Who knew at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year how important our technology would be at the end of the school year? I certainly didn’t. I thought I was fairly “tech-savvy.” I have been using technology in some shape or form since the early 1990s. In fact, I was the PC guru on my wing. Anyone having trouble with their computers came to me for “the fix.” I found interesting websites and materials. I could locate lesson plans in a jiffy (with the right search terms. . . . ), and I could install the software and hook up the cable.
That has changed in this new decade of the twenty-first century. Since March 18, I have been teaching and working online. Granted, my school year ending on May 22 (whew!), but during those eight weeks of online instruction and learning, I believe I learned as much or more than my students.
So what did I put in my tech toolbox to use for remote instruction? I’ll start with the basics.
Google Classroom. A learning management system (LMS) is essential to remote learning. I teach in a Google school. We require students to have a Google email account, and from grades 8 to 12, students are required to bring laptops or Chromebooks to classes. In middle school, we are required to use Google Classroom to post assignments and announcements. While my middle schoolers hated it, their parents loved it. It was one of the most important tools for consistent communication. I used the “People” tab to send out weekly emails to parents as well. In addition, it provided the “no-excuse” factor. No students could say that they didn’t know what the homework was or when there would be an announced test or quiz because it was posted to the Google Classroom. If parents accept the invitations, they will receive weekly updates of assignments, including which assignments are missing. Further, Google Classroom became the one-stop-shop for the handouts.
Google Suite for Education. I cannot stress how important it is for the school to sign up for this service. I have used a variety of tools over the years since I began using personal computers in 1986–WordStar, WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, and later Microsoft Office, which I still use on occasion. But now, I use the Google Suite almost exclusively, including Google Slides and Google Sheets. I find that for my work as an educator, these tools are easiest to use and provide most of the features I need for everyday work. I do still use Microsoft Office for some tasks that require a more robust system or for files that I receive in the .docx format. I tell my students, though, that if they can learn the basics in Google Docs, Slides, and Sheets, the learning curve for Office products is not as steep.
Hardware. I use both a Windows 10 PC and a Chromebook. Of course, the Windows laptop is more robust and does more things, such as run the Adobe Creative Cloud software I use for photo editing, but I have found that my Samsung Chromebook 3 is adequate for everyday computing. Plus, it works seamlessly with the Google Suite for Education. I have found that there are some drawbacks to the Chromebook. The grade book and attendance software that my school uses does not run well on the Chromebook. I think it may have more to do with the age of the software rather than the machine itself. I have a school-issued laptop, however, that solves the problem of the class management system. The Chromebook is lightweight and extremely portable. These features are extremely important to me, especially since I may be changing classrooms next school year while the students remain in one “homeroom.” I can connect the Chromebook to the data projector with the HDMI cord easily.
Peripherals. I’m not sure tech people use that term anymore for the “extras.” I have two extras that have been indispensable over the last couple of years. First is my document camera. I bought an inexpensive document camera from Amazon two years ago. I have used it to put up texts on the screen to demonstrate annotating a text as well as to share notes with the class while we complete our interactive notebooks. I can also take photos with the doc camera to save to post to Google Classroom for students who are absent.
I’m showing the camera that I am currently using; however, according to Amazon, this unit is discontinued because it has been upgraded. Check here for the upgraded model.
The second piece of equipment is an external microphone. This is the new purchase during this period of remote teaching. My son, the band director, recommended the Samson brand. I bought the little white meteorite! It’s a cute little thing! It sits in a magnetic base. The sound quality of my recorded lessons greatly improved with this little mic. Further, it is budget-friendly. Of course, the price has risen since I bought mine on Amazon.com, but it is still under $100.00.
The Roost. I was reading a blog about traveling with technology and creating a “kit” of gear to take on the road. One of the pieces that this writer recommended was a foldable stand called the Roost. It elevated the computer to eye level. Instead of hunching over the computer, I can put my Chromebook or laptop on this stand to elevate it. The drawback is that it is a little more awkward to use the keyboard, but that problem was solved by purchasing a Bluetooth keyboard. Again, I went with the budget-friendly keyboard, which is a little more compact than the Chromebook keyboard. It takes some getting used to, though, but after some use, it is as natural as the regular keyboards. I have not used it with my Lenovo laptop, however. I also recommend wireless mice.
Next week, I will talk about some of the instructional apps that I found useful for providing instruction.
Capital One asks, “What’s in your wallet?” I’m asking, “What’s in your tech toolbox?”