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Sue McIntyre: Beyond the Digital Curtain- Bringing Technology Into the Classroom and Professional Development

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January 30, 2012 03:05 pm


The following article is provided by Sue McIntyre, a composition instructor at Humboldt State University and director of the Redwood Writing Project.

The Redwood Writing Project (RWP) is a National and California Writing Project site located on the rural coast of Humboldt County–a full five- to six-hour drive on winding roads north of San Francisco. Such remoteness offers challenges, and many of our Teacher Consultants (TCs) have found that digital tools are one way to enhance communication with (and between) our students and bring the world on the other side of our so-called “Redwood Curtain” into the classroom. Despite our efforts to keep up with technology, though, few of us are digital natives, and we realize that our students are coming into our classrooms with a whole set of skills we don’t have. To address this gap, we began to inquire into the best practices of tech-based teaching and explore some of the many digital platforms available to educators. For the past five summers, 8-12 TCs per year have participated in summer technology institutes, learning about blogs, wikis, podcasts, glogs, and more. We’ve developed classroom-learning platforms, integrated digital learning opportunities into our current curriculum, and shared our successes and failures. In the past three years, we’ve begun taking what we’ve learned into the community, partnering with K-12 schools and districts and offering technology workshops to teachers throughout the area.

One successful example of such digital-learning professional development is RWP’s

Research and Technology Skills to Support History Day, a partnership with the Teaching American History project. Nineteen teachers representing 13 school sites are studying how to best support students with their development of history-based expository essays, dramatic performances, documentaries, and websites. RWP Associate Director Marsha Mielke, a high school Library Media Teacher, and TC Jeannie Hassler, a physical education teacher, kicked the group off with a two-day workshop last summer, during which teachers inquired into and shared best practices in teaching research skills, plagiarism prevention, script writing, story boarding, image and video editing, and website content management. As expected, many teacher participants were most concerned with the technological aspects–lacking confidence in website development and film editing in particular. They reported that they hadn’t encouraged their students to engage in tech-heavy projects before because of their own uneasiness with the platforms or an uncertainty regarding how to ensure that the classroom focus remained on the history lessons involved–rather than on the technical aspects of building a website or editing a video.

It surprised a lot of participants that the second half of this equation–how to integrate tech platforms into lesson plans–was really the area on which they needed to focus. However, when one high school teacher recognized that her students would likely know more than her about the website platform but were unskilled in using it to learn and share their knowledge with others, the group agreed. With a sense of relief, the conversation became less centered on teacher’s fears of technology and more on how they could encourage students to learn new things using the technology available.

The end results of the curricular plans made during the summer and supported through face-to-face meetings and ongoing discussions on the group’s blog are just beginning to reveal themselves, as students’ initial History Day projects are being submitted in the coming weeks and the inquiry-group teachers will be meeting again in February to discuss the outcomes. Nevertheless, a few early website submissions developed by students at McKinleyville High School provide a sampling of the overall success:

In addition to the quality products evident thus far, teacher participants in the Research and Technology Skills to Support History Day partnership have reported that students were more actively engaged in the process of learning about their topics, documenting their sources, and developing thoughtful projects that engage their intended audience when they made use of digital platforms. Ultimately, that’s no surprise to RWP TCs. Inquiry-based classroom practice–in this case, digital teaching and learning–directly correlates to student success. It’s never too late to get started, either: If you’re a tech-reluctant teacher, seek out opportunities to engage in tech-based professional development and bring digital learning into your classroom. Look beyond your self-imposed Digital Curtain, educate yourself, and inspire your students to learn.

To learn more about Digital Learning Day, which is February 1, 2012, visit the Digital Learning Day website.

Digital Learning Series

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