I never learned to program a VCR. As a young adult in the late 1990s, I knew that VCRs were on their way out. I knew that by the time I learned how to do it, something new would take its place. I didn’t resist all technology—quite the contrary! I bought a Sony Discman, owned a laptop computer, and had a mobile phone the size of an elephant. I just didn’t want to waste my time learning something that was fast becoming obsolete.
Many teachers today are approaching the use of digital tools in the classroom in the same way. The half-life of technology is notoriously short. We rightly don’t expect a piece of technology to stick around, and so we don’t bother to learn it. Our pragmatic approach saves us the time and effort involved in learning a tool and how to teach with it.
Time is not the only reason teachers avoid technology integration. Some of us consider ourselves to be technology-impaired. Others simply don’t see technology as a requirement for good teaching or learning. Still others struggle with implementing digital learning effectively because of a lack of training. But whatever the reasons, our avoidance of digital tools for learning is costing our students.
According to the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, 43 percent of students feel unprepared to use technology as they look ahead to higher education or the workforce. A survey of business executives revealed that they are looking for employees that can do more than simply read, write, and do math. Managers are looking for employees that can think critically, solve problems, collaborate, and communicate effectively. In today’s technological and interconnected world, all of these skills require the use of digital tools. Education leaders are trying to address these concerns and have focused on preparing students with the skills they need for life and work in the 21st century. However, classroom teachers taking steps to embrace technology is the key to successful reform.
So how can you, as a teacher, approach integrating digital tools in the curriculum? Here are some strategies.
1) Choose digital tools that work for you in more ways than one. The adage “work smarter, not harder” applies here. Choose a tool that you can immediately imagine putting to use in at least two different ways. Consider tools to teach with, tools for demonstrating learning, tools to organize, and tools for collaboration. Can the tool you use to deliver instruction within your learning-management system also be used by students to present their research, like Atavist or Sway? Could a tool used for department planning also be used by students to organize their work groups, like Mural.ly? Could a tool for annotating a video from YouTube, like PlayPosit or EdPuzzle, also be used by students to make meaningful media-to-self connections?
What digital tools do you already use for life or work? Can you think of ways to use those tools in the classroom?
2) Find out what digital tools other teachers are using. Use your time efficiently. If students already know how to use a tool, you will have saved the time you would have spent to teach it. If you teach 10th grade, find out what tools the 9th grade teachers were using with that class. Do your students already use Prezi to create book reports in English class? Use the foundation your students have already built with that tool to have them use Prezi to be student teachers and present their understanding of your science unit. Teachers find themselves with a lot to do and only a little bit of time in which to do it. Follow blogs, search the internet for the best apps in education, and use social bookmarking to find the tools that other teachers think are the best of the best. When you use the collective wisdom of the experienced, you can save yourself a lot of time that might otherwise be wasted on a less-than-effective tool.
3) Listen to your students. When it comes to tools that your students can use to demonstrate learning, you will find that students will provide you with feedback about what they like or don’t like. After they notice your interest in digital tools, they might even recommend some. A 7th grader told me about Kahoot, a game-based learning tool, and I have been using it in the classroom to stimulate interest in new material and for formative assessment ever since.
4) Realize that it does get easier the more you do it. The best part of learning digital tools is that many skills applied in the use of one tool can transfer to the use of a similar tool. Many digital tools today use the same type of interface, have remarkably easy “drag and drop” functionality, or offer other smart uploading features. Many tools do most of the work for you if you are organized. The best thing you can do to make working with digital tools time efficient is to organize your mission, methods, and materials ahead of time. What are you trying to accomplish? What teaching strategy do you intend to use? What text, videos, or other media do you need? Once you are organized, using the tools becomes much easier.
By optimizing the time you spend on adopting new digital tools, you will find that you are not wasting time at all. Instead, you will find that smartly chosen tools may actually save you time.