While mastering the tools of educational technology is essential, it is by no means the only thing teachers need to understand in order to meaningfully and appropriately integrate technology into their teaching. This post, then, is merely meant to highlight the categories of tools I believe it is necessary to be comfortable with. I should also point out that not having yet become comfortable with any of these should not be a reason to put off starting to integrate (Sorry for the double negative). Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, it is always going to be a matter of trial and error, so getting started now is the best way to ensure that technology integration transforms both your teaching and your students’ learning sooner rather than later.
There are so many tools available today that it is hard to know where to start. Indeed, we know that too many options can make it more difficult to choose. This post is not about specific tools; as long as a tool does the job, it really doesn’t matter which you use. For example, there are dozens of presentation tools: Powerpoint, Keynote, Prezi, Google Presentation, lots from Adobe, Knovio, Powtoon, Voicethread, etc. What is important is that you have a tool that works for you and that you are comfortable using. As long as the tool gets the job done, it is okay to use it.
Here, then, are the categories, with brief explanations.
Content Management Systems (CMS)
A Content Management System (CMS) is any online platform that allows a user to upload and organize and store artifacts, to easily make changes, and to further make it available to others to view. My use of the term should not be confused with the broader meaning and use of the term CMS to describe web building and management software. To make it even more confusing, CMS can also stand for Course Management System, which includes gradebooks, attendance, etc. We are not discussing these as your administrators will/should be handling that side of your teaching-related technology. You can use any wiki (Wikispaces, PBwiki, etc.) or site such as Weebly, Wix, or Google Sites as a CMS.
Learning Management Systems (LMS)
A Learning Management System, or LMS, is precisely that; it is software that allows a teacher to carry out the teaching – or more precisely the management - of a class: posting assignments; providing materials; hosting discussions; collecting homework; doing assessments, etc. Organized either by unit or chronologically, the LMS can contain everything there is in the course, with the exception of what transpires in the physical classroom. Use of an LMS makes managing a class, and every aspect of that, simpler and more efficient, and also makes it easier for students. This is particularly true if all teachers are using the same LMS. Many LMS have more features than most teachers make use of, so get to know yours well enough for it to help improve what you do. Widely used LMS include Google Classroom (though still quite new), Haiku, Moodle, Blackboard, Schoology, etc.
Email has become an important means of communicating - indeed the main one - with students and parents and administrators. It allows us to keep parents up-to-date, whether it be on what the class is doing, or on issues with their individual child. And despite my use of LMS and CMS, I still email students who are out, to let them know what they missed. Email is a two-way street, of course, and students and parents also can and do email teachers. Email serves another important purpose for teachers and, to a lesser extent, students. When you sign up for newsletters and other professional learning communications, they normally come to you via email, and can be managed there.
So email is both a means of communicating with others, but also of getting useful information. Knowing your email well, and using it to help you manage the growing influx of information is essential.
As teachers, we all present, often several times every day. What tools we use to make those presentations may, or may not, determine how impactful our teaching is. The fact of making them, however, brings a number of important affordances.
Creating a presentation can help us as teachers focus our ideas and get to the heart of our topic; they give us a roadmap to help get through the delivery of content; and they can (and should) be provided for students to look at later, on their own, as a form of review. In fact, letting students know that presentations will be available to them, and regularly placing them on your CMS or LMS, means that students can focus on what you are saying rather than on the presentation or on taking notes. Further, presentations can be built on and improved, and can be a great way to share your knowledge and understanding and thinking with others without having to be there.
As mundane as this may seem, teachers create lots of documents. As such, it behooves us to have a tool that we like, are comfortable with, and a standard format we use. MS Word, Pages, Open Office, Google Docs; it doesn’t matter which you use as long as you know how to use it well enough to create attractive documents that serve their purpose without distracting student attention.
Today, both the quality and quantity of resources available online - many for free - is effectively limitless, at least in the sense that you cannot possibly see and use them all. Many sites are specifically set up to help teachers find these resources, but even beyond these there is lots to discover.
In addition to sites specifically created for teachers, many teachers create their own websites and offer their materials to others. With the relatively recent advent of Creative Commons licensing, where content creators intentionally license their materials for others to use, the amount of content and the means to use it have grown substantially.
There are different types of websites that house these resources, including individual teacher’s websites, sharing websites, Open Educational Resource websites, professional organizations’ websites, etc.
Many people use bookmarks in their browsers to save websites they want to return to, and it works well enough. There are two downsides: you must access them from the same browser on the same computer, and there is no way to share them with others.
A better solution, one that more and more people are using, and one that solves professional as well as personal goals, is social bookmarking. Social bookmarking can be thought of as creating bookmarks that you can share with others. You can create groups that many people contribute to, and you can add keywords and descriptions to your content to make it easier to find. The best example is Diigo.
The more we study learning, the more we understand that it is best done collaboratively, just as we work collaboratively. The tools you can use to bring meaningful collaboration about include wikis, purposefully built to allow multiple authors, shared documents and spreadsheets, and shared whiteboards. You can author videos and presentations together, and have real time and/or asynchronous conversations online using Skype or Google Hangouts.
Blogging (blog being short for web log) is writing about your thoughts, ideas, experiences, opinions - really anything - either on a specific topic - educational technology, for example - or in general, online, and accepting comments and feedback. Blogs often include links and images. Posted in reverse chronological order - latest first - they can also be found via keywords. There are lots of compelling reasons to have students blog, which I will not go into here. There are also a lot of good websites to host a blog, such as Edublogs, Wordpress, etc.
Forms & Surveys
Forms and surveys are useful tools for two main reasons: they allow for quick, easy, and efficient collection of information, be it feedback or answers to questions; they collect all of the information in one place, making it easy to view, review, and work with. Examples are Google Forms, Typeform, and Survey Monkey.
What a powerful medium video is; it catches the attention of everyone, and it catches the attention of our students in particular because they have grown up with it. Audio, too, can add another dimension to learning, and it is quick and easy to create. iMovie for video, Audacity for audio, and many more.
Images & Infographics
If an image is worth 1000 words, what is an image plus visual explanations plus expository numbers worth? An infographic represents complex information with a combination of images, text and numbers. Teachers should be able to create and manipulate images and infographics.
I use the following definition as it is so good: A portfolio is a compilation of student work assembled for the purpose of (1) evaluating coursework quality and academic achievement, (2) creating a lasting archive of academic work products, and (3) determining whether students have met learning standards.... (from http://edglossary.org/portfolio/).