Educator Panel: What Tech Works in the Classroom

Learning Experience Designer

The first PDXedTech meetup of the new year was on February 5, 2020 at NWEA headquarters in downtown Portland. The topic—one of the top requests in our 2019 survey, in fact—was in the form of an educator panel focused on what technology works best in the classroom. Attendees heard from three veteran educators who knew firsthand what technology is working in their classrooms and why!

I’m a learning experience designer at Clarity Innovations—as well as a former Edtech TOSA (Teacher On Special Assignment), school librarian and high school English teacher—and I was honored to host this panel of guest speakers, which included:

Bev Satterwhite: 5th grade teacher, Illahee Elementary School
Bev has been involved in many different initiatives including developing a school makerspace, piloting iPads and Chromebooks in the classroom, and integrating technology into the classroom in many capacities. She remembers using MS-DOS in high school and creating a webpage as a portfolio in college! Her love of technology has really developed in the past few years, thanks to working closely with her students.

Ben Kort - Librarian/Media Specialist, Fircrest Elementary School
For the last three years, Ben has created a recess makerspace for students to have access to fun learning tools such as Ozobots, stop motion animation, movie making, and 3D printing. His first edtech memory is programming the Logo turtle on bulky old Macs at his elementary school in Kansas.

Debra Hernanz - Technology Teacher, Oregon Episcopal School
Debra’s job includes advising and coaching teachers on how to blend technology with instruction. She focuses on Education Technology, working with children and teachers on how to find ways to connect digital tools to learning and innovation. One of her first technology memories is when she got a digital watch for Christmas: she was nine years old and at the time it felt very cutting edge!

The panel discussion focused on the ever changing role of technology in the classroom and the challenges educators face when working to integrate technology into their teaching practice and classroom learning. When asked about how student-centered learning is supported or hindered by edtech, our panelists reminded us that it’s important to allow students agency and ownership. “I think it’s important to think about who is customizing the learning experiences,” Debra said. “If students play a part in creating the learning experience, it can be successful. My students search on YouTube for tutorials when they want to learn something. Then they talk to each other. Then they search more. Then they talk to me!”

The panelists also pointed out that edtech helps teachers to customize learning experiences by giving students opportunities to vary how they show mastery of concepts and skills. “While learning about tech is useful, it is more powerful when students use the tech to demonstrate learning or to showcase thinking,” Bev commented. “When choosing edtech in the classroom, I try to focus on which technology would allow students flexibility and creativity in their learning.”

Ben asked that edtech companies remember that developing solutions for educators doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Solutions need to be simple and easy to understand. If teachers aren’t able to solve problems in the moment—or easily have students gain access—the tool can be rendered useless for teaching and learning. Bev also raised a great point: “What might seem like a small troubleshooting challenge is often multiplied into a nightmare when it’s happening to 30 students at the same time!”

All of our esteemed panelists agreed that there is a lot that edtech is getting right, and they’re excited about the future of using technology for teaching and learning. They predict more advances in automating workflow for educators so that they can spend less time on administrative tasks and more time building relationships with students and facilitating learning. They also anticipate that the edtech innovations of the future will bring more opportunities for students to exercise agency and creativity using collaborative tools.

Listen to an excerpt from this enlightening panel!

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The PDX EdTech Meetup (a function of the Northwest Education Cluster, and organized by Clarity Innovations) is a gathering of Portland-based designers, developers, content creators, and business leaders working in the Educational Technology space. We look forward to seeing you at our next meet up!

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