Classroom tech rant and wishlist

A discussion on the Foreign Language Teaching Forum about what one could do with Google docs prompted a thoughtful and funny piece by Margaret Kohler, who teaches elementary and middle school French at West Side Montessori Center in Toledo, Ohio. Below, with her permission, are her thoughts on what would help her teach well with technology.

I’m sick of all the new technology being thrown around and thinking, “Holy Toledo Mud Hens! Am I supposed to use all this? Why? When? How? Good gracious I’m behind the curve!” I mean, technology is only ONE of the many things we have to think about to be good teachers, right?

In a word:
Classroom tech rant and wishlist
It’s like a techno-avalanche. Last year I revved up my technology use so my students would be “Prepared for the Future” and because I figured it “Had to be Better” and mostly what I got out of it was headaches. Things that didn’t work. Things that disappointed. Things that had to be updated—right in the middle of class! Things requiring an add-on. Things needing more bandwidth. Streaming issues. Things that I had to get permission for. Broken links. Things that worked differently on different computers. Kids losing passwords. And the worst: things the kids didn’t know how to use yet so I used foreign language class time to teach them technology.Ugh, I learned my lesson. I’m grabbing the few golden nuggets that were home runs, and keeping them. The rest:forgetaboutit.

On the other hand, for example, my school is now moving to a “Google platform” or “Google environment” or we are getting Googlized, whatever, and the kids are going to have accounts, so naturally I think: ok, how can I take advantage of this? What in the functionality of this thing might benefit me/my students?

I want to know a little of what it CAN do because I am curious. I suppose I could just give the technology teacher a list of things I’d like to improve, and have her figure out what she’s got in her bag of tricks that can help me, but I want to be a partner in it because I know my classes best. There might be something it can do that I didn’t even realize could be useful. And if the whole school is using it, chances are I won’t have as many irritating little issues because it will be meticulously maintained for everyone, and the kids will already know how to use it.

It would be cool if someone would summarize the technologies out there being used for foreign language right now and what the practical uses of each are. What each techo-thing “does better” for foreign language learning and why. In r-e-a-l-l-y simple language. (Comprehensible input, please.) Sort of like the miscositas site but more comprehensive and for like 5th grade reading level.

What I especially want to know is HOW something has improved student learning outcomes (tell your story.) Or HOW it has saved time. And then some really smart person could make a decision tree to help teachers choose the right technology for their actual needs. (And update this information daily on a free website, just because they are nice!!) But I think the reality is a lot of teachers are just faced with their school getting a certain platform or technology, and trying to sift through it and find what in that can be of use.

So I visualize a two-way street: Start from where you are at: think of your needs and look for the best ways (tech & non-tech) to fill them.

At the same time, jump in the techo waters and just swim around really nonchalant, being aware of what’s out there without feeling pressured to catch every new fish in the sea. It’s hard when really smart-looking people say: “YOU should be using glibbitmeister! It’s the social networking/techno-learning tool of the century! It revolutionized my life!It’s more useful than the invention of toilet paper! I’m giving it to all my grandchildren this year!”

I believe I have gotten past that starry-eyed stage now and am wiser and more judicious (if not slightly cynical) about technology. I haven’t made friends with it yet, but maybe that’s in the future.

The wonderful tech person at school listened to my technology rant recently and just chuckled and said, “pick one or two things each year you think could be most helpful and don’t worry about the rest.” I love her!

Has anyone else gone through this? Maybe everybody already knows all this, and if so, sorry for the long post.

Anyway, thanks for explaining Google docs! I was hoping someone would tell me what it does!