Monday, March 9, 2009

Find Your OWN Relevance in Technology

I had a computer in college, an Atari St with no hard drive, but up until my first teaching gig all I could really do of practical value was word processing. This put me in a precarious position when went up for the interview. They told me halfway through it that the position was actually half a day English and half a day computer applications. They then asked if I felt I could handle it. I smiled, waived my hand in front of me and said “of course” with an air of confident authority that I wish I could recapture when I play poker. They bought it, and I was hired within a couple of days. It was halfway through the year, so I was to take over immediately after winter break. I borrowed one of the school’s computers and the text for the classes for the week and a half, and did my best to learn enough to enable me to stay at least three or four days ahead of the kids for the rest of school year.
When I came in, they were just wrapping up MS Word, and were about to head into Excel. I was okay with Word though I didn’t see myself using mail merge all that often, so this class was like a lead weight around my neck for the first couple of weeks, and I was dreading Excel. I’d heard of spreadsheets before, but I’d never used them and really didn’t know what they did. But then I started reading about inputting formulas and automating calculations, and I started playing around with them. Suddenly, I had a wild, just-so-crazy-it-might-work idea. I’ll bet I could set up formulas in a spreadsheet to automate the calculation of grades, I thought. I’ll bet this would work even for weighted grades! Two hours later I had a grading spreadsheet put together that with minor tweaks here and there, I used for the next few years.
That instant when I realized spreadsheets could make my life simpler was a defining moment for me. Up until then, a computer was simply a glorified typewriter, and teaching kids how to use them was to me the Jetsons equivalent of teaching Peterson Handwriting. Now, however, the door was open for me to find other ways that these things could enhance my life. Once that happened, I wanted to share the joy with everyone I met. I became as annoying a booster of technology as the kid who just discovered Pink Floyd is about talking up “Dark Side of the Moon.”
That’s a leap I think a lot of teachers who are reticent to incorporate technology into their teaching haven’t yet made. They know they’re supposed to use it. They’ve read the articles and blogs. They’ve heard the guest lecturers espouse the wonders of technology. They’ve seen every frickin’ version of the “Did You Know?” video at faculty meetings, but I don’t think many of them have made that connection between “This stuff is good for you” and “Hey! This makes thing easier for me, too!” They’re reciting the lines without conviction because they’re just not feeling it. Kids aren’t stupid, and any teacher worth his salt knows they can spot a lack of sincerity within seconds. To them, that’s a worse sin than lack of knowledge. They’ll forgive you if you don’t know how to do something with a computer, but they’ll rip you to shreds if they think you’re forcing them to do something you yourself don’t find any value in.
So find a way to make it valuable to you.
There are so many things you can do with the tech that will help you both personally and professionally that you are bound to have that epiphany of utility sooner or later.
For instance, if you've been reading any news or blogs about 21st century tools in the classroom, you know about Google Docs and how they can help with student collaboration, but have you thought about how you can use them for yourself? Many times I’ve been working on a document, be it text based, a spread sheet or a simple PowerPoint, and didn’t quite get finished. I’d plan on working on it from home, but I’d invariably forget the disc/thumb drive, and either have to trudge back to school or wait until the next day. Now I do most of my own work in Google Docs and I don’t have to worry about it. It’s available at home before I even get there.
More, it’s great for other mundane work that is a nightmare to organize at school. It’s budget time here, and I just finished talking to the English department chair. She’s utterly flustered because she has to collect budget spread sheets from all the language arts teachers, check for duplicated items that can be eliminated, the put the requests into a single spreadsheet to send to central office. Everyone emailed her their requests, and she’s looked at them both at school and at home, so now she has multiple copies twelve separate spreadsheets she’s trying to put in some semblance of order. I suggest that next year She use a Google Docs spreadsheet and have everyone add their requests onto a single document. Then all she need do is go through and prioritize items and eliminate any unneeded duplications that the teachers haven’t already caught. She could cut down the process that takes her over a week presently to maybe a day. It was the first time I’ve seen her genuinely interested in anything technologically oriented.
How about those teachers who are taking grad courses? When doing your research, rather than jotting stuff down in a notebook or on note cards, why not try Evernote? Heck, throw your favorite recipes and the serial numbers to your dvd-r, camcorder and lawnmower in there too so you don’t have to go looking for them.
If you’re more into squishy feel-good stuff, why not download Photo Story and make a cute little video of your Lhasa Apso set to Cat Stevens’ “I Love My Dog”? When you see how easy that is, it might help you sell creating a Photo Story project with your students a little easier.

No comments:

Post a Comment