Teachers: The new tech innovators

Five HP Teaching Fellows on the rapid transformation of education in the wake of COVID-19 and how it changed the way they will teach in the future.

By Deborah Lynn Blumberg — August 18, 2021

During an unprecedented year of virtual, hybrid and in-person learning, technology became a crucial component of the classroom. Educators taught via Zoom, Teams, and Google Meet; recorded lessons, and test-drove new apps to better connect with their students from afar.

Now, as teachers prepare for the future, many will apply what they learned and incorporate more technology into their classrooms in the coming year. It’s a transformative shift that’s happening around the world, says Betty Garcia-Hill, global education technologist at HP.

“The idea is that the classroom is no longer [contained in] four walls,” she says. “Technology enables collaboration and group-based learning, while opening the doors for kids to be global citizens, creative thinkers, and problem-solvers.”

While COVID-19 sped up the trend toward more digital learning, new technology has long been recognized as a powerful vehicle for filling gaps through personalized learning, equipping students to enter a high-tech workforce, and giving educators opportunities to create more engaging learning environments.

To accomplish this, teachers need support to continue using tech in creative ways, including training on best practices and meaningful uses of technology. With this goal in mind, HP supports a group of HP Teaching Fellows each year, as part of Reinvent the Classroom, a collaboration between Digital Promise, HP, Microsoft, and Intel. Fellows receive free professional learning and opportunities for networking, presenting, and sharing thought leadership.

Here, five of the 25 HP Teaching Fellows from 2021 reflect on their experiences over the past year and look ahead at what’s to come.

What did this past year teach you about you and your students?

Jessica Holmes Masters, formerly a library media specialist at Westridge Elementary in Frankfort, Kentucky, who’s now at Franklin County High School: Virtual learning gave me a window into students’ worlds. I got to see their home environment. I developed more understanding of my students and felt like our bond was stronger when they came back in person because I truly was an extension of their home.

Brent Christensen, Lisa Gustinelli, Teena Hine

Cecil Hall, 10th–12th grade business teacher with the Calgary Board of Education in Alberta, Canada: It taught me to be agile and understand that I don’t know all the answers, and I’m willing to learn. I’m going to be more open and ask, what else could I have done to help? For example, if animation works for students, maybe I have to figure out how to throw animation into my tutorials, so when students walk out of my class they’re thinking, “Wow, that was good. I loved that!”

Lisa Gustinelli, director of instructional technology in West Palm Beach, Florida: We have to be cognizant of the fact that some kids don’t have Wi-Fi at home, or maybe they only have one device that five people need to use. For students to learn, we need to give them the tools to learn, and we need to give teachers the training to use those tools.

What were some of the challenges of distance learning and how did you address them?

Teena Hine, county technology coach for Morgan County Schools in Berkeley Springs, Morgan County, West Virginia: One of the biggest challenges was the learning curve for technology that was implemented at lightning speed. I had to help our teachers learn how to use platforms seamlessly without having had the professional development in place prior. Now that things have slowed down and we are no longer scrambling to adjust to the constant changes in our learning environments, I want to be more proactive in our professional development than retroactive.

Cecil Hall, Jessica Holmes Masters

Brent Christensen, 7th grade math teacher at Glover Middle School in Spokane, Washington: Making and editing videos. You try something out, and at first it might not be great. The hardest part is just trying. If you never try, you never know if it could work. I started with just a laptop, and then I ended up getting a camera, microphone, a light, and a green screen. I did research on making videos, and I just kept adding to my little studio.

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LG: In the beginning, teachers were trying to re-create what they do in the classroom for distance learning. They wanted to take a PDF and make it editable so they could have worksheets. It was interesting to watch the progression to lessons in which students were collaborating with teachers, and kids were getting excited about being online. If students are working remotely, you want it to be more interactive. It’s important to give students a chance to insert their ideas, feelings, and responses.

What are some tools you adopted last year that you were excited about?

CH: Office time. I created a vrtual meeting room and made it available to everyone for an hour in the late afternoon. It’s another way of helping, and my plan is to keep it both online and live.

BC: Recorded video lessons. They’re a powerful tool, especially for students traveling for sports or those gone for other reasons. They can continue to learn no matter where they are. Also, sometimes students feel uncomfortable asking questions. This gives them that freedom to re-watch a lesson if they don’t get it right away without having to raise their hand.

JHM: The kids really liked Screencastify video tutorials. It gave them ownership and made them want to learn things so they could make the next tutorial. I also created an interactive digital game board with virtual dice. Students landed on a square then completed an assignment to get credit for books they read. For example, they filled a virtual suitcase with items the main character would have based on what they learned about that character.

LG: Pear Deck. You can do polls and video instruction, elicit responses with drawings and text, and post links. You can ask “What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?” and kids will see a bar graph of the poll live as they vote on it. It starts a conversation. VoiceThread is another good one because you can ask students to record responses to questions you’ve put up, and then students will see and hear each other’s answers. 

What tech-enabled experiences are you looking forward to in the coming year?

BC: We’re planning a quarterly project the kids can help decide on to give them more ownership. Then we’ll incorporate our standards into what they’re interested in. One idea is for the kids to design a memorial park. With math, they’d do scale drawings, geometry, and calculations. For English and social studies, it’s, “what do we put on the plaque?” With science, it’s “what plants would you have here and why?”

TH: This will be the first year our county will have a technology coach position. Teachers want to learn more about how to use devices in the classroom face-to-face. The focus will be on outdoor learning experiences and experiential learning. For instance, students can take their technology outside to estimate measurements on the playground with an app, and then come back into the classroom to showcase what they have learned on their device.

How do you think technology could improve how educators engage with students?

TH: I worked with an English teacher who saw such a difference in his students’ engagement by reading a novel and then building virtual scenes with an app called CoSpaces Edu. He was in awe and said, “Where has this been all my career?” I think our teachers are recognizing that technology is bringing in a different element of student engagement, especially with the students that have been harder for them to reach in the past. 

JHM: I’ve gotten rid of this fear of letting go, of making sure every student is doing the same thing at the same time. I feel like going forward, especially at the high school level, I’ll feel more comfortable giving students freedom to choose the way they want to demonstrate their understanding. Kids will be more invested since they’ll get to have more of a say in how they do things.