The Clemson University Geek Squad: Teaching Teachers to Use Technology is a project designed to provide undergraduate education majors with opportunities to learn fundamental and advanced concepts of instructional technology, engage in authentic classroom teaching experiences, and train and assist classroom teachers to effectively integrate technology into their classrooms.
The ten undergraduate students participating in the Geek Squad project during the 2007-8 school year were either early childhood or elementary education majors. Each demonstrated a genuine interest in instructional technology even though they were not considered “experts” when they joined the squad. The Geeks were willing and able to learn and practice using technology with minimal guidance and then use their newfound knowledge to teach each other, K-12 students, other pre-service teachers, as well as classroom teachers how to effectively utilize instructional technology.
During the spring 2008 semester the Geeks chose to focus on learning two Adobe products: Photoshop Elements and Visual Communicator. They chose Photoshop Elements mainly because they were excited about its potential to help K-12 students learn and write creatively. The Geeks participated in a 3-hour PS Elements workshop developed by two Adobe Education Leaders, Ryan Visser and Chris Peters. Their skill-set and their sense of classroom integration was enhanced by the tutorials and lessons found on Adobe’s Digital Kids Club site.
Once the Geeks felt comfortable with their knowledge of PS Elements, they were able to hone their teaching and newfound PS Elements skills with students enrolled in Club 2:45. Club 2:45, an after-school program at a Title I elementary school, stresses cross-curricular technology integration to provide underprivileged students with opportunities that they would not otherwise have. At the same time, the Geeks were provided an opportunity that they would not otherwise have – teaching experience.
The first Geek-led project at Club 2:45 integrated Photoshop Elements 6.0 into a lesson on outer space. The Geeks demonstrated the process of selecting oneself from one image and then copying and pasting the selection into an image of outer space. They then asked the students to try it for themselves.
The Geeks were pleasantly surprised at how well the lesson was received, considering that none of the students, nor their classroom teachers, had ever seen this technique. The students loved the activity. Even more satisfying was that the classroom teachers who observed and enjoyed the activity asked theGeeks to train them so they could replicate the activity in their classes. It was at this point that the Geeks realized their impact. Not only could they engage students in a meaningful learning activity, but their enthusiasm rubbed off on teachers who were not known for incorporating technology. Since this PS Elements experience, the Geeks have trained many more classroom teachers and have even been asked to train some of the local districts’ technology coaches and coordinators.
The second Geek-led project at Club 2:45 took place toward the end of the semester and focused on Visual Communicator 3.0. Visual Communicator is a program that was wholly unfamiliar to them until they saw it demonstrated. However, once they saw it, their excitement and interest could not be denied. What especially appealed to the Geeks was that Visual Communicator offered a host of roles that could engage almost any personality: producer, director, script-writer, actor, technical director, among others. In order to learn the basics of Visual Communicator, the Geeks used an instructional DVD developed by another Adobe Education Leader, Rob Zdrojewski.
The Geeks decided to develop a “My Favorite Place” activity that could be carried out in three 45-minute sessions that would provide opportunities to develop a script, rehearse, and record. In the first session, the Geeks explained the project to the students and showed some examples of the end result. The students were asked to type a paragraph that described their favorite place. Then, once they finished writing, they were asked to exchange papers for peer editing. Once their paragraphs were edited, students were asked to find from the Web an image that depicted their favorite place. The Geeks then loaded all of the student-written paragraphs and the corresponding images into Visual Communicator.
On the second day, the students took advantage of Visual Communicator’s rehearsal feature and were able to see themselves on screen, become familiar with the built-in teleprompter, and get accustomed to projecting their voice.
The third session was spent recording the students, showing their movies, and documenting their reactions. Statements such as, “I love seeing myself on the screen!” “I love the green screen because I can be anywhere!” and “Can I do another one?” conveyed the students’ overwhelming enthusiasm.
This enthusiasm was not restricted to the K-12 students. Here is an excerpt from a reflection written by the Geeks:
It can definitely be very intimidating to use a program that you know nothing about. It is almost a guarantee that you will run across a few bumps in the road here or there. We did. But every problem that gets in your way ends up helping you learn something new about the program. Visual Communicator creates projects where everyone involved can feel very proud.
The Clemson Geeks Squad is a fabulous project for many reasons, not the least of which is the genuine enthusiasm that the Geeks bring to instructional technology training. They were able to teach each other, their pre-service peers, elementary students, classroom teachers, and even the project directors, lending a real-life example to the old adage that cash can buy, but it takes enthusiasm to sell.
Ryan Visser, an Adobe Education Leader, is a clinical faculty member in the School of Education at Clemson University. A member of the South Carolina Center of Excellence for Instructional Technology Training, Ryan teaches pre-service and classroom teachers how to use technology and researches instructional learning environments.
Wanda L. Calvert earned her Ph.D. in Elementary Education with an emphasis in literacy and technology at the University of South Carolina. Currently, she is the Professional Development Schools Coordinator and a clinical faculty member in the School of Education at Clemson University.