Teaching and tech sometimes seem to be at odds. Teaching is often seen more as an in-person endeavor.
Most of the professional development I had as a teacher was geared towards partnering strategies, group activities, and hands-on learning.
Those things are often hard to replicate in online spaces.
Furthermore, I had very few professional developments about making engaging online content and environments, even when I actually taught online. Due to this, I think it’s easy to be intimidated, discouraged, and perplexed by having to take your classroom online.
Those are valid things to feel! Of course, you’d feel that way, you were never trained to do the thing you’re being asked to do or choosing to do (as the situation may be).
But don’t fear! We got you! Here are some tips on folding technology into your teaching practice and not lose your mind:
Even though you often are told that something must be done right away, phasing projects is a perfectly fine strategy.
Focus on one skill at first and get really good at it.
If you’re making a website for your class, make that the best possible website. If you’re making a google classroom, spend the time making the best google classroom you can.
Once you’ve gotten comfortable with ONE tool, move onto the next one.
Resist the urge to try every cool, new idea you hear. It can become very frustrating very fast trying to learn all of the technology at once. You could easily shut down entirely, rather than continue on your learning journey.
I would suggest a notebook or file on your computer where you write down cool ideas you hear and want to try.
Then, take all the ideas and order them from the one you are most excited about to least. Take learning them in that order. Only come back to your list once you feel pretty competent and comfortable with the last item.
Take a pace that feels right to you. Don’t let people pressure you into trying everything all at once.
Basic stuff that you can build a practice on:
Trying things is the best way to learn.
To me, technology is like an unattended, big red button. I want to push it and I want to see what happens.
Technology is a good way to foster your inner curiosity. Wonder what would happen if you pushed that button, let yourself be pulled by wanting to know.
Many people are afraid of the button though. What if it wipes out everything? What if the button destroys all my work?
This is where controlled experimentation comes in.
Make dummy projects that you don’t care about, to see how something works first before using the tool for something you’ve spent time on.
Try it all by yourself first. Next, if it works well, ask a partner teacher or friend to try it out with you.
Try to do all of the things you could imagine someone else doing that might cause problems, so you know where those problems will come up and what will happen when those steps happen.
Try something in a variety of ways. Don’t give up if you get a bad outcome or get lost.
This is just an experiment. No reason to fret. The most you’ll lose is the afternoon, but even then, you gain knowledge of how something works (or doesn’t).
This will make you a better teacher too. It puts you in the shoes of your students. You’re doing something hard, that you’re not sure of. It builds empathy and shows you how things like explanations can be more or less helpful.
Be bold! Push the red button and see what happens!
Tools that are fun to try new stuff with:
Have a plan b
Even when you have become a master of your tools, sometimes they straight crap out on you.
This happens during in-person teaching tasks too. You planned a partner activity and half the class is out on field trips that day. You wanted to show a film and that was the day of the brown-out. Things happen.
It’s the same with technology.
Sometimes it works perfectly, sometimes it just refuses to work.
That’s ok. If your edpuzzle just won’t work or you can’t find your kahoot activity for your lesson don’t despair. The day doesn’t need to be ruined.
Give yourself easy alternatives for when something goes awry. Save some of these activities somewhere safely on your computer to pull up in case of emergencies.
In really dire straits, you can always repeat an activity that was successful before. Students are never hurt by repeated practice.
When things got dicey with something I was trying to do, I can’t say how many times I fell back on “respond to this prompt I just made up on Padlet and leave 2 positive comments on other student’s responses”.
Now, obviously, you won’t necessarily be using Padlet. Whatever skill, service or tool you have had luck with, keep it in your back pocket for just such an occasion.
These bumps in the electronic road will happen. Know that going in and have a simple backup plan in mind.
Tools so easy and reliable you can put them in your back pocket:
- Padlet (easier to use then falling off a log)
- TedEd (a video is always a good fall back)
- StudyBlue (you can never go wrong with flashcards!)
Do you know who knows if your digital lessons are boring? The students, that’s who.
They also know if they’re confusing or too long or constantly crash for them.
Cultivate an online learning environment that solicits input and USES that input.
Students will get hip to you asking for input and then ignoring it, real quick. They’ll likely stop giving it to you once they realize you don’t intend to use it.
Getting input can come in many forms. You can send a short survey using google forms or survey monkey after an assignment or a schedule (like every week).
The best thing you can do is keep open lines of communication.
Encourage students to email you or call you. Keep and post good online office hours so they know when they definitely can reach you, and then be there.
When you make contact for calls home ask if the student has been finding anything challenging about any of the assignments.
