I like to think that I’m ‘savvy’ when it comes to technology. I know my way around a projector, can email with the best of ‘em and even integrate a few mobile apps into my learning when the mood strikes. I can do a bit of coding if someone puts a pistol to my temple (they’d have to, I bloody hate it); I’ve created audio and video learning and feedback, used online classrooms, augmented reality, and I’ve got QR codes up the kazoo. I like to think that I’m a pretty hip cat when it comes to the shiny things that go beep.
Then I look around. I see teachers that have done things with technology that I couldn’t even have conceptualised a couple of years back. I see classes using 3D printers to create art and tools; I see teachers modifying games to use as learning tools; I see kids building controllers out of fruit. And it absolutely blows my mind.
But it is also fairly disconcerting if I’m going to be brutally honest. I try hard to keep my skills the closest to current as I can given my meagre resources and complete lack of self-motivation. But technology moves like a mad bugger and it can often feel like it has left you way, way behind. This in turn can add to that anxious little voice in the back of the teacher’s mind that says you might not be doing the best for your charges if you don’t try to at least get a handle on every new thing. After all, the next one could be the game-changer, the paradigm-shifter or, and this is when the ears of those above really pick up, the grade-improver.
Here’s the thing: trying to keep up with every single development in educational technology is like trying to match speed with the Eurostar when you’re on a skateboard – give it a go and you’ll quickly end up sweaty, knackered and looking thoroughly daft. The industry is now so large and encompasses so many different facets and features that to keep your finger on the pulse you’d need to engineer an army of robot fingers. This, of course, would inevitably lead to a robot finger uprising with lots of metallic pokings and extremely rude gestures – and no-one needs that. Also, it’s not just technology that’s specifically created for the classroom you’d have to keep abreast of, it’s the developments that can be utilised but weren’t necessarily designed for education in the first place (which is a deep thread of gold if you come at it with a bit of imagination). To put it simply, there is just simply too much stuff to keep tabs on.
If you feel the bleeding edge slipping away from you, then, I don’t think it’s necessarily time to panic. It’s not a race to get the newest idea or machine into the classroom - that’s a mug’s game, which ultimately shifts focus away from the most important thing in there, namely the students. Because if it’s all about the technology, then it’s not all about them, meaning it can’t be the best place from which to start.
So, with that in mind, here are a few tips for you whizzkids who might be worried that you’re getting behind the curve:
1. DON’T CHASE THE TECH, CHASE THE IDEA
Like I’ve just said, you shouldn’t be starting with the technology, you should be starting with the learning. The question shouldn’t be ‘How can I get this into the lesson?’ it should be ‘What do I want them to learn?’ If that’s first and foremost in your mind then it can give you a starting point and a focus which will allow you to be a bit more discerning when making choices as to which piece of tech will best aid you in that task (or, in fact, if one is needed at all). Rather than trying to grab a bit of every dish at the buffet and ultimately ending up unsatisfied, it means you can hone in on the very best and fill your boots. Speaking of which:
2. LET THINGS PASS YOU BY
Sometimes the worry is that when it comes to technology, you’ll miss something that’s truly useful leading to a mad scramble to try and master absolutely everything. This type of mastery is a pipe-dream and I’m afraid that the chances of it happening are the same as the chance of me getting to lunchtime without three cups of tea. Absolutely nil. Sometimes you have to let things go. Time is a precious commodity and it’s better spent really getting to grips with and mastering a small number of things that you know will make a difference. But then again:
3. HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT TECHNOLOGY WILL HAVE LEGS?
No, I’m not on about robots again. I’m thinking of the evaluation of technology for long-term gain. Because, let’s be honest, a lot of this stuff doesn’t last. Is there any point to learning how to use something or including something in your lessons that will be virtually obsolete this time next year? Keeping ahead of the game is all well and good but you may find yourself wasting considerable time and resources coming to terms with kit with an incredibly short shelf-life. Going through a process of evaluation as to whether you think that something is here to stay or a flash in the pan might go towards lessening that feeling of panic at the thought of missing out. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that you’ll back the right horse on this, but with a moment to stop and consider and with a bit of experience you can usually take an educated guess. And finally:
4. DON’T PANIC
OK, so you might not be using VR to Minecraft a reconstruction of the Great Wall of China. You might not be using a Raspberry Pi to control the lights in the gym. You might not be flying drones to map the school’s playing field or whatnot. But then again, who says you have to? Those things would undoubtedly be extremely cool… but so are the things that you’re already doing in your classroom.
Every. Single. Day. Keep an eye out for new things and opportunities; but remember that you always have to work within certain frameworks and limits such as time, money and institutional attitudes that may not be the most supportive. Concentrate on what you ARE doing, rather than what you might be missing.
So there we have it. You might not always be forging ahead with the early adopters but that doesn’t mean what you’re doing has any less merit. Focus, take it easy, and concentrate on what you’re doing in your classroom, and all will be well.
That is, until the robot fingers start knocking at your door.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tom Starkey is a teacher in an FE college in the north of England. He blogs at stackofmarking.wordpress.com (@tstarkey1212)