The summer can offer a little extra time to look around at what’s going on in the greater teaching and learning community. And because of my personality, I am drawn to new technology like a mosquito to a bug zapper. That may be why I have been thinking about gadgets in the classroom more than usual lately, but I also think it might be because in the past few weeks I have been involved in several conversations that go something like this: “Is there technology out there in the world that can help me and my students have a better classroom experience?” It’s at this point I look that faculty member straight in the eye and give the confident, unwavering reply of, “Maybe.”
I am going to mention a technology that I use personally, but first I need to draw a line in the sand. Adding technology, apps, or gadgets to a course in order to spice things up a bit rarely offers a positive experience for anyone involved. Technology for technology’s sake doesn’t help learning or engagement, and often it adds a new layer of stress that comes with wrestling with an unfamiliar gadget. But, intentional technology, or gadgets that serve the pedagogy of the classroom, can be great resources. My advice will always be don’t start with the gadget, start with the learning objectives. When you have solid learning objectives, often the best tool to reinforce those objectives will float to the top.
When I taught my first class I knew it was going to be a learning experience for me (and hopefully my students). I was going to make many mistakes, gain a better understanding of my students, and learn by experience which of my ideas actually worked. I also knew that by the end of my three hour class period which followed my regular full work day, my body would be exhausted and my brain would be pudding. I needed a fast way to document what had happened in class that night, so after a little rest I could reflect on how to make my class better. I needed my reflections to be private but accessible to me. My typing skills are pretty poor, so actually sitting down after class and typing out what had happened would be far from efficient. At best I may scribble some quick notes of whatever piece of paper was closest to me. I needed something else to capture my reflections in hopes of helping me become a better teacher, and helping my students have a more meaningful learning experience. My objective was fast, in-the-moment documentation of my experience for reflection and later review.
The amount of apps and gadgets you could use is pretty overwhelming, even for someone who gets excited by new technology. Where do you start? I will advocate that the best place to start is to look at what you already use. What tools do you use in your everyday life that could be reimagined to serve you in your classroom life?
I decided to use an app that I already had on my phone; SoundCloud. SoundCloud is a service that lets people (it’s main audience is musicians) record audio, share it with others, and get feedback from friends. They have a dead-simple recording feature in the app. It’s a giant, red button. You hit it and start recording. Hit it again to stop, and then the recording uploads to your SoundCloud account so you can access it from any internet connected device. While the makers of SoundCloud encourage you to share what you record, I set my account to set all my recordings as private by default. I was already using SoundCloud to record some music ideas along with recording my infant daughter’s first words. I decided to expand its role in my life as a tool for teaching.
As I would walk to my car after class had finished I would pull out my phone and begin recording my thoughts about what had happened in class that night. There were times when I was recording some great experiences. There were also nights where I would start by saying, “Here are a few things I will never do in class again.” But in that three minute walk to my car I had enough time record the memorable issues of the night. I would reflect on them in the moment, and then be able to listen to them after some rest and make improvements to my teaching. Reimagining my use of some familiar technology made it easy for the technology to serve my objective, not the other way around.
So when you are thinking about the places where technology could help strengthen your teaching, begin by nailing down an objective or goal. When you have a clear goal it will help narrow the technology field. Then look at what apps are already on your phone or what programs you frequent on your computer. Ask yourself if these familiar tools could be reimagined for new purposes that could match your objective? That’s how I begin looking for technology that will help me and my students have a better classroom experience.
Photo from the US Library of Congress.
“Linotype on Press Car (LOC).” Flickr. Yahoo!, 21 July 2009. Web. 14 July 2014. <https://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/3738806589/in/photolist-4jCFZC-4jyDCK-6GomWz-4ju5HR-4jyDtK-4idByJ-4icwKU-4y9osi-4jCnfu-5BLShY-4jyrXi-apGHDU-5XwhM3-7QekRK-mKY1QH-75VPqu>.