Special Segment:Techno Teaching

February 9, 2010 9:08:12 PM PST
Technology and social media are changing the way teachers and students think about learning. And it's not just about laptops replacing textbooks. Technology is transforming the classroom.For Doreen Sobel's eighth grade Spanish class, the school day doesn't stop when the bell rings.

"It's what's happening in technology and what's happening in schools. It's the wave, it's not the wave of the future, it's here," said Sabel.

Sobel teaches at Gower Middle School in Burr Ridge. She uses a social media tool called 'Edmodo' to lead online discussions both in and outside the classroom.

"It doesn't feel like homework, and that motivates them," said Emily Ziebka.

Emily Ziebka taught a whole unit online over winter break using Edmodo. She says because it's similar to social media sites like Facebook students are comfortable using Edmodo to log on at home and talk about schoolwork.

"It's fun but it's also a great way to push them to really think, and encourage them to look at things from different perspectives because they're seeing whatever we're discussing through other students' eyes," said Ziebka.

Edmodo founder Jeff O'Hara lives in the far western suburbs. The site mimics social media sites by creating secure virtual classroom discussion boards so teachers can post discussion topics and questions. Then students reply and work together to help each other learn. Students and teachers can even log on and check the site from anywhere using a mobile phone.

"They're on Facebook, they're on MySpace, they're using these tools for their social lives, so it just makes sense for them to be using the same types of tools for their learning," said O'Hara.

Because using social media is second nature to students growing up today, teachers are learning that the best way to reach out to students is through technology they already understand.

"We get more connected with the outside world instead of just locked up inside our classrooms," said Paris Perry.

Perry is a sixth grader at Carter G. Woodson Middle School, a University of Chicago charter school on Chicago's South Side. He and his classmates regularly use video cameras, laptops and a school specific social network called 'Remixworld' as part of their learning.

"This is just a form of media to them. When they come into an environment that doesn't have these things, they look at that as, 'what's wrong? Something's missing here,'" said Rob Schnieders, University of Chicago.

"Technology is a powerful tool that actually empowers our kids to being exploring the world around them," said Jared Washington, Carter G. Woodson director.

Washington says teaching students to speak out online by encouraging them to post blog comments translates into students becoming actively engaged in classroom discussions.

"This is not preparing them for a world that's coming. We're preparing them for a world that is," said Washington.

Edmodo's founder says teachers have also used the Web site to connect with students when schools are closed -- such as snow days -- and during the swine flu epidemic.