Teachers crossing the digital divide

Posted on August 6, 2007 
Filed Under Social Media

[From DelawareOnline.com]

A consortium of Delaware school districts won a US$400,000 federal grant that was used to train teachers to produce and use podcasts as a learning tool for their students.

That is why teachers — some of them self-confessed technology neophytes — are willing to give up a piece of their summertime to learn how to learn to bring the medium into the classroom for teaching purposes.

“Technology is here, it’s here to stay, and it’s just a case of bringing technology up to where they are,” language arts teacher Brian Conway said, referring to his seventh-grade students at Meredith Middle School.

He was one of 16 teachers — most of them in their 30s or 40s — who attended a two-day podcasting class at the school last month. “The world is even more dependent on technology. And if we don’t get up to that learning curve, we’re going to be left behind.”

iPods make podcasts portable, allowing the lessons to travel with students. “You can go on vacation with your family, and on the plane cover all the assignments you are missing,” Karen Hartschuh, an instructional technology specialist at Appoquinimink.

And in the classroom, as students create their own podcasts, the assignments become more important to them, Hartschuh said, because their Internet audience is global, rather than the 20 or 30 people who normally might see it in a classroom.

Podcasting also opens up doors that might be locked to a variety of other teaching methods, offering new avenues of instruction to students who learn more easily through visual or auditory mediums, she said.

“It’s an incredibly powerful tool, because students are digital consumers,” said Jane Keyes, a former teacher who teaches the podcasting institute for Apple Inc. at schools in the Northeast, including the recent session at Meredith Middle. “They work with technology constantly, and they multi-task. They’re used to learning by investigating, by being hands-on.”

With podcasting, she said, students also learn something about reading and writing along the way, because they have to draft a plan and research text to create a podcast.

The technology is catching on fast in schools, said Christine Dowd, another former teacher and an education development executive with Apple who also travels with the institute. She has helped train more than 500 teachers at about 30 schools in a little less than a year.

“What you find is that a school has to be open to students being creative,” she said of the typical participants. “It’s the forward-looking schools that realize this is a great learning tool.”

To be sure, not everyone is embracing podcasts.

“People can be very scared, because they don’t want to be foolish,” Keyes said. “There are still school districts all over whose teachers are struggling to use word processors.”

Tom Harrison, 52, a Meredith Middle teacher, has yet to use podcasting in his classroom, but looks forward to introducing it to his seventh-grade science students.

“To me, it’s another way to get to them,” he said. “You look at every trick you can to get them involved.”



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