There is no doubt that finding the time to integrate technology is an overwhelming task for anyone. Throughout the course of a day, teachers find themselves pulled in many directions. However, technology is already integrated in nearly everything we do and nearly every job our students will encounter. So how do educators find an ideal balance for learning about and eventually integrating technology? It begins with a focus followed by good instructional design -- but ultimately, a healthy balance.
Technology is a literacy that is expected in higher education and in our economy. It is a universal language spoken by the entire world, regardless of the profession. Our current students will encounter one of the toughest job markets in generations. Gone are the days of falling into a profession and riding that wave for 30-plus years. However, it's not to say those jobs aren't still available. They are, but they're dwindling as automation and outsourcing continue to expand.
The contemporary job market requires us to adapt, continually learn, and apply various skill sets in many directions. We have to multitask, connect beyond the workday, and collaborate and connect both locally and globally. And while I am promoting that exposure to technology and digital tools is essential, we must do so responsibly. Teaching students how to balance technology usage along with offline socializing and interpersonal skills is essential. But it's irresponsible to proclaim that technology simply distracts, diminishes social skills, and holds lesser value than other content areas. And to do so not only lets our students down, but also negates the mission statements emblazoned on the walls of our schools.
It's equally important to expose students to information literacy skill sets. As databases grow and information continues to evolve into paperless formats, it is essential to teach students how to question effectively and efficiently. In a world flooded with information to read, libraries have never been more important. Along with digital and information literacy skill sets, it's still vital that we promote and encourage a love of reading across all formats -- along with a facility for questioning, analyzing, discerning and synthesizing with other media.
3 Examples of Balanced Tech Integration
Integrating technology doesn't have to consume your life as an educator. In fact, if a little time is spent on, say, Google Drive, teachers can eventually save time and paper, while collaborating more effectively with students. Personally, in my previous classrooms, I didn’t seek to integrate every free web tool that Richard Byrne posted. However, I simply used his site (and many others) as a resource. I referenced that resource at the beginning of each new semester and made decisions based on what I was teaching. Ultimately I focused on the underlying learning objectives that I wanted, complete with students, and found digital tools to complement or enhance those skills.
Here are some examples:
If I wanted to introduce my students to collaborative learning spaces or integrate a scaled-down learning management system (LMS), I would use Edmodo. I'd research examples of how other teachers were using this tool by simply performing a search for "Edmodo in the classroom." This would present me with a baseline for how other teachers were using this tool. Another option is to ask on Twitter how teachers are leveraging this app in their classrooms.
Another tool I have used and shared with teachers as a digital portfolio system is Google Sites. Again, I recommend performing a search for "Google Sites digital portfolio." What you'll find is a great starting point and a host of examples for how this tool can help you.
I've used Google Drive nearly every year that I've taught. In my opinion, it's one of the best tools to impact the writing process since the red pen. In the classroom, Google Drive can be leveraged in a variety of ways. However, this post is about finding a happy balance between teaching and integrating technology. The last time I used Drive, I created a shared class folder with students before the first day of school. I populated it with dated folders and assignments that all students had access to. Similarly, I had students share a folder with me for homework on their first day. This folder would be their digital dropbox.
Opportunities, Not Apps
The key in all of this is good instructional design along with a consistent vision and culture built by school administration. Find applications that promote and strengthen a variety of skill sets for students, not just one or two. The applications listed above present a myriad of options for teaching and learning far beyond what I shared. However, when you're starting out with tech integration, find a focus. Getting caught up in the never ending, always expanding world of web 2.0 applications and iPad or Android apps will only confuse your students and, inevitably, frustrate you. Also, seek out instructional technology specialists or coaches in your school for help. Understand that it's OK to ask a student -- they know a lot!
As an administrator, seek to promote a culture of sharing around technology along with a pace that is comfortable for every level of user. Reinforce the idea that learning goals and objectives -- not devices or applications -- still drive classroom engagement. An administrator's biggest mistake is to make technology seem like a mandated item. Also, be sure your staff understands that a classroom technology misstep does not mean a negative evaluation. Rather, see it as a step in the learning process.
Before we rush to judgment on technology integration as another sweeping phase in education, we should focus on finding a healthy balance for integrating technology in our respective classrooms. Ignore the clutter of overzealous edtech enthusiasts and find your focus to design your own instruction. Ultimately it's not about how many apps we integrate, but about providing our students with the best access and opportunities to contemporary learning resources. As educators, we must prepare our students for their future, not ours.