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Gateway Tools for Teachers

This is a post about teaching teachers tools. I know, I know, of course the adoption of educational technology should be driven by possible enhancements in teaching & learning, not by the ‘shininess’ of new tools. But in my experience, there is a group of teachers for who certain tools can work like a gateway drug:  e-learning gateway tools.

If you are a technology integrator, e-learning trainer, ed tech staff developer, pay attention:  introducing these gateway tools can give you some ‘easy wins’ – even better, these teachers can become your most ardent e-learning champions.

Not everyone’s a geek

For those of us who consider ourselves ‘connected’, trialling a new tool or technology comes as natural as breathing. Here are just 2 likely scenarios:

  1. We know the learning activity we want to create. We find one or several tools that will facilitate that activity. These are tools we already know, or discover through our PLN. We test them and pick the one best suited to achieve our learning need.
  2. We encounter a tool, again probably through our PLN, and consider how it can be used in a learning activity. We then either create the activity or store it for future reference.

This week several colleagues and Kim Cofino’s Tips for Technology Integrators post reminded me off the realism of our workplace. Newsflash: not everyone’s a geek like us.

About 65% of of my role as e-learning advisor is e-learning staff development (including pedagogy, Moodle training, instructional design, really everything but the kitchen sink).  Very rarely do I get to work with the innovators & early adopters – those who will play, experiment, tinker, and make tools do cartwheels to see how they can be used for teaching & learning . I chat to them over morning coffee (and via Twitter, Facebook and their blogs), but they don’t need my support. I tend to work with academic staff, managers and allied staff,  in the early & late majority.

A graph of Everett Rogers Technology Adoption Lifecycle model. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.

A graph of Everett Rogers Technology Adoption Lifecycle model. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.

The Understandably Cynical

In my experience, there is a subset of teachers in that early/late majority category, that we can call the Understandably Cynical.

  1. They are committed to their students’ learning experience,
  2. They are satisfied with their current teaching approach but do experiment with new techniques,
  3. Their computer & digital literacy is low to medium,
  4. The addition of technology in their daily work mix , eg email, has not made their work easier or faster,
  5. Their time is precious, split between teaching, research and a life,
  6. They perceive time spent online establishing social networks or  ‘playing’ with new tools, as wasted,
  7. They don’t want to burden students with new tools unnecessarily,
  8. They appreciate their privacy.

In short, they are great teachers, whatever they are doing is already working, they’re open to new ideas, they’re busy and past experiences with technology have been a hindrance, not a benefit to them.  They are Understandably Cynical.

For this group of teachers, I’ve found that providing them with gateway tools can start them adding the use of technology to their teaching arsenal.

What are gateway tools?

Gateway tools are like gateway drugs – they open the door to the serious stuff.

Characteristics of an e-learning gateway tool:

  1. Solves a problem (eg size or access)
  2. Builds on existing collections
  3. Saves time
  4. Is easy to use
  5. Is immediately useful in the classroom
  6. Has passive social functionality
  7. Can be the start of a teacher’s PLN – although the previous characteristics may fire a teacher’s engine, this is the turbo boost.

Examples of gateway tools

Here are two examples of gateway tools, Slideshare & Delicious.

Slideshare:

1. Solves a problem – makes PowerPoint files smaller and easily accessible from anywhere, freeing a teacher from the localised shared drive.

2. Builds on existing collections – you can use PowerPoints files you already have.

3. Saves time – a search on Slideshare can provide you with inspiration for your own lecture or lesson, or even provide you with a complete lesson structure.

4. Is easy to use – to make use of Slideshare resources, takes no more than simple search skills. Uploading your own resources is akin to attaching a file to an email.

5. Is immediately useful in the classroom – once a presentation is uploaded, it can be accessed in the classroom during the lesson and remains available for access & download for students later.

6. Has passive social functionality – unlike some other Web2.0/social media tools, Slideshare does not require you to be socially active,  invest in building a network or give out too much personal information, for it to be useful.

7. Can be the start of a teacher’s PLN – although Slideshare does not require social activity, it will expose teachers to other teachers/experts who share their interest. Those friend requests can be hard to deny…

Delicious:

1. Solves a problem (eg size or access) – many people still save their bookmarks in the browser on their computer. This means when you leave your desk to go teach in a classroom, you don’t have access to those bookmarks. Storing bookmarks online lets you use them wherever you have internet access.

2. Builds on existing collections – it’s easy to import your existing bookmarks into delicious.
3. Saves time – using delicious & it’s useful tags & description function, can really speed up how fast you can refind ‘that one’ site. No more roaming through endless folders. Install the delicious buttons and bookmark new sites with one click.

4. Is easy to use – as stated, the delicious buttons turn it into a 1-click system. And to make use of other people’s bookmarks, takes no more than simple search skills.

5. Is immediately useful in the classroom – you now have all your bookmarks in not just one classroom, but in every room you teach in. And that makes you a lot more flexible. A student asks a question? Mmm, I’m sure I bookmarked a site that had an interesting take on that…

6. Has passive social functionality – like Slideshare, Delicious does not require you to be socially active, invest in building a network or give out too much personal information, for it to be useful. You can’t even upload a profile picture.

7. Can be the start of a teacher’s PLN – again, although Delicious does not require social activity, you can’t help but run into useful resources shared by its many users. And once you find a user who shares links about your interests, you may want to find out what else they are sharing, on their blog, on Twitter, or elsewhere…

I’ve had moderate success introducing teachers to the tools above. If you have had success introducing teachers or colleagues to other e-learning gateway tools, I’d love to hear about it.

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