Recommending Technology for Educators
As a technology trainer, one of the questions I most often get asked is, which application do I get for…, which web site should I use for…, or which technology should I use for….
Most times I give them one or two applications, web sites or technology recommendations. What I really want to say is something that often produces a confused and disappointed look.
I don’t want to tell you which application, web site or technology to use. I want you to learn how to select the best application, web site or technology tool.
The best way I can tell any teacher how to select a technology for content integration is to walk through the process I go through in selecting a technology.
I first begin with the concept I want to teach. Notice I didn’t say project or final product. You should never choose a technology based on a project or final product. Once the project or product is complete then so is the technology. Once you focus on a concept you have a much better chance on selecting the appropriate technology that can be used to effectively teach a concept and help students master that concept. It is also important to make your concept less specific. Although sometimes it can’t be avoided. It is also important to bear in mind the levels of Bloom’s. Your choice of application might at first address the lower levels of Bloom’s, but then you will need to select another application to address the higher levels. Addressing the higher levels is always a goal. It would be nice to find technology that addresses all the levels, but that is rare. Even with a multi-purpose knife you can still only use a knife to cut effectively. A knife is not very good for tightening a screw.
Let’s say you want an application, web site or technology to help teach the concept of fractions. I would begin by searching with the keyword fractions. Sounds easy. Most of the time that’s all you need. There are so many resources out there that you are bound to find something. Devices like iPad make it easy, because Apple has many applications in an easy to find location called the App Store. The same is true for Apple computers. There is an App Store that provides a one stop shop for many applications that can be used on an Apple computer. Windows computers have many options but unfortunately they are not all in a centralized location. You might try downloads.com or sourceforge.net
Searching for web resources is much easier. They are usually not device specific. Although, in a web search you might want to be a little more specific than fractions. You might want to use keywords like fraction software, or fraction software elementary. If you want a web site you might search for teaching fractions or fraction games.
This process can take some time. This is where teachers don’t want to spend the time necessary. They want something picked and delivered to them. This doesn’t work. I once heard of a teacher that wanted to teach a summer course using one great application she heard about for the iPad. This was disastrous. She had no idea how to use this one tool for even the most basic parts of a lesson. This was because she heard of the tool and all it could do, but didn’t bother to really understand the application and how it worked.
I can’t blame teachers for wanting something picked and delivered to them. Their time is precious and they already have a lot heaped on them. Taking the time really makes the difference.
A teacher might ask me to recommend a good presentation tool. I can recommend Keynote, PowerPoint or Prezi, but the teacher may not know what to do with the tool. When someone hands you a tool it doesn’t mean you will know what to do with that tool or how to use it. A physical world example might help. Let’s say you ask me for the tool that would help you fix a squeaky door hinge. I might recommend a screw driver, a can of lubricant or a pair of pliers. This might help but only you know which tool will work best. The appropriate tool depends on the reasons for the squeaky hinge. A hinge might squeak because it is rusty, broken, miss aligned or not properly secured to the door or wall. You see that my recommendation might give you a set of tools to use, but only you can decide which will solve the problem. Solving a problem does not come with a set of tools. It comes from understanding the problem.
I didn’t say it would be fast or easy. I go through this process a lot and find myself spending minutes or hours finding the right tools. When going through a search it is important to keep an open mind. Don’t through out a result because it doesn’t do one thing you want. Hold on to it. It often comes back to you in, the teachers lounge as you slowly contemplate different ways to teach for differentiation. This is when you realize the value of that gem you almost passed over. On my computer I have over two hundred applications. I collect these applications because I know that one day I will need one of them to help solve a problem or produce a product. I download and learn how to use each so that I understand what it does, how it does it, and when this application would serve me best. It’s like having a tool box filled with screwdrivers, wrenches, and other specialized tools.
Most of the applications you find will focus on basic skills like, matching items, selecting an answer from several choices, solving a problem through a process or using interactive games and tools. This is great. This should be your first step. You can only truly climb a mountain when you begin at the base and look at your options for getting to the top.
As I said earlier. Most of your initial searches will lead to sites or applications that focus on the lower level of Bloom’s. If you’re lucky some of the applications will help students get up to the third level of Bloom. This would be the point where your students are sketching, solving, showing, organizing, and producing. Getting to the upper levels will take a little more effort in your thinking of technology integration, and less work in finding the right tool. It seems reciprocal. The higher you go on Bloom’s the easier it is to find software and resources. This is because most software is designed for, and used by individuals that operate in those higher levels.
Now let’s take a look at Bloom’s higher level objectives and discuss the software that can get us there. You’ll be surprised. If you’re in education, the levels of Bloom are probably very well-known. If not, here is a link to a Wikipedia entry for Bloom’s Taxonomy. The goal is to begin in the lower levels for basic learning and knowledge acquisition. The goal is to take students to the highest levels of Bloom. This is where students acquire long-lasting internalized learning. This is where true comprehension exists. This is where students have the opportunity to take what they have learned, and think of it in different ways. In higher levels students are thinking about what they know, and how it can be applied in a variety of contexts both concrete and abstract. Most of what is done at this level has more to do with the mind and less to do with the technology tool. At this point the technology becomes a tool in the hands of an apprentice and eventually one of a craftsman.
The tools that are best suited for this higher level of Blooms are the ones we use everyday. Basic tools like word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and databases are the corner stones that lead us to the higher levels. When a student uses a word processor he or she needs to think deeply about the information to be conveyed. The same can be said for presentation tools. With these tools the student must internalize the knowledge and be able to convey it to others effectively. Most often it needs to be conveyed to a variety of audiences in a variety of formats. This is where the student’s understanding really hits the road.
Tools like spreadsheets and databases require students to develop meaning from information. Spreadsheets and databases provide the opportunity for students to manipulate data in a variety of ways. This manipulation often can bring insights from the information that goes beyond the information itself. These tools aren’t very fancy but they are the hallmark for the majority of the work done by most people. Think of it this way. The greatest of novels, movies or music were not reliant on a specific application or technology. These concepts took their seed and developed in the mind of the creator. The tool was a vehicle for its delivery.
If these tools aren’t cool or neat then you can use extensions of these tools. Some of these tools include blogs, wikis, forums, web pages or social media. Presentation tools include Prezi or Slide Rocket. Alternate presentation tools that use advanced media include videos. Digital cameras and media editing tools can be used to synthesize traditional communication into highly visual components. All of these tools extend the seeds of information processing, thought, and imagination.
There it is. I don’t have a list of web sites or applications, and now you should understand why.