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Tech Tidbits: Increasing Teachers’ Digital Efficiency

2011 August 21
by Kim Cofino

Phew! This has been quite a week! Our CLC (1:1) Orientation went amazingly smoothly, thanks to all of the wonderful YIS colleagues involved, and now all of our students in grades 6 – 12 (around 400) have their own laptop! I’ve been getting emails, chats and FB updates all weekend about how happy the students are with their new MacBook Pros. I absolutely can’t wait to see where this new adventure takes us as a school community over the next year.

ChecklistAs I was designing the orientation sessions for students, particularly the session on Managing Your Laptop, one thing jumped out at me: understanding how to be digitally efficient can make the difference between loving your laptop and constant frustration. I mean, if you know how to use CMD/CTL+F to find what you’re looking for on any page, in any application, you’re generally going to be a lot more efficient and effective with your time than someone who’s constantly scrolling up and down multiple pages to find the one word they’re looking for (and sadly, that appears to be 90% of computer users).

So, I guess the question then becomes, what are the key skills everyone (students, teachers and parents) need to be efficient? Especially when technology is always changing? And, isn’t each person’s concept of productivity and efficiency different? So wouldn’t the skills be different depending on the person and their work flow?

I’ve pondered this idea before, and even tried to make up a list of implicit technology skills that we can explicitly teach to help students and teachers feel more confident in any new application. Those skills were more general, focused on understanding how applications work, and how to transfer knowledge from one to another. This time I wanted to focus on day-to-day tasks, skills that would help our students and teachers feel more productive, and that would enable their laptops to work for them.

Because we ran two sessions, one for students and one for teachers (technically it was way more than 2, but all of the sessions for the students had the same list of skills), I tried to make sure the skills overlapped as much as possible. It will certainly be helpful for the teachers to know how to support the students, and all of these skills are foundational for more advanced strategies to help everyone be more productive.

Essential Productivity Skills

For the most part, I focused on Google Apps, especially Gmail, Docs, and Calendar, because those are the tools that make my life so much easier on an average day. Here’s the list:

  • Creating labels in Gmail
  • Creating e-mail lists in Contacts
  • Install Google Notifier to set up web Gmail as your default email client (this has saved me hours of work)
  • Creating collections in Google Docs and organizing your files
  • Making a copy of a document & saving for yourself (to edit)
  • Sharing a collection with a group (made in your Contacts list) or a colleague
  • Make a Google Doc public, for linking on your class blog
  • Check the revision history in a Google Doc
  • Creating events in Google Calendar and setting automatic reminders via e-mail
  • Creating repeating events in Google Calendar
  • Importing the school’s calendar into your own Google Calendar
  • Creating a Google Reader account and subscribing to feeds
  • Create a bundle of feeds in Reader for each class you teach
  • Adding feeds to folders in Reader
  • Recording screencasts in QuickTime

These are super basic, but for those who don’t know how to do them, I imagine there’s a lot of frustration and wasted time. Just like the people desperately scanning page after page for the one thing they’re looking for. My hope is that once teachers and students are able to build these simple skills into their everyday workflow, they will be ready for the next set.

Tech Tidbits Format

To help teachers learn the skills they needed (and not have to sit through the ones they already know) in a more comfortable environment, the session was run kind of like a fair. Fifteen different teachers were seated around the room to teach each of the different items above. We had a shared Google Doc listing the topics and the trainers for the day and teachers were able to work in partners (or independently) and move around the room to the session they needed at that time (basically a variation of SpeedGeeking).

celebrations
After a few minutes, new tables started opening up with teachers training their colleagues on the new things they had learned. Anyone who felt confident that they could teach one of the skills was able to write their name down on the Google Doc so that other teachers, who may not have had a chance to learn everything, would know who to go to for support. There is also a growing list of new ideas at the bottom of the document for future sessions.

