Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The right way teachers should use technology

I get paid good money to help teachers and students use technology in education. At work and anywhere else where people know what I do, I'm often accused of being in love with technology. I do tend to surround myself with the tools, both when working or in my hobbies.

But I'm not in love with the technology itself and I don't think this is a minor point. For those of us in the business of educating the younger generation, a field where far too many leaders are still slow to embrace digital tools, it is vital to acknowledge the difference between the tech and what one does with it.

In fact, I'll be so bold here to submit the right way to use digital tools. I'll even go further and suggest that we as educators need to master and model this right way. I'll try to be brief, but I need to go back a ways to set the stage.

I've been playing around with computers for over 30 years. I remember long ago there was a fascination with the tools themselves. I liked getting the latest and greatest. In time, though, the thrill wore off. Oh, I remember a couple times in the past two decades when the tool itself impressed me. The first time I saw an iPhone that old spark was there. But even if new gadgets can still snag my attention for a second, my budget won't allow me to live under that spell.

Somewhere along the line my interest shifted from the tools to what I could do with them. I fell in love with creating new things in all my areas of interest. From graphic design to writing to games, new tools allowed me to do more than I could before.

Tools improved and the internet put me in touch with more people. I am colorblind, but I have learned a few tricks in my graphics programs to work around it when I created images for websites and my games. My love for music and songwriting far exceeds my natural abilities, but I found ways to capture fleeting melodies, transcribe tricky rhythms and communicate arrangements to people who could take them further.

Like all of us who first did that web search for our hobby, we know social media and fan websites have put us in touch with people with similar interests. I grew up and have lived in small towns all my life. There have never been many people who live nearby that shared my interests to the extent that I did. After almost 20 years of having internet access, though, I've created games and music with people from all over the country, some of whom I've never met in person.

I get excited about technology because it lets me create better art and gets it to more people who will enjoy it. I didn't realize it at the time, but all those years I did this with my hobbies were preparing me for my job. Now a lot of my time is spent inspiring teachers and students to create and share the work.

Yes, years ago technology was complicated. Those of us who poured months of our lives into it were impressed with the tech in and of itself. Nerdiness, in one way or another, was required to care that much. Certain skills gave us an advantage to overcome the insane learning curves of the hardware and software.

But the digital revolution we've experienced is not because more people have those skills now or more people just love technology. It is simply this: 

The tools became easier to use and they put us in touch with each other. Then what makes us human was finally able to take over. 

Technology is so prevalent in our society because it allows us to discover, create and connect like never before.

A possible downside is that, just as easily, it can help us retreat and consume the entertainment we discover like never before. It clearly doesn't have to be that way though.

Those possibilities--creating more or consuming more--are why it's so important for teachers to understand, master and model the right way to use technology. Let's look for ways to discover, create and share in a way that amplifies our talents and gifts.

As we do that, we will naturally inspire our students to do the same.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Our Motivational Song for School

Here's a song I put together with Crystal Owen, the music teacher in my district. It represents so much of what I've been learning and trying to practice the past two school years.