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From the mouths of babes

When it comes to using technology in the classroom, teachers “have to be open-minded” and willing to take risks, said Moananui Blankenfeld, a senior at Kamehameha Schools Hawai’i during a conversation I had with her and her peers at their tabletop session at ISTE 2015.

“Get out of your comfort zone,” advised Blankenfeld. “Do something you haven’t done before.”

She was not alone in her thinking. I spoke with several other student presenters at the conference to get their take on the issue and see what advice they have for tech-wary educators. Their insight and advice was honest, practical and (surprisingly) fair. Here’s what they had to say:

Turn to your students. Today’s students were “born in the digital age,” and technology is “second nature” to them, said Keakealani Pacheco, a senior at Kamehameha. Take advantage of this, she recommended. They offer a wealth of knowledge and experience. “Don’t be afraid to ask,” Pacheco emphasized. “If there’s something you need to know, there’s plenty of help available to you. Have some faith in your students.”

Be patient with the learning curve. Using technology tools can be a frustrating, intimidating process, conceded Kamehameha senior Kaluhikaua Kaapana. Nevertheless, she encouraged teachers to invest the time to learn, be patient with their progress and keep an eye on the bigger picture. “If you are open to learning new things,” Kaapana said, “your students will be, too.”

Experiment. Knowing what technologies work and don’t work in the classroom “is all about trial and error,” said Luke Taniguchi, a senior at Kamehameha. He suggested that teachers play with different tools and “test them out with your students” to determine which are best for collaboration as well as individual use.

Take a class. Many teachers today didn’t grow up with technology, so they are not used to it, said Audrey Mullen, a sophomore at a private school in California, who spoke at a student panel discussion hosted by PR with Panache. She recommended teachers take classes to get trained on different tools and technologies. Mullen acknowledged that it “sounds so boring, going to a class on technology,” but she encouraged teachers to take the plunge so they can get some “fresh, new ideas.”

Foster digital responsibility. Teachers worried about students’ misusing technology —especially social media — is fair, conceded Kamehameha senior Mikaila Braun. But that shouldn’t stop teachers from using digital tools, she argued. Instead, she recommended schools implement digital-citizenship programs that train students to use devices and applications properly. She cited as an example a program used at her school called Na’u e koho. Created by Kamehameha students — including Braun — and teacher Keali’i Akina, the program teaches digital literacy and responsibility. “It was built to help students with ‘digital tattoo’ and to have good Internet ethics and to use our computers properly,” Braun explained. “What we put in the lesson teaches them how to use it properly.”

Apply yourself. Getting comfortable with technology means users have to learn how to use devices and applications, according to Pacheco. She cited instances where teachers, unfamiliar with a tool, asked her to “do the work for them instead of learning how to do it” on their own. That won’t work in the long term, she said. Using tech effectively in the classroom means teachers must apply the time and work needed to build a knowledge base for themselves.

Today’s digital natives are growing up with more and more technologies, said Kaapana. She encouraged teachers to embrace the tools and the opportunities they present.

“Don’t be afraid to utilize it,” she said. “That’s what it’s there for.”