10 thoughts on how to go digital and why we should

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Monday, January 19, 2015

10 thoughts on how to go digital and why we should

Our traditional teaching methods will continue to work to some extent for a while. But education keeps losing relevance to students the longer we go without innovating.

Our world is becoming more and more digital, but our classrooms look much the same as our ancestors’ classrooms.

Desks. Students seated. Chalk. Chalkboards. Teachers up front.

If education is going to remain relevant — and the work of teachers is to remain relevant to their students — we must change.

A thought by Sir Ken Robinson, illustrated beautifully in a sketch by Bryan Mathers, sums up how we should frame those changes — “Teaching is not a delivery system. It’s an art form.”

This is part of the message I’ll be delivering at a school in eastern Indiana, titled “Classroom 2.0: How to go digital — and why we should.” Here are 10 thoughts we’ll be discussing as part of that talk. (I hope you’ll continue this conversation by leaving a comment below!)

1. The Medieval Help Desk.

This is how we’ll be kicking things off. This video is hilarious, mostly because we’ve all been there — either as the one struggling with a new piece of technology OR as the one coaxing someone along with it.

2. My path to textbook liberation.

western wayne textbook liberation

It’s been about five years since I used textbooks in my high school Spanish classes. The proverbial last straw was when I gave a rousing (OK, less than rousing) 40-minute lecture on Spanish grammar — complete with textbook activities — and punished my students with extra homework for not being engaged. In a calculated moment of semi-exasperation, I asked them to put their books in a cabinet, never to be seen again. It didn’t make my life easier, but in the end, it was worth it. My teaching became more customized and meaningful to my students, and they learned Spanish so much better.

3. The Voice of the Active Learner.

I love how this video sums up how many students feel about their schools these days. They’re not the same learners that us educators were as children. We can’t treat them the same way, either. It’s a short video and worth the watch.

4. “Technology doesn’t have to be a $1,000 pencil.”

1k pencil

This paraphrased quote, attributed to Canadian school administrator George Couros, has been my rallying cry since I first heard it. If we can do it with a pencil, there’s no reason we need iPads or Chromebooks or Macbooks to do it. Technology should empower us to do much different, better learning in our classrooms. If we don’t, we’re squandering a great opportunity.

5. Being online empowers us.

when im online


Sure, we can write and create and discuss using the traditional methods (and, in some cases, we still should). Pencil and paper still work, and face-to-face conversations are beginning to be a lost art form. But when we’re online, new benefits present themselves. We can’t discount the power of those — and the power of cultivating those skills in our students.

6. If we prepare them for today, we’re robbing them of their tomorrow.

jobs didnt exist

I know I’m not the originator of that “robbing them of their tomorrow” line, but it’s a trap we fall into as educators so often. We think of how we ourselves learn best. We think of what was meaningful and useful to us in our formative years. Then we design classes around it. We have to constantly remind ourselves of the uncertain, demanding world that our students will face upon graduation.

7. Don’t try to do it all at once.

Pages of Pages of Edtech Notes3_page_004

Implementing too many changes in our classrooms is a recipe for disaster, regardless of how excited we are after a conference. It’s so easy to leave conferences, workshops, training sessions and even conversations with colleagues with huge plans to gut and rebuild our classes. Trust me (from experience), it’s probably bound to fail. Take a couple new ideas (maybe just one!) and roll them out to your satisfaction before adding more new elements. Like Vicki Davis so eloquently put it at the ISTE conference last summer, “You can’t eat a watermelon whole!”

8. Invite the world. Learn from many.


Blogging and social media are two powerful ways for students to make connections with others all around the world. For centuries, it’s been next to impossible to bring in instant perspectives, viewpoints and information from people all around the globe (let alone our local areas). Now, with tools like blogs, social media and video chats (like Skype and Google Hangouts), it’s free and very manageable. Plus, the benefits can be life-altering for students.

9. Find silver BBs.

silver bbs

Technology is not the “silver bullet” to save education. It’s not going to ride in on a white horse and save any teacher’s classroom (or any student’s education). But certain solutions might be the “silver BB” you need to take care of a specific issue. Find enough silver BBs — placed strategically by innovative teachers and eager students — and we might have that elusive silver bullet.

10. “60 seems like nothing now!”

In this video, a fourth-grade girl makes her first ski jump. But it’s not without some serious trepidation. You can hear it in her quivering voice and nervous questions. She represents so many of us, knowing there’s greatness ahead but unsure if we can reach it. But she eventually confronts her fear and makes it to the bottom of the hill. Her jubilation bubbles over when she thinks back to the size of the hill and says, “60 seems like nothing now! Woo hoo!” Tackling your own figurative ski jump might be the spark that you need to rekindle your love of education. Or it might be the spark a student needs to light a fire of passion that burns his/her entire life.

[reminder]Do you have a favorite quote, thought or video about blazing new trails in education?[/reminder]

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  • Jeremy Bourbina says:

    All of this information helped to validate what I’m currently doing in the classroom. Much of the students work is done on Chromebooks. I agree that we must not “rob them of their tomorrow”.

  • Catherine Daigle says:

    Thanks for the useful information. Just some technical info for you, the opening image link is broken, and the video for #3 seems to be gone now too.

  • […] 10 Thoughts on How to Go Digital and Why We Should […]

  • Tama Trotti says:

    Your medieval textbook video made me laugh, yet still happening in so many schools. Until gov’t invests in students of the future, the future of digital natives is still severely lagging in terms of how they learn. However, if teachers bit by bit try small changes at a time, it will eventually take over – new teachers coming out of school now should be the point of educational change, but it won’t happen until everyone is on board as a catalyst for change. Thank god for Twitter and my PLN – that’s where I have learned so much!

  • Lori says:

    Matt – thanks for sharing – great thoughts on why technology is important and ultimately here to stay! I know for me I thrive on the challenge and frustration that learning new technology provides. With my newly discovered inspiration #tlap, I am forcing myself into social media and facing the fear of criticism and critique. My focus has changed from fear to being helpful to someone every day! So glad to have your help and @burgessdave along for my journey!

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