As of early 2017, my students and I are using Canva to design infographics, and Google Classroom is a daily part of my teaching life. I am also continuing to make movies regularly with students, and continuing to improve my quilting and skiing!
Balancing high-tech and low-tech
My background in the arts and in experiential, progressive, and outdoor education has led me to view technology as a tool for presenting ideas in a variety of ways, for solving problems, for facilitating communication, and for exploring new ways to create meaning. “Technology”, here, refers not only to electronic devices, but to a variety of tools we use in teaching, including listening materials, texts and media, everyday tools (as for building, cooking, and measuring), and the tangible and intangible “tools” artists and other creators use, including images, colors, rhythms, and words.
Thoughts on Technology and “Practical Skills”
- Technology is valuable inasmuch as it helps us organize, explain, model, facilitate experiences, conserve resources, and motivate students to act, create, and communicate.
- Technology should promote opportunities for students to act authentically and create meaning; sometimes computers facilitate these goals, and other times they get in the way.
- Experiential education and thoughtful technology use integrates “book smarts” and “street smarts”. Students with “street smarts” benefit from teachers who value their abilities and show how they are relevant at school, while students with “book smarts” benefit from opportunities to apply these skills.
- Technical and technological skills teach larger competencies that are valuable, even if those skills become less valuable in new contexts: for example, learning to solder (or cook, or groom a horse) teaches self-reliance, planning, and safety consciousness, even if students will not become jewelers (or chefs, or jockeys).
I use computers in both simple and sophisticated ways, but try to avoid situations where the specific “app” becomes the focus, because that is often a small step away from the computer becoming a problem, or getting in the way of the learning goal. Here are a few ways I use technology in my classes and my professional projects:
- Movie making, including helping students communicate with different audiences (campus tour, how to dress for winter hiking, taking care of horses and chickens) and directing “lipdubs” with students (examples in French and Japanese)
- Informational posters (designed in Google Drawings) displayed during public tours of our biomass plant and rotating-drum composter
- Teaching research skills and reading strategies with quick in-class “search and present” assignments as well as traditional research projects
- Quizlet for efficient and fun vocabulary and spelling practice in any language and Vocabulary.com for higher-level English vocabulary study with built-in context from language corpora
- Organizing course materials and assignments with Google Classroom
- Translanguaging to reduce distraction and co-create multilingual resource pages and “magic vocabulary lists” via in-browser extensions and the =GOOGLETRANSLATE( function in Google Sheets (imperfect as it is)
- Using resources from teachingbooks.net, 60 Second Recap, TED-Ed, PBS Learning Media, and many others to facilitate previewing, bring in new voices, and allow for self-study
- I teach very small classes now, but am intrigued by in-class polling, “Google jockeying,” and “back channels” via TodaysMeet, Twitter, or shared Google documents.
- Using Skype to talk to cultural informants and native speakers of a language
- Prezi (Powerpoint alternative) and Canva, to display information in a more engaging, organic format in a variety of settings (see “Projects and Presentations” for links to several Prezis I have created). I have also taught Prezi to students and teachers.
- Using Lesson Writer, Tween Tribune, and NewsELA (among others) to produce scaffolded reading materials for ESL students
- Using Google Forms to create student surveys and evaluations
- Course and project websites, created with WordPress, Facebook, or Wikispaces, including this website and my MA mini-thesis website. I also have contributed content to program blogs and written copy for school websites.
- “Knowledge preservation,” using Wikispaces, in a program with high staff turnover, so program traditions, songs, activities, schedules, and other materials can be preserved, and “reinventing the wheel” can be minimized
- The Corpus of Contemporary American English, (and its newer, more student-friendly version with an academic vocabulary highlighter, wordandphrase.info) to help advanced ESL students better understand word meanings, collocates, and connotation in context
- Annotating reading materials with students in real time