Teachers & Technology: Eric Brewer

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Teachers & Technology is a regular column featuring teachers who share specific technologies or strategies that have made positive differences in their students.

Connecting with students--and students' parents--is important to Eric Brewer. He's found that using course management systems to let students and their parents know what's going on in his classroom is of multiple benefits: It enhances communication, it gives quicker feedback, and it even motivates students to finish assignments quicker!

Vital Stats: Eric Brewer

School:Penfield High School, Penfield, New York
Grades:9 to 12
Subjects:Project Lead the Way pre-engineering classes
Started teaching:1997
Formal technology training:Technology Education Certification, seven Project Lead the Way two-week engineering trainings

What I use: In addition to e-mail, Internet Relay Chat (pros: instant communication with your students; cons: instant communication with your students), and teacher Web pages, I use a course management system--something that some teachers are being dragged kicking and screaming into. There are several for-profit suites that allow teachers to take attendance, post assignments, and keep their grades; and districts are purchasing them and requiring the teachers to use them. The really scary part: Students and, worse yet, parents can see the grades and assignments! My school is going to be launching Infinite Campus, mandating the use of attendance and grade-keeping in this program.

One course management system I've been using for two years is an open source program called Moodle. Moodle is a full-featured product that you can use to post assignments and keep grades; plus, students can upload electronic assignments. Best of all, it's free! You need a server to put it on, which takes some advanced knowledge, but I found that my school was already using the software. You can also do things like blogs, forums, and even instant messaging.

The other nice thing about the online management system is that some of them--Infinite Campus and Moodle have this ability--are Web-based programs, so you can work on grades and assignments anywhere in the world you have Internet access.

The results: The results of using Moodle (and I would say any course management system) is increased student and parent communication. When you give parents and students instant access to grades and assignments, then you eliminate the complaints of not knowing when students' assignments are due or what a student is earning in a class. I believe that I've decreased the amount of students who don't hand in assignments. This is because they know what the assignments are, when they're due, and if they're missing something.

Initially, the hard part was feeling as if you're showing the world what type of a teacher you are and being very self-conscious about posting your assignments and your grades--and of course fearing the unknown. Once I got started, I was trying to find time to keep this updated--which teachers should be doing anyway--so I found this not to be too much of a hassle.

My advice: Technology is creating many different communication opportunities for our society to keep connected with each other. At the very least, teachers should begin to be more comfortable in the environment that our students are so fluent in and maybe find more connections with our students. Parents can benefit from these technological communications by having more direct links to the teachers and having immediate access to students' assignments and progress.

Don't fear the online access to your grades and assignments--it actually makes your job easer! Students and their parents can no longer complain about not knowing their status in the classroom--and this only adds an incentive to get those grades done sooner. Nothing wrong with that! Embrace the new communication tools--once you get past the learning curve, it makes your job easer!

If I could have, free, one piece of hardware or one software program for my classroom, it would it be: I think a tablet laptop and equipment to allow for wireless presentation; in conjunction with the online course management systems, this would allow you to be completely wireless, giving you the ability to grade and give interactive lessons as you walk around the classroom.

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About the author: Neal Starkman is a freelance writer based in Seattle.

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