My School’s Approach to Tech Training Was Unsupportive—Here’s How I...

Opinion | Professional Development

My School’s Approach to Tech Training Was Unsupportive—Here’s How I Fixed It

By Brittany Aponte     Nov 21, 2017

My School’s Approach to Tech Training Was Unsupportive—Here’s How I Fixed It

This story is part of an EdSurge Research series about how educators are changing their practices to reach all learners.

I glanced at the clock for the third time in five minutes and realized I still had two hours left of my training on Canvas, our new learning management system (LMS). I was overwhelmed. As I looked around the room, it became apparent that I wasn’t the only teacher in the room whose eyes had glazed over a long time ago.

It’s easy to critique a learning experience in hindsight—to make judgements like “I wish there were longer breaks,” “I wanted better feedback” or “I needed more visuals.” But those reflections aren’t very useful unless we take that feedback and use it to make change.

My district signed a large contract with Canvas in 2016, and as a result, a two-day training on the LMS became a requirement for almost everyone on staff. The training was led by the Innovative Learning Department and representatives from Canvas, and it was designed to teach us everything we needed to know to use the tool effectively to incorporate blended learning in the classroom and to create digital citizens who are college and career ready.

It turns out two days is pretty tight for such a lofty goal. By lunchtime on the second day, my brain was going to explode. My patience had expired, and I could no longer mentally store any more information on the creation of assignments, quizzes or discussions—and I was not alone.

In addition to the crammed program, there were some challenges around buy-in and group size from the start. Some teachers were reluctant to use Canvas because it was a big change—and change is hard.

The K-2 teachers had a particularly difficult time making meaning of the training because they didn’t see how the tool would be useful in a setting where they didn’t have a 1:1 device-to-student ratio. And though our large group of about 50 trainees was divided into two grade bands—grades K-5 and grades 6-12—it was difficult to tailor the training to the needs of each staff member.

In our groups, the trainers demonstrated how to create content such as modules, assignments, discussions and quizzes on a large projector. After each demonstration, we would practice developing the very same content on our own devices.

The samples we created couldn’t be used for our students because they weren’t differentiated specifically for our grade level or subject area. Plus, there wasn’t enough time allotted for practice, so most of us were unable to finish creating anything before it was time to move on.

By the end of the training I had been exposed to all of the basic elements of Canvas, but didn’t feel prepared to use any of the features successfully with my students. And as I fumbled in the uncomfortable stage of trying out new technology in the classroom, I didn’t have anyone to turn to for advice or encouragement.

This experience left me wondering what could have been done differently with this training to make me feel ready, prepared and excited to try using this new tool with my students.

I’m currently pursuing a master’s degree in educational technology, and I’m a pretty avid user of tech in my classroom, so I frequently attend these types of trainings. When I return from them, my principal often asks me to share what I learned with my colleagues, which is a daunting task. I don’t want to subject my peers to a grueling experience that is overwhelming and intimidating. I want my colleagues to walk away with actionable information that they can put into practice right away, and I want them to feel that they have extended support as they experiment with new technology in the weeks and months after their initial training.

In August of 2017, as a requirement for graduation, I participated in a semester-long, school-based internship. One of my responsibilities was to lead a Canvas training for fourth and fifth grade teachers, who were expected to use the LMS with fidelity. It was an opportunity for me to reflect and channel my frustration into making change at my school.

I met with my principal to discuss her expectations for each grade level, reflected on my prior professional development experiences and brainstormed what changes I could make to be more engaging and effective.

I came up with a two-part plan. During part one I broke down the tool’s features into smaller, more digestible pieces and present them to my peers slowly, pausing for an extensive amount of time after each feature to give them an opportunity to try it out for themselves in a way that would support their students. They made choices for themselves about how to test out the features—some of them chose to create modules that align to specific standards, while others focused on building assessments that could be graded automatically and transferred directly into their online gradebook.

During the second part, I carved out one day a week where the teachers could practice creating Canvas content and come to me for assistance or troubleshooting during the process. This process is still ongoing, and the teachers are gradually using Canvas more and more in their classrooms, but continue to come to me for support.

The way a district rolls out new technology has a huge impact on its effectiveness in the classroom. Teachers need to feel supported, rather than inundated with new information that doesn’t directly apply to their classroom—and that doesn’t always happen.

While I understand that district endorsed technology trainings have to be extremely condensed for budgetary reasons and to limit teacher time away from the classroom, I do think that a few slight modifications could improve the learning process substantially.

By breaking up the trainings into bite-size sessions, giving teachers space and time to test run each feature in an authentic and meaningful way, and providing support once we return to the classrooms, more teachers would feel ready to take the plunge and try using new technological tools in their own classrooms.

Brittany Aponte is a fourth grade teacher at Stirling Elementary School in Hollywood, Florida.

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