World Teachers’ Day spotlights the importance of a new generation of educators who teach with tech

Meet three teachers who use technology to make learning more engaging and accessible to all students.

By Deborah Lynn Blumberg — October 3, 2019

While most people know there's a short supply of nurses, paramedics, and skilled workers in science and technology, there’s another looming employment shortage that could have a global impact across every industry — the world doesn’t have enough teachers.

As large numbers of teachers are set to retire in the coming decade, fewer graduates are entering the profession than ever before. According to UNESCO — the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization — nearly 70 million new teachers are needed globally by 2030 to meet students’ needs. It’s an issue the organization is zeroing in on this year during World Teachers’ Day, an event held since the 1990s to celebrate teachers’ contributions and highlight critical issues in education. This year’s theme: “Young Teachers: The Future of the Profession.”

“It’s a matter of urgency for our young people to see teaching as a valued profession, because right now that’s not the case,” says Edem Adubra, UNESCO’s head of the Secretariat of the International Task Force on Teachers.

Adubra says low pay, a poor work-life balance, scarce opportunities for professional development and decision making, and the allure of higher-paying jobs are discouraging young people to become teachers.

Digital Promise

In the HP Learning Studio at William F. Halloran School No. 22 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, teachers use audio/visual, mixed reality, robotics and advanced computing technology to create immersive, collaborative learning experiences.

To change this trajectory, he says it’s essential to modernize the profession with new technologies. With a boost from the private sector, teachers that understand how tech can unlock powerful learning opportunities are doing just that.

Through programs like the HP Teaching Fellows, innovative educators are honing their skills and forging connections as they make use of new technology in their classrooms. And as they reinvent the learning experience, they’re creating entry points for students with different strengths and needs.

“Teachers play an essential role in students’ lives, and many have invented new ways to leverage technology to personalize learning, reach all types of students, and enable next-generation experiences,” says Gus Schmedlen, vice president for worldwide education at HP. “We hope to give voice to these innovators to support their peer teachers and inspire more young people to consider entering the profession.” 

Part of the Reinvent the Classroom initiative, a collaboration between HP, Microsoft, and the nonprofit Digital Promise Global, the HP Teaching Fellows program supports 26 elementary and secondary school educators in the US and Canada who are reaching diverse learners by integrating tech into day-to-day learning.

Fellows meet monthly for virtual happy hours to share ideas and resources, and they receive training and exposure to emerging technologies, bringing back new knowledge to apply in their classrooms.

“The ongoing professional development amplifies their practice,” says Stefani Pautz Stephenson, project director for Reinvent the Classroom at Digital Promise Global. “They become part of a network of like-minded educators who support one another as they innovate and grow.”

The program comes at a crucial time for education. While 95% of teachers are using technology in the classroom, fewer than half say they’re receiving enough professional development to support its use. Yet at the same time, technology is attracting people to the profession who otherwise may not have chosen to go into teaching. Tech is keeping them engaged as they experiment and innovate in their classrooms.

Here’s a look at how three of this year’s fellows are transforming the learning experience and reaching more students through technology.

Digital Promise

On any given day at William F. Halloran, students might video chat with an expert, dissect a plant specimen using a virtual tool, or get one-on-one feedback from their teacher using online collaboration tools.

Creating personal, self-directed experiences 

HP Teaching Fellow Colleen McNerney embraces new technologies in her role as an instructional technology coach in Elizabeth, New Jersey. “I have every type of learner,” McNerney says. “Integrating tech gives me the capability to meet these diverse learning needs and fill in the learning gap.”

Some of McNerney’s favorite teaching tools are online playlists, curated collections of activities that help her accommodate the variety of learners among her 600 computer literacy students in grades 2–5.

With inspiration and curriculum support from Digital Promise Global, McNerney creates a menu of tasks and resources for a given lesson. Lessons include how to make a podcast, creating a video game controller, and the fundamentals of coding. Students choose activities based on their interest and how they learn best. They work at their own pace and repeat tasks until they feel proficient.

“It gives students more control and ownership over their learning,” McNerney says. “It’s more authentic to them.”

