OPINION: So You Use Edtech, But Are You An Early Adopter?
Nine steps to becoming an early edtech adopter
Early Adopters: There are usually one or two at every school and they are sometimes referred to as ‘power users’ - but they are more than that. Early adopters seek out new tools and don’t mind that often these tools are in beta, pilot, or testing phases. Despite the rough edges, early adopters are excited to try something new. They know that eventually they’ll find that diamond in the rough; and when they do they will get an even bigger kick out of sharing it with their friends and helping their colleagues.
So early adopters get the opportunity to shape new products but there is a risk involved - new tools can sometimes be buggy, and teachers have to be careful not to waste valuable class time on edtech teething issues. Lets face it, no matter how good the PD was or how cute the little explainer video on the website is, you don’t truly know how a new tool will fit until it’s in the hands of your students.
If you want to ramp up your edtech use and try some fresh tools, here are some tips for introducing new tools to your students.
1. Your kids don’t need a full blown lesson to get comfortable, but they will need a couple of minutes to poke around.
New tools can sometimes be overwhelming for teachers. It’s quite the opposite for kids. A new tool with a fresh design and experience is a modern day playground. They will naturally want to go hard, press buttons and break things--let them. Apps and software can be easily reset if settings change - they won’t permanently ‘break’ anything! Just as you tried the tool out at your desk, the students also want to get familiar with it.
2. Single sign on
Single sign on through Google or Edmodo is great. You don’t waste valuable class time messing around on the sign-up process and there’s little risk of students forgetting passwords or usernames. But if you are already an early adopter you will know that a lot of new tools don’t always offer it - don’t worry, I have some tips to get around this!
3. No single-sign on? Flip the sign-up process!
Kids are used to signing up to new services so if they are in middle school or above they probably don’t need you there to walk them through it. Don’t waste fifteen minutes of class time getting everyone set up, instead spend five minutes writing out simple step-by-step instructions. Distribute these for homework. Sending students the signup link and some simple instructions via email works best for me - they know what to do.
4. No single sign on? Hack your own!
Be clear with students “Use the same username and password that you signed up to X with, to sign up to the this new tool”. In the Cupertino District (@EdTechCUSD) elementary teachers use student lunch numbers, kids are less likely to forget it and teachers have a record. I’ve also worked with teachers who display usernames on a poster to remind students. This takes a bit of upfront work but it should save you time later when they forget their details… and they will forget.
At Geddit, an app I’ve helped create, we’re working on a feature which will allows teacher to reset student passwords while in class. Rather than emailing our friendly tech support, the lesson can continue as planned. There is often a delay when requesting something like a password reset, so look for this type of admin control and if it’s not there, don’t be afraid to ask for it!
If you know 5 of your students have logged in and navigated around successfully, chances are they can do it again for a peer! Get them up and helping others. Just like a normal lesson I want every student busy.
6. Zoom in on things
When introducing a new tool, you are probably going to project the student side on the board to do a walkthrough with them. Zoom in on the specific area of the screen that you want the students to select or focus on. This will help them ignore all the secondary bells and whistles. If you are using a MacBook, hover your mouse over the area you want to enlarge and then do a two finger swipe while holding the control key (this can be enabled in ‘System Preferences’ > Accessibility > Zoom).
7. Introduce new tools at the end of a lesson
No matter how much you played around with this app at home there is still a chance that you will encounter unforeseen issues (especially if it is in beta) and remember you still have to give your students a couple of minutes to play around and get comfortable.
The simple solution is to introduce new tools at the end of a lesson. “Hey kids, remember your homework was to create an account for that new app? Well I want to you to spend the last five minutes of today just logging in and having a look at it.” This ensures that any hiccups can be addressed without running the risk of disrupting an entire lesson.
8. Get kids to email tech support.
From my own experience with Geddit, I can tell you that developers of new edtech tools want to hear feedback! But you don’t have to spend your time emailing tech support with issues. Teach students to do it for themselves. “Hi my name is X, I am in Mr. Mann’s class at Awesome Middle School. My problem is this... here is a screenshot of the error...” This is a nice opportunity for students to deal with professionals in the real world. If you’re cool with this a little tip is to always get students to CC you in the email so that you can monitor the correspondence and give feedback if necessary.
9. Kids first
I don’t think I need to say this, but remember, beyond everything, the kids come first. If you’re in class, and the tech isn’t working out for you, or isn’t going to plan, throw it out the window and revert to plan B. Reflect on the introduction process, iterate and try again another time. Disclaimer: Don’t throw your kids out the window with the tool, you will definitely be sued.
If you are an early adopter I would love to hear your tips and tricks. Please feel free to leave a comment!