There’s a fine line between tech enhanced and tech exhausted, and many of us have crossed it over the past two years. The switch to remote instruction due to the pandemic put pressure on educators to master a myriad of tech tools in record time. We were flooded by a tsunami of webinars, almost to the point of losing ourselves and our pedagogy in a sea of must-have tools and must-follow practices, and now we are adrift.
How can we move toward a healthier, less exhausting relationship with technology? I’d like to share some observations based on my own experiences, not only as an educator but also as a teacher-trainer.
First, we need to shift the focus away from tools. Instruction should be supported by our tools, not subservient to our tools. Ask not what you can do with technology, but what technology can do for you. Let’s take the example of a keyboard: You probably don’t look at it and think, “What can I do with the letter G?” Instead, you start with your purpose: to write something. The content of your message will then dictate which keys you use.
In other words, we need to know where we’re going before deciding how to get there, and sometimes technology might not be the best way of getting us there. Technology does not automatically enhance your teaching, and as far as I know, there’s no correlation between the number of tools you use and how much students are learning.
Technology: Help or Hindrance?
In fact, technology can just as easily hinder as help learning. I would classify technology’s impact on learning into three broad categories:
- It enhances learning when it supports our goals. For instance, interactive video lessons allow learners to process information at their own pace and receive immediate feedback on their answers.
- It gets in the way of learning when it complicates our goals. For example, the rigidity of the answer key in computer-graded questions can lead to frustration and confusion if students do not understand why an alternative answer is unacceptable.
- It bypasses learning when it derails our goals. The clearest example I can provide is the use of online translators to complete writing assignments in world language classes. Using a self-driving car won’t help you learn how to drive.
The Risk of Rankings
Another important step toward a healthier relationship with technology involves avoiding rankings and comparisons. Foregoing the “top tools” does not put you at the bottom. Remember earlier when I said that the tools you use don’t define your instructional effectiveness? Well, neither do the tools other teachers use. You need to apply your own filters.
I consider many factors before deciding whether to adopt a new tool. These include cost, accessibility, ease of use, etc. One factor I never consider is how popular a tool is. On the other hand, something I always take into account is what I call “return on time investment.” What’s the value added for the amount of time my students and I have to invest in learning how to use this new tool? Is it truly worth it, or can I do something similar with what I already have?
A Broader Definition of Innovation
You see, innovation does not have to involve new tools. We tend to think that innovative teachers use all sorts of different tools, especially those that reflect the latest trends in ed tech. The issue with this way of defining innovation is that it puts us in an endless race to find the next cool tool, the next cool space, and that is indeed draining.
Innovation can involve finding a new way to use a tool, and it can also be about figuring out a more efficient way of doing something without tech. New or different isn’t always better. Don’t get me wrong; variety can indeed add value, as long as you’re not crossing the line from tech enhanced to tech exhausted.
Why does that matter? Because if we are drained from chasing tech trends, then we run the risk of not allocating enough energy and attention to what truly matters. The word technology comes from the Greek technê, meaning “skill” or “craft.” We need to refocus and not let tools take over our craft. Technology can certainly enhance teaching, but your students will remember you more than any tool you used.