Over the year I’d like to offer a number of these sessions, allowing different teachers to do the training, and building up a repertoire of productivity skills that anyone can combine to suit their needs. It’s fun, it’s quick, it’s easy and everyone walks away with something useful they can implement immediately. Over time, as the skills become more complex and interdependent, I think (hope) teachers will see how all of these tools can be combined together to make their lives easier.

Building Expertise

Another side benefit of this format of PD is that each time we run a session like this, I’ve promised the day’s trainers a special workshop with me to demo all of the skills covered (because they may not have had the time to visit other tables) and to build up to the next level of skills. Hopefully, this will not only spread the knowledge base across the school, but will also entice more teachers to offer training sessions. By the end of the year, I hope we have a set of teacher experts, along with our Student Tech Team experts, that is continually expanding and changing as needs arise. Although this is focused on technology skills, I hope this can be a start to developing an environment of professional learning, along with our YIS COETAIL cohort.

Final Thoughts

From what I’ve heard, the session was well-received and teachers would like more sessions like this. I love the idea of not being the only person leading technology training at school, and making our PD a community experience, rather than a departmental show off. Now that everyone in the middle and high school has their own computer, I think these kinds of skills will be more essential and help us spend more time on the creative and fun aspects of technology.

What would be on your Tech Tidbits list?

Image Credits: Creative Commons Licensed

19 Responses leave one →
  1. August 21, 2011

    Kim, as always, great post. Efficiency with a computer is a huge issue for students, teachers, and administrators. Little things that save time are very important for all computer users. I’ve found that many of our students and faculty also don’t routinely turn off their MBPs and Macs like to be shut down on a regular basis; even though we mention it all the time, it seems like it needs to be mentioned more. I can’t count the number of times a student or faculty member has asked me about a very strange computer problem and I’ve solved it by simply re-starting the computer. Sadly, they were usually living with the problem for a longer time than necessary.
    Cheers and thanks for sharing your great ideas!
    Tim
    Tim Bray´s last blog post ..Ed Tech Report: Communication & Transparency with Google Forms

    • Kim Cofino permalink*
      October 2, 2011

      @Tim,

      Thanks! So true about restarting, too. It’s these simple, but regular tasks, that help us be more efficient with our use of technology. The more routine they become for everyone in the community, the easier it will be to stay productive.

  2. Britt Giw permalink
    August 21, 2011

    Congratulations on your 1:1 program Kim, and your peer ICT tutoring sessions. I think our staff would appreciate similar sessions on Outlook Calendar and Mail – setting reminders, recurring events and meeting notifications.
    I wonder if you have any advice for organizing folders in a school network? We started fresh at the beginning of this year, but very quickly ended up in the very same mess of folders as before. We have tried student, subject and teacher folders, with separate servers for public and private folders. What are some simple instructions for students and staff to follow to organize and maintain school documents?
    Britt Giw´s last blog post ..Supervising a Pre-Service Teacher

    • Kim Cofino permalink*
      October 2, 2011

      @Britt,

      We’re facing the same thing with our Google Docs. We are quickly replacing our network storage space with our Google Apps for Education accounts, and it’s definitely not any easier to organize (although it’s much easier to access and collaborate around the documents). At the moment, our plan is to create all the folder and distribute the permissions by departments to edit. We haven’t set it up yet, though, so I can’t tell you how effective it will be. I’m hoping the permissions (edit rights vs view only) will help cut down on some of the folder confusion, though. We’ll see…

  3. August 22, 2011

    I really enjoyed the very practical handle you have on PD and training. I took your post and riffed a bit with it. I think what you are saying is really pretty disruptive if taken seriously and, ultimately, subversive of all that doesn’t work in schools. Here’s my take on your very cool post: http://www.tex2all.com/wp-admin/themes.php?deleted=true

    Thanks for giving me a chance to think a little more on this in my post and to put it in a larger context. Keep on!
    Terry Elliott´s last blog post ..Video/Multimedia/Streaming/Photos/Slideshow Curation: Yokto

    • Kim Cofino permalink*
      October 2, 2011

      @Terry,

      Thank you so much for your kind feedback about this method. There was definitely a positive vibe in the air as teachers were learning and sharing. I’m looking forward to trying it again in a few weeks to see how teachers respond to a second round. Personally, I feel really strongly about the idea of “distributed PD” (a post in the works at the moment). Technology PD should not only come from the Tech Coach/Facilitator – everyone has ideas and advice they can share. The more we get teachers talking to each other, the more we can highlight the fantastic things teachers are doing, and the more we can get this kind of collaboration embedded into the way we do things at school, the more fun and effective it will be.

