Giving Thanks For Technology

On ITworld, with Thanksgiving approaching, they asked some IT experts what technologies they are most thankful for.

They didn't mean actual Thanksgiving tech - like the online turkey cooking calculator - but big areas like open source and the Internet.

Of course, I'm more in the other IT world - the big I little t world of Instructional technology. (AKA EdTech)

What instructional technologies are you thankful for these days?

Of course, the Net and open everything applies to us too, but our thanks are probably somewhat different from the people in the server room.

So what is the answer from instructional technology land?  I decided to crowdsource the topic. I sent out emails to some colleagues and asked that question, and here's the thanks list from the campus green:

Using eTutoring, especially in writing, gets the nod from Greg F. "Its use has swept our institution.  Students and faculty alike are thankful"and also from Elizabeth N.

J.J., who bridges the K-20 experience, gives thanks for Internet2video conferencing for enabling virtual field trips, Google Apps allowing collaboration, and course management systems like Moodle making classes more interactive in a hybrid environment.

Never at a loss for words or links, Victor P. serves us a multi-course tech feast, starting out that he is "Intrigued by the g-speak platform - check out the overview on - kinda Minority Report-y.

Plus Microsoft’s Surface for hands-on manipulation will be slow to roll out but allows more intuitive interaction by the operator. I think it will help capture and retain attention for longer. A larger scale more in-depth use of technology already proven popular with the iPhone & now with the new Blackberry.

Vic is also hoping proximity-based WiFi systems NEVER get embraced, as he sees "the same foot-in-the-door approach by advertising as with every other available medium."

And how about the increasingly cheap jumpdrives, handheld multimedia devices, ultraportable laptops, anything that makes data sets portable and "portably manipulatable" (Victor says that Word doesn’t think those are words but he's goin’ with it)

He alos muses that there will be "nothing but more ubiquitous – until we have returned to our nomadic hunter-gatherer roots and roam the planet untethered by our work to desks and institutions." And finally, he is thankful for "Pi (Blueberry instead of Blackberry) and Apfel Crumb instead of Apple, and Open-Faced sandwiches instead of Open Source operating systems."

"I'm thankful for all technologies that are free, easy to use, and serve a purpose!," says Patty K.

From Joan C.: " I’d have to say Jing because it allows me to easily, effectively, and efficiently explain and demonstrate activities that text alone does not successfully communicate."

Nick T. is thankful for "virtual computing software which enables me to run Windows on top of the OSX platform, streamlining any updates that require a MS environment while affording me the stability of a Mac."

Norbert E.: "I am, believe it or not, thankful for educational technology. Course management systems such as Moodle, presentation software such as Camtasia, and collaborative platforms such as Drupal have enabled me to be in close contact with my students, whether we meet synchronously in a classroom or asynchronously across time and circumstance. I am better for this technology, and students now get a kind of education--intense, deeply responsive, demanding--that would be impossible for them. For lives demanding workplace and family duties, eLearning is the vehicle for educational opportunity."

I got a few contributions from the K-12 world of EdTech too. Dan C. says that e-mail to contact parents comes to mind. "You can fire off several to different parents in a period and not get caught in a lengthy phone call with just one parent. You’ll end up burning off a prep and getting nothing else done. LCD projectors and Internet access (finally!)to show clips, or go to web sites that show current issues in science. A web cam for virtual field trips or sharing data from an experiment with another class across town or across the world. Online job postings (i.e., Applitrack)"

Dana M. also like email, but "to correspond with my students - to communicate with them via writing. This creates a personal exchange of voice that we wouldn't otherwise have amidst the chaos of a high school day. These days, e-mail is so elemental, but I think it allows for teacher and student to use written language for authentic purpose, and to enjoy the facilities of language to express meaning and to have fun as we build and strengthen the teacher-student relationship. This is 21st-century letter writing, and who doesn't love mail? I'm also thankful for great search engines such as Google that allow us to access a variety of sources and types of information so easily. I remember the days of really, really bad searches, so this is really nice."

Dana also wonders about some older things that, of course, were the technologies of their time. "The printed book and the chalkboard. The latter is amazingly durable and useful. After 20 years of teaching, I only this year realized that my chalkboards are magnetic. I'm having so much fun with that. This week we started to dedicate one board to magnetic poetry, and it's really fun to see some of the students come in and get right to work on poems. This has also allowed for collective writing. Similar to electronic technologies, students are collaborating without knowing with whom they're collaborating. I think it's great when technologies have an underlying human component."

Dana is just back from doing a presentation at the NCTE conference and "It went well, but I have to say that the technology was what had me so stressed - worrying if all the equipment would work, if I'd be able to move between PowerPoint and DVDs easily; if anything would freeze or not work. A downside of our use of, and reliance on, technology is that it can cause stress."

Rachel M. adds the SmartBoard to the thanks list.

Pamela M. is thankful for "all the open source and free and SaaS [see Software as a Service] and juicy Web 2.0 tools that are online like Delicious, Zotero, Wikispaces, Blogger etc."

Alan M. adds that he is "thankful for pc’s and projectors in the classrooms, because somehow the students still are impressed with me doing nothing more than knowing “where to look up good stuff” (the phrase said to me in Intro to Lit just the other day)."

Patricia T. in a middle school says "I love technology for the web, email, and texting; however, when it comes to writing, nothing beats a plain single subject notebook for daily journals, drafts, and looking back at your thoughts years later."

While Lonna at a community college says that "I’m having a really hard time not being sarcastic with this question – go figure. I was going to go for clickers, but oh, wait we don’t have those!"

And there's always someone who won't answer the question directly... Cathy K. says "Rather than a specific technology, I’d like to say that I am thankful for the many college faculty members who are game to try new approaches to teaching. So many of our faculty are committed to exploration and development of knowledge in their research, and it is a wonderful thing to see this intellectual curiosity and adventurous spirit extend to teaching and learning."

On my own personal list would be many of those listed above, but I'll add blogging to the thanks list. Not only do I use it with my students, but blogging here (and on a few other non-EdTech blogs) has connected me to a host of other educators and forced me to keep up with what is going on in my field. Blogging has also been the most regular writing activity I have maintained (other than my journals since seventh grade) over my professional lifetime.

And I'd be thankful if I won a free Kindle from ITworld too.



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