Many educators feel overwhelmed by new technology and may feel apprehensive when it comes to adopting it in the classroom. But I’m here to make the case that learning to use technology and employing it as part of your curriculum is actually easier than ever. Way easier.
Both hardware and software have never been more user friendly. Developers know that consumers want ease of use and have delivered in an unprecedented manner. Additionally, all producers are now compelled to provide free and easy how-to instructions – trust me, no more 1000-page manuals written in convoluted “tech speak” or a quick trip to the big box bookstore for the Dummies guide.
If you see a new project or idea that you want to bring to your own classroom that requires an unfamiliar software tool, do not hesitate to adopt it. With rare exceptions, you’ll find introductory videos at the producer’s website, tutorials by fellow educators at YouTube, and a community of users at the product’s Facebook or social-network page who are eager to help. If you’ve developed a Personal Learning Network using Twitter and other social media (and if you haven’t, now is a good time), you’ll have even more potential sources of support.
Here are just a few methods that I use to teach myself new tools as well as provide my own “technical support.”
Just Do it!
If I am interested in trying out a new (and most often free) tool in my classroom (Google Docs, Evernote, iMovie, Dropbox, or more) then as Nike taught me, I “just do it!” I download the software and start exploring. Most people are surprised at how easy these tools are to use.
I set aside one hour of uninterrupted time where I simply sit down and play with the program or tool. I try out the features and get creative! No one else is watching. This is time for me to get familiar with the designers’ intentions, the user interface, and to brainstorm about its possibilities. I don’t have to worry about colleagues, students, or anyone else looking over my shoulder.
Yes, you can “just google it”
When I was first learning about digital stories and exploring how to employ them in my classroom, I sat down with iMovie and tried to make my own documentary. While using this software, I found that I had a series of questions. For example: “How do I add a transition?” or “How do I insert credits?”. How did I find my answers? I simply googled it. Google’s algorithms are so user friendly now that you can simply type in the question: “How do I add credits in iMovie?” and your browser displays a series of instructional documents and videos. If you have a question, “google it.” Googling is also a good way to search for examples of how other teachers using the same tool you’re exploring.
YouTube is Your Friend
YouTube isn’t just a place for silly cat and adorable dog videos. Amid the dreck there’s actually an amazing repository of knowledge, including lots of helpful clips posted by educators.
A quick YouTube search, using nothing more than the name of the tool or program you’re exploring, will turn up step-by-step instructions on how to troubleshoot common problems, use specialized features, and even more. (Videos with high numbers of views are a good place to start.)
I have a series of Ed Tech channels that I follow for my favorite webtools and programs, where I often learn about new and exciting features. I can honestly say that YouTube has become my go-to resource for any technology problem, question, or pursuit currently on my plate. It’s so easy to find what you need and the information is usually offered in an easy to follow format, with little to no technical jargon. If you find that’s not the case, try another video on the topic. There’s seldom just one.
Ask the students
As an educator, I often go through some internal struggle before I look to my students for answers to technology quesitons. After all, aren’t I supposed to be the font of knowledge? Then I get over it. They often know more than I do about available programs and features, and they also have the knack for figuring out the user interface quickly. I can tell you that they are never more excited than when they can show their classmates and me something new. Not only does it allow them to showcase their talents, but also it provides them key opportunities of leadership in the classroom. As a result, they become more confident and engaged in their academic environment.
What I have learned over the years about employing technology in my classroom is that you have to stretch yourself, get over your fears, and trust your skills as an educator and your students as learners. The results I have gotten have far exceeded my expectations. The resources and tools now available for those who want to learn to use these tools is not only free, it’s readily accessible and easy to use.
So go in your room. Close the door. Boot up (or wake up your iPad). Guess what. You can’t break this stuff. And as your confidence and knowledge grows, you’ll be amazed at how much these tools can actually make your teaching more engaging, more fun and more effective.
Jennifer Carey teaches at Trinity Valley School in Ft. Worth, Texas. “I’m a student of the human condition: history, philosophy, art, and culture. I am a passionate educator. I am a lover of new technologies and their ability to share knowledge.” She blogs at Indiana Jen and you can find her on Twitter @teacherjencarey.