  4. August 22, 2011

    Great Post! Am reading through your blog and picking up some great resources and reflections on my own practice. I love how you have organized this space. It is simple and real.

    Have you checked out Google Teacher Dashboard by Hapara?
    http://hapara.com/teacher-dashboard-for-google-apps/teacher-dashboard-tour

    We are about to begin the pilot.

    • Kim Cofino permalink*
      October 2, 2011

      @Jon,

      Thanks so much! I passed on the link to our technical support staff!

  5. Lisa Schaa permalink
    August 26, 2011

    Hey Kim! So good to hear from you!I was so impressed with you when we worked together briefly at The Flat Classroom in Beijing last Feb!!
    I am THRILLED to be following you, as I am constantly looking for way to integrate technology into my school! At the moment am looking for lessons to begin meaningful blogging with my 5/6th graders and that is how I found you!!!!!! You go get em’ girl!
    Lisa

    • Kim Cofino permalink*
      October 2, 2011

      @Lisa,

      So good to connect with you here! I am blogging with my grade 6′s again this year – would love to collaborate with your class, if you’re interested? Here’s what we’re doing (with some adjustments based on what I learned last year), and here’s my class blog (student blogs to be listed soon – they just created them this week).

  6. Travis permalink
    August 29, 2011

    Thanks Kim. Always great to hear what`s happening down the road at YIS! Just wondering if you could recommend any great blogs for teachers in the middle elementary section for implementing technology in the classroom. At the moment I have an avalanche of techinfo about to consume me and I`m looking for some lifelines.
    Cheers

    • Kim Cofino permalink*
      October 2, 2011

      @Travis,

      Maybe the links on my “Reading” page will help? I’m sure COETAIL will also bring some great resources to your attention – not just through the course reading materials, but through what other participants share in our sessions and in their blog post reflections.

  7. September 11, 2011

    Ms. Cofina, you are truly one inspiring teacher. I would follow you across the Sahara desert because you truly believe in what you know. I honestly would never see the purpose of using all of those internet tools, but if you tell me that it helps, I am ready to follow your lead. From reading this post and your most recent post, you seem to have something more essential to teachers’ success, organizational skills. Plus, your passion for the craft is obvious. If you could share those two traits with myself and others that I know, man, we would all be alright. There are so many more compliments that I could pay to but, more importantly it is just great that you took the opportunity to help your fellow teachers to improve in some form or fashion.

    Thank you, Jason Jackson

    • Kim Cofino permalink*
      October 2, 2011

      @Jason,

      Wow! That’s quite a compliment! Thanks so much!

  8. September 22, 2011

    The arrangement of your PD day was well-done. The whole idea of having stations keeps teachers from sitting through presentations that they already know about, making it more inviting to begin with. This style of PD not only expands knowledge, but grows expertise and a new group of techies. The teachers will come away with skills they can use and skills they can share with others. Imagine – an entire school full of tech support advisers! Brilliant!

  9. September 22, 2011

    Your professional development day idea was very well-done. The different stations allowing teachers a choice in what they learn were so appropriate. (Being required to sit through something you already know is a waste of time and money.) But the best part is how you are expanding knowledge while simultaneously creating new ‘specialized’ techies. This technology expertise you are establishing keeps teachers active in technology and encourages leadership. Plus, now you are not alone in supplying tech support for the school. Wish I could attend one of your PD’s!

    • Kim Cofino permalink*
      October 2, 2011

      @Tracy,

      Thanks so much! You’re more than welcome to come over for one of our weekend workshops anytime!

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