Limited Tech: An Issue to Solve #etmooc

I remember when this was my only “good” computer; the rest were old snow iMacs. I started with Apple IIes, moved up to PowerPCs, then the jellybean iMacs and finally to snow and eMacs. There were never enough computers, but I’ve been geeking with students since 1999, thanks to the Bill and Melinda Gates Teacher Leadership Project that year. Without that nudge and that grant, our school may not have jumped ahead in applying technology as a tool and process in learning. I, and my school district, are still grateful.

So, when Joy Kirr wondered to our Connect in the Middle Neighborhood, “How do we connect with limited technology? What strategies have helped,” I had to think back to those old days. What did I do? I also wondered, “What if all the millions spent on testing or implementing questionable teacher evaluation systems went to actually getting the infrastructure and technology into all the classrooms?”

I know, as Ben Wilkoff reminds me, “But, the future is going to be in providing a compelling alternative…We have to be able to show how to deal with that complexity.”

I think that is what the teachers in our neighborhood at the midlevel and the educators in #etmooc are learning, doing, and sharing.

Since we can’t wish and wonder for the technology, what can we do with limited technology?


I know that Linda Yollis is a great resource for this as her class started blogging with very limited access to technology.


In my own class years ago, we were self-contained. I had the same eighth grade class all day. It was wonderful; we could work through lessons in the morning, and for the rest of the day we participated in “workshop.” Students took turns on our four jellybean iMacs in 30-40 minute sessions. When not on the computer, students worked on discipline-integrated projects, met with me in small groups or conferences, completed morning work, and prepared for their computer time. With four computers in the classroom, and all day to schedule our time, this worked well.


When our school switched to a “junior high” schedule, time was stolen from us, as were the integrated projects. I taught reading and writing now, and the time for “integrating” just wasn’t feasible for many reasons. But because I did have computers in my classroom, I could schedule time  for students to cooperate, collaborate, or take turns on computers. It was also when I discovered wikis and Google Apps so that it didn’t matter which computer the student used, they could just log on to the wiki or Google Apps on any computer and start creating. I would set up a weekly schedule for small group/conference, lessons, computers, and independent time. Students would have time at least twice a week for their own time on the computer.  For cooperative projects, students had more time on the computer, and I had more time for individual help.


I invented roles for group work, such as these adapted from Bill Ferriter,  or variations such as these:

Reader: Reads the text before doing anything; keeps team on task

Writer/Typer:  Writes/Types what group decides– everyone contributes to ideas

Manager/Mouser: Moves the mouse so typer can work– organizes where and how the group’s ideas appear on the page — styles.

Encourager: Encourages members and other teams for: on time, on task, accurate, professional, and positive work.

Possible Fifth team member — Runner (Gopher): Encourages and helps: if someone needs help or has a question the team can’t answer, send the gopher to “gopher” help to other teams, leaders, or teacher.

Or these:

Composer and Editor:  

∑ Types group decisions

∑ Asks questions to clarify ideas from the group.

∑ What do you mean?

∑ Is this how to phrase it?

∑ Lets proofreader check accuracy



Checks accuracy in

∑ content (words and data)

∑ grammar

∑ spelling


Reader and Discussion Director:  

Reads directions, text, or data and asks questions:

∑ What are we to do?

∑ What does this mean?

∑ What did we learn?

∑ How should we say it? (so composer can type it)

∑ Who’s next?

∑ Please listen.

∑ Keeps group on task (we need to focus on _____________)


Morale Officer and Statistician:  

∑ Gets agreement on decisions (Do we all agree? Do we agree to say/write/type it this way?)

∑ Points out key ideas for discussions

∑ Measures and states data

∑ Gives encouragement to everyone

∑ good idea

∑ we’re on track

∑ we can do it

∑ we’re on to the next part

∑ Helps keep group on task (we need to focus on _____________)

∑ Asks quiet students to participate


Now, I don’t set these up, I ask students how they will work together, and they pretty much make up their own roles. If a group can’t work together, I bring one of these out and we talk about what would work for them. But, today, kids can figure out how to work together — I just guide them when they don’t.


To work with limited technology or time, I just had to rethink how the time we had would be used, and how my time (lessons, conferences) would look different. The best ratio for computer/student if not 1:1 is 1:2. Partner work is social work, and often more gets done with partners than 1:1. It just depends on the project and the kids.

Back to that old eMac. It was the only computer that could do movies. Students could write their scripts, prose, poetry, or storyboard on other computers, but to get the movie done, each group or individual would need to spend some time during their lunch time or after school.


I have not had to depend on a computer lab for students to access the computer, but scheduling for that would make access difficult for teacher planning and student work. Would it be possible to ask for four computers each period be reserved for your students, and send four or eight (partner work) to the lab?  How do those with labs handle that?


These days, students bring their own devices. We have a guest wireless and students read their books, work in Google Docs, and search for research on their own iPads, iPhones, iPod Touches. Some students have  Kindles. So if your school doesn’t have a BYOT / BYOD policy and a guest network, that could be another strategy.


Provide places like Google Sites, Wikis, or blogs for students to reach out to other classes. Even with limited access, as mentioned in the strategies above, students can share their ideas with the world. Form a connection in Edmodo or through Twitter to do a project with another class, knowing that the project will be one that requires more time due to constraints in access. Use Skype or Google Hangouts, or make a VoiceThread to connect. VoiceThread is great because you can connect asynchronously whenever time and time zones allow. Here’s a VoiceThread we collaborated on for President Obama in his first year. Voicethread works on iPads also.  With one iPad, you could Explain Everything and share it with another class in many ways (see the notes in the link.)


Since we have to make do, we make do by thinking outside the box to deal with the complexity that is teaching and learning. I hope this road down memory lane combined with a few new ideas has add an answer to the questions.

So, what can you add to those with limited connections:

How do we connect with limited technology? What strategies have helped?


on “Limited Tech: An Issue to Solve #etmooc
5 Comments on “Limited Tech: An Issue to Solve #etmooc
  1. Great suggestions Sheri. I have forwarded your blog onto some teachers who have little working technology! Hope you don’t mind :).

    Thanks for sharing

  2. Sheri,
    Thank you for this comprehensive list! I need to try more groups in my classes, and many of these tips would work with just two computers in the room. At this time, we are “not allowed” to BYOD, but it should be coming soon… Until then, I need to work on how I structure lessons next. Something for me to think about – I love it! Thanks again!

    • Thank you, Joy, for the idea. It’s important to show our process and progress — we all need a starting place, so hopefully, these will help. I know more people have experiences to share, and hopefully, we’ll get some more ideas. Thanks! Let us know what you discover.

  3. Pingback: Connected Learning, Thanks to My Neighbors | Dare to Care

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