The Four Tech Tools You Should Be Using in Your Classroom But Aren't

By Bridget Leising Brown / February 2012

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For some, the word "technology" incites excitement, equates with engagement, makes us feel hip. Still others (an secretly large percentage of us, perhaps?) hear the word and feel bogged down with yet another thing to do or to incorporate into our professional lives. Can technology work with us to make our teaching easier, beyond the basics of electronic grade books and word processing? I'd argue for the yes camp here, but with certain stipulations: Namely, that the specific programs/websites that we use must be intuitive for new users and, more importantly, must fill a pressing need in an educator's life. I am "old school" in many ways (just ask my students, or my overhead projector), but I love uncovering hidden gems of technological goodness that, in my mind, were just waiting to make my life infinitely easier. As my picky self discovers more and more sites seemingly built with teachers in mind, I have invited technology to the table in making my life less harried, more streamlined, and ultimately more exciting. I'm keeping that projector, though, for the days when the document camera just won't play ball!

Last summer I was at a national education conference in the sweltering month of July when anyone in their right mind was more interested in fanning themselves silly than learning about best practices. It was there, however, that a zany, outside-the-box fellow English teacher told me about "Powerpoint on steroids" a.k.a. Prezi. It's gaining popularity, but I've sat through enough education trainings with the same old tired slideshows with the "dramatic red drapes" background to know that it hasn't quite caught on in our field yet. Prezi allows users to create interactive presentations that are the antithesis of the boring, bulleted slideshows of yesteryear. Prezi takes viewers on a journey, one that could include twists, turns, and sudden shifts in orientation. Embed graphics, videos, text, and shapes to make things even more engaging.

If Prezi is the edgy younger brother of Powerpoint, our next tech tool is the genius spawn of Internet Explorer's "Bookmarks" tab and Flickr's photo storage. Pinterest is a "visual pinboard" that allows users to store/organize/share all of the cool things you find on the Web. Haven't we all bookmarked an inspiring lesson or a drool-worthy photo of an organized classroom with the honest intention of referring back to it someday? I'm not sure what happens to all of those bookmarks, but I think they go to some sort of teacher black hole (probably located in the back of that file cabinet we meant to clean out), never to be seen again. Pinterest will allow you to electronically "grab" a photo from any webpage, type in a description, and store it on one of your (many) boards. Think of it as a giant refrigerator on which you can hang up anything that inspires you and then easily access it at the appropriate time. The downside to Pinterest is that not every website has a photo to "grab." You could easily remedy this by using a site called Springpad which, to continue to family metaphors, is Pinterest's less flashy sibling. Springpad is straightforward and allows users to archive everything from recipes to products to websites. While it doesn't have the visual appeal of Pinterest, it is perhaps better suited for the more left-brained among us.

The final tool is near and dear to my heart. Before this tool, I cannot tell you the number of times in an average week that I was dealing with the conflict of needing one document from my school computer while at home or vice-versa. It was a constant in my life. Don't even get me started on needing files while away from school or home. Jump drives, in my mind, are dirty little buggers that can be "corrupted" at any time thereby rendering all of my lovingly saved files unreachable. My clunky habit of e-mailing everything to myself just wasn't cutting it. Enter Dropbox, friends. This online file storage website can sync up my home and work computers and will give you two gigs of storage for free. There is a paid version of the service, but the cheapskate in me hasn't even explored that option. No no, the free version kindly allows me to seamlessly access that curriculum document that we saved during our faculty meeting from the comfort of my living room, no e-mailing required.

About the Author

Bridget Leising Brown hails from Kentucky where she teaches AP Language and Composition and junior English at Campbell County High School. She is particularly interested in infusing the English curriculum with aspects of social justice and in utilizing technology as a tool for creative approaches to instruction.

© 2012 ACM 1535-394X/12/01 $10.00

DOI: 10.1145/2129230.2139175



Comments

  • Mon, 23 Dec 2013
    Post by John Dove

    Please take a look at Médiacours a program I have just completed after 5 long years. I am convinced that video and media files in general are excellent but underused teaching tools. I started using video in my English classes more than 30 years ago with an old black and white TV set. My colleagues thought I was nuts!

    I'm not sure if links are allowed here but if you put www in front of mediacours and .com after it you can see what I've created.

  • Mon, 22 Apr 2013
    Post by Nancy Munro

    Another technology you may want to add to this list is Evernote. I posted a blog about top apps for trainers and this was top on the list.