Accelerating Pace of Change

…we don’t need to be the experts in every room

I spent the first 10 years or so of my teaching career in a classroom where the overhead projector was the most advanced piece of technology. My spouse could send docs digitally to his office photocopier years before that tech showed up in our work rooms.

Now, in a world of 1-to-1 devices, when I consider that only 11 years ago I was producing a yearbook on 5 clunky desktops at the back of my classroom, it seems like the pace of technological change has kicked into overdrive (library pun intended). Every time I open my Twitter I read about a new extension, app, or use of software that promises to make my teaching life and the lives of my students easier.

It can be a real challenge, then, for a teacher who is busy (like we all are), tech aware though not particularly savvy, but nonetheless eager to keep up with the latest innovation.

Last year as a new facilitator I jumped into Google Suite full on, creating Google classrooms for every workshop and brainstorming ways to implement each new tool in the English classroom. At times it was exhausting, and paralyzing too. I fell into what Barry Schwartz calls the “paradox of choice”. Being presented with too many options can create a state of anxiety, the exact opposite of what all these new tools should be doing.

So how did I start to manage the plethora of choices without simply throwing my hands up and logging out? I now consider three questions when I hear about a new app / extension / use of software:

a. Will this solve a problem I have noticed in my practice / classroom?

At a workshop the other day a teacher asked me how students could record their small group conversations using their Chromebooks. Lo and behold, Soundtrap has just come online to solve that problem. We didn’t have to invent a reason to use the software; its use will help her gather observational data and keep track of how groups are interacting when she can’t be there listening in the moment.

b. Does this measurably improve my practice or my students’ learning?

Google Classroom is a powerful way to flip the classroom and manage student workflow. Turns out it’s not necessary to organize materials for a one-time workshop. I keep an ear to the ground for changes with Google Classroom, but since I’m not in a classroom, I don’t need to follow closely every little change.

Unless there is a significant improvement to functionality, I have started to ignore apps that serve the same purpose as an app I’m already happily using. I became familiar with Loom and then learned about Screencastify. I’m sure there are important differences between the two, but unless someone can prove one is way better than the other, I’m sticking with what I know for simplicity sake.

c. Am I letting my trepidation stand in the way of letting students try something?

Having said that, as a reflective practitioner, I occasionally need to consider whether my hesitation to try something new, or my lack of time to explore something, is holding me back from providing a good opportunity for my students. As our Innovative Education staff stresses, we don’t need to be the experts in every room. If I hear about a new tool but I don’t have the time to learn much about it, I shouldn’t let that stand in the way of sharing it with others.

Some days there are just not enough minutes to process everything new this hectic pace of change is bringing my way. In that case, I file away the information for later by emailing a Tweet to myself or making a record in my notebook. One day I might encounter a problem that Tweet will address, or a teacher seeking advice will send me flipping back through my notebook for a timely solution.

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