Teaching from the Back of the Room: How to Work in a Tech Rich Classroom

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Teaching from the Back of the Room:

So, your school has taken the technology plunge – all of your students have laptops, you’ve set up your Learning Management System, you’ve been taught how to use online teaching tools, and you’ve set up your curriculum. Now what? All of you work has been in preparation for this monumental change to your teaching, but no one told you how to be a teacher in this new classroom setting.

It’s true, your role in a technology classroom will change.

Previously, you were the maestro of learning for your students. You chose what they learned, how they learned, and you managed their learning activities in the classroom. If questions arose, they came to you first. You taught using a whiteboard or a chalkboard to document your instruction, students taking notes or completing well-crafted worksheets. Assessment, for the most part, was summative and group work was well structured. You were a sage on a stage in the front of the classroom.

Now, to draw upon the learning potential of technology in the classroom, you have to shift from maestro to conductor. You will no longer be a sage of content, rather a sage of learning. You will not know every answer or control every activity. Instead, you will know what needs to be learned and guide students towards deeper understanding. Students will now have agency over their activities and the feedback they receive, from you and their technology, will be continuous.  But don’t worry, you will still use the whiteboard.

Personalized Learning

The most powerful aspect of individualized technology for students in the ability to personalize their learning experiences. Each student will have direct access to learning materials and online resources that will allow to learn at their own pace and to meet their own needs for understanding. As a teacher, you will need to understand these tools and construct activities that allow students to work independently. You should be prepared for variable pacing from your students with some completing work quickly and others taking extended periods of time. Further, personalized learning with technology will allow for greater differentiation, which you as the teacher will have to conduct. In short, you will run the learning activities more than the content or the pacing.

Group Work and Collaboration

Though technology will personalize learning, it will encourage more group work. Students will collaborate on shared projects that run over longer periods of time. They will use their computers and online communication systems to work together on large scale projects. As a teacher, you will need to encourage positive norms of teamwork, both online and in person. You will also need to construct prompts for these larger scale group projects that allow for flexibility of the final product, but have clear evaluation criteria. It is not important that you become an expert in the collaboration tools or the technology as the learning to work together is key element of students engaging in online group activities.

Formative Assessment

Your units won’t change, the high stakes assessments won’t change, your content won’t change. However, the way you assess your students will change significantly. With online communication systems, such as Microsoft or Google, and the prevalence of Learning Management Systems in technology rich schools, students will come to expect regular feedback on their academic performance. To begin, you will be able to give real time feedback in classes as students work on their computers. You can do this by giving comments online or providing auditory feedback as you sit next to them in classroom. Next, you will be able to track and mark more student work with these systems. Utilizing an online gradebook is essential here and quite easy. Lastly, using Learning Management Systems, you will be able to provide snapshot assessments for students on their online work while also providing summative feedback as students progress through a unit. For example, you could help a student preparing an online presentation on parts of a cell if the student has shared the document with you. You could also share the student’s overall grade in cellular biology by allowing her access to your gradebook through the Learning Management System.

Teaching from the Back of the Room

Technology rich classrooms are used differently than traditional classrooms. You will find there is no central focal point of the room. Whereas before students concentrated on a whiteboard for much of the class, students in technology rich classrooms tend to move around. You will still use the whiteboard for didactic instruction, but your lectures and explanation will be shorter. Furniture will be moved regular and students will find quiet corners to work on their computers. As a teacher, you will find yourself standing behind students with a view of their screens more than you will in front of them with eyes focused on you. The most successful teachers in these classrooms are constantly moving. By doing this, you can offer individual feedback to students that need it, you get a picture of what everyone is doing, and you can gain the whole class’s attention by having them turn away from their screen to focus on you.

Being a teacher in a technology rich classroom is a departure from traditional teaching. However, it offers you the chance to deepen understanding, improve engagement, and focus on student learning rather than content.


Matt Harris, Ed.D. is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015. He is currently Deputy Head (Whole School) for Learning Technology at British School Jakarta in Jakarta, Indonesia  and Chief Consultant at International EdTech (http://internationaledtech.com). Connect with Matt on Twitter at @MattHarrisEdd

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