Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dealing with Tech Overload

I really love technology.

I am always excited to see new web 2.0 tools, new presentation sites, new new new. The newness of technology becomes especially exciting when I attend teacher conferences, like the NCETA conference I'm attending now, where I've played with Glogster, LiveBinders, Storify, Prezi, Blogger, and countless other options for enriching my teaching and the kids' learning experiences. I usually walk away from weekends like this with my eyes glazed, my brain swimming with dozens of ideas that I know my students will LOVE. 

Then a few things happen. 

1. My planning, which admittedly is not as organized as I'd like, becomes totally incoherent as I start trying to immediately integrate my new high-tech lessons and projects. 

2. My kids, who are supposed to fall in love with this new technology just as much as I did, somehow don't end up having the same amazing experience. To save face, I decide my students are just unreachable. 

3. Somehow, the technology that always works for everyone else on every other day, doesn't work for me when I need it. 

Experiences like these can lead us to the conclusion that technology is ultimately disruptive or that it can't exist in cohesion with our current lower-tech lessons.

I don't think I'm alone in that kind of overload. Many of my friends in education complain that, though we are shown so many wonderful options, we don't have the time to play with and develop the technology into something really meaningful. What results is a grab-bag of tiny, disconnected lessons that use completely different technologies, and none of it has any fluidity. We all go through phases with our technology, too, where we fall in love with one form of technology, but we abandon it when we find something else - rather like my oldest son who doesn't even know where his Nintendo DS is because he now has an X-Box 360.

There has to be a way to resist the overload and use technology in a meaningful, integrated way so that it has real value. Do I have the answers? Well, no, not completely, but I have some ideas.

Idea #1: Scale it down and use it sensibly.
       If you have Flip video cameras, you feel obligated to create movie projects in order to use them. Don't. I used my school's cameras in a really simple way: I had discussion groups film their discussions. I told them that I wanted them to talk about their topic for X amount of time, and the video I should see should be a single, unbroken record of their conversation. Students stayed on task better than any class before, and the quality of conversation was the best I've ever seen.

Idea #2: Let the students take charge.
       Instead of taking the time to teach my kids how to use certain presentation sites like Prezi or Storyjumper, I direct them to web 2.0 sites that list several presentation tools and tell them to play with and pick a tool for presenting their projects. I get to experience a wider variety of presentation tools, and the kids end up teaching each other about the developing technology resources.

Idea #3: Remember Thoreau: "Simplify, simplify."
      There was a time, as we were reminded this weekend by Carol Jago, that a pencil was considered high-tech. If your technology fails miserably, or if your eyeballs are spinning from the overload of options, remember to return to the basics and rediscover the beauty of the sound of a pen scratching on paper.

That's my advice, as far as advice goes, for dealing with the technology overload. Ultimately, we have to remember that as fun and as dazzling technology can be, we should use it deliberately as a tool toward accomplishing our goals, not as a replacement for instruction. As David Thornburg said, "Any teacher that can be replaced by a computer, deserves to be."

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