An over-abundance of good: using multiple tools at once.

Integrating multiple tools at once can be challenging.
Integrating multiple tools at once can be challenging.

I’m guilty of band-wagoning. Yup. I admit it. A new tech tool comes out, and the next thing you know, Mr. G is trying it out in his next class. Literally, my next class. I can’t imagine this is healthy for my students’ learning. We all get excited and like to try new things, but the reality is it might not always be the best for the students sitting in front of us.

Here’s something to think about: what happens when we have several really good tools that we want to work in unison? In my classes, I rely on the intersection and interaction between three tools: Google Classroom, Turnitin.com and Engrade.

Truth: I’m a fan of all three. Google Classroom lets me seamlessly get assignments/readings into the hands of my students and collect their work. Turnitin.com gives me the ability to digitally grade major writing assignments with state-of-the-art plagiarism and commenting features. Engrade is the mother of all online grade books, allowing my students to check their grades anytime they want using their devices.

I understand completely that an essential part of being a 21st Century educator (and student) is having the ability and skill set to navigate the plethora of online tools that are out there, and to develop ways to integrate them into practice in a meaningful way. The key is understanding the process (not always product): how can these tools work together to enhance student learning?

When I first started teaching with each of these tools, I made it my mission to use every single aspect of each one, all the time. Guess what? I got overwhelmed. My students got overwhelmed. They got confused. I heard things like “Mr. G, do you want this assignment turned in on Classroom or Turnitin?” “Wait, is our grade on Engrade or Classroom? Are they the same?” It wasn’t working.

After a few years dealing with this quagmire of failed productivity, here’s what I’ve learned: use what you need, and only use it if it works for your students. I use Engrade solely for grade book keeping, but not for assignment collection or digital assessments, even though it has that functionality. Classroom is used in my classes for content delivery and collecting and grading smaller assignments, but I don’t use it as my central grade book. Turnitin.com is for bigger assignments and peer editing, but I don’t use it with every writing assignment I assign. I’ve made a custom, fit-for-me plan that works for my teaching practice and for my students.

If you need help developing your own plan-of-attack, reach out to your ITS or another digital coach in your school.

Most importantly, engage in a conversation with your students about what works for them. When I tried Edmodo a few years ago, I thought most of the features were attractive and complemented my teaching practice and style. However, my students didn’t find it as useful. Don’t misinterpret: Edmodo is a fantastic service that thousands of students use every day. It just happened to not work well for my students.

Opening the doors for feedback from the students is a great first step as you develop your approach to using multiple tech tools at once in your classroom. Our students are “digital natives”. They are ready for the challenges and payoffs of a 21st Century education. Our role as teachers should be to listen to what they have to say and take their feedback with more than a grain of salt. I know I’m a better teacher for it.

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