5 Things to Learn Before Teaching with Technology

I owe the focus of my learning about edtech to my students. They trust me enough to be honest when I ask them questions about apps or tools we use, and I honor their opinion with much consideration. It's also been my inroad to learning about what engages them.

Technology engages students in the learning process because they can find, analyze, and share information much like they would outside of a classroom. But they don't all do it the same way or use the same tools. 

Here are some of the questions I need answered before I can expect my students to do authentic work this year. You see, it's not the tool that makes it happen. It will always be the relationships – between you and your students and the learners and the content.

1. What kinds of devices do they use?

We all use different devices and settle into our own routines. What kinds of routines do you want your students to learn? 

If you can find out what they use and make the expectations clear about how they need to use their device academically, they will succeed on whatever they have or may be issued to them.

2. Are there any apps that they like?

Every year, students tell me about the tools they use in other classrooms. It usually comes up when I want them to try something new.

"Why are we using Google Docs," a student says. "My iPhone already has Pages."

If we let our students make more choices about the apps they use, they will immediately take some ownership for their learning and the work they produce. For example, a writing assignment could be completed with Docs, pages, OneNote, or Evernote, to name a few. As long as the file format can be shared easily, it doesn't matter to me which one they choose.

3. How do they access the Internet outside of school?

If we don't know what our students' lives are like outside of school, it gets really hard to engage them. Plus, knowing the specific issues they face allows teachers to focus conversations and resources more proactively than expecting students to make such an emotionally risky move.

Last year was the first one that I could actually say that I know the specific access issues my students faced. In every situation, all it took was a bit of digging deeper into the specific possibilities – some of them could get to school early, while others had relatives or transportation to the public library.

The kids with access issues are often the ones who need the personal conversation. They know the answer but need someone they respect to offer support. This makes their confidence soar.

4. What kinds of social media do they like?

Not all of my students like social media, and not all of them like the same platforms. At least two thirds of my students use Twitter, and most of them have Facebook accounts but don't use them. Almost every student, however, uses some sort of texting app (whether out of box on the device or installed by the user).

One thing is for sure, most of them will use social media at one time or another. Many of my students who despise it during their secondary years will friend request me once they're settled into life after high school.

I teach writing, sharing, and commentary skills that support best practices for professional communication as well as appropriate interaction on social media platforms. That's why I like to know where they are when it comes to their preferences and practices. 

5. How often do they use their devices for learning outside of the classroom setting?

Some students have never thought about how often they use their devices for learning. Many of them have never spent any time thinking about what can be considered learning.

A discussion on the latter is usually mind blowing, especially when they realize that they learn something with every text, conversation, or YouTube search, for example.

Adult Education?

Yes. All of the above works. I always start a training session or presentation by getting a feel for the room. I may not expect a Google Form to be completed for a short session, but I always sent one to my colleagues when I ran a department.