Florida schools share their tips for introducing new learning technology

Editor's note: Schools across Florida are seeing great success with Google for Education. Today we’re featuring tips from School District of Lee County, Okeechobee County School District and Escambia County School District. To learn more, watch this recent webinar with Lee County. And if you’ll be at FETC from January 12-15, visit us in the Expo Hall at #2123.

The state of Florida is leading the way for digital instruction. A recent state mandate requires that K-12 students have access to digital learning resources. The shift from paper-based to digital content is prompting students to research and publish their work online while encouraging teachers to innovate in the classroom. We recently asked instructional technology administrators in Florida who use Google Apps for Education, Google Classroom and Chromebooks to share their recommendations for introducing new technologies and tools in the classroom. Here are their top five tips:

1. Create an IT support community 

Providing IT support across campuses can be a drain on resources, so instead of hiring a huge IT team, ask tech-savvy teachers to serve as resources for technology questions. They need not be experts, but rather can act as liaisons to direct teachers and students to the right channels and communicate with the IT team about any overarching challenges.

The School District of Lee County (case study) uses this model to streamline IT support and strengthen its community. “The small group of teachers act as on-the-ground support,” says Dwayne Alton, director of IT support. “They facilitate conversations and figure out what tech matches the students’ and teachers’ needs.”

2. Encourage teachers to share their success stories 

Tech-savvy teachers often find innovative ways to incorporate new technologies in the classroom, and can be great advocates for helping other teachers identify new ways of teaching. Ask teachers to share the unique ways they’re using new tools. For example, Scott Rust, a high school english teacher at Escambia County School District, keeps students attentive and on task when he’s taking attendance by having them fill out five questions in Google Forms. “All of my students participated in the assignment, were engaged and well behaved,” Rust says. “It was amazing to start class on such a positive note — and as a side benefit, all of the students’ answers from Google Forms downloaded into a single spreadsheet.”
7th grade students at Caloosa Middle school in Lee County collaborating in Google Docs

3. Make professional development flexible 

Some teachers will be excited to have new teaching tools, but others may prefer to use the whiteboard or pen and paper. Provide teachers with a variety of opportunities to learn how to use technology to improve their teaching, boost productivity and make learning more interactive.

Okeechobee County School District hosts [email protected] IT, a two-day professional development summit with workshops about how to use devices in the classroom. If your schools don’t have the resources or time for a summer summit, consider after-school training sessions or online video training.

4. Consider how technology can improve state-wide testing 

Technology can ease some of the hassle of student testing. When Okeechobee County School District used laptops and PCs for the Florida Standards Assessment testing, the IT team had to prep the devices and make sure no applications ran in the background. Chromebooks streamlined the testing process, as the IT team only had to switch the devices to kiosk mode.

Similarly, Escambia County School District uses Chromebooks for testing to reduce the administrative burden. Says Jim Branton, coordinator of technology services at Escambia County School District: “The ability to test a grade level all at the same time without scavenging computers from all over campus into makeshift labs made scheduling and administering the tests significantly easier than years past.”

Introducing new technology reduces the amount of time spent on testing, some schools have found. “In our two 1:1 middle schools, it would take two weeks to get all the students through testing. Now with Chromebooks, it should take less than a week,” says Shawna May, director of information technology at Okeechobee County School District. “That’s less time taken away from instructional class time.”

5. Share a resource hub with how-to resources 

Some teachers spend a good chunk of class time teaching students how to use technology most effectively in their studies, rather than teaching them class material. Create a resource hub so teachers have an easy place to find resources, including video tutorials and how-to documents, that they can use to teach students how to use devices and digital learning tools. “Teachers can send students a 3-minute video about how to turn in a Google Doc using Google Classroom, so they don’t have to use valuable class time showing students how to use the tools,” suggests Michelle Branham, coordinator of instructional technology at Okeechobee County School District.

We’ve heard great stories from many of you about how you’re using technology to do amazing things in your schools, so we're going across the U.S. to see for ourselves! Check out the map below to see where we’ve been. We’d love to hear what’s happening in your state, so please share your story on Twitter or Google+ and tag us (@GoogleForEdu) or include the #GoogleEdu hashtag.