From videoconferencing around the globe to game-based learning, technology is finding a very comfortable fit in K-12 schools across the country. More schools are using computers as a tool to teach core curriculum and less to teach how to use computers, according to the fourth annual Teachers Talk Tech study, sponsored by CDW Government, Inc. In the survey, conducted by Quality Education Data, teachers noted that technology is changing the way they teach in dynamic ways. Nearly 70 percent of teachers said they relied on technology to teach critical-thinking skills, and 60 percent used it to teach scientific concepts. So it's no wonder that digital storytelling and more are catching on and taking off. These five ed-tech trends are on many administrators' radar screens and in use in a number of districts. "These have become trends because they've been tested out, work, and have an educational application," says Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN, an ed-tech nonprofit that works with K-12 technology leaders. Read on to find out more about what they are, who's using them, and what makes them worth using in your schools.
In this post-9/11 world, when there's a crisis at a school, reaching parents quickly is critical. That's why more schools are choosing emergency notification services, using e-mail, text-messaging to cell phones, or recorded voice messages delivered to thousands of parents in minutes. Schools provide parents' contact data to the notification companies which store that data electronically, allowing administrators to access the data via the Internet to make changes and updates. If there's an emergency, administrators contact the company and, within minutes, parents are contacted by their mode of choice. When there isn't an emergency, administrators have found these systems ideal to remind parents of special events or even a truant student. "Mass notification creates a direct line of communication between the school and community," says Marc Ladin, vice president of marketing for the National Notification Network in Glendale, Calif. For the Metropolitan School District of Wayne (Ind.) Township, in Indianapolis, emergency notification systems have "been a significant enhancement to our emergency preparedness process," says Chuck Hibbert, coordinator of safety and transportation services at the 14,000-student district. "I think this will quickly become the norm for schools because it provides an ideal service to parents without hiring extra staff to do it."
Who's doing it
Several companies provide immediate emergency notifications to parents. Some include:
Honeywell Instant Alert for Schools www.honeywell.com/instantalert
National Notification Network www.3nonline.com
K12 Alerts www.k12alerts.com
K12 Mobile-School Emergency Broadcast System www.vbrick.com/securityk12
ConnectED (by The NTI Group) www.ntigroup.com
Digital storytelling is not new, but it is growing rapidly in schools across the country as more teachers understand how to use technology to help students in language arts and writing. It has taken off so quickly that at the 2006 conference of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education there were more than 30 sessions on digital storytelling. The previous year there was only one session on the subject. But, as experts explain, digital storytelling is more than slapping together music, images and a voice over. It is about using media to help students write and tell their own stories. The piece of writing becomes a recorded narrative, and images-mostly photography-are connected to that recording. "There's a sense of motivation and authorship that this tool provides to teachers and students," says Joe Lambert of the Center for Digital Storytelling. A number of teachers use digital storytelling in their classrooms and some schools even use it as a mode of teaching. Scott County (Ky.) Schools went one further and created a digital storytelling center. The center, which opened in 2002, is a collaborative effort between the district and the county's public library. There are also nonprofit organizations, like the San Franciso-based Streetside Stories, working with schools on digital storytelling. Linda Johnson, executive director of Streetside Stories, has been using mobile labs to teach digital storytelling to inner-city students in the Bay Area for the past three years. "Students are so much more excited about writing and speaking and pulling together artifacts of their lives and experiencing it in a new way," she says.
Who's doing it
There are a number of non-profit organizations and groups with Web sites about digital
The Center for Digital Storytelling www.storycenter.org
Streetside Stories www.streetside.org
3.Educasting for iPods
MP3 players aren't just for storing and listening to music. K-12 educators are catching on to the ways they can help with learning, namely, through podcasts. Podcasting (or educasting as it's called in education circles) allows educators to share information. There are three types of podcasts: audio (for the MP3 players), enhanced (like a PowerPoint on steroids with links to podcasts), and video (a full-motion video). Most audio podcasting can be done on any MP3 player, but the more sophisticated video podcasts require the video iPod. Either way, podcasts are changing the look of student work and raising the bar on performance. "This is a way to get kids to master educational uses and challenge themselves to do meaningful work, and it's happening," says Tim Tyson, principal of Mabry Middle School in Marietta, Georgia. Eric Langhorst, an eighth-grade history teacher at South Valley Junior High School in Liberty, Missouri, uses free software, such as Audacity, to upload podcasts to the Web. which his students can download to MP3 players, burn to a CD, or listen to directly from the Internet on their computers. "This is another way of communicating with my students, and for several of them it's helped with how they've done on tests," he says. Langhorst creates "studycasts" for his students-a podcast with information students need to know for upcoming tests. "Almost half of my students have MP3 players, so it's a real easy way to share information with them, and I think they actually listen to the information closer when it's on their MP3 player," says Langhorst.
