Q&A: How Students Can Help Teachers Use Technology for Learning

June 10, 2013
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, United States
CATEGORIES Digital Citizenship, Digital Literacy, In the Classroom, Technology Integration

A thirty-year veteran educator, technology trainer Lisa Hogan teaches students and faculty in Topsham, Maine to better use new digital media tools to transform learning as part of Maine’s innovative 1:1 laptop program. We talked with her about how technology is changing learning and her school’s student-led iTeam.

Common Sense Media: Why did you first decide to teach digital literacy?

Lisa Hogan: I was teaching science at the middle school when Governor Angus King envisioned the idea of supplying all Maine 7th and 8th grade students and teachers with wireless laptops. When the laptops in the fall of 2002 arrived and students began to use them I pretty quickly I thought, there’s a whole lot more to these devices than just word processing. It was a real adventure. I often say to people that everything I knew about teaching went out the window. My job is to collaborate and coach teachers in technology and learning. I’ll go into classrooms and help teachers use technology and sometimes I’ll help a group of students work on projects that are outside of the box. I think you have to teach digital literacy along with technology. There’s just no way around it.

Common Sense Media: How has technology changed what happens in classrooms?

LH: Especially in science, there are so many things you can now see with technology—the way molecules move for example. I realized that the universal design features such as text-to-speech built into these devices made the content more accessible. It really empowered the students. All of a sudden, kids are going, “Oh my gosh, I get it.” All of a sudden I began to see that I didn’t have to teach a whole class because I can actually set up four or five different lab stations in my room, record a video of how to do the labs, and upload them online. This allowed me to have four or five things going on in my classroom instead of just one, and allowed kids to move at their own pace.

I also discovered that because of technology, that I had the ability to access experts online. I would email experts from all over the country asking them to communicate with my students—this was before Skype existed. The kids would be crafting their emails to these experts after school hours, sending me emails of drafts, and I said, “Wow, these kids are so engaged in a way they’ve never been before.” It was really transformative for kids. They would never have had that experience before we had technology in the classroom. I just felt like it was making learning real for these kids.

Common Sense Media: What’s your favorite part of your job?

LH: I think my favorite part of my job is seeing teachers grow in the ways they use technology. I have just seen teachers grow over time, going from very simple things like building a web page, to more complex things, like creating a literary blog for discussion. It’s really great to see teachers begin to learn to troubleshoot their own problems. I always say, “YouTube is your friend. I bet you’ll be able to find a video that explains how to do that.”

It’s great watching teachers become empowered and try new things. I feel very lucky to have the job I have, I think professional development happens best when it’s co-taught in the classroom. When that happens, I can see people really grow in their practice, and that’s just a wonderful thing. 

Common Sense Media: Have your colleagues embraced the use of technology in classrooms? What has surprised you most about this work?

LH: I was surprised, and it was a pleasant surprise, that the teachers were ready to accept help from students in terms of how to use technology. You know, in those initial years where teachers wanted to do simpler things, I would say, “I’m not in the school today, but I have a student who can help you.” A little later, they would email me back raving about the student and tell me that they would contact the student the next time they needed help. The partnerships that formed, really continue to grow.

Common Sense Media: Tell me about your school’s iTeam. Who’s on the team and what do they do?

LH: They are a group of high school students that help me support teachers. They help with the deployment and collection of 900 laptops, which means they must come to school as early as 5:30 a.m. for deployment. They also attend professional development days and help me help teachers with projects they want to develop.

They’ve also created a video for faculty and students about caring for laptops, and have presented their work to international visitors from Sweden, Denmark, and Singapore. The kids actually give up their lunchtime to work on the iTeam. The iTeam includes everyone from athletes to musicians, and they aren’t even exactly what I would call tech-savvy kids, but they’re willing to learn. They keep me informed about what’s going on with the school network such as slow downs or blocked websites. They’re a good voice to have within the school.

Common Sense Media: What kinds of things do they work on?

LH: Last year one of the senior students wanted to do his Senior Capstone Project on digital citizenship. At first, I said, “I think you need to read a couple books and read some Common Sense Media lessons then come back to me with specific ideas about what you want to do.” Well, he did, and decided he wanted to talk about three things: digital footprint, privacy and intellectual property.

His idea was to teach high school freshman about these things. He worked with all 200 freshmen at the high school.  They came to his presentations with their advisors. As he’s working with the kids, the teachers are going, “Really? I never knew that! Is that true?” My realization was that maybe we need to have the iTeam students working with adults, including parents and community members, instead of just supporting the teachers.

Common Sense Media: What do you tell teachers who are looking to experiment with new technology?

LH: I reassure them that they are the experts of the content, that they know the content better than anyone else. I acknowledge that working with technology is hard work, that it involves taking some risks, but that the payoff will generally be well worth it. I let them know that I’m there, that I’ve made plenty of mistakes with technology and I’m sure I’m going to make more, but that making those mistakes is how you learn.

Anytime you’re using technology there are risks. For us, in Maine, our technology is pretty rock solid. We use Macs, and there are very few technology issues, but sometimes teachers can be nervous. It can be hard to use technology when you do not feel like an expert.  Getting over that hurdle of taking that risk can be difficult for some. Teachers feel an insurmountable pressure to cover content, and if you’re concerned about covering content, taking risks using new technology can provide more pressure. I think there’s a lot of conflict there.

Common Sense Media: What are your plans for the future?

LH: At some point I hope I get back in the classroom.  I cannot imagine going back to the classroom without 1:1 computing. It’s inconceivable. I work nationally as well, and I am always amazed at how far ahead we are in Maine in terms of what we do with students, learning, and technology. I’ll hear people say things and think, “We talked about that five years ago.” We’re really fortunate.