The other great thing you can do is ask students for assignment ideas. I’d offer extra credit for this so that they have an incentive to help.
Overall, listen and accept feedback from your students. They are after all, who you’re hoping to reach with these new digital spaces and tools.
Tools to use to get input:
Digital spaces and tools can be a great way to try something new.
Maybe you’ve always thought that one of your lessons was a little boring or not very fun, but you’ve never really found something that can make it better.
Having to use digital learning tools is a great way to get out of a rut and flex your creativity muscles.
When I hear about a new tech tool the first thing I think is, “what would be the most fun way to use this?” I let my imagination go before I try to use it.
Digital tools are no different than any other teaching tool you’ve come across. They may be a little less intuitive than markers and poster boards, but the general principle is the same.
Let the newness of the tool allow you to be experimental with it.
Great tools to be creative with:
- Aww (web whiteboard) (is a $9 a month thing)
- A FREE online whiteboard (buy the creator coffee if you like it)
Join a community
These teacher tech tools aren’t always easy to find. That’s where joining a community can come in handy.
The easiest places to find new ideas and how people are using them are the same ones you’re probably already on. Pinterest has a ton of great pins that are pretty easy to search for with different technology tools and how other teachers are using them.
You may find your people on a Facebook group. You may want to follow a hashtag on Instagram or Twitter. This is a great way to get inspiration.
You may also consider following teacher tech companies on LinkedIn, where they often post blogs with new ideas on how to use their tools.
There are plenty of places you can go to find other people who are offering expertise and advice.
Find your perfect tribe and join up!
- Teach with Tech
- Special Education Teachers
- High School ELA Teachers Support Group
- The Resource Room
- Behavior Intervention Toolbox
- ELA in the Middle 6-8
- WeAreTeachers HELPLINE
- Transition/Life/Vocational Skills Group
- ESL Teacher K-12
- High School Self-Contained SPED Teachers
- SPED Ahead
- Teachers Using Google Classroom
Nothing calling to you on this list? Search up what you’re looking for and I’ll bet there’s a Facebook Educator group for it 🙂
Hashtags to follow on Instagram and Twitter:
Pinterest boards to follow:
Make friends with YouTube
Technically, Youtube can function as a community but I largely use it as the world’s most comprehensive how-to manual.
Almost anything you want to learn how to do has a kind, generous creator who has made the video for you!
I find written instructions kind of hard to follow for digital applications. I like to be able to watch someone do the thing, go back when it goes too fast and skip things I know how to do. That’s what makes YouTube a great source of tutorials for me.
If you find a video you find helpful, see if that creator has other videos and subscribe to their channel.
If you find videos you may want to watch again in the future, I would either make a document with their links on it OR simply add those videos to a playlist. Youtube will always recall videos in your playlist.
(here’s a simple google doc to keep tutorial videos links) (and then a short how-to screenshot of how to make a playlist)
Creators to follow on YouTube with great teacher tech content:
Be kind and patient with yourself
Technology can be, in fact, frustrating. It takes hours to understand sometimes and often years to master.
Learning tech tools in many ways is like learning an instrument. It’s hard at first and you make a lot of mistakes. You may feel rather awful at it and just want to quit, like me and 8th-grade clarinet.
Unlike me and 8th-grade clarinet, your grade isn’t riding on this. You can take all the time in the world to get better. You can choose to use a strategy or tool whenever you feel comfortable with it.
You will make mistakes. There will be sour notes, so to speak, but you will also grow and get better.
When I taught online, one of my advisors told me, “when something isn’t working, take a deep breath, pet a dog, and go make a cup of tea”. Nine times out of ten, when you got back to your computer everything would be working again. Even if it wasn’t, you could tackle the problem with a calm demeanor.
Don’t take it as a personal failing when you can’t get something to work right. You’re doing your best and that is more than enough!
Use kind words with yourself. Say “this is a learning experience”. Say “I’m improving all the time”. Say “I don’t get this- YET”.
Treat yourself as well as you would one of your students learning something new and difficult.
You got this and you will do brilliantly. You may even have fun if you make sure to cut yourself some slack while you are learning. ?
Need help being kind to yourself? Read one of our blogs on the topic:
- 8 ways to fold self love into your daily routine
- Cultivating more compassionate self-talk
- Want to try meditating?
- A quick self-care check-in for the busy teacher
- How to avoid teacher burnout with work-life balance
*Editor’s note: we were neither paid by nor asked by any person, service or group featured in this blog to feature them. These are all things we personally have used or know are widely used. This is obviously not an exhaustive list, it should be taken as a starting point, where you can find some things to try out.