5 Tips to Keep Up with Technology

March 20, 2011

Although my formal education isn’t in ed tech, I’ve been involved with projects involving both synchronous and asynchronous technology since the turn of the millennium. I’ve come to love technology, but it wasn’t always that way. Even now, I find myself overwhelmed at times with the number of resources that seem to grow by the second. There are amazing, free resources available for teachers. How do you sort through them all? Make sense of them all? Figure out what to use? Here are some tips I’ve found helpful:

File for Later

When something comes into my e-mail box that looks interesting, but I just don’t have time to tend to it right away, I put it in a file in my e-mail called “Cool stuff to explore”.

Quick Scan of New Resources

I go to my e-mail file of “Cool Stuff to Explore” when I have 5 or 10 minute chunks. I’ve found that you can usually decide pretty quickly if a resource is worth more in-depth exploration later. I will often go through the sites in my e-mail folder when I’m on hold on the phone, when I’m waiting for a webinar to start or I have a few minutes when I can’t do work that requires me to concentrate deeply for a long period of time.

Use Online Bookmarks

I use Diigo to archive the resources I think are worth paying more attention to. I add tags to help me remember what topics the site refers to. Then I organize the pages into topics or lists. When I come across a web page that I think is good quality, I add it to my online bookmarks. I love, love, love using online bookmarks to help me organize resources I want to share or explore later. There’s even a “read later” option that allows you to bookmark something you want to spend more time on later.

In-depth Assessment

If a resource or new technology looks interesting, spend some time assessing it. Ask yourself:

  • Can I use this in my own teaching practice?
  • Is this technology permitted or authorized by my school division or institution? (No matter how cool or useful a tool is, if your jurisdiction doesn’t allow it, then it may not be worth spending significant time learning it.)
  • Would it be easy for my students to use?
  • What is the cost, if any?
  • Is it safe, secure and appropriate for my students?

Share, Collaborate and Have Conversations – Online and Offline

When you find something wonderful, share it. Ask others if they know about it – ask around at work, ask on Twitter, ask in online professional groups. Get tips on how to use it. Find out what others are doing.

Play Favorites – Really, it’s OK!

It’s easy to get overwhelmed quickly. There are too many wonderful resources out there to become an expert at them all. Pick a few that appeal to you and that are truly useful and relevant to your teaching practice. Learn those ones and leave the others in categories of “Might Explore Later” or  “Cool, but not really relevant to me right now”. Even people who are full-time technology teachers can’t possibly know every single technology that is available. When you choose a few favorites, you’ll get excited about them. Your students will sense your enthusiasm and they’ll be motivated by it.

Give Yourself Permission to Play, Explore and When you Need to, Step Back

One of the biggest barriers to learning new technology is anxiety. Remember that you don’t have to be perfect and know everything. Allow your curiosity to lead you and take a playful approach. If you get overwhelmed, take a break and step back. Come back to it later.

By taking a break when you find yourself getting frustrated or overwhelmed, you’ll be able to avoid burnout and return to it later with fresh eyes and renewed energy. Give yourself permission to set boundaries that will ultimately empower you to do your best in the long run.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

The shocking thing my student said

December 16, 2010

At the end of our last Spanish class for the semester, a few of the students stayed behind to chat and visit for a few minutes. They were an excellent group and had interacted well throughout the semester. Many of them thanked me for a good class, which I always appreciate.

One student, Sam, we’ll call him, said something I’ve never heard before and it shocked me in a way that few comments from a student have in 16 years of teaching.

“You’re the first instructor at university to learn my name,” he said. “I really appreciate that.”

I reeled in disbelief.

“What year are you in?” I asked.

“Third year,” he replied. “I’m on schedule to graduate next year.”

“What’s your major?” I probed further.

“Sciences. This is the only class I’ve ever had that has fewer than 100 people in it. None of the other profs learn our names. I suppose they can’t with that many students.”

I nodded in agreement. My classes have grown in size since I started teaching and with 35 students this year, it took me longer than usual to learn everyone’s name.

He went on to say, “I want to be a science teacher, but not here. I want to work in a place where I can get to know my students. This place is a factory.”

Not wanting to enter a discussion on the state of post-secondary institutions today, I simply remarked that I thought he had many qualities that would make him a good teacher.

He’s got good, solid grades and comes to class on a regular basis. He’s interested and engaged, polite and congenial. He’s got a decent work ethic and works well with other students in class. His classmates like him and he gets along with just about everyone. He’s not a super-duper genius, and nor is he a complete trouble maker. That’s part of the trouble, I suppose. Not being at the far end of either side of the scale, he gets lost in the crowd.

How sad… this student pays thousands of dollars a year in tuition for higher education and even as he approaches graduation, almost no one knows his name. As educators, we make a powerful connection with our students when we learn their names (or at least try).


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Every young American to become proficient in a 2nd language within a generation?

September 15, 2010

Glen Loveland at Examiner.com reports in “Foreign Language Education Targeted by Congress” that new proposed legislation in the U.S. would have American children learning a second language in school. The objective? That within one generation all Americans would be fluent in at least one other language. Loveland writes:

“On the last day of the 111th Congress, a bill sponsored by U.S. Congressional Representatives Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Paul Tonko (D-NY) was quietly introduced…. Holt and Tonko propose legislation that would allow every young American to become proficient in a second language—in addition to English—within a generation. The plan is to start language instruction in early childhood and ensure that they are able to build capacity throughout their elementary and secondary education until they gain proficiency.”

