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Teaching from the Back of the Room: How to Work in a Tech Rich Classroom

Personalized Learning
Teach From the Back of the Room

So, your school has taken the technology plunge – all of your students have laptops, you’ve set up your Learning Management System, you’ve been taught how to use online teaching tools, and you’ve set up your curriculum. Now what? All of you work has been in preparation for this monumental change to your teaching, but no one told you how to be a teacher in this new classroom setting.

It’s true, your role in a technology classroom will change.  

Previously, you were the maestro of learning for your students. You chose what they learned, how they learned, and you managed their learning activities in the classroom. If questions arose, they came to you first. You taught using a whiteboard or a chalkboard to document your instruction, students taking notes or completing well-crafted worksheets. Assessment, for the most part, was summative and group work was well structured. You were a sage on a stage in the front of the classroom.

Now, to draw upon the learning potential of technology in the classroom, you have to shift from maestro to conductor. You will no longer be a sage of content, rather a sage of learning. You will not know every answer or control every activity. Instead, you will know what needs to be learned and guide students towards deeper understanding. Students will now have agency over their activities and the feedback they receive, from you and their technology, will be continuous.  But don’t worry, you will still use the whiteboard.

Personalized Learning

The most powerful aspect of individualized technology for students in the ability to personalize their learning experiences. Each student will have direct access to learning materials and online resources that will allow to learn at their own pace and to meet their own needs for understanding. As a teacher, you will need to understand these tools and construct activities that allow students to work independently. You should be prepared for variable pacing from your students with some completing work quickly and others taking extended periods of time. Further, personalized learning with technology will allow for greater differentiation, which you as the teacher will have to conduct. In short, you will run the learning activities more than the content or the pacing.

Group Work and Collaboration

Though technology will personalize learning, it will encourage more group work. Students will collaborate on shared projects that run over longer periods of time. They will use their computers and online communication systems to work together on large scale projects. As a teacher, you will need to encourage positive norms of teamwork, both online and in person. You will also need to construct prompts for these larger scale group projects that allow for flexibility of the final product, but have clear evaluation criteria. It is not important that you become an expert in the collaboration tools or the technology as the learning to work together is key element of students engaging in online group activities.

Formative Assessment

Your units won’t change, the high stakes assessments won’t change, your content won’t change. However, the way you assess your students will change significantly. With online communication systems, such as Microsoft or Google, and the prevalence of Learning Management Systems in technology rich schools, students will come to expect regular feedback on their academic performance. To begin, you will be able to give real time feedback in classes as students work on their computers. You can do this by giving comments online or providing auditory feedback as you sit next to them in classroom. Next, you will be able to track and mark more student work with these systems. Utilizing an online gradebook is essential here and quite easy. Lastly, using Learning Management Systems, you will be able to provide snapshot assessments for students on their online work while also providing summative feedback as students progress through a unit. For example, you could help a student preparing an online presentation on parts of a cell if the student has shared the document with you. You could also share the student’s overall grade in cellular biology by allowing her access to your gradebook through the Learning Management System.

Teaching from the Back of the Room

Technology rich classrooms are used differently than traditional classrooms. You will find there is no central focal point of the room. Whereas before students concentrated on a whiteboard for much of the class, students in technology rich classrooms tend to move around. You will still use the whiteboard for didactic instruction, but your lectures and explanation will be shorter. Furniture will be moved regular and students will find quiet corners to work on their computers. As a teacher, you will find yourself standing behind students with a view of their screens more than you will in front of them with eyes focused on you. The most successful teachers in these classrooms are constantly moving. By doing this, you can offer individual feedback to students that need it, you get a picture of what everyone is doing, and you can gain the whole class’s attention by having them turn away from their screen to focus on you.

Being a teacher in a technology rich classroom is a departure from traditional teaching. However, it offers you the chance to deepen understanding, improve engagement, and focus on student learning rather than content.

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Use Technology to Make Global Classroom Connections

Global Classroom Connections
Global Classroom Connections

As I look into my crystal ball, I foresee that when historians look back at the late 20th century and early 21st century they will marvel at the advances we made in two areas: transportation of goods and people globally and the exchange of information. As international educators, we are quite familiar with transportation of people around the world as we move from country to country (whether to work or for those generous holidays). The transportation of goods might feel a bit less impressive for us though as we wait yet another week for our shipping to arrive.

