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