One phrase that I've been repeating often is don't do the newest thing, do the best thing. Too often we don't evaluate the newest tool, we just buy it and shove the round object into the square hole. Then we scream, "LOOK HOW COOL THIS IS!!!!" I'm rarely first to jump on the bandwagon for anything: cell phones, iPod Touches, "educational software" (OK, some things I may never come around to). But I get tired of being burned when something doesn't live up to the hype. Technology has been ridiculed in the past for jumping ship too early to the next shiny object.
One tool that I really like and started to help our district leverage earlier than some others is Skype. The power of Skype is knocking down the four walls of the classroom and giving students rich experiences they might not have gotten on their own. But we don't use it as an "extra" (see my Twitter bio for why not): We've used Skype to perform the same tasks we've always done. Who's got time to add something new into the classroom? Some examples of how we've used Skype in our district include:
- Reviewing building tech surveys;
- Bringing in outside guests, including high school academy students and experts from the Henry Doorly Zoo;
- Connecting "singleton" teachers and specialists with colleagues in the district so that they can participate in team planning;
- Connecting our classrooms with "real life experts" around the state and students from around the world: 4th grade students Skype with other 4th grade classrooms for study of Nebraska; celebrated Dr. Seuss' birthday with a variety of grade levels all across the US and Canada;
- Saving trips out to buildings for short, face-to-face conversations between administrative staff and principals or teachers;
- Interview potential staff candidates who are out of state;
- Conduct parent-teacher conferences with parents stationed oversees in the military.
We continue to stress: Skype doesn't make your lesson better, the conversations you have during the Skype do. Technology allows you the opportunity to engage more students with lessons that are relevant to them while still instructing students on what your school board and administration deem necessary. Technology for the sake of technology, in my opinion, is a large part of why it's sometimes scoffed at by those who aren't "tech savvy." Technology should be a tool to improve your instruction and working environment. Don't use the newest technology to leverage it's power to further education. Use the best for your district.