Back to school we go!

I love this time of year. Planning my courses, getting things organized, starting to meet the students; the anticipation of a fun new term is upon us, and I can’t wait to get back into the classroom.

I’m incorporating a lot of technology into my courses this term, not only for the teaching part but for my own professional development too. I thought I’d share a bit of what I’m up to with you, in the hopes that it’s helpful.

Set up a Facebook Group
I want to start with Facebook, because there are so many misconceptions about using Facebook in the classroom. Many teachers don’t want anything to do with the tool, because they think it jeopardizes their privacy if they become “friends” with their students. Well, the thing of it is, you absolutely don’t have to become friends with your students to use Facebook with them. Simply set up a Closed Group, and send out the link to your class. They click the link, and they will see a button to request permission to join the group. You let them in, and they can see what everyone is posting in the group, but if they click on your name, they won’t see your profile (provided you have it locked down). So, you can connect and share with your students on the platform they use the most, and you don’t have to worry they will see conversations you’re having with your friends in your main Facebook stream.

Record Your Lectures
One of the most frustrating things for me as a teacher is catching students up when they’ve been absent. I do not like to have to repeat myself time and again, as it wastes the time of the other students. But absences happen, and will continue to happen. But since I’ve started recording all my lectures, it’s become much less of an issue. I post my recordings to the BlackBoard LMS that my college uses, but you can post them to your own web site too or to a site like SoundCloud or Libsyn (note: both are paid options but really reasonably priced). Some institutions even share their lectures to iTunesU either publicly or privately, so their students can subscribe.

There are plenty of tools out there for recording your lectures. You can audio record using a tool like Audacity (provided you have a microphone), but I’ve had just as much success with using the built in Audio recorder on my smart phone. My college now uses Camtasia Relay, which lets me record my audio along with my computer screen as a video that can be shared with students. Check with your college to see if they are using Camtasia too – it’s a wonderful thing.

With my lectures recorded, my students don’t have to worry if they miss a class, because they can catch up easily. Additionally, students can go and re-listen to lectures at any time if they want to review material. It helps them to be more successful and saves me the time and effort of having to explain things over and over again.

Flipping the Classroom
I think the biggest shift I’m making this year is I’m flipping my classroom. I’ve written a series of posts on it (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), if you’re interested in how I’m going about it. Suffice it to say, this wouldn’t be possible without technology. By creating a series of training videos on YouTube, and linking that to a WordPress web site that students will review as their homework, my class time is now all about applying learning and working on real, creative projects. I’m really excited about what this means for the classroom experience and the overall success of my students. They will have the opportunity to learn new skills at their own pace and have the satisfaction of being able to create and collaborate in the classroom. It’s a very good thing.

Professional Development
I think a lot of teachers are still fearful of technology. After all, we’ve done it a certain way for so long – making photocopied handouts, using class time for step-by-step training and lectures, and spending too much time re-explaining things to students who are absent. That’s why I think it’s vitally important for teachers to do what they can to educate themselves on technology. The more you know, the less fear inducing is, right?

There are some terrific resources out there that I use to learn about technology in the classroom – what works, what doesn’t and things I can try. I follow the #edchat and #flipclass hashtags on Twitter, because there are amazing conversations going on all the time. I learn a ton. You can follow too, just by going to http://twitter.com/search and typing in the hashtag (with the “#”). You don’t even need a Twitter account to do this!

I also subscribe to Edutopia, which is an amazing resource for educators. It has a ton of case studies, strategies, videos and blogs for educators and a great community to boot.

Finally, keep tabs on what’s going on at your own school in terms of professional development. Take advantage of the training being offered, it’s often free or at least very low cost if you’re faculty. Schools will often give you the tools – but it’s up to you to really take charge of learning how they can work in your class.

These are just a few ways I’m using tech in the classroom. Does it all work perfectly, all the time? Well, no, but that’s part of the learning. But I do know that my experience as a teacher and most importantly, my students’ learning experience is being greatly enhanced by what I’m doing with technology.

Give some of these things a try, and share your thoughts in the comments!

[photo credit: Jeremy Wilburn]