In the classroom, we have been most impacted by the readiness and exchange of information. Our students are connected to a wealth of knowledge, people, and resources the likes of which education has never experienced. It has become an expectation that we prepare students for this globalized information exchange while also meeting the requirements of exams and university admissions. This can be a challenge, but also a huge opportunity. Imagine breaking down the walls of the classroom to share global connections that build their 21st century learning knowledge through hands-on experiences. This is best done with learning activities that connect students across geographies where they engage in authentic exchanges. And there are a number of ways to do this using technology.

So, I thought I would offer some practical ideas for educators to open those global connections to their classrooms:

Traveling Tales

Traveling Tales is a program where classes collaborate to create a shared book. Five classes sign up to create a story and each class develops a portion of the story. The program is designed to fit into exist language and literacy lessons, rather than being used as an add-on. The stories are done with visuals and text delivered through an interactive video format. Traveling Tales books are being written all the time amongst schools around the world. The power of this type of collaboration is that it does not require any alignment of time zones for shared work.

Learn more:

The Global Read Aloud

Every year, starting in October for a 6 weeks period, classes will read the same the book aloud with or to their classes. Thousands of schools participate at varying levels of involvement with the simple goal of making as many global connections as possible. Schools share their read-alouds and connections on a variety of platforms including Twitter, Skype, Padlet, Flipgrid, and other similar avenues. Again, this is powerful form of collaboration because it does not require time zone alignment, but synchronous discussions can be used to create a more meaningful experience for the students.

Learn more:

Global Math Task Twitter Challenge

This Twitter-based mathematics challenge connects classrooms through tasks and problem solving. Each week a group of “Task Tweeters” will share grade specific math problems over Twitter and classes around the world will post solutions to Twitter using the hashtag #GMTTC. The experience connects classes completing similar problems and it opens dialogue for students around mathematics and problem-solving.

Learn More:


Empatico is a free tool that connects classrooms around the world. Their mission is to create empathy between students and schools by putting them together through collaborations and share experiences. Empatico will make a virtual introduction between two classrooms using tools to connect via video, share files, partner, and share tasks. Empatico is one of the largest networks of global connections in the world with representation in nearly every country worldwide.

Learn More:

Mystery Skype

Mystery Skype is a program where classes connect with other schools, experts, and individuals around the world using Skype. Though listed as a “Mystery,” there is very little mystery about it. Participants volunteer to join the online collaborative and they make themselves available via Skype during specific times. Classes that connect with them know in advance what they have to offer and what they will discuss. These connections can last 10 minutes or be repeated for months.

Learn More:


iEARN is an NGO that works to connect students around the world through shared learning activities. Designed to create authentic experiences, iEARN facilitates connections between schools and students through a global community-based approach. They facilitate connections, offer resources, and run programs for global collaboration. At present iEARN is being used in 140 countries with over 2,000,000 students.

Learn More: Regardless which of these tools educators find useful, the biggest challenge is always the first connection. I recommend that teachers select a tool and just jump in to make a connection. The avenues for learning that will come into their classrooms will be boundless.

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Am I a Tech-Savvy Teacher?

Developing a Framework for EdTech Support

Of course, the short answer to this question is that there is no short answer. Technology tools differ in every school and the needs of students vary based on age and curriculum used. There is no clear bifurcation between those who are and are not tech-savvy teachers. Instead, tech-savvy teaching encompasses a spectrum of skills across a range of categories.

At present, there are resources available online that document this spectrum. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standards for Educators and the UNESCO ICT Competency Framework for Teachers outline characteristics of a tech-savvy teacher. Other resources describe teaching practices, including the Florida Center for Instructional Technology’s Technology Integration Matrix (TIM) and iNACOL’s National Standards for Quality Online Teaching. Theoretical frameworks of technology infused instruction are also available, such as the SAMR model, TPACK, and the PICRAT Matrix. For a full list of EdTech resources visit

As you can see, this combination of knowledge is all encompassing, but far too complicated. And while they provide all the materials needed to describe a tech-savvy teacher they fail to provide direct application. On the whole, these resources do not provide means to identify those key characteristics a teacher possesses in their day-to-day work or measureable areas of improvement.