The province where I live, Alberta, tried to legislate mandatory second language classes for all students around the turn of the millennium. The Second Languages Initiative, as it was known, fell flat when there was a change in the ministry of education, following an election. In Alberta, second language study remains optional.

What would happen if an entire country – an entire, powerful, influential country – followed in the footsteps of other, smaller countries that have been mandating second language learning for years? The synergy between the “super power” of the United States and those countries who support multilingualism through policy and practice could resonate across the globe. Is that naive or a beam of hope? What do you think?


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Interview with Meike Thomsen: Leading by Example Series

August 23, 2010

This series is dedicated to highlighting the impact made by exemplary literacy and language professionals who lead by example. They share their inspirational tips and stories. This week I’m delighted to showcase a teacher in a German bilingual program, who inspires young learners to study German, and also mentors her fellow teachers as part of her professional practice.

What is your name, affiliation, and connection to language learning?
My name is Meike Thomsen and I’m the learning leader for the first German Bilingual Junior High Program within the public Calgary Board of Education. The program welcomes its first students in September 2010. Previously, you could find me in the same capacity in the German Bilingual elementary school of the CBE. In a bilingual school, mathematics is taught in the target language. It is my luck (and the students’)  that I love mathematics and have been working with teachers on improving math pedagogy for the past 2 years before ‘rejoining’ the German Bilingual program at the Junior High level; ordering all their resources, library collection and determining which German Math book suits our Alberta curriculum best.

What are your thoughts about leadership and language learning?
It is my strong belief that every person should speak at least two languages and should have travelled at least once for an extended period of time to a country where the language is spoken. If we are looking at gaining world peace, we need to be able to understand each other. In order to understand another culture, we have to be able to communicate in their language and need to have lived within the culture for at least a year to truly understand it.

This is the reason why all European countries encouraged the exchange of youth between cities after World War II. The city I grew up in had a ‘sister city’ in England. Every year teenagers from my city went to visit there for 2 weeks and then the British youth would come and visit us for 2 weeks. The reasoning behind? You don’t fear what you know  You also don’t want to fight a war with a nation you have visited.

Here is an example that struck me when I learned of it: During World War II an American General was ordered to bomb one of the oldest German cities (Rothenburg op de Tauber). He couldn’t bring himself to do this, because he had visited this city as a young man and new of its historical importance. This city still has original parts dating back to the 11th century. Thanks to this general, this part of German history is alive today, because he had a personal connection to Rothenburg and knew what it would mean to destroy a city like that.

In your opinion, what’s the most important aspect of a language teacher’s job?
Engagement! People who learn a second language need to be engaged and they need to understand the importance of learning a second language. In the literature review of my thesis, I have a whole section on what the benefits of second language learning are.

While adult learners usually have a very specific reason for learning a second language, children and youth need to have fun doing it. Singing, puppet plays, watching German movies and having a German pen pal (email pal) are just a few things that will engage them in learning.

The second important aspect of a language teacher is the ability to teach the culture of the other country in a way that shows children/adults that our cultures do share some commonalities, but that there are distinct differences and… this is what they are. Personal space is a major one. Our personal bubble is much bigger here in Canada than in a lot of other countries. What is considered rude or polite? What is considered harassment? To teach cultural awareness is important and can be a lot of fun.

What are some of the projects you’ve been involved with that you would like to share?
The biggest project was my research in regards to my thesis: “The Sustainability of the German Bilingual Program in Calgary”. One of the most interesting (and frustrating) experiences was that parents had complained to me about not having a voice and not getting input … yet when I was looking for research participants (a survey and a focus group) not many were forthcoming. It took me 3 different attempts and approaches to get a sufficient numbers of parents to complete the initial survey.

What do you see as three new directions in language learning?
Thanks to the evolution in technology, the interactive part of language learning has become much easier. Teachers can find teachers in the target language’s country, connect, and then connect their students. Skype is free and kids can talk to each other, using the language they are learning. It makes the language come alive and removes it from the sterility of the classroom and the textbook. Using Skype also allows the students to use their hands, body and signs to help with communications – a phone call relies exclusively on words, which is much harder for beginners.

Today, we encourage students to speak – no matter how bad the grammar might be. This is a change in attitude and is still hard for the students to do. When I learned English, our instructors encouraged us to write down the sentence and ‘get it perfect’ before trying to speak … which resulted in very stilted and not natural conversations.


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When I become a teacher

August 9, 2010

Here’s some food for thought on why we become teachers, or perhaps more importantly, why we should (or should not) become teachers.

The original video, plus the video responses to the original are, in my opinion, excellent tools for discussion and reflection for teachers. Whether you are an experienced teacher or a student teacher, these videos give pause and make us think about why we entered this profession.

If you happen to be in the position of being an instructor at a teacher’s college or faculty of education, these would make great classroom resources for your teachers-in training.

Provocative and engaging, these videos are also an excellent example of how one video can inspire others to tap into their own values, vision and creativity to respond.

Here’s the original satire, “When I become a teacher”

Here’s one response. It’s called “When I become a teacher – The Remix”. It echoes in style and presentation, the original.

Here’s another response, that’s even more creative. It’s also called “When I become a teacher”.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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