How to Integrate Professional IT Tools into the Classroom

By David Eisenberg
Today’s classrooms are given a multitude of technology resources designed specifically for teachers and students. The ideal technology program aligns with district goals and supports student outcomes, while being engaging for students and affordable for schools.
In the last few years, research has demonstrated the value of technology in the classroom. Data gathered from PBS LearningMedia found that seven in 10 teachers said educational technology allows them to “do much more than ever before” for their students.
New technologies will continue to become more central to students’ lives. While continuing to leverage new hi-tech learning tools, teachers will also need to integrate technology education into their instruction. While edtech specifically designed for classrooms may be packaged for teachers to most readily implement, the technology platforms used by adults and professionals have the most sustainable real-world applications.

Inspiration Comes from Real-World Context

When classwork interacts with real-world business, the purpose for those projects become clear. By interacting directly with professionals, and even receiving feedback from those industry experts, students truly hear a voice of instruction and encouragement that they know is guiding them to a successful and exciting future.
School can be a gateway for students to experience the most exciting and innovative technology–the same technology that the business community is rushing to acquire. If students see their own cell phones as more intriguing than any technology that they might see in school, that stifles their enthusiasm for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education. Giving students access to the same technical resources that industry professionals are using is how we as educators can bring the cutting-edge excitement of the technology industry into the classroom.
One tool that I’ve found very helpful is an online tech community called Experts Exchange, a site with real technology professionals offering training and support to directly answer my students’ questions about computer science and IT topics. Those questions might range from high-level computer programming to topics as simple as using Microsoft Word. My students can literally ask anything that they can imagine and a high-level professional will respond as if addressing an important colleague deserving of their respect.

Expert Connection

I first discovered Experts Exchange several years ago while setting up network servers in my school media center and for private clients. After experiencing first-hand the level of expertise and the friendly, helpful tone of the community, Experts Exchange seemed like an ideal way for my students to connect to the “real world” and real IT professionals.
Each year, I give students an assignment to create a business plan for a multi-player game where they must figure out the right hardware and software to use. The students use Experts Exchange to find solutions and ask questions about their assignment, giving them experience in research, professionalism and an opportunity to learn about the technology they’re using.
For example:

The Results of Integrating Professional IT Resources

The creation of this real-world connection provides a purpose to projects and exercises beyond just earning a grade.
After using Experts Exchange, I’ve noticed three clear impacts:

  • Enhanced skills in written composition and reading comprehension, while learning valuable knowledge of STEM.
  • Improved self-esteem, character and communication skills, as students realize that their contributions are taken seriously and responded to by true industry professionals of technology fields.
  • Enhanced career direction and motivation at a pivotal time in students’ development, which positively affects all areas of their education and scholastic achievement.

Among the many technology resources available, remember that any platform with which your students might interact can be enhanced by integrating real-world applications. My students not only receive concrete answers to their questions, but an understanding of how their classwork is directly leading them toward a successful future. This strategy helps them to learn, enhance their creativity, gain a sense of direction and set the stage for a career in technology.
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David Eisenberg is a school media specialist at Mt. Olive Board of Education. Follow him on Twitter: @librarybuddy.

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