When I worked at the British School Jakarta, my learning technology team took on the task of filling this void. We studied the available online resources unified them to create an actionable rubric for tech-savvy teaching.

Over the course of months, we built the Framework for Learning Technology Support for Educators that will, when completed, offer a resource for teachers, coaches, and school leadership to measure what makes a teacher tech-savvy. This framework will be a guide for the attitudes, behaviors, and practices of educators in using technology for learning. It will be a tool for self-assessment and continued learning for individual teachers and a roadmap for Educational Technology coaches offering support. School leadership will be able to use it learn about tech-savvy teaching, to evaluate incoming teachers, and to gain insight about the skills and competencies of their teaching faculties on the whole.

Drawing upon the aforementioned resources, we developed the categories and subcategories of the framework that encompass tech-savvy teaching. We then shared them with educators and school leadership worldwide for review. Through their advice, we revised the framework to include these seven categories:

Learning – Educators build their own skills in Learning Technology and develop attitudes that support continued growth.

Leading – Educators demonstrate attitudes and behaviors that lead others in the effective use of Learning Technology.

Operating – Educators possess skills and attitudes for the effective use of digital tools.

Collaborating – Educators collaborate within the school and beyond to improve learning.

Citizenship – Educators demonstrate positive code and conduct in all online interactions.

Designing – Educators design and develop activities that utilize technology to meet the needs of learners.

Teaching – Educators deliver experiences that leverage technology to enhance learning for students.

You’ll notice these categories describe the pedagogic uses of technology more than the technologies themselves. While teachers need to be technology literate, as outlined in the Operating category, their uses for personal learning, collaboration, and teaching are the true indicators of being tech-savvy. Further, these pedagogic approaches are not tied to specific curricula or national school systems. Instead, they draw upon internationally recognized approaches to contemporary teaching and learning.

Below each category, we have developed 3-4 subcategories to further outline characteristics of the tech-savvy teacher. For example, the subcategories for “Learning” include:

Approaches – Utilize a variety of resources and strategies to support their development in Learning Technology.

Innovation – Actively explores the possibilities technology has to offer for learning.

Reflecting on Impact – Thoughtfully assess the impact of what has been learned to make decisions on next steps.

Tools – Continually develop knowledge of digital tools and resources.

For each subcategory, we are developing evidence based indicators to help teachers identify where they lie along a rubric. The rubric is organized into a progression of four performance areas: Emerging, Expected, Exceeding, and Exemplary. The model for this rubric is for tech-savvy teachers to build upon internal competencies, whether internal to their classrooms or them individually, and grow externally. For example, a teacher who is emerging in Approaches would review online resources whereas an exemplary teacher author and deliver online trainings outside of the school. This rubric will help teachers document their current practices, understand the scope of tech-savvy teaching, and help them plan for growth.

After we finalize the rubric, we plan to share it with a small group of educational technology experts for a deep analysis. Once we incorporate their improvements, we will publish the framework for use by all schools globally.

Hopefully, through this work schools will better support their teachers along the EdTech journey thereby systemizing the professional development and coaching needs for successful Educational Technology program. Coaches will document their support of teachers to develop learning plans and to identify faculty-wide learning needs within a school. Individually, teachers will be able to systematically improve their skills in leveraging technology to enhance student learning using a globally recognized rubric.

The Learning Technology Framework will be available in early 2020.

If you would like to learn more about our work, contribute to the development framework, or stay informed as it is completed please contact me.

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Single Point of Contact for School Communications

School communications are messy. They include multiple people, channels, langauges, and approaches. When creating school communications plan, it is vital to consider the user experience more than the information the school is looking to provide. This means looking at internal and external stakeholders and aiming for a single point of contact for each group.

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Wearables 1 – Introductions to the Education Panel at Wearable Technologies USA 2019

Come join us for the Education Panel at Wearable Technologies USA 2019 being held in San Francisco on July 9 & 10.

In this video, we introduce members of the education panel and our master class on Educational Technology markets.

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Wearables 5 – Join Us at Wearable Technologies USA 2019 in San Francisco

Come join us for the Education Panel at Wearable Technologies USA 2019 being held in San Francisco on July 9 & 10.

In this video, we talk about the panel and our educational technology marketing and sales master class. Come Join Us at the conference!

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