In my part of the world, today is the first day of school for many post-secondary students. Some are heading into their 2nd, 3rd, or 4th year – others are walking in the doors for the first time. It’s interesting times in the world of education; technology has enabled us, as teachers, to expand the classroom experience beyond anything most of us could have imagined 10 years ago.
I have successfully used technology in my classroom for many different things – I’ve built online communities where students can connect, used Wikis to share information, created YouTube channels for students to show off their work, and brought guest speakers in via Skype. I’m encouraging my students to ask me fewer questions by email and more questions by Twitter and Skype, because it’s faster and could potentially benefit others. I use tools like VisibleTweets and CommonCraft as visual aids. This year I intend to do all of these things, and more. I’ll be leveraging YouTube to connect with my classes when I can’t be there in person. I’ll be having more Skype-based guest speakers, and playing with CamtasiaRelay to do software tutorials. I’m sure many of you will be exploring similar tools, and figuring out how to best use them in the classroom.
But let’s take a step back for a moment.
It’s really, really easy to get caught up in all the tools and toys and shiny things – there are so many things to learn about and explore. We run the risk of getting so caught up in the tools, that we can start to forget about what our purpose is as teachers.
My job in the classroom (virtual or otherwise) is to create an environment where students feel confident and inspired. I want them to have the courage to try new things, share their ideas, and work together to create good things. In order for them to succeed at this, I need them to be attentive, engaged, and understanding of what is expected of them. If I spend too much time focused on the technology, I’m not focused on them. Somewhere along the way, I need to find a balance. I want to leverage the power of social media and other emerging technologies to improve the experience for my students, but I need to be careful not to let technology get in the way of the learning.
If I’m including technology in a class, I test everything out before I get to the class. If it’s Skype, I make sure I’ve got the person in my contacts. I try a test call on the computer I’ll be using during the class. Even something simple like VisibleTweets should be set up ahead of time, so you can just let it run in the background. Make the technology part of the background of what you are doing, not the emphasis. Use the tools as just that – things to aid you in the process.
Always be prepared for a technology #fail. Even the best of tools go down occasionally. Internet connections are slow, or stop working altogether. With that said, always have a backup. I download videos from YouTube as a separate file so I can run them locally if need be. If my Skype connection fails, I have the speaker’s phone number handy so they can talk via speaker phone if necessary. Remember, the emphasis is on the learning experience – and the experience shouldn’t fail just because the technology breaks. Your students should always come away getting what you promised them, with or without the shiny toys.
Technology in the classroom is a wonderful thing, but remember, it’s not the be all and end all of the classroom experience. Like everything else, education is about people, not technology. Keep the focus on your students and their learning, plan and prepare your use of technology, and the rest will fall into place.
And you? What are your plans to include tech in the classroom this year? How will it enhance the learning experience?
[photo credit: Rego on Flickr]