AV, Presentation and Display

5 Essential Multimedia Skills Every Educator Must Master

In a national survey, we asked teachers, administrators and tech leaders to tell us how technology energizes their classrooms. Here are their top five answers.

Educators literally have a “world of knowledge and resources” at their fingertips, as one director of curriculum and instructional technology declared in response to THE Journal’s national survey. “What better way to learn about the situation in Syria than tweeting #Syria and receiving a tweet from someone there?” But guiding your students in learning new concepts, gaining insights and building their skills requires you to be comfortable with the technologies that can make all of that happen.

Where do you start? We asked your colleagues that same question, and they responded in multitudes. Their recommendations covered the alphabetic gamut, from adaptivity and apps to wikis and a willingness to learn. We compiled and consolidated 121 different results to develop this year's list of five must-have multimedia skills for 2015.

Although the responses are ranked in order of popularity, you can begin your self-improvement plan anywhere on the list. No matter which one you decide to start with, these skills, sensibilities and products can keep your classrooms lively, your instructional practices fresh and your students (and you) personally engaged.

1) Troubleshooting Your Own Tech

No matter how great your school’s IT department is, there are times when you need to handle troubleshooting on the fly; otherwise, learning time in the classroom evaporates. For Penny Pearson, coordinator at the Sacramento County Office of Education (CA), this means "fixing printers, connecting to the Internet, uninstalling and reinstalling needed software, understanding security issues with computer updates and district filters.”

Stryker Ostafew, district technology integrator at Williamsville Central School District (NY), would throw into that list "knowing which cords go where, how to reconnect to WiFi and how to recover a password.”

Bill Pratt, technology integration specialist for Clover School District (SC), suggested learning how to turn a device "off and on again, checking cables, rebooting, running a virus scan on the computer."

Ultimately, however, educators need perseverance and a “willingness to poke and prod," said Cynthia Cornwell, technology resource teacher for Loudoun County Public Schools (VA).

If all else fails, suggested several educators, ask your students for help. “Teachers can learn anything they need to know,” insisted Amy Downs, instructional technology coach at Scottsdale Unified School District (AZ). “They are a well-educated, intelligent and caring group of people.”

2) Embracing Curiosity

Being a lifelong learner requires curiosity, a quality worth modeling for students. According to teacher Heather Scott from Academy District 20 in Colorado Springs, “One of the things I love about technology and incorporating it into my classroom is the fact that it is ever-changing, never stagnant, rarely involves only one 'right way' of doing things, and [is] full of new great ideas and possibilities.” As a teacher, she added, “It is my job to offer my students the same fresh perspectives, newest information and best tools for their purposes and readiness level.”

Of course, curiosity can be risky, since it means teachers stop being the sole repository of knowledge in the classroom. “Educators need to get past their fear of the unknown or lack of confidence and charge forth bravely,” insisted Anne Reardon, an instructional technology coach at Mechanicsburg Area School District (PA). “There's a wealth of learning out there, but you might have to be brave to find it.”

After all, conceded math teacher Jamie Back at Cincinnati Country Day School (OH), when you're trying something new, “Things don't always go as planned or can take longer than expected.” The advantage of that, however, is that “students may discover unexpected relationships that we as teachers don't immediately understand.”

3) Capturing Attention With Video

Whether your approach uses video, podcasting, audio or screencasting, it's time to dabble with flipped curriculum as a homework replacement for the worksheet. It's just a matter of playing to the crowd, remarked Maria Elena Yepes, director for the learning assistance center at East Los Angeles College. “Our students spend hours viewing and forwarding videos they find interesting to their friends and classmates. Incorporating videos as instructional tools could increase student interest and participation in class.”

Furthermore, said Wendy Johnson, director of library services and e-learning coordinator at River Parishes Community College (LA), “Students and parents are more likely to watch a two-minute video than read a printed four-paragraph announcement.” She believes that “a video — when done correctly — catches attention better than most print sources."

And nobody says you have to go it alone. University of Nevada, Reno Technology Coordinator Shawn Pennell recommended getting students involved. “Students can engage in digital storytelling where they create stories and bring them to life while using the writing process to storyboard.”

Williamsville's Ostafew concurred. “Screencasting with apps like Explain Everything allows students to demonstrate mastery, and it allows teachers to record lessons and post them online where students can access them anywhere.”

4) Juggling Multiple Display Devices

All it takes is a teacher futzing with a piece of wayward technology for students’ attention to wander. Karolyn van Putten, a psychology professor at Peralta College (CA), said that, to minimize the performance opportunities for your class clowns, make sure you know how to use the interactive equipment in your classroom, including projectors, interactive whiteboards, document cameras and digital playback devices.

Microsoft certified trainer Heather Ackmann pointed out that, with programs such as Apple AirPlay and the Miracast standard “or even some simple third party apps, projecting wirelessly from any device is simple and something every educator should master. No fumbling necessary, and no need to stand behind a podium anymore.”

Let's not forget management of student devices. “Without the ability to appropriately manage technology use, technology is often inappropriately used, lost, broken and becomes more of a classroom disruption than an effective tool for student learning,” insisted Phil Hardin, IMPACT project director at Iredell-Statesville Schools (NC).

Make sure you mix it up, too. Cameron Mount, an instructor of English for Brookdale Community College (NJ), said, “Just about everything available in the room to use should be used. Variation in modes of instruction is not just a good idea; it's practically compulsory in the day of the [individualized education program] and multimodal learning.”

5) Perfecting Presentations

According to Jim Rose, director for career and college pathways at Oxnard Union High School District (CA), educators shouldn’t stop at learning how to use PowerPoint or Google Slides. He suggested that they pursue “the ability to use a variety of presentation devices and software to convey ideas and information.”

Steven Fournier, tech integrator and math teacher for Shaker Regional School District (NH), agreed, recommending that teachers use “multiple presentation Web tools such as Prezi [and] Animoto to vary how material is presented.”

Brookdale's Mount said, “Simply plopping text into a giant Word document doesn't cut it. And ‘tarting up’ PowerPoints with a hundred words per slide is exhausting and misses the point of the software completely.” Teachers should look to “Convey your information, but do it in a way that makes sure the most important information isn't lost." The goal should be to learn how “to present the text in a fashion that is legible, useful and easy to navigate.”

Mark Emmons, technology coach for Leyden High School District 212 (IL), put it concisely: "Turning data and related concepts into concise and cogent graphical representations streamlines learning."