whether it is inadvertently including pupils in a web camera screen or “capturing” in-class management, discipline events it’s a veritable mine-field! If a teacher was to mirror their own desktop to an IWB then pupils at home would be visible to pupils in the class, a possible distraction as well as open to unforeseen “Zoom Bombing” incidents. The pre-recorded lesson or prepared activity is most definitely the best option.
In the previously mentioned Blog on Blended Learning, the info-graphic “Technology Wheel” is a real nugget, crammed full of ICT tools and their appropriate uses. During Zoom webinars with teachers organised by my Local Education Centres, some teachers spoke about their experiences with many of these ICT Tools while many others were interested in learning more about them.
One of the ICT Tools mentioned in the Technology Wheel is Nearpod which is in the Acquisition segment of the info-graphic. Nearpod could also legitimately be included in several of the other segments also. I think it is a very powerful tool and well worth taking a closer look at it; this video gives a very good overview of Nearpod.
Other interesting ICT Tools that have made an appearance this year and which I think will be of great benefit to teacher include:
Whiteboard.fi: an online interactive whiteboard with 3 different plans – Free, Basic and Premium.
Curriki: free tools to create interactive learning content.
Cloud Stop Motion: stop motion videos that can be used for digital storytelling.
Unsplash for Education: a source of license-free images for education.
Insert Learning: A Chrome extension that gives teachers the tools to turn a webpage into a learning artefact.
I hope all of the TeachNet community continue to thrive as they provide continued support and encouragement to the wider teaching community. Slán go fóill; Nollaig Shona agus athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh go léir.

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