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Technology that Educators Should be Thankful For

by Justin Marquis Ph.D.

In no particular order, here are four technological advancements, how they have changed the world of education, and why educators everywhere should be thankful for them.

The Internet
Aside from the computer itself, the Web is the most important technological advancement of the 20th Century, and its centrality to our lives is only increasing. The Internet is effectively creating a gigantic neural network for the entire planet. Connecting educators and education to this system allows for a far broader type of learning than has ever been possible before. Here are a few of the concrete ways that it helps educators:

Social Media
Viewed as either a monstrous distraction or the best thing ever, social media has certainly changed the way we live our lives and is slowly changing the way we educate our students at every level. If the Internet is a giant global brain, then social networks are the actual signals being sent. We use them to tell us where to go, who to meet when we get there, and when we need to arrive. We couldn’t function without them in much the same ways we couldn’t breathe without our sympathetic nervous system. Here’s what social media can do for the connected educator: 

  • Connect with students – For the online educator, this is the core of your student/teacher interaction. It is also catching on at the university level in general, and even in public education to a lesser extent. In online learning, social media allows you to establish a classroom community which can rival a traditional classroom.
  • Connect with parents – FERPA frowns on this in higher education, but for the elementary or secondary educator, connecting with parents has never been easier or more valuable. From sending a daily email home to establishing class Facebook pages, getting parents involved helps them stay informed about what their children are doing and provides an extra level of accountability for students.
  • Connect with other teachers – From having a sympathetic shoulder to cry on to seeking virtual mentorship, to searching for new jobs, connecting with other professionals in the field provides opportunities for personal and professional growth. Consider subscribing to social media groups specific to your discipline or grade-level, or look to specific academic social sites like Academia.edu, where you can build a social network around your own research interests.

Portable Devices
You need to be able to take the Internet and your social media with you and for that we are thankful for portable devices.  Today you can carry a device that is smaller than a calculator and can seamlessly connect you to the rest of humanity and the entirety of human knowledge as well as allow you to create and share new knowledge on the fly. They also are smart enough now that you can talk to them just like you would a real person and have all of your questions answered.

  • Smartphones – Whether it is the iPhone, an Android, or Windows phone, they all allow you to connect to the rest of humanity in a variety of ways; traditional phone calls, text messages, video calls, twitter, Facebook, and any other new method for communicating. While smartphones themselves aren’t used in the classroom formally, their siblings, the tablet and iPod are.
  • Tablets – What if you could give your students a fully-functioning computer that they could hold in one hand, take wherever they wanted to, access all of the information on the Internet, create documents, presentations, and videos, and share that information with anyone else in the world? That’s what tablets do and they will revolutionize education. For one example, read about the University of Kentucky’s A&S Wired College.
  • iPod Touch– The tiny little (older) brother of the tablet computer, the iPod has been used in elementary and secondary education as well as higher education to provide the same sorts of connected, interactive, outside of the classroom experience as tablets. It has just been doing it longer.

Desktop Publishing
This may not seem like it is one of the most important technologies for educators, primarily because it has been with us for quite a while, but desktop publishing expands the repertoire of what is possible in the classroom far beyond making transparencies, writing papers and taking tests. Now, anything that can be created digitally, video, flyers, video games, multimedia presentations, audio podcasts, web sites, portable apps, and more are now at the disposal of teachers both to convey information to students and for students to demonstrate their learning.

  • Print – Our most basic communication medium has come a long way since illuminated texts and hand set block type. Now any person can create their own flyer, brochure, poster, leaflet, or book. Microsoft Office provides the basic, flexible word processor as do many free office suites such as OpenOffice and GnomeOffice.  To move beyond the basics a program such as MS Publisher is intuitive to use and has many built-in templates, or try these free desktop publishing suite alternatives suggested by About.com.
  • Audio – The ability to capture your or someone else’s voice and share it allows students to capture oral histories or synthesize information into podcasts. On the Mac, Garageband includes great tools for podcasting. On PCs, Audacity is free and easy to use and does a great job producing smooth sounding mp3s or WAV files for easy sharing or playback on a portable device.
  • Video – Even if you don’t have a multi-million dollar budget, you and your students can now make high-quality videos covering any topic you can imagine. Professional editors such as Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere can turn any novice into a pro, while free software options come bundled with every operating system (usually more than one). For more information check out "Demonstrate Your Learning with Free Media Production Tools."
  • Multimedia – For the enterprising educator or the one with ambitious students, the ability to create interactive media such as websites, interactive presentations, or video games is now available for the everyday user. snap2objects has a great list of the 45 best free multimedia design programs.

Why not think about how these great technology tools could benefit your teaching or learning while you snooze in your post-turkey euphoria, then sneak out on Black Friday to pick up a few of these tools for yourself.