The Right Tool... But Only For Right Now

December 10, 2015

Pure and simple, I love teaching using technology.  It gives me an opportunity to “be there” when a teachable moment occurs without having to be in the same place as my students.  It allows me to see beyond their eyes and into the minds of each of my learners.  And yes, it allows me to teach from the beach, the mountains, and from home when my family needs me.

But the part of technology I will never ever love and can barely even tolerate (it’s been 30+ years now so I think I’m beyond changing my mind on this) is that technology changes.  How dare it?  After I’ve spent days and weeks researching, agonizing over and finding just the right tool from the sea of tools available for a particular instructional activity, there’s a different tool that’s touted as “better” next time I use that same activity!  Truth be told, I often ignore the new tool until my psyche can no longer stand it and I indeed move on to the next “new and better” thing.  It’s inevitable.  Like death and taxes.  Technology marches on and I need to move on down the road with it.

If you are teaching with technology or thinking about it, you may be confused about which tool to use or gnashing your teeth over having to use a tool in yet another learning management system (I’ve learned 10 LMSs thus far in my career --- and that’s over the approximate 15 years that LMSs have been widely used). Here are 8 guidelines that may help make your tool selection a less anxious one:

1 – Know what you are shopping for!  Consider what your students need to know or do and determine where technology will do one or more of the following:

  • efficiently use your time and/or your students’ time
  • expand the learning experience beyond the classroom walls
  • enhance student success in achieving the learning outcome

2 - Think simplistically when it comes to selecting a tool.  The fancier a tool is, the more likely it is to break at the most inopportune moments. 

3 – Does the tool need to be text, audio or video?  People tend to think that we should incorporate as much video --- and high-quality video --- as possible into a course.  But unless you are demonstrating something or need the learners to see motion for some other reason, your tool does not have to include a video component, let alone a Spielberg-quality one.  Quality audio can work in most situations.   

4 – Consider the tools selected and supported by Berkeley and use them if at all possible.  There’s a great deal of tool-vetting work that they do so there’s a strong possibility the tools supported by them ARE the best tools out there. 

5 – If you’re looking for Apps, look at reputable sources for possible tools.  One of my favorites is Kathy Schrock’s Bloomin’ Apps site:

6 – Ask your students.  They will have ideas about the tools they want to use to communicate and learn! 

7 – After doing your research and checking out reviews, choose what seems to be a good tool.  But, before committing to using it in your course (at the risk of this sounding like a “plug”), schedule a consultation with ETS and CTL consultants to review your pedagogical rationale and tool needs – just to make sure you haven’t missed anything. 

8 – Use the tool in one activity before you use it extensively in the course and when you implement it, have a back-up plan for the times when it might not work. 

The bottom line is this ---- based on what you want your students to know or do, within the time you have available, choose what seems to be the right tool for right now.  Don’t search for the “perfect” or “final” technology solution.  It doesn’t exist.