Friday, October 16, 2009

Getting Started with Educational Technology

(cross posted at Tech&

(Picture downloaded from on 10-16-09)

Technology is a wonderful thing. As a former engineer, and current physics teacher and educational technology specialist, I love technology. I read 6 or 7 technology magazines, follow 20+ technology web sites and blogs, and am always looking for new ways to use technology in my life and in my classroom. My father is a retired chemist. He loves technology too. He got us a Radio Shack Color Computer back in the day to use at home. I took programming classes in high school and college. Technology use comes easy to me. I love to just dive in and try out a new technology. I love technology. That's me. That's some people. That's not everyone.

Many teachers are not like me. They do not find technology easy to understand or easy to implement. They are not comfortable with it. Or, they may like technology and use it to some degree, but don't know how to get started with using it in their classrooms.

There is a tremendous amount of great technology out there that can be used in the classroom to help the teacher and student. Technology can make you more efficient, open up new activities for your students, allow you and your students to explore virtual worlds, and allow your students to do more projects and share their work with others. But, where do you start?

There are times that I am overwhelmed at everything out there. I have a long list of web sites and technologies that I want to look into and try out, but I just don't have the time.

My suggestion to colleagues is to think of something that you would like to do differently in your class or that you would like to do that you haven't been able to do yet. Do you want to communicate better with parents and students? Do you want to be more organized? Do you want a class web site? Do you want your students to do new activities? Once you have picked one thing, do a search for that idea or topic. I'm partial to Google, but you can use what ever search engine you want. Look for articles and reviews about the different products out there. I always tell people to try free stuff first. Why pay for it if you don't have to?

Once you have selected something. Try it on your own at home or during a prep period. Look at it from the perspective of a teacher first, and then as a student. Is this something that will make my life easier and more efficient? Will this expose my students to something new? Will this allow my students to learn better? If you think it is worth trying with your students, give it a shot. Then, see how things went. Do an assessment of the technology after using it. Ask the students what they thought of the activity. Check to see if it helped them learn the topic. Analyze it just like you would analyze and assess any lesson you do.

I also suggest that you have a back up plan in case something goes wrong. If the technology doesn't work the way you thought it would, fails, or the students have trouble understanding it. Just like any other day, a backup plan for your lesson is a life saver. As an example, our building lost internet service for about 30 minutes the other day. Luckily, I had a backup plan for my lessons and for my technology use.

Professional development is another way to learn about technology. Check your district offerings, look for regional training, go to conferences (like TechForum), and do some self-directed development by reading and researching on your own.

If you are reading this article, then you know about Tech & Learning Magazine. This is a great place to get ideas and tips about technology. Read the blogs. Comment on articles. Ask questions. There are also a huge number of blogs written by teachers that have resources, tips and ideas about using technology. Here is a list of my favorites: (Tech&Learning is a given) - My blog on educational technology.
At the end of the article, I also have links to a few specific articles to help you get started with technology. - Free Technology For Teachers - one of the best technology blogs around. - George Lucas Educational Foundation - Technology Horizons in Education

You can also ask other teachers about what they use in their classrooms. Ask students about what they use at home. Have them do some research on things to use in class. I love hearing from my students about technology because they are looking at it with a different frame of reference than I am. They also know how to use Social Networking technologies and most of them would love to use something similar in school / class.

When you are looking at technology, think about what you want the technology to do for you: make you more efficient (Evernote, Google Apps), provide new avenues of discussion (blogs), resources for students (web site), experience new things (internet - web sites, virtual tours, virtual labs) and then look for a technology that can do what you are looking for.

When you are analyzing and assessing technology, think of this: If it makes you more efficient, engages the students and/or helps them learn, than it is a good thing.

Remember that technology is your friend. Start small and try one thing at a time. Then try something new. Have fun and explore what's out there.

Please share more ideas, tips, and resources in the comment section.