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Barriers and Firewalls: Roadblocks to Technology and Learning

Written by Kevin Hodgson
August 25, 2013

I have decided to use Prezi, which will be a brand new experience for me.  The learning is endless with this project. – Brad

The administration of the Donahue School has invested considerable resources into technology, with computer labs and rolling laptop carts and interactive boards available to most teachers. The school principal is an advocate of digital media as a means for learning, and she rightfully is proud of the technology she has been able to purchase for the building. The Donahue School is far ahead of the other elementary schools in its school district, in terms of hardware equipment.

But difficulties still exist on many levels for teachers thinking of engaging students with 21st Century skills. The district’s firewall is rather Draconian, and most requests for site access must go through a convoluted process in advance. Tech support is available, but not always accessible when needed in the moment.  For example, during the Skype session with Maggie Roberts, the video feed would not stream, and with no way to fix it, the session turned into a radio-style broadcast.  Teachers adapted quickly, a crucial skill when using digital media for learning.

Meanwhile, professional development that fully integrates technology into learning has been limited in scope at Donahue, as other needs in the school and district have taken precedence. Again, this situation is not unique to the Donahue School.

One of the goals of the NWP SEED grant initiative was to spark interest in digital literacy through the relatively seamless use of the tools in the professional development delivery, providing a mentor space for technology experimentation that might lead to classroom practice. The result became clear in many of the final reflection papers, as teachers talked about how they were introducing Edmodo to motivate reluctant writers, using the interactive boards for collaborative data gathering in a science class and for story planning in a writing class, and exploring alternative tools other than Powerpoint for presentations (such as Prezi and PowToons).

Finally, one collaborative team of teachers whose inquiry focused on the interactive boards hope to bring what they learned to the rest of their colleagues early in the school year, presenting their findings about the way the boards can help spark writing with students. They now see themselves as “experts” with the technology in the building, taking ownership and leadership to fill the void. Whereas before the SEED grant, these educators were reluctant to even approach technology, now they see it as an important road towards learning for themselves, as educators, and for their students, as learners in the digital age.

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