An integrator’s job is just plain fun most of the time. We get to read, explore, play, and we get SO excited when we come upon a tool that looks like it would be JUST PERFECT for teachers and students. In my case (having a high energy level and boundless enthusiasm for tech), this happens daily. What a great job!
What used to come as a surprise for me was that not everyone shared my excitement when I ran to them with the next best thing since sliced bread. It made me step back and remember that in order to be effective as an integrator, I have to remember that I have to see these tools through the teachers’ eyes. They have a whole slew of concerns OTHER than technology integration and engagement. They have time constraints…platform issues (we are seeing a small increase in students who choose to bring their own laptops rather than getting one from the school) and concerns about monitoring how students use these tools.
As I look at tools for teachers, I now apply the KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) model:
- Will the tool require kids to create accounts?
- Will they remember their passwords when it come time to use it?
- Is the time required to learn the tool worth the loss of instructional time?
- Is there apt to be advertising that is inappropriate for younger students? (Funny story – one “private” social networking site I tried out had ads for dating services!)
As an integrator, you have to know your audience. Teachers (and students) are more apt to use tools that are easy to access, easy to learn, and easy to remember how to use. This simple guideline has changed the way I approach integration this year. Now I look for tools that can be used in many different content areas and are flexible and customizeable.
One of the best I’ve found is GoogleApps for Education. It’s been around for quite a while, announced first during the Educause conference in 2006. I’ve been playing with it for almost a year and will go into more depth in future posts about how we use it. Here’s how it fits my new integration model:
- students and teachers already have accounts. No “sign up” necessary- and there are people in the building who manage accounts, so forgotten passwords are not crisis creators.
- The features of the tool are easy to use and intuitive to learn. Teachers only need to use the tools they need, not the whole gamut.
- Students that are familiar with one piece of the tool easily migrate to other aspects.
In other words, teachers can focus on the content and pedagogy and NOT the technology. The technology truly supports the learning, rather than being the centerpiece of the lesson.
Another benefit? Here’s what happened in our district. One teacher did an activity using GoogleApps and liked it (as did the kids). News of her success spread to another teacher who decided to try it too. Because they shared some of the same students, she found she had ready made local experts in her classroom who were able to help teach the technology to each other. Voila! Instructional time restored.
Does this mean that we don’t consider more specialized tools? Absolutely not; however, the smart integrator recognizes that bringing technology to an organization is like building a house. The foundation isn’t fancy- it is strong and dependable. Once it is set, THEN you can begin to customize. Get your foundation in- then have fun with the customization.