A digital immigrant is defined as a person who was not raised with technology at their fingertips but has attempted to embrace it. I would call myself a reformed digital immigrant.
Although I was not raised with a smartphone in hand, I have embraced the changing technology to become a better teacher.
I began teaching in 1999 when cutting edge was knowing how to use the ditto machine and having overhead markers in more than two colors. In 2004 I was issued a laptop computer from the district and shortly thereafter a projector was mounted on my classroom ceiling.
I began to try my hand at Power Point presentations and attempted to move away from my binder of yellowed overhead transparencies.
Then came a morning in October 2006. I walked out to my car to find that it was broken into, and my school laptop was stolen. Everything that I had created was gone. It was at this moment that I was at a crossroads: Do I fall back on my yellowed transparencies or redo everything digitally? I chose the latter.
But rather than recreating the same lessons that I had used as a crutch for so many years, I forced myself to learn about new technologies that would reach students in new ways. The most important word is forced. I knew that more and more students were using technology in new ways and it was important for me to stay relevant as a teacher.
I truly had to set aside my doubts and fears of technology to become a more engaging teacher.
The students of today are called digital natives. Technology has been at their fingertips since birth. They yearn to use their smartphones in class yet are often punished when doing so. For students there is a disconnect. The students do not fear the digital world but many teachers do.
For this reason, we as teachers must step up and create lessons that integrate technology not for us, but for the students to be engaged.
For the past seven years, I have had the great privilege of teaching at the Center for Advanced Research and Technology. This is a CTE school that emphasizes research skills and technology application. Students from Fresno Unified School District as well as Clovis Unified attend labs that are innovative and tech-savvy.
As a teacher in the Law and Policy lab, I attempt to integrate the use of students’ smartphones into my curriculum. Students today not only want cutting-edge technology in the classroom, but actually need it.
Danny Mareco of SecureEdge Networks states that students need technology in the classroom to prepare them for future careers, to enhance collaboration within the classroom, and to teach digital citizenship skills. A world history teacher can teach about World War I by having the students create evidence of their learning.
I wanted to teach students how to write a clear thesis statement. I could have lectured on how to write one, or even showed a Google slide with the same information. Instead I used Twitter.
I simply set up a Twitter account and had students read an article about Jamba Juice. Their assignment was to narrow down the article to a 140-character tweet. Once they finished their tweet, they were instructed to add @jambajuice. I had the Twitter feed up on the screen for students to see and comment on.
Within 5 minutes, students were getting likes and comments from Jamba Juice. Not only did it teach them about thesis statements, but it made them excited in the process.
This method of teaching engages students and makes learning relevant because I used language that they use every day. I have also had success using Facebook to teach students how to effectively communicate within their collaborative groups. I have even had students download meme creation apps to bring political humor into the classroom.
Simply put, when we as teachers search out new apps and new technologies, students respond and will be engaged. Students continue to enjoy Google Applications to promote cooperative learning, Instagram to advocate for a social cause, Adobe Spark Page to create web-based presentations, REVEAL podcasts to stimulate discussion, and infographic software to organize their thoughts.
Bottom line, if we as teachers want students to be engaged and excited about our classes, we must use the devices, apps and technologies that excite them. Speaking as a teacher who has experienced success, my encouraging word to all teachers is that you can do it! Set your fears aside and surprise your students with tech assignments. We owe it to them.
For most students, the learning is in the palms of their hands.
Adam Higginbotham is a teacher in the Law and Policy Lab at the Center for Advanced Research and Technology in Clovis. Connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.