Classrooms Without Walls: Using Digital Media to Connect Inside and Outside of the Classroom

Classrooms Without Walls: Using Digital Media to Connect Inside and Outside of the Classroom

Start by taking a moment to reflect. 

Think about last year. How well did you integrate technology in your classroom? The key word is integrate. Unlike “using” technology, which can seem more like an arbitrary afterthought, integrating technology can be a planned, purposeful part of the classroom environment.

But at the end of the day, there are always questions to ask yourself: What tool did I use to connect with my parents and students? How well did I collaborate with other educators? What didn't work? What is one thing I would like to try differently this year?

To answer these questions, I often turn to the people who can help me evaluate how effectively I’ve been integrating edtech tools into the classroom: students, parents and fellow educators. Opening up these lines of communication helps you to determine areas in which you could improve your teaching with simple tools that help you stay organized and engage your students.

Leveraging relationships with educators

One of the most simple ways to begin to break down your classroom walls is to build a strong PLN, or Personal Learning Network. A personal learning network is made up of people/places you go to gain knowledge, share knowledge and collaborate with others of like minds and interests. After all, why reinvent the wheel? If you find someone who has great ideas that they are sharing through their blog, why not try them out?

Twitter is one of the easiest and most common ways to develop a strong PLN. Following people who share your role in education, or what you aspire to be, is key to staying connected and current with tech trends. When corporations want to get the word out on their new products, they usually take to Twitter and other social media outlets first. Check out your local edtech organizations that host weekly chats on twitter like #moedchat in Missouri, or hashtags #edtech, #digitalmedia and #mobilelearning.

And don’t forget to contribute yourself--other educators want to learn your awesome practices, too!

Leveraging relationships with students

Our students need an authentic audiences, and the ability to connect with others too. How do you do this? By introducing new concepts and activities using creative measures, and out-of the box thinking. Skype can be used in the classroom to support your curriculum, such as participating in a Mystery Skypes, or an author visit via Skype Experts. NASA has a Digital Learning Network, so you can sign up your classes to Skype with an astronaut or a member of NASA. They have a variety of topics from Food in Space to Robotics to Life on Mars. It's a great way to have your students connect with experts. Skype with another classroom to share projects or become pen pals. There are over 70,000 educators around the world who use Skype in their classrooms everyday.

Discovery Education recently hosted a “Doodle For Google” contest, a Live Virtual Field trip with Google Doodlers at the Google Headquarters. Students were able to chat with professional artists and programmers to learn. Google has also launched Connected Classrooms where students can participate in virtual field trips with virtual tour guides from organizations like the San Diego Zoo, The White House or Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.

Leveraging relationships with parents

Parents want to feel like they are a part of their child’s learning process, and connected to your classroom. Creating a classroom Twitter, Facebook page or blog are ways to this, but there are other digital tools that you can use with parents to build those lines of communication as well, like Remind (formerly Remind 101). This tool allows you to send text messages to parents and students without providing them with your phone number. Teachers have found Remind helpful when they want to send scheduled test reminders, open house, or homework reminders automatically.

Class Dojo is a behavior management tool for the classroom with a reward system built into the app and website that motivates students; the app allows you to provide students with immediate feedback, and allows them to earn points for rewards. The system tracks this data, and gives you the ability to share this data instantly with parents. Teachers have found that using this tool has improved overall classroom behavior, and has become a very positive force in communicating with parents.

You can also save hours of time making phone calls by using SignupGenius, a free online tool for creating and managing group sign up lists and forms. Classroom teachers have used this tool to manage parent teacher conferences, class volunteers, book fairs and more. Parents can sign up digitally, and receive automatic reminders.

Digital media is changing how people, including our students, interact with the world. This paves the way for changes in the strategies and tools we use for teaching and learning. Becoming a digital expert doesn’t happen overnight: It takes some specific goal setting, and dedication. Focusing on one tool, or a few tools at a time, is key to making sure you don't find yourself overwhelmed. Collaborating with others is a perfect way to strengthen your tech knowledge while connecting with your students and parents, both inside and outside of the classroom.

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