(This post was originally the second of a two-part series in 2017.)
As I mentioned in Part 1, we can spend a lot of time adding things on to our lessons that make them shine…at least for a while. It’s often just glitter. Here today, gone tomorrow–along with all of the time we spent putting it together and learning how it all worked.
This is no less true when it comes to technology. So, while I want to stretch the metaphor for all it’s worth, let’s get at least a tiny bit practical too. How do we make our teaching gold rather than just gluing glitter on it?
1. Realize that glued-on glitter eventually falls off.
Thinking that any one tech tool will be the end-all-be-all of education is naïve thinking. In fact, much of the cool technology available today will be a thing of the past by this point next year, if not next semester. Something better will have taken its place. Worse yet, we may have become totally immersed in a free technology that has decided to start charging or has become unavailable for other reasons. All of the time we spent learning how to use it and planning our lessons around it will go the way of glitter falling off our artwork.
There are, however, tech tools that are more long-lived than others. Google Apps, for instance, will likely be around and available for a long time. Open-source platforms such as Moodle and Mahara, which are hosted and supported in Dearborn, will remain available for years to come. Integrating tools that will continue to shine is one step toward making our teaching gold.
But as I also mentioned in Part 1, making our teaching gold has less to do with the tools we add on, and more to do with how we use them. Which leads us to the next point…
2. Making our teaching gold with technology has almost nothing to do with technology.
Sure, choosing a long-lived tool is an important first step, but even a long-lived tool can still be glitter. Technology allows us to do new and better things. So using technology to enable us to keep doing the same things we’ve always done in our classrooms is a way to ensure that our technology use will be trivial. Making teaching gold has much more to do with thinking than with the tools themselves. It has more to do with changing the starting point of our thinking than finding the next thing to tack on.
3. We can’t turn glitter into gold.
We’re not alchemists, we’re teachers. Making our teaching gold can’t be done by tweaking the same old lessons with the glued-on glitter. But it’s not magic. It requires rethinking things at a foundational level–asking questions like “What does the available technology enable me to do that I couldn’t do without it?” and “How do I create amazing opportunities for kids?”
4. Gold requires a different handler.
This also involves rethinking our role in the classroom, loosening our grip on all those things to which we have always clung tightly because we’ve always understood them to be “what teachers do”. It involves giving up control in some areas in order to gain greater influence over the well-being of kids. Gold teaching, like real gold, requires less maintenance–no re-gluing, sweeping up, or re-applying the glitter. It involves high-level thinking, both from the students and especially the teacher. Handlers of gold teaching think less about mundane questions like “How many copies do I need?” and more about “How do I empower students to create things in order to learn the things they need to know?”
We also don’t need to know everything there is to know about gold in order to handle it. The same is true for teaching with technology: we don’t have to be the expert in order to get started using it. There will always be more to know. We can’t wait until we’ve overcome our lack of understanding in order to begin to invest in it when it comes to our teaching.
5. Gold is costly.
Part of the reason glitter is so tempting is because it requires very little investment–at least initially. But if we can imagine ourselves at the end of our careers looking back on all the time we spent preparing for each lesson whose techniques and strategies fell by the wayside like glitter, we might find it appealing to have invested our time on things that would last a little longer. Perhaps we might think of the learning in less fractured units and more unified by tools and thinking that were versatile enough to be used for almost all of it.
Practically speaking, this is the hidden value of what folks in the ed tech industry like to refer to as the LMS, or Learning Management System. Teachers who invest the necessary time to learn how to use one gradually realize they’ve struck gold veins that can run throughout years of teaching–reusable, malleable, not exceedingly lustrous, but enduring nevertheless. It’s part of the reason teachers in our district who have explored the functionality of Moodle continue to find new and better ways to make it a part of their classroom, while sadly others miss out because the initial cost is admittedly high.
6. There will always be glitter and it will never be as valuable as gold.
The providers of glitter will continue to produce it. New and fancier glitter will continue to catch our eye. We will continue to be lured by the latest tech tool, app, website, device. But the glitter we use today will be the stuff of tomorrow’s digital landfill. And not matter how glamorous it seems, we’ll never find that it has as much impact as renewed thinking, reconsidering our role in the classroom, and tools that enable kids to do things we never thought were possible.
For all these last two posts lacked in practicality, we’ll continue to flesh out the ways we’re finding that we can use technology to make our teaching like gold in future posts. We’ll continue to highlight teachers that have already found it …And all of this, always, for the sake of all kids–who are worthy of much more than glitter.