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EDTECH 541: Obstacles and Solutions for Tech in the Classroom

One of the biggest challenges with integrating technology into any curriculum is making sure everybody has the equipment and software they need to actually use technology. Once that barrier is solved, a common problem in the sciences is the teachers don’t know their content matter well enough to understand some of the websites that are available. Of course, like most of my blogs I am speaking from personal experience.

I shared a classroom with a teacher who seemed to be proud of the fact she was teaching AP biology, even though she had never taken a genetics class in college. If you have been keeping track of my bashing her, you may recall this is not a veteran teacher. She also liked to point out how she was the youngest in our department. If anybody should know how to do the latest math with genetics, it should be she. She had no clue. Because she, as well as many AP bio teachers, do not understand allele frequencies and genotype frequencies, software that is available to help teachers with those concepts won’t be effectively used by said biology teachers. I have to admit that I did not understand Chi Square very well, even though I supposedly taught it. It was a statistical test we were supposed to do to see if our class was in Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium. This is part of the Alu analysis at the DNALC website so the computer does the statistical computation for us. Heck, the math is the easy part because all we have to do is put in our data, and it will calculate a Chi Square value for us. As the teacher, though, I should be able to explain Chi Square. (Thankfully after taking stats at BSU, I have a much better understanding of Chi Square and could explain it now.)

The other personal experience I have with packaged software being available online is with Gizmos. The labs at Gizmos are not free. I worked for a company that paid for access to the labs. Personally I would not subscribe to Gizmos because as exciting as they can be, some of their lab concepts are so obscure or picky that I really have no clue why we should spend any time doing that particular lab. I was working for a virtual school that did not have lab kits for students to use. All of our science labs were virtual. That virtual lab experience was horrible. So with Gizmos, there were two problems for me. Sometimes it took me hours to figure out what the heck they were asking students to do, so there was the limitation of my brain power.  The second problem was trying to figure out how to make connections between the Gizmo labs and the scripted curriculum.

The company for whom I was a “teacher”, started developing their own virtual labs, which had a lot of potential. Unfortunately they were using a platform that crashed easily so the year I was with them, it was really tough to count on the labs working. They also created labs where students can’t make mistakes, and see outcomes of their mistakes. It is bad enough that students can’t make a mess of objects to do a lab, but with many virtual labs, they can’t make a mess of the data or outcomes either.

As for technology challenges in classrooms that have tables and chairs, barriers for science classes are usually time. The kids I last taught were trained on how to get the Mac laptops on and off the cart, so we did not lose too much class time the days we used the Macs.  We could only use the Macs, though, for Internet research or word processing. We did not have enough computers to have lab stations in the classroom, however there was one PC that stayed in one spot so we could take digital images of our gels. The PC, though, was not connected to the school’s intranet, nor could it go online, because we were a Mac school and did not have the necessary firewalls for the PC. Of course, I said I’d buy the software, but for the physical location of the computer to be with the equipment we needed to use to take the images, it was not possible to run an Internet cable to the computer. There was no way they were going to let me put the PC on the intranet.

Since I bought the PC, nobody could complain that there were liquids near it. You stain your gels in containers that have liquid. Biotech labs are wet labs. That is another challenge for science teachers- having stations or handheld devices to use Probeware, or other computer based learning devices, set up so liquids don’t cause problems.

I am not planning to do the science/math lesson plan because I want to push myself to think in the context of the other disciplines. Looking at the options for the science section, though, I am reminded of a couple of the challenges with online science class sites. First, is figuring out which exercise can be used for my class in the time frame I have to dedicate to that topic. Second, is figuring out if asking students to do a particular lab at home makes sense. I’m all for having students videotape themselves doing the lab and getting credit for doing a lab that way. Digital evidence gets points in my book. Some of the “labs” I found online, however, are either really difficult, use dangerous equipment, or don’t make sense / are not worth the time. In contrast, some of the labs are awesome and I’d happily ask students to do them as homework.

How to fix these issues? Hire the right people to do the job. I’ve applied to work for companies that do virtual explanations or virtual labs, but nobody has hired me to be a teacher consultant or a designer. I know how we’ve been taught about ADDIE and how you need to get stakeholder input. I seriously think they have not gotten authentic teacher input for much of the virtual stuff that is out there for serious science teachers to use. I participated, voluntarily, for anything I could get involved with when I was in the classroom. I trial tested the Living by Chemistry curriculum so I know it works with kids. I’m not going to denigrate the students I taught, but I can tell you I did not teach in a monetary wealthy area. I got paid in 2013 to draft a virtual community college chemistry e-textbook, but I have a feeling my ideas were so anti-mainstream, that that is the reason they did not ask me to continue on the project. Traditional chemistry works in the classroom because it makes sense. It does not make sense online because kids don’t actually do any chemistry in a virtual class. Teaching them the names and uses of equipment is the easiest way to turn off a student taking a virtual chemistry course. I digress…

I’ve taken over thirty courses online from at least a half a dozen schools or companies in the past four years. I’ve seen some good teacher / instructor habits, but for the most part, people don’t know the software they are using. To fix the obstacles we have with science teachers not using technology for science, we need to make the technology available, have it be a part of their regular professional development, and make sure when they do the technology requirement for their teaching credential, that they actually do something with the already existing platforms, so when they do their lesson plans, they can incorporate the technology in a useful way. If we’re going to have teachers jump through hoops, we might as well make them as authentic as possible.

EDTECH 541: Hypermedia

This entry is a video blog. Hopefully it will be embeded!