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As a one-period-per-day tech coach at my high school, I’ve been having some interesting conversations with colleagues about the role of technology in the classroom. They are asking some really great questions including this one

What’s the benefit of learning [insert Web 2.0 tool] when I could just as easily ask my students for a show of  hands to gather the same data?

Some of you techie teachers may immediately label this a Luddite question born out of someone who is resistant to technology. But from one tech-tool junkie to another–don’t judge. This is actually a fantastic conversation starter because it pierces the heart of a problem we currently have in our transition from paper-and-pencil to internet-capable.

Teachers are overloaded with learning whatever tool is the flavor of the month. As soon as they build their classroom in Moodle, Edmodo swoops in; as soon as they learn those darn voting eggs, Socrative shows up all seductive with ease of access and its multi-platform charm. For some of us, these “new and improved” tools gets our blood pumping and keeps us burning the midnight oil to learn. But for others, the path to technology integration feels like an insane hamster wheel.

So I thought about this colleague’s question, along with other comments that I’ve heard like

I’m just learning this tool to have my first marking period technology goal out of the way.

and

Sometimes I’m not sure what all this technology is adding to my classroom.

and

I just feel like I’m learning technology for technology’s sake.

As much as my heart cringes to hear this perception of technology, I must admit that there is some truth to these sentiments. So what’s the answer to this technology conundrum?  To turn away from the buzzing world of strange gadgets and flashy screens? To do things the way we know has worked in the past? Frenetically learn every new app that pops up on a Twitter feed ? Try each web 2.0 tool plopped into an already jam-packed professional development? No. As with all things in life, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Sometimes you DO have to use technology for technology’s sake. I said this to a colleague recently and was nearly as surprised as she that it had popped out of my mouth. But as soon as it had, I realized its truth. Sometimes to understand the potential of a tool to enhance your classroom, you must simply learn it and play with it–regardless of how clear you are on how it will improve engagement or solve any of your differentiation problems. If technology tools feel foreign to you, you may just have to dive into one or two to understand their potential.

That being said, choose carefully. In the world of a million apps and a billion web pages, the trick to staying sane may just be to put on some blinders. After asking some good questions and doing some recon on the tools and apps that your colleagues love, choose a few to dabble in. Let yourself explore them, become comfortable with their interface, and understand their purpose and fit into your classroom habits and curriculum. Once you’ve chosen, allow yourself time to say “no” to any other flashy or exciting gadget and tool until you feel confident with the one’s you’ve already chosen.

And finally, ask yourself: how can technology best enhance what I already do or want to accomplish in my class? This is the heart of effective and purposeful technology integration. If a tool takes you hours to learn and you feel like a simple request for a raise of hands would be comparably effective, consider how this tool could serve a different purpose in your class. Maybe you need to re-categorize its potential role in your teaching or your students’ learning. Perhaps you need to go back to the drawing board to understand it’s potential to serve a different purpose than you originally thought. And perhaps, dare I say it? Perhaps this tool just isn’t the best use of you or your students’ time and it needs to be put away?

We cannot ask our students to be life-long learners if we are not willing to be continuous learners ourselves. But we also can not ask our teachers to jump at every new tool with potential. We need to listen to each other, be thoughtful in our decisions, and be willing to ask hard questions. 

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