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NSBA 2024: Oklahoma’s Guide to Digital Tools for Tech-Wary Teachers

For schools facing a wave of new technology, student habits and teacher shortages, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association helped develop a free guide to creative teaching with digital tools.

Students work on a laptop with robots and a digital interface
Teachers have been hearing for years about the importance of integrating technology into their lessons, and simultaneously that too much screen time is a threat to their students’ development or mental health. The key to reconciling this apparent Catch-22, if recent work by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) is any indication, is in making sure the technology is not an outlet merely for consumption but for creation.

Dr. Anne Beck, a digital government specialist with OSSBA, stressed this idea Saturday at the National School Boards Association Conference in New Orleans. The focus of her presentation was the Oklahoma Library of Digital Resources (OKLDR), co-developed by Oklahoma teachers and Apple in 2018 as a free guide for preK-12 teachers on what digital educational tools are available and how best to use them.

“If you look at the research [on the negative effects of screen time], it is true. My kids are the same way. They’re on YouTube, they’re on TikTok, they’re on Snapchat. That is consuming, versus creating,” she said. “The research out there shows that whenever students are using technology to actually create, then those screen time warnings do not apply. Because instead of using a piece of paper and pencil, they’re using the devices to create with.”

An experienced teacher herself, Beck said the old-fashioned approach of taking notes on the board and having students copy them used to work just fine. But at some point in the past decade or so, as apps became ubiquitous, she found her students were bored and unengaged. She wasn’t the only one who noticed, but despite seeing the potential for technology to excite new generations, many teachers were wary.

Some didn’t have IT directors in their schools whom they could consult about new technology. Some were intimidated by the prospect of using technology that their students understood better than they did. Some simply couldn’t wrap their minds around a whole new style of pedagogy, building lesson plans intertwined with digital tools that didn’t exist when they learned how to teach. Some weren't well-trained enough to be confident, as they'd been emergency-certified due to the nationwide teacher shortage. All of them needed guidance.

“Teachers know how to teach. They know their material. They just don’t know what the students can do with this technology, and it scares them,” Beck said. “Technology is scary, especially whenever [teachers] feel that the students are more savvy than they are.”

Thus the effort behind OKLDR was born. Beck said OSSBA looked at all standards in every core subject preK-12, and — with backing from Apple, the insurance company American Fidelity and the tech service company K12itc — convened a group of 15 to 20 teachers from different grade levels and subjects for four weeks, put them up in hotel rooms, paid them $500 and had them create a guide to explain what their colleagues could do with everything from video editing to podcasting to games that creatively involve students in history lessons.

She said this effort included vetting those apps and tools for functionality and age-appropriateness, although not for data-sharing practices. But school technology directors often have opinions on that score, Beck said, and most of the free tools in the OKLDR don’t require logins, and therefore don’t collect data on individual users.

Beck has since observed more engaged students, in some cases improved test scores, and gave the example of a student who was so hooked by video editing for an assignment that he went on to make a career in Hollywood. And for teachers, if they can find that one lesson they hate teaching — every teacher has one, Beck said — bringing a new tool to bear might just make it more interesting.

“Those are the kinds of questions our teachers started asking — what apps, music and video can help our students understand better? Learning should be fun. Learning is something that should be owned, and a lot of times we are giving them rote memorization that they’re not retaining. When they create something themselves that has to do with the lesson, they own that,” she said. “Whenever you start using [apps or video] with kids, they start getting excited about learning. They start wanting to come to your classroom at lunch, and you have to kick them out. They never do that for a worksheet.”

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Andrew Westrope is managing editor of the Center for Digital Education. Before that, he was a staff writer for Government Technology, and previously was a reporter and editor at community newspapers. He has a bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and lives in Northern California.