Being an educator during the pandemic brought many unprepared and unsuspecting teachers deep into the world of educational technology. Zoom, synchronous and asynchronous learning, Google Meets, and digital submission have become part of our everyday instructional interactions. Therefore, it’s not surprising that as schools return to a more traditional version of instruction, teachers may find themselves tempted to step away from technology, as they are being completely inundated with all the tools that exist and keep appearing.
Too many tech tools?
According to The EdTech Advocate's Guide to Leading Change in Schools by Mark Gura (2018), we focus on technology in education in three main ways: as a tool, as replacement, and as innovation. Teachers who began teaching when technology was just starting to enter classrooms completely understand the first, wherein there are a variety of tools in a tool belt for teachers to rotate through as needed.
Technology as replacement underutilizes how educators enhance instruction; examples include replacing pen and paper with word processing documents or chalkboards/whiteboards with smartboards. However, the focus of technology as innovation is educators engaging students to transform learning and education, developing new ways of teaching, reimagining the role of technology in classrooms, and evolving ways of thinking about how students learn.
As a K-12 Instructional Technology Coach (ITC), teachers frequently say there is not enough time to learn new tools, there are too many tools, and students already spend too much time on devices. These statements do not negate the need to be innovative in our approach to technology. I gently encourage teachers to incorporate tech in more intrinsically meaningful ways — but what does this look like and mean for educators?
- Sorting through too many tools. It seems as if there are a plethora of new edtech products coming out on a daily basis. No administrator expects teachers to keep up with every tech tool, nor does anyone have the capacity or time for such an arduous task. Instead, let the ITC and/or library media specialist do the leg work — they have specific training in finding the most beneficial tools for your district. Additionally, they could create a tech tool menu for teachers communicating what tools the district supports and what skills the tools help achieve.
- Less is more. Finding tools that can do more is always more beneficial than having myriad tools that each accomplish minimal individual tasks.
- Set a personal goal. It’s essential for teachers to try new edtech tools. Some educators have a natural inclination towards technology, while others do not. When choosing goals, make sure they are realistic. I often encourage teachers to master one new tool a year; that is achievable and beneficial for both teachers and students.
- Learn from other educators. What is reasonable for one may be unreasonable for another, but all educators must be lifelong learners and can learn from each other.
- Focus on the skill, not the tool. Teachers often try to build a lesson around a tool. Utilizing technology for technology’s sake benefits no one. I am not married to any tech tool for instructional purposes; I believe in offering teachers and students choices so they can build their digital fluency (the ability to independently transfer tech skills across various tools).
- Students need to do new things. One of the biggest pushbacks from teachers is that students have too much screen time. There is a difference between being on devices and doing meaningful tasks utilizing technology. Students need to learn how to use technology in new ways beyond their personal environments. There are rules and standards that need to be developed and nurtured in school in order to be successful later in life.
- Exposure is necessary. Technology needs to be a regular part of classrooms for students to utilize it in new and exciting ways. If technology is only used for special occasions, students are going to rely on teachers to lead them instead of thinking outside the box for themselves. Allow students time to figure tools out. Let them help each other. They may even teach teachers something!
- Make your classroom student-driven. Give students choice in the tools they use to demonstrate various skills. Move away from being the leader and, instead, be the facilitator allowing students to discover tasks they could only accomplish through technology.
By embracing these few key ideas, educators will be more successful in moving forward with the practice of technology as innovation.