Who's doing it
Apple Computer has the ever popular iPod and video iPod. However, Microsoft is working on a rival video MP3 player that will be able to show video podcasts as well. Some include:
Creative Labs Inc hus.creative.com
Call it game-based learning. Call it edutainment. Regardless, the use of video games in teaching is gaining ground in classrooms and it isn't likely to ease up. In the past, games and schooling have been very separate, but more companies are providing ways for educators to make this a mainstream tool to help with student learning. In fact, according to the 2006 America's Digital Schools research report, school districts report using 27,898 portable gaming devices in 2006, and estimate that the number will grow to 148,451 units in 2011. As new generations of even more powerful devices emerge, this trend will likely continue. What does this mean in the classroom? "This is a medium that educators can use to involve and engage students in ways that textbooks and other mediums can't," says Pam Nelson, a consultant and expert in game-based learning. "These games intrinsically motivate students," she adds. "They're not bored, but tuned in." Nelson said using games for teaching is especially helpful with boys. The action is constant, the children are controlling how hard or easy it is, and, if they lose, they do so in private. Officials at the Kane County (Ill.) Regional Office of Education started using Kid's College and other products from Learning Through Sports to reach their tech-savvy students and get them more interested in learning. The other advantage was that the technology is aligned with state standards and might help some of the schools in the region meet adequate yearly progress. Says Clem Mejia, the region's superintendent: "We've been able to monitor the students and know that they stay on for hours playing these games. We're reaching them with something they like doing, and they're learning at the same time. That's what education should be like."
Who's doing it
There are several companies that are developing educational software to work on video games or other edugaming programs. Some of them include:
Learning Through Sports www.learningthroughsports.com
Muzzy Lane Software www.muzzylane.com
WILL Interactive www.willinteractive.com
Resolve Labs www.paxwarrior.com
Tabula Digita www.tabuladigita.com
Videoconferencing has long been an integral part of distance education. But where distance learning focuses more on providing educational services to schools in rural and remote areas, videoconferencing has gone much further to provide real-time learning experiences for students in all parts of the country. Better and less expensive technology, combined with the rapidly growing availability of videoconferencing sites and content providers, made video-conferencing affordable and accessible to most K-12 classrooms, says Patsy Partin, director of Vanderbilt University's Virtual School. In short, videoconferencing connects two or more schools in different parts of the country or world in real time. You can use a television, computer and projector together with a whiteboard to "connect" with your other party, as long as it's interactive and in real time, Partin explains. "The power of videoconferencing is connecting in real time so students can ask questions and get answers instantly," she says.
The Virtual Learning Center, in St. Louis, Missouri, has used videoconferencing to connect dozens of schools in the area to experts in Rwanda, Iraq and Sudan for lessons. There's no way we can take these students on a plane to have them experience what's happening in these countries, and old video just doesn't capture them," says Ruth Litman-Block, director of the VLC, which is part of the Cooperating School District, a regional education center. The center also uses videoconferencing for professional development, but, says Litman-Block, it is the field trips and real-time experiences that have captured students' attention and have motivated them to get involved in a cause. "Seeing it and being able to talk to someone about it-and seeing the person they are talking to-makes a big difference with the kids," she says.
Partin believes videoconferencing is a fast-growing trend that will soon become the norm in K-12 classrooms, especially as equipment costs decrease and educators see the benefits of being truly "connected classrooms."
Who's doing it
There are a number of content providers for videoconferencing. Content providers include major institutions, such as museums, libraries, cultural centers and universities, as well as individual musicians, authors and business professionals. They can create curriculum on a subject, set up videoconferencing field trips and extend learning in almost any subject and grade level.
The Center for Interactive Learning www.cilc.org
Lucille Renwick is a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles.