By Chevi Rubin

In part 1 of this series we put our tech in check and discussed what technology can and cannot do for our students, our teachers, and our classrooms. We shared Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR Model, which provides a practical framework for teachers thinking about ways to infuse technology into their lesson plans, and we shared three ways that technology has the power to transform our teaching capabilities.

Read part 1 on Increasing Access to learn about the global resources available in every location and for every budget, the power of widening the audience for student work, increased accessibility, and practical classroom tips. Read below for more on Maintaining and Extending Connections, and stay tuned for our next blog post on Improving Quality with Technology.

Maintain and Extend Connections
In our classroom settings, the students present (hopefully both physically and mentally!) can participate in lively discussion, ask questions if they don’t understand, and receive appropriate cues and encouragement from us to guide them on the right path. But what about the students who are home for medical reasons, away with family, or just in the hallway getting a drink? What about the student that is sitting in class and listening attentively, but still has trouble recalling some of the main ideas? At the end of a 40-minute period, are the opportunities for learning, clarifying, and connecting over?

With the technological tools now at our disposal, learning is no longer confined to the classroom. Wikis, blogs, discussion boards, learning management systems, and chat rooms enable us to maintain and extend our connections well beyond the natural end point of any learning experience. With the resources available today, anyone, anywhere can employ these tools to prolong connections and consequently prolong impact as well.

How can you create a more conducive learning environment and longer-lasting connections?
For those of you who are somewhat new to implementing technology in your classrooms, now is the perfect time to think about what changes you can make this year to ensure that learning doesn’t stop the moment that bell rings. Does your school already use a learning management system? If so, consider ways that you can take full advantage of this powerful tool already at your disposal. For those without access to an LMS, many of the same objectives can be achieved with a class website or collaboration tool. Wikispaces and Collaborize Classroom are great places to start if you are looking for an easy-to-use online space to communicate and collaborate with your students both in and out of the classroom.

Take some time to set up your virtual space, much like you set up your physical classroom, and implement the following three tips to extend those connections!

1) Posting resources online makes a significant difference in the learning experience for our students and helps teachers connect with students outside of the classroom. Post assignments, due dates, quiz and test dates, extra credit, and tips for success. Post a joke or comic that relates back to a class discussion, or share your thoughts on an interesting and relevant article or video that you came across. The possibilities are endless, but the main point is this: each post is another opportunity to keep students engaged and connected.

2) To take this idea even further, consider enlisting designated note takers to type and share lecture notes in your classroom’s virtual space. Post your PowerPoint presentations and capture what is written on your SMART board so that you can share that as well. There are so many different barriers when it comes to learning; utilizing any of these relatively effortless suggestions will break down some of those barriers and help make learning more impactful.

3) Last, but certainly not least, online spaces don’t just grant access to the students who missed class time, but they also provide the opportunity and framework for students to foster stronger and longer-lasting connections with their teachers, classmates, and other students potentially around the world. Wikis, for example, provide a space where students within the same class, in different classes within the same school, or even in different schools in different geographic locations can collaborate with one another and comment on each other’s work. Wiki group assignments provide an easy to use vehicle for genuine collaboration. Assign a Wiki project to enable your students to co-author a complex, high-level, and real-world project.  Working together in one space will quite literally ensure that every group member is “on the same page!”

Bonus Idea: Online discussion boards are another incredibly powerful tool that you should be using this year. With online discussions, every single student is given the opportunity to contribute to the classroom discussion, not just the students most eager to raise their hands. Students are given time to process new information and really think about the questions being asked before answering. This can lead to much more thoughtful and meaningful responses. With online discussion boards, there is no need to cut off a discussion when time demands that the class move on. Because the discussion board topics are organized by threads, students and teachers can easily find, follow, and contribute to the threads of their choosing for as long as they wish. You can even track student responses to a particular prompt over the course of an entire year to learn if/how their opinions have evolved!

All of this can happen at any time and any place. So don’t sweat it the next time you haven’t finished explaining the homework when the bell rings. Just post it and watch the responses flood in!

Look out for Part 3 of this series coming soon.

Please email me at chevi@lookstein.org for additional ideas to maintain and extend connections through technology in your classroom and in your school.

This article was re-posted with the author’s permission from the Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy.