Toolishness?

by Jean Tower

Today’s Tech & Learning Newsletter, Digital Learning Environments, has a link to an article by Laura Turner, entitled: 20 Technology Skills that Every Educator Should Have. (Link to subscribe to the newsletter.) Really, the list reads more like a list of tools, rather than skills.

I enjoyed Laura’s list of tools, but I fear that those of us who are really immersed in technology in education may sometimes give the impression that we are overly focused on “the tools” rather than what happens when good teachers who are masters of their craft, also become masters of these tools.

That being said, I’m going to risk sounding “toolish” and make a suggestion. Teachers may be overwhelmed by the advice that they have to be able to use all these tools well, but I believe this is a situation where the Pareto principle applies. The Pareto principle, also known as the 80-20 rule states that 80% of your revenue will come from the top 20% of your customers. There are many variations of this rule – 20% of your employees require 80% of your supervising time, and 20% of Major League Baseball players make 80% of the payroll are a couple. I have heard Doug Reeves (founder of the Center for Performance Assessment) make the point that we could focus 80% of our instructional time on 20% of the content, and achieve deeper understanding and better student achievement.

So here’s my suggestion – apply the 80/20 rule to this list and ask educators to learn four of these tools really well and use them with students. My abridged list is:

  • An online tool suite like Google Apps for Education or Microsoft’s Live @ Edu
  • Social Networking Tools
  • Digital storytelling
  • RSS

Online Tool Suite (called Google Tools on the list in the article)
Using an online suite of tools enables sharing, collaborating, publishing, and presenting possibilities. Students can work in groups, author documents, presentations, and spreadsheets, and can make forms to collect data.

Social Networking Tools (Social Networking Knowledge in article)
This category covers many tools – blogs, bookmarking, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more. Educators can use these to share their learning and reflections, develop their Personal Learning Networks and in projects with students.

Digital Storytelling (Video and Podcasting in article)
Digital Storytelling is using computer-based tools to tell stories, usually using a combination of media – text, still images, video, music and narration. This is an important skill set for our educators and students, as more and more of the content they encounter every day is video.

RSS (RSS Feeds in article)
I use Google reader to aggregate my RSS feeds and I depend on this as my most important source of professional reading. I subscribe to the writings of leading edge educators and administrators, thought leaders, and gadget junkies who keep me up-to-date in many areas. RSS is a powerful tool and teachers could use it to stay informed and build their own Personal Learning Network, but teachers also need to guide students in the use of RSS as a learning tool.

So that’s my short list – the 20% of tools that I think accomplish 80% of what you need to do. I encourage teachers to develop deeper skills with a smaller set of tools rather than diving an inch deep and a mile wide. It was challenging to cut the list to only 4 tool areas. It almost hurt me to leave off wikis. We use private label Wikispaces in our district and I am impressed with the collaboration and the work produced. How about you? What are the 4 “must have” core technology tools that you recommend for teachers?

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