Teaching AP® with Tech

by Andrew Sharos
Author of All 4s and 5s: A Guide to Teaching and Leading Advanced Placement Programs

In 2012, my school district became one of the first in the nation to give every student a Google Chromebook. Becoming a 1:1 school was a long journey that included several teacher pilots and plenty of research by everyone in our building. It was a worthwhile endeavor, one that left us on the cutting edge of a movement that would largely be followed by most districts over the course of the next half dozen years.

With 1:1 becoming more commonplace, teachers have had the opportunity to add new tools and explore how the device can enhance their instructional goals. With the availability of new resources coming at us like a firehose, it is important that teachers set parameters for when and where to use tech and ask these three foundational questions:

1. Does technology enhance my chances of engaging students?

In many cases, the answer is yes! But if we look further into what we are actually having students do on the device, we see more examples of replacement instead of enhancement. For instance, when students complete a chart or written example on a Google document instead of a paper worksheet, they are merely replacing the mode in which they convey their thoughts, but don’t really see a functional improvement in the activity. However, when teachers use a website like backchannelchat.com, they can replace a traditional in-class discussion with a web-based platform that gives all students a voice in responding. Better yet, web-based discussion can happen 24-7, and not just during the confines of the class period.

2. Can students achieve an outcome only possible by using technology?

This is the world we want to live in as teachers. Pencil and paper lessons are not dead. Neither is direct instruction. Nobody knows and understands how your students learn more than YOU! It is important to continue to use lessons that are effective no matter how they are designed. However, there are certain instructional outcomes that can only be achieved by using a device. Check out the website teleprompt.me.  It allows students to read a speech on a teleprompter (their phone or computer screen) and it interactively highlights the speech as it hears the student’s voice. This would be awesome in any class that is presentation based, and certainly in AP® Seminar, Research, and all modern language classes. You cannot achieve outcomes quite the same way without technology, and these are the opportunities we must seek to engage and enhance our instruction.

3. Does technology streamline efficiency and still achieve the same outcome?

We are always looking for ways to work smarter, not harder. Enter: the computer! Many teachers are assessing student work and providing real-time feedback and writing through Google Docs or through learning management platforms like Schoology or Edmodo. This is a great place to start using tech as a teacher. Students can get more practice than ever through the released question banks on College Board’s website. Teachers can assign questions through apps like Quizlet. We’ve all seen the positive data behind practicing questions on Khan Academy. Why not take advantage of the abundance of performance and assessment tools while saving trees in the process of practicing? Some of these platforms even grade student work and produce a spreadsheet of results or sync with your school’s student information system. Every teacher would prefer to grade less and interact more!

Perhaps AP® teachers feel conflicted about using technology because the test is delivered on pencil and paper. The curriculum itself can be very traditional, and who hasn’t felt intimidated by the breadth and length of the course CED binders?

Ultimately, teachers will always be the best device for students.

But if you can answer “YES” to these three central questions about using technology, you may just find some resources that engage, inspire, and transform what teaching looks like in your class.

Andrew Sharos is an author, consultant, and keynote speaker who still works in a high school. For more thoughts on instructional methods in AP® and the award-winning turnaround story that made history in Andrew’s class, check out his book, “All 4s and 5s: A Guide to Teaching and Leading AP Programs.” 

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