Friday, September 25, 2015

The Wonders of Classroom Technology

After writing a whole lot of awful things about Skedula, I was asked to work on a UFT committee examining electronic gradebooks. It was kind of cool. I met a lot of people using various different programs, and heard a lot of good and bad things about them. I decided to really assess the program, I had to use it. So for about half a year I used both it and a paper book as backup.

I have to say, while I still find Skedula to be less user friendly than any program I'd buy or use on a regular basis, it was generally convenient. For one thing, as an ESL teacher, I tend to get new students pretty much all the time. A paper gradebook gets pretty messy as you add and drop names, erase things, and white out others. Online, everything is alphabetized, and I don't have to do updates.

Of course if you have multiple sections in a classroom, it gets increasingly complicated. Right now, for reasons I cannot fathom, there are maybe six sections in my morning class. That's not the real problem, though. For some reason someone has renamed the sections and I've lost all my grades. This has happened to me before when one student moved to another section, and I was able to retrieve the grades pretty easily. The other day I sat with an administrator and we managed to find my assignments, but they didn't have any grades attached to them.

I may or may not retrieve the grades I've been keeping these last few weeks, but losing them has made me a little more cognizant of the value of paper. After my first semester keeping records in two places, I've relied entirely on the program. I figure if my school pays them thousands of dollars, it's on them to keep the records. If they can't do something that fundamental, there's not a whole lot of value there.

I'm now entering my second year of trailer exile. For most of last year, I had a SmartBoard that didn't work at all. I used to hang my jacket on it and remind the kids I was using the SmartBoard. When my supervisor came in, I noted that I used it every day and demanded credit for innovative use of technology. (I don't believe I got any.)

Then the principal went and put in an LED screen that actually worked. I was shocked. I mean, there it was, the computer I'd never bothered to use, and it was actually capable of displaying stuff. So I talked to a young Chinese teacher who explained it was great using PowerPoint to display aims, assignments, and teach vocabulary. I looked at her presentations and thought I could do that. But I was much smarter than her, I thought, so I did things differently.

First, I used Apple Keynote rather than PowerPoint, because I read somewhere it was much cooler. But when I tried to open it on the Mac Mini in my classroom, I learned that it was an older version and couldn't read my presentation. A tech teacher showed me how to convert a Keynote presentation to a PowerPoint, so I put the PowerPoint on my thumb drive and was using that for a few weeks.

For some reason, the display in my classroom this year is much harder to manipulate. It's really hard to see the mouse icon on this screen. Also, there's a nag screen that comes up saying IOS wants to make changes and demanding an administrative password that I don't have. That's kind of irritating. More irritating, though, was when the computer stopped recognizing the mouse and turned itself into a useless piece of junk.

It happens I walk around with a MacBook Air all the time. I bought it a year ago and I have no idea how I ever lived without it. So I was able to use my presentation on the 13 inch screen, but it really sucks having to walk around and show it to a large class. (I did it again in the afternoon, and I can tell you it also sucks having to walk around and show it to a small class, though not as much.)

I've had teachers come up to me and complain that the machines in their room were broken, and that it was impossible to do their lessons as a result. A few years ago I thought about how lucky I was that I had no technology and therefore couldn't use it. Now I think how important it is, when you do use it, to have a backup plan, or be able to devise one on the spot.

And here's what the reformies don't or won't realize, when they say idiotic things like, "Let's just make CDs of great teachers and fire all the live ones." The machines break, but we don't. The machines do one thing, but we do everything. No matter how advanced the tech gets, that's not gonna change.
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