Tools to Teach By

Technology is changing our world, and the pace of change is, if anything, getting faster. With all of this new technology comes opportunities, but taking advantage of them means first being able to use the new tools. This course lays out the most important tools for educators in a straightforward, approachable manner that includes everything you need to know - the whys, the wherefores, the whats, and the hows.

It is important to keep in mind that the tools are just that - tools. For real change, you must take a broader view of integration and use the tools together to achieve your educational goals. Think of them as being part of your toolbox: each tool has a use or uses, and by calling on all of them when and as needed, you can more effectively build your widget.

You should plan to take your time. Do the course over the summer, or during one or even two semesters of school.

As you work through each of the 16 units, each covering a different type of tool, your ability to use the tools and to understand the affordances that they each bring to education will grow. By the end of the course, you will be comfortable incorporating these tools into your teaching. Even more important, you will have a much broader perspective as to how the tools can fit into what you do.

But why? Your teaching is likely fine the way it is. Why change? There are three compelling reasons:

  1. Technology allows you to do what you could not do before;
  2. The use of technology will help your students be much better prepared for the world beyond school, both by giving them more opportunities and ways to learn, and by making them familiar with the technology;
  3. Introducing technology into learning will engage your students, because that is where they already live.

Some other reasons, in no particular order:

  • engages students;
  • allows for the use of a wide range of tools;
  • allows for greater student collaboration;
  • promotes student self-directed learning;
  • enhances creativity;
  • provides access to unlimited resources;
  • allows teachers to 'flip' the classroom;
  • makes differentiated instruction easier;
  • allows for clearer communication and organization;
  • enables teacher collaboration on a large scale;
  • simplifies the task of catering to different learning styles;
  • allows for the ongoing creation and retention of course material;
  • raises student readiness for college and beyond.

These are some big claims, and each of them will be addressed as we discuss the various affordances of the many tools.

Here is a wonderful resource from Edutopia, with thoughts from nine educators about the why of technology integration. Read through it.

The order of the units is deliberate, so while you are free to pursue them in any order you like, there is a flow.

We begin with a top down look at the tools that serve to bring everything together, namely the Content and Learning Management Systems (CMS, LMS). They may be the same; they may be separate, but they act as an umbrella or container for all of the various tools we use. And while some LMS features can be used for communicating with a class, email is still the main communication tool between teachers and students, teachers and parents, and students and students. Next we move on to presentations, used by teachers and students to present information, either to teach or to explain and demonstrate learning. Document creation happens daily by students doing work to hand into teachers, but also by teachers looking to get content into certain formats for consumption by students and potentially by other teachers. While knowledge in the classroom used to be restricted to the teacher and the textbooks, now there is a wealth of quality online resources readily available to both teacher and student alike, and being able to find them and assess their quality is essential. One form that online resources can take is RSS feeds, a great way to have information and ideas delivered to you and to students. As we find quality information, we want to share it with our students and our colleagues, done through curation. Learning is often done best with others, so collaborative tools make it possible to continue working together - whether students working on a group project or teachers working together - outside of school. Blogging can bring ideas to a wider audience and make writing more compelling, as well as lead to meaningful feedback, whether from classmates or peers half way around the world. Forms and surveys are powerful and efficient tools for gathering information and assessing understanding, and can also be used to collect data. One of the most popular aspects of technology is audio/video, which can be an effective way to deliver information, an alternative to text. Images and infographics can similarly be effective tools to help understanding. Electronic learning notebooks (ELN) bring note taking to the next level, improving organization and ensuring that notes are kept for reference and future use or for sharing, and not discarded. ePortfolios are a way to collect student artifacts in one place - to show to classmates, parents, colleges and employers. Professional development need no longer be confined to a couple of days a year or a summer workshop, but can now be an ongoing process by connecting with colleagues online through your personal learning network (PLN). And as you move forward, being able to help yourself becomes not only increasingly important but also a boon to productivity as you no longer need to wait to ask someone else for help.

What you need to know: While each teacher will ultimately end up using a set of tools unique to his/her teaching, in order to be fully comfortable with the technology available and that you may want to be able to use, you should learn the entire set of tools; you will undoubtedly add to and change what you do over time.

While each of us is going to approach the integration of technology into teaching and learning differently, we nonetheless need to share some basic understandings.

  • The use of technology in teaching is no longer optional; it is necessary;
  • Technology can make our teaching and student learning more efficient;
  • Technology can expand the student's access to information;
  • Technology is always used with the end in mind and not simply to use technology;
  • Sharing benefits everyone;
  • Meaningful technology integration is not simply a matter of using some cool tools;
  • It is not enough to know and be able to use the tools, we have to also understand the purpose and value;
  • The tool itself is not important, what we do with it is (and so it usually does not matter which of a certain type of tool you use as long as it helps you achieve your goal).

It is important to note here that this course is not so much about how you teach - that is ultimately up to you - but about the tools. Having said that, it is essential to keep in mind that your pedagogy will naturally change as you change your tools; if it does not, then you are not making optimal use of the new tools.

As such, we will spend some time talking a bit about pedagogy and how the use of any given tool, and more importantly the use of many, most, or all of the tools, might impact your teaching. You will find these discussions in sections called Pedagogy. We will look at this through the lens of the RAT model (and here) of technology integration, Replacement, Amplification, Transformation:

  • Replacement (wherein the tool simply replaces something you were doing before);
  • Amplification (wherein the tool adds on to what you were doing before by increasing efficiency and productivity but falls short of meaningful change);
  • Transformation (wherein the tool actually transforms your teaching and the students' learning by doing what was not doable before).

There are several potential barriers to effective and meaningful technology integration. Given that you are taking this course, the two most common are presumably no longer issues for you:

  • Lack of access, i.e. external factors
  • Lack of interest, i.e. internal factors

The third barrier, recently suggested by Tsai and Chai in the Australasian Journal of Electronic Technology, 2012, 28(6), 1057-1060 and elaborated on here, is uncertainty as to how to make full use of the technology.

We hope to overcome that to some extent, but it will be a gradual process, until you reach the point where you can seamlessly incorporate these tools into your teaching, making full use of their affordances, thereby transforming the teaching and learning experience.