08 February 2016

How to Become the "Ed Tech Person" at your School

21st Century Skills for Teachers

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to present a workshop at the Montclair State University summer professional development conference. The topic of my talk? Using a feed reader to grow your Personal Learning Network. If you haven't heard of feed readers, or have but don't know how to use one, this is the post for you!

Grow Your Personal Learning Network

How many of you know 'that' teacher in your school? You know the one, he/she is always finding the newest educational technology. This teacher is often envied by the staff and cherished by the administration. They are the ones who always seem to come to staff meetings with some new ed tech app or tool. You might think to yourselves, "where does this person find the time to discover all of these great resources?" "Technology is great, but it doesn't beat experienced, expert teaching," you might think to yourself. You know you've heard that one before, and you know what? It's true! However, isn't there a way to be an expert teacher who also incorporates technology into the curriculum? The keynote speaker at the conference spoke of the 'tyranny of OR' which posited the idea that too many people surrender to the assumption that you can either have this OR that, good teaching OR educational tech. Well, I'm here today to tell you that you can in fact have both. Today, I will share my secret of how I became 'that' teacher and it's much easier than you might imagine.

Personalized Digital Magazine

Feed readers. Without getting into all the boring details of how they work, I'll skip to what exactly they do. Feed readers, at their heart, are a way to aggregate a large amount of information into an app or web tool. Think of a feed reader as your own personal digital magazine. Do any of you out there scroll through the news page on Yahoo, MSN or some other news site? I have to admit, I used to too. I would spend more time than I'd like to admit (much to my wife's chagrin) scrolling and clicking through these "news" sites. But were they really news? Is Kim Kardashian's pregnancy diet really newsworthy? Sites like Yahoo are in the business of selling advertisements; the more people who click on a story, the more money they make, so the majority of stories are centered around society's lowest common denominator: celebrities, controversies, and crimes. This is great for selling ads, but really bad for informing the public. Feed readers are a way for you to have your own news site, with information hand-selected by you, personally delivered to you!

Feed Readers for Your Brain

There are a few major feed readers that work really well. I personally use feedly (you might also like digg reader or NewsBlur). What you do is go to to the feed reader site (or download the app if available) and begin to organize the news and information that YOU want to see. feedly is great
because it works on both the web and in an app. The internet is a HUGE place; feed readers make it more manageable. Your feed reader will aggregate all the blogs and other sites into one place. How many of us have found a great education/content site, subscribed to the newsletter, and then never read a single update that the site e-mails us? If you're like I was, this is a common occurrence.  Feed readers also let you organize your interests by topic. For instance, I have sections of my feed reader specifically labeled for social studies, educational technology, news, politics, and even sections for hobbies such as chess and photography.

Once you sign up for a free account, you can begin to curate your digital magazine. You still need to search for blogs and websites to follow, however once these are in your feed reader, your updates will come to you! For a list of content specific blogs, click here. If you are looking for the newest and coolest educational technology, try blogs such as TeachThought, Free Technology for Teachers, Edudemic, Educational Technology and Mobile Learning, Edutopia, and The Innovative Educator. Simply copy the blog's URL address from your browser, paste it in the search bar of your feed reader, and every time a new post is written, it will show up in your feed reader. Don't forget to organize the blog into the right category!

A few tips on finding blogs to include in your feed reader and using the knowledge gained to develop yourself professionally: 

  1. Read a few posts and decide if it's right for you; don't simply start adding blogs that have a catchy title. Remember, this is about being efficient. Only add a blog if you like the author's style and topic.                                                                                                                    
  2. Make sure to check when the last post was written (usually you can find this at the top of the last post written). If there hasn't been a post since November 2013, don't add it to your feed reader. This means that the person hasn't added content in a while and in the world of educational technology, a year away from new products is equivalent to a decade.                      
  3.  Expand outside of your comfort zone. This is the time for you to develop yourself professionally remember? Try to be open minded about some of the blogs you find. There might be a method or app that you think could never work, but you won't know unless you try it!                                                                                                                                
  4.  If you find an app that you think you can use in class, try it yourself first!! If you find that the app or tool is not very user friendly, toss it! There is no need to clutter up your device's memory with apps that you'll never use.                                                                              
  5. You are trying to expand your PLN remember? Subscribing blogs to your feed reader is great, but PLNs are all about connecting. The best way to do this is to comment on a blog that you feel was helpful or ask for clarification if something wasn't clear. Most blogs have a comment section at the bottom of the page. Use it!! You'll make connections quickly!

The Best Professional Development

If we expect our students to become proficient in 21st century skills, we need to develop professionally as well.  At times, we may want to simply jettison technology because of how difficult it can be to manage at times, falling prey to the same inability to handle frustration as our students. Using a feed reader is a clear way to increase your efficiency as a teacher and overcome your technological frustrations.
Admit it, how many of you out there have been intimidated by the vastness of the internet before. I know I was. It's such a big place! You might be tempted to say "how can I find (useful) information in that nebulous monstrosity?" As teachers, we are constantly asking our students to show 'grit' and overcome frustration, and yet, how easy is it for us to give up on ed tech at times?

After I presented at the conference the other day, I went to a few other professional development lectures. I can say without exaggeration that I gain more professional development from 15 minutes of browsing my feed reader that I got in this entire PD conference. With your feed reader, you will get more information and ideas in 15 minute than you will at all the professional development conferences you go to each year! I guarantee it!

(Your personal digital magazine)

            (All my categories are organized neatly)



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