The Digital When

There are thousands of digital tools now available to enhance teaching. A cursory google search can result in an overwhelming number of options, lending credence to Barry Schwartz's paradox of choice. Digital tools are seductive, but it takes time to understand the nuances of introducing them to students and then making effective use of them. For example, I love VoiceThread, a robust online tool that allows teachers and students to create multimedia presentations and then leave audio and video comments, but I am at times skeptical about how and when to use it. If it takes two or three class periods for students to get up to speed on a piece of software, and then an entire period to, in essence, leave a comment on something, it doesn't necessarily fill me with enthusiasm. Yes, the digital tool can create higher engagement, yes, it can differentiate automatically, yes, it can operate simultaneously in multiple modalities. But the question always remains afterward: did I get bang for my buck?

It is important for us as educators to begin distinguishing between the use of digital tools as an end in itself vs. the use of digital tools to foster learning. Don't get me wrong, I am a believer in the use of technology. A keen advocate. But it is crucial at this point in the marriage between technology and education for us all to begin finding which lessons which match tools. Early experimentation is a necessary element of this and it will be impossible to avoid wasting time along the way. But perhaps the time will not be wasted if there are dividends down the road that compensate.

I spend a lot of time early in the year discussing cyber safety with my students. I then have to spend a lot of time teaching them how to use the blogging software I use. But the time we spend early on enables great things to happen later. This compensation equation is something I need to focus on as each new tech flavor of the month arrives at my digital doorstep. How much time devoted to familiarizing ourselves with software in order to use it in the class is too much time?

Question for discussion:

How do you decide which digital tool to use for which lesson? How do you know when it is cost-effective?

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