How to Begin Integrating Devices in the Classroom

In speaking to colleagues about using technology in the classroom, the most frequent comment I hear is “I wouldn’t even know where to start!”

Starting is the hardest part- starting means we must give up our role in the front of the classroom and let devices be used as sources of information. Starting means we stop teaching in the ways we’ve traditionally been taught and instead become facilitators of information. Starting means embracing all of the devices that we’ve been struggling to keep out of our classroom. Starting means starting all over and wrapping our heads around a concept that didn’t even exist when we were students.

Why Did I Decide to Allow Students Use Devices in the Classroom?

I did a lot of research and concluded that embracing the technology would engage my students, eliminate my time spent policing phone use, and give students true marketable skills now that the playing field has been leveled when it comes to accessing information.

Tips For How to Start:

The first thing teachers need to do is mentally prepare for this journey. It will be worth it but it takes some mental preparation. If you are ready to embrace the technology and aren’t sure where to start, try the steps below.

  1. Group Work/Group Seating: the emphasis from individual, cubicle work has shifted to open-room group work in the work place. When you place students in groups all over the classroom (I use groups of six) you remove a “front of the classroom”- they are spread out and faced in every direction. This step helps in two distinct ways: it helps students learn how to navigate group dynamics, and they have to face each other and resolve conflicts that may arise in groups or one-on-one. Group seating also helps us teachers mentally detach ourselves from the front of the classroom.
  2. Allow the Electronics. In a classroom that embraces technology, there is not really a gray area with phones. It’s black and white- either we allow it or we don’t. I chose to experiment with allowing it this year. I told the students they could use their phones in my class but they had to follow the Courtesy Policy- if I or another student was attempting to provide them with information, their phones had to be down. I’ll admit that during the first four weeks I thought I’d made a mistake. Were they using their phones for academic purposes? Yes. Were they using their phones for texting? Sometimes yes, but their grades were maintained and they were turning in their work so I didn’t say anything. Week five came along and I noticed an unexpected shift- my students left their phones on their desks and when they received a text message they picked them up, looked at them, and then often put them down again. They learned how to prioritize their communication.
  3. Ask the Students For Help- Whenever You Need It. I began the first year by letting them know we would be going on an exciting adventure with a paperless classroom, smart phones, iPods, and a lot of unfamiliar computer software. I also told them it would be a roller coaster ride: there would be times the technology worked and we’d all be really happy and there would be times that it wouldn’t work the way we thought and we’d have to try something else. I invited them to explore this world with me, to celebrate the successes and help trouble-shoot the difficulties. They were game and found helping their teacher figure things out was actually pretty fun.
  4. Embrace the Sites You’ve Always Been Afraid They’ll Plagiarize…With a Twist. Let’s face it: our students live in a different world than we did and have real-time access to a staggering amount of information. Some is good, and a lot is bad. Help them analyze problems and figure out ways to fix them. For example, in English classes: have them use two online dictionaries and synthesize a definition from both or have them find essays online that are wholly inaccurate and ask them to explain what is wrong. In foreign language classes: have them use Google Translator regularly by taking the direct translations and showing what is wrong with them. In math classes: show them how to use the spreadsheet software like Excel and Google Spreadsheets possibly asking students to take real-life scenarios and convert them into mathematical equations/formulas. By teaching students how to use the incredible amounts of information available to them accurately and effectively, we will teach our students to analyze, dissect, compile, read critically, etc., which has been the goal all along.
  5. Don't Be Discouraged. Yes, you'll probably need to revisit the Courtesy Policy every couple of months. For the first couple of months, I begin every class with what the rules are about device use for the day. Figure out what works for you. Feel free to reign in when you need to. Create and Communicate times when devices are okay and when they are not. Take a deep breath every once in a while and smile, it will get easier as time goes by.

My Results

Interesting things begin to happen when we allow technology in the students’ hands. As teachers we start asking the students more and more frequently to pull out their phones and pull it up on the Internet. It only takes about four months each year before I rarely get asked questions about information anymore- students have learned how, where, and why to find things on their own. They also know that my answer will usually be "Google it." The students have enjoyed having access to their devices and the associated information, and it is my belief that this causes them to immerse themselves in their assignments and tap into their intellectual curiosity in a way that does not happen when they are going through the motions. The results so far have far exceeded my expectations. I’ve started putting their knowledge in their own hands and by empowering them to seek, they’ve learned far more than I could have ever taught them.