With National STEM Day approaching, we talked with members of the Nebraska Educational Technology Association (NETA) to understand the many ways technology impacts the learning experience for students.
Technology is everywhere in our daily lives and there is more to know than how to log onto the internet. The term “educational technology” applies to any concept or tool that facilitates learning by way of technological resources. And without professionals dedicated to safe and creative use of technology in schools, our students would not be prepared for the future.
In Nebraska, more than 7,500 professionals are members of the Nebraska Educational Technology Association (NETA), a grassroots organization interested in sharing information about using technology in the educational process. The work NETA members do is varied but the common thread is ensuring students have what they need to succeed in the future.
Madison Public Schools
Crystal is NETA's President-Elect. She has more than ten years experience teaching in Nebraska at almost all grade levels and subject areas.
Crystal Ernst is passionate about technology but emphasizes that pedagogy must come first. “Technology offers many tools,” she says, “you just have to find what is the best fit for your students.”
An example of a project Crystal facilitated with her students that enhanced learning through the use of technology was called The Monster Project. Crystal collaborated with a teacher from a school in Israel and each group of students created imaginative essays and drawings about monsters. Then, using FlipGrid — a video discussion and sharing app — the students met virtually to compare and discuss their creations and ultimately learn about each other’s cultures.
Crystal explains that in the education space, technology functions differently than in our daily lives. Instead of focusing on consumption of information, students are engaged in activity that moves learning deeper. Opportunities to explore historic environments through Augmented Reality (AR) or Virtual Reality (VR) expand the learning environment beyond students’ current time and place.
Crystal emphasizes the importance of teaching kids to be safe in digital environments but it’s not a separate topic. It is part of the spectrum of information we teach children about how to function in the world. “Just like we teach kids how to safely cross the street,” she says, “we now teach them how to set up passwords and not engage with strangers online.”
Director of Technology
Shelby-Rising City Schools
NETA Treasurer, Matthew Carley, has been the Director of Technology for Shelby-Rising City Schools since 2016, aiding students and teachers and handling the technology infrastructure in his school district.
His role encompasses all things technology-related from managing the servers, to distributing and maintaining student iPads and Chromebooks. He is one person addressing technology issues for an entire district and so he sees a lot of variety each day.
When he thinks about the future of education and technology he focuses more on updated networks and servers than devices. Students, educators, and staff will need to be able to connect from anywhere, any time.
Middle School High Ability Learner Facilitator
Papillion-La Vista Schools
Jen Schneider took students to the "Root of Two" exhibit by May Dunietz at Omaha’s Bemis Center. The exhibit explored the integration of sound, technology, art, and architecture. This gallery was called "Boxes" and contained six plywood boxes which had sound reverberating when touched climbed in/on.
NETA member Jen Schneider is a Middle School High Ability Learner Facilitator at Papillion-La Vista Community Schools. She is also a PhD candidate conducting research around innovative schools, teacher education programs, design research, and project-based learning. She has been conducting Genius Hour Projects with her students for the last eight years and technology plays a vital role.
Genius Hour is a student-centered practice that allows students to choose what they learn during a set period of time. For Jen’s students, Genius Hour takes place once a week and kids are encouraged to pursue an interest of their choosing. Class time is spent conducting research, reaching out to experts, and participating in online tutorials among other things. Projects vary from learning how to paint to how to fix an X‑Box.
“At the beginning of any project I think about the task and the objective before I think about the tool I’m going to use,” says Jen. She loves technology but encourages students to ask “what is my goal and can technology change it or make it better?”
Jen envisions the future of technology with young people at the center, as the creators who are already anticipating future needs. “Our kids are so in tune now with empathy and looking at world problems,” she says. “Kids are articulating things they want to change with access to technology.”
We invite you to join us as we learn more about the role of educational technology. Together with NETA, we’ve curated a playlist of our films with technology-related themes including innovative teaching, student mental health, and STEM programs.
On the first Friday of every month, we ask educators, students, parents, and community members to wear their I Love Public Schools gear and share a memory or a story about their public school experience.