5 Ways to Learn Ed Tech from K-12 Educators

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A couple months ago, while taking my daily scroll through the #edtech Twitter chat, one tweet got my attention.

I contacted @ProfessorRitter, also known as Michael Ritter, professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, and asked him to elaborate on his 140 characters. Because, if Ritter, whose online presence includes a blog, two Twitter accounts, and a YouTube channel, learns from K-12 educators about ed tech, perhaps other higher ed faculty could too.

K-12 Educators As Ed Tech Advisors

First, a couple reasons why K-12 educators are a useful (if untapped) resource for insights and advice on teaching with technology:

Their focus is on teaching and learning. As Ritter pointed out to me, unlike most in higher ed, K-12 teachers are trained educators, which means they use technology in conjunction with good pedagogy and best practices. “Applying the science and art of teaching is the primary responsibility of K-12 teachers. They are also required to meet educational standards not applied in higher education,” Ritter says. “As such, K-12 teachers are constantly innovating ways to educate students.” 

They have free and low-cost solutions. Given budget cuts that limit their resources, many K-12 educators have figured out how to bring ed tech to their students in a budget-friendly way. That’s why Ritter turned to K-12 educators for suggestions on tool selection when he began screen-casting and podcasting with his classes. Check out this ‘interesting ways’ series for examples of how K-12 educators are using free tools like Google Forms and Prezi. 

5 Ways to Learn From K-12 Educators

To seek some K-12 advice, consider doing at least one of the following.

#1: Connect on social media.

Using social media, Ritter has built a personal learning network that includes K-12 educators who he often consults for solutions to ed-tech related problems. Educators and other K-12 personnel like Kyle Pace and Eric Sheninger have attracted thousands of followers with their prolific ed tech-inspired tweeting. You can be introduced to a number of voices in the K-12 ed tech community by following Twitter hashtags like #edchat, #edtech, and #pedagoofriday. Or, check out other social networks, like Google+ and Pinterest, both of which are becoming popular sources for keeping a finger on the pulse of the K-12 tech world.   

#2: Attend conferences.

These can be discipline-specific, ed tech, or general education conferences, but they should be conferences where you’ll find a large gathering of K-12 educators. Ritter especially recommends this avenue for those who teach first-year college students. If you’re unable to attend in person, you can try the digital option many conferences are offering, or follow attendees’ live tweets; though you won’t make the personal connections, you’ll at least stay updated on current K-12 practices. Read one professor’s insights here after attending a K-12 conference. 

#3: Watch them teach.

The Teaching Channel currently hosts 35 videos of K-12 educators teaching digital literacy specifically, and hundreds more around other topics. 

#4: Read K-12 blogs and other publications. 

Ritter subscribes to T.H.E. Journal for its new tech tips and coverage of general pedagogical issues, and George Lucas’ Edutopia is a must-read. 

Blog-wise, this year EdTech: Focus on K-12 published its inaugural selection of the best K-12 IT blogs. Among the 50 selections, a few make good starting places.

David Warlick’s 2¢ Worth — Here you will find not just information but also wisdom as Warlick takes his experiences with learning technologies and turns them into conversations that go beyond the “how to” and get to the “why” and “what if” that many educators wonder about. (As a side note, I had the chance to hear Warlick speak in 2007 when I was teaching. I remember distinctly his demonstration of a little-known tool called Twitter and how it could be used to ask questions of other educators.)

Vicki Davis’ Cool Cat Teacher Blog — If you prefer getting straight to the “how to” of tech use, Davis has one of the most popular and long-running blogs that focuses on tips and innovative ideas for teaching with specific tech tools, like FlipboardQR codes, and wikis.

And, as further proof that K-12 educators are free and low-cost resource connoisseurs: Free Tech for Teachers

#5: Form local partnerships.

Most K-12 and higher education collaborations are designed for the K-12 educators to gain greater content expertise from higher education faculty, but K-12 educators aren’t the only ones who can learn something. Whether you’re part of an informal collaboration or a university-sponsored initiative, an open mind and commitment to improving your ed tech practices will make the experience worthwhile.

A standard for this kind of collaboration might be NC State’s Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, which is physically connected to a local middle school. It’s at this school that I taught for a year and gathered alongside both my K-12 colleagues and university professors to watch Warlick pose a question to his Twitter followers, and register collective surprise when he received answers within seconds. 

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