For example, in her “Sound of Story Master Playlist” students learn how to craft compelling audio stories from Scientific American and WNYC podcasts, a voice recording tutorial, a project to practice interview skills, and a storyboard template. They earn two to three points for each task and work until they hit 30 points.

Playlists also free McNerney up for small-group and one-on-one instruction. While the rest of the class works independently, she can deliver 15-minute mini-lessons to groups of three students at a time.

McNerney also represents William S. Halloran School No. 22, which was selected to be the first HP Spotlight School as part of the Reinvent the Classroom program. HP has donated equipment to participating schools, including HP Sprout computers, HP Z VR Backpacks, HP Reverb VR headsets, as well as additional HP computers and other technology for video production, digital fabrication, and robotics.

“I see great results from integrating tech,” McNerney says. “Students are more engaged because the lessons are more personalized.”

Digital Promise

As part of HP and Microsoft’s Reinvent the Classroom initiative, Digital Promise Global supports a network of 80 Learning Studios around the world, including this one at Mundaring Primary School in Mudaring, Western Australia.

Leveling the playing field for English language learners

In southern California, Steven Ramirez has noticed an uptick in English language learners, including about a third of students at Century High School, where he teaches.

“We have so many newcomers,” Ramirez says, “and their understanding of English is very minimal.” 

To help students learn along with their English-speaking peers, Ramirez creates instructional YouTube videos with running Spanish translation for his graphic design and animation class. Students use the videos to complete the design projects he assigns at their own pace. 

For example, one video leads students through using boxes to draw animals in Adobe Illustrator. In another, he tweaks an iconic drawing by American pop artist Keith Haring to show students how to use Illustrator to manipulate their own original artwork.

“With a video, they can pause the lesson as they go along,” Ramirez says. “These step-by-steps are really helping.”

During lectures, Ramirez uses an app that translates his words into Spanish and projects them onto a screen. He also uses translation software to create assignments with instructions in both Spanish and English, and creates class assignments and quizzes using a cloud-based service, which students can access from anywhere. He says the technology has improved comprehension among his students — it lets him give feedback more quickly, and it’s helping students communicate better with each other.

“Students see their work is actually looked at and acknowledged and critiqued,” he says. “I love tech in the classroom. It offers different ways of taking in information and helps our students speak and work together.”

Digital Promise

At Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary in Sitka, Alaska, HP Teaching Fellow Cindy Duncan brings lessons to life for second-graders with an HP Sprout PC, equipped with a high-res camera and 2D and 3D scanning capabilities.

Experimenting with new ways to teach and learn

When Mahfuza Rahman wanted to gauge her 10th grade science students’ understanding of a lab safety lesson, she turned to the Plickers app for fast results.

Rahman, who teaches at the West Humber Collegiate Institute in Toronto, uses the app to create a short assessment online, and then gives each student a paper version with its own unique QR code. When students complete the quiz, she scans their work with her phone, and it logs and stores the data.

“It’s instantaneous,” she says. “It’s a technique that lets me quickly see who needs more support.”

In the past, Rahman may have saved grading papers for later since manually assessing them takes time. The app lets her help students right away. Now, she’s experimenting with other tools, like Microsoft’s Sway for storytelling to help visual learners, and Flipgrid for podcasts.

“I tell students to go beyond their comfort zone, and as educators, we need to do the same,” she says. “I call it working in beta. You’re always in testing mode. Not everything will work out, and that’s OK.”

Rahman typically starts off the school year with a survey that asks students about their strengths. Some don’t have the words to express how they want to learn or don’t realize how they innately learn, she says. That’s where technology can help, by offering a variety of learning options. With its simulations and graphs, Gizmos is helping learners interact with data, she says, and Pear Deck — which lets students anonymously answer questions during a teacher-led slide presentation — fosters social-emotional learning, helping students to confidently make decisions and cultivate positive relationships with their peers. 

In addition to her role as teacher, Rahman supports fellow teachers in her district, helping them incorporate new technology into their own classrooms. Successfully using tech in the classroom starts with building trust, she says.

“The biggest thing is your relationship with students,” she says. “If they know you come from a place of caring and compassion and you have their back, they’ll go with it.”

To nominate an educator to be an HP Teaching Fellow, fill out or share the HP Teaching Fellows Interest Form.