Technology Current

Technology is changing so fast. How can we keep up? Have you ever been caught in the trap of believing that you need to stay a step ahead of your students to make sure that technology is being used to its fullest potential? I mean, if you don’t know what to tell them when they ask you a question, you look silly, right? 

I have been caught in that trap, and I’ve had conversations with people who have been, too. Right after they tell me they have to be at the same level or higher regarding tech knowledge, they say they’ll never be able to keep up. It’s just too much, and it’s always changing to staying ahead is too difficult.

What if we don’t have to stay ahead? Why do we, as teachers, need to know everything about technology in order for it to make a positive impact on learning? Let’s work on the basic tenets of technology – social media, collaborative tools, learning management systems, etc. Then, instead of knowing everything, we insert students (safely) into a tech-friendly environment where discovery can happen. And I don’t mean you focus on discovering the technology. Students discover their own learning. They engage, explore, and invent. Maybe there are things to learn/know about the technology along the way, but those things only serve to enhance the discovery process and amplify the learning.

Open up to technology, but don’t make it a standard. If it serves as a standard, its rules and processes will constantly shift, and you will be caught up in the current and focused on the wrong thing. Improving learning for students is what’s important…it’s the life raft, the standard. And it will help to navigate the ever-changing waters of the world (including the current of technology).

Learning Doesn’t Trend

eSchool News released an article in November of last year discussing the gap between how students say they want to learn with technology versus how they are actually learning with technology. Read the article to get the specifics.

Like Beauty and the Beast, this tale seems as old as time…or at least as old as educational technology integration. When I hear that technology is the trend, my eyes glaze over a bit. This is not about a trend. Technology trends. Learning doesn’t. Yet education is still operating under the assumption that if you get the right trend in tech to be a part of your school, you’ll be able to increase learning. While tech may help, that may be thinking about it backwards. As this article states, many schools say they are incorporating technology into the classrooms, but that may only mean a cursory nod to its use at school-specified times. Moreover, technology is often only used superficially. Students are not digging in with it. At least not during class time.

Why? There are plenty of reasons I’m sure, and most of them are beyond the scope of this blog. However, one particular reason pointed out in the article is the misplaced value put on technology. How many times do we need to say “It’s not about the tool!” before it sinks in? Professional development needs to focus on instruction and learning with an understanding of how technology can be integrated. This does not mean it should be. Beyond that, educators need to begin placing value on how students learn. That should be a primary objective in any professional development situation. With that shift in priority, we can take a closer look at technologies that might positively affect it.

Live Annotation

We all know about Google Apps. If you haven’t used it, you’ve at least heard about it. Schools and even districts are becoming Google Apps oriented these days. They are aligning themselves with a tool. But it’s much more than that. It is about aligning with an idea of what learning can look like. Google Apps just happens to be a free tool with robust capabilities. Cloud-based storage, document conversion, synchronous editing on multiple types of documents, and easy sharing. True collaboration may be in the eye of the beholder here, but at least it gets your feet off the ground in regard to working together with others.

Live annotation is the ability to synchronously annotate a document or whiteboard area with collaborators in real time. So Google Apps can easily accomplish this. There are other tools, though, and what you need may vary depending on the situation.

How do I tell what is good and what’s not? First, you need to get your hands dirty. Go and play with it! Most of these tools, even if paid, offer a free period of use. Use it and don’t be afraid to try different things. Make sure it’s what you want before heavily relying on it.

What tools are available? There are so many, I don’t know where to start. Thankfully, the internet if full of blogs and lists of such tools that narrow the scope and provide you an overview of these tools to help you make a better informed decision. The blog below even provides screenshots. Check it out. I might recommend Diigo as a tool you want to check out. It offers a lot of options, so be prepared. It does let you create groups to share articles with, an extension for your web browser, and live annotation and note taking. It even lets you tag the articles that you save so you can easily search for and find them later in your account.

Top Web Annotation and Markup Tools

Diigo isn’t exactly like Google Apps. Synchronous collaboration (if you want to call it that) isn’t its forte. However, there are other options for real-time editing with other people. Check out this tool called at This tool is a blank collaborative web-based whiteboard. Essentially, you create a session, and you invite people to work together on a blank whiteboard. It is very simplistic, but does allow you to save the board as a .PNG image file.

I have an iPad. Is there something for me? The blog above lists a number of tools that are available as apps on an iOS device such as an iPad (sorry, not Android). However, BaiBoard HD is a great free app for “collaborative whiteboarding” (I will use that as a term). It has a number of built-in features, included pens, a text tool, lines, arrows, and shapes. You can also import pictures, maps, and PDFs. Enable web sharing to send the session to a web browser via an IP address. Start a “Meet” to collaborate on a board with others running the app on their device. The power here is in the ability to share in real-time via the app on other mobile devices and on computers with web browsers.

Wow. A lot of tools. These are only the beginning. Take a minute, though, to look past these tools at what they can help accomplish in and out of the classroom for learning. Our ideas no longer have to be confined to a certain time or space. Our thinking can be out loud and it can be stretched by the input of others. These tools only help us to realize that solitary learning is now a choice and not the norm. Why would we ever push to limit learning to an individualized practice apart from the learner’s wishes? That doesn’t make any sense, especially not in our social world. Tools are not the answer, and although these are shiny, they are merely extensions of our desire and ability to learn through socializing and collaborating. They can still be used to force a concept in a traditional way, so we need to be careful. If I tell students to create a mind map with the BaiBoard app and share it so each person can add a bubble, is that collaborating? Or is it cooperative learning? Is it student-centered, or teacher-centered learning? We…I need to think outside the box. Reframe the process if necessary to provide freedom in learning to our students.