We’ve all been in that situation when someone raves about a cool new tech tool/toy, and we think “What would I use that for?”.  Or, more commonly in education, “Where am I going to find the time to use that?”  It’s a common refrain for teachers, and even early adopters like me find ourselves feeling this way quite a bit.

The problem is that, like so many educational initiatives, new devices and applications just pile onto existing tools which were themselves lumped onto established practices.  Many veteran teachers rightly question the value of taking what’s been proven to help students learn, and smothering it in a layer of flashing lights and whizz-bang features.  As a frequent leader of technology professional development in my building and elsewhere, I have a lot of trouble trying to make teachers appreciate the reason that many digital tools are an improvement.

And, I’ve been thinking lately about the practices that I employ in my own classroom and how I use technology there.  It’s second nature to me, but I realize that this is because the devices and software in my room actually make my job easier.  They do this in a variety of ways.

First, they can simply reduce the time or effort it takes for me to do something.  For example, my Livescribe smartpens allow me to digitize my master copy of our class science notebook simply and easily.  This takes place instantly with very minimal effort on my part.

Second, they can allow me to do new things that improve student learning.  My best example of this is Voicethread.  Students can create a Voicethread instead of a vanilla Powerpoint to communicate their understanding of a topic or concept, and then have an online discussion with questions and feedback from their peers.  I get an opportunity to assess the learning of everyone, not just the students who created the Voicethread.

Third, tech tools can often allow me to assess my students’ learning without them even knowing that I’m doing it.  At its core, assessment is communication.  Students must communicate to their teacher what they have learned.  To be sure, there are plenty of “analog” ways to assess students, but modern technology allows our students to communicate in ways that are rich, instantaneous, and automatically captured.  Consider the power of student discussion in a forum like edmodo where the teacher can review everything that is posted and pose probing questions that help reveal the misconceptions that her students have.

And, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Assessment, especially formative assessment, is most powerful when it takes place with direct student involvement and as a natural extension of the learning process.  Many digital tools can make this sort of assessment seamless and simple.  Kinda sounds like something you’d like to try, huh?

What are the devices and software that you use to make your teaching life easier?

photo credit: f1uffster (Jeanie) via photo pin cc

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