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EdTech Update




« Progressives and public mistrust | Main | 11 ways to increase your staff »

Seven brilliant things teachers do with technology

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Marianne Williamson

Last week I listed seven stupid mistakes teachers make with technology. Easy marks, these teachers.

But to be fair, I see just as many brilliant teacher uses of technology. Here are things i see teachers do that just make me marvel and feel proud to be a part of the profession.

1. Empower kids with technology. Technology is an amplifier of natural abilities. Brilliant teachers see that good writers become better writers, good debaters become better debaters, good French speakers become better French speakers, good mathematical problem-solvers become better mathematical problem-solvers etc. by helping their students harness technology. They do not see technology as a crutch, but as a propellant. Brilliant teachers have experienced the empowering power of technology themselves. Brilliant teachers use good assessment strategies to rigorously determine the quality of technology-enhanced projects.

2. Creatively find and use resources. I can't believe the technology found in some of our teachers' classrooms. And it was provided by neither our department nor was it stolen (I don't think). Through personal purchase, through PTOs, through grants, through business partnerships, through parental contacts, through fund raising, through classroom supply budgets, brilliant teachers amazingly amass digital cameras and doc cams and clickers and sensors and such. One of our brilliant teacher McGyvered his own doc cam out of an old video camera, plastic pipe and duct tape - and calls it his Grover (not his Elmo).

3. Make conferencing real-time. Brilliant teachers don't wait until parent-teacher conferences to communicate with homes. Through e-mail, websites, online gradebooks, blogs, wikis and even telephone calls, technology gives teachers the ability to help make parents partners who help assure students' timely, quality work. They post newsletters, spelling lists, assessment tools, assignments, grades, calendars, discussion lists, and tips. They read and respond to parent emails. Parents want to be involved, but they like knowing how.

4. Put kids in touch with the world. The classrooms of brilliant teachers *hokey metaphor alert* have no walls. These teachers "get" the flat world metaphor, understanding that tomorrow's citizens and workers will have an advantage if they can work successfully with other cultures. From "keypals" back in the day to Vicky Davis's Flat Classroom Project today, brilliant teachers give even the most remote and least advantaged students a glimpse and dream of the bigger world - and help them both communicate and empathize with those in it.

5. Accept the role of co-leaner. One of the best signs of intelligent people is that they tend to willingly admit when they don't know something. Brilliant teachers, not only accept the dismal fact that they will never know all there is to know about technology, but turn the condition into a classroom advantage by having their brilliant children teach them how to do something techie now and then.

6. Use the kids own devices to teach them. Brilliant teachers understand the old Arab proverb, "It's easier to steer the camel in the direction it is already heading." Students are increasingly and unstoppably bringing in personal communication devices - cell phones, cameras, game devices, iPods/mp3 players, netbooks, laptops, and PDAs. Brilliant teachers know how to use cell phones to poll their classes; create podcasts of lectures; use games to teach difficult concepts; and make "Google-jockeys" of wireless laptop owners.

7. Delight in the discovery, the newness, the fun technology holds. It's not about technology. It's about finding out and doing "cool" things. We knew that ourselves as kids. Brilliant tech-using teachers have never lost the thrill of doing something "cool" with the toys. They are pleased with their tech-using students and pleased with themselves. Brilliant teachers use technology's engagement (not entertainment) power. Technology is not "just one more thing" but a vital experience that brings discovery, excitement and, yes, fun to the classroom.

I hope you all know teachers who make brilliant uses of technology. What do you see them doing?

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Reader Comments (18)

8. They don't stand around waiting for the district PD session on "How to Integrate Technology in your classroom." They recognize that they need to keep abreast of the latest tools and programs. They can weigh the pros and cons of each and implement them in their classrooms--keeping he ones that work, getting rid of the ones that don't. They are aware of future trends, and would never be caught giving the kids anything less than a 21st Century Education.

Just re-read the post and realized you said most of what I wrote--gonna keep in my comment anyway ;)

December 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Bogush

short and sweet:

they think about what students need to know and what they should be able to do with that knowledge.

December 12, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterken

This is a good follow-up to your previous 7 things post, Doug. The pair of them work well together and have sparked some interesting dialogue among the teachers in my classes.

December 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterClif

I love that you mentioned Google Jockeying. I wrote my post about it today and would love to see a "Google Jockeying" revolution! It just seems so fun and valuable! :)

December 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPenny Ryder

Thank you for this posting. I'm glad you quantify with "brilliant teachers".

Thank you to all my brilliant teachers - in the past, the present and those still to come in the future.

December 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAbimbola Akanwo

I appreciated both of your posts, but especially this one. It's good to know I'm doing somethings well. :)

As a college teacher, my real-time conferencing is with my students, but I also post the syllabus and our assignments for the day. Often students think they will remember the assignment and then they get home and have forgotten it. Having it up on the website is a boon for them. (And for me since I don't have to send six or seven replies about the homework assignment.)

December 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDr. Davis

Brilliant teachers model the synthesizing and creative activities we want to see students exhibit.

December 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa Techman

This list is just as good as the one about the mistakes being made with technology. I was asked to be a judge for both High School and Middle School computer fairs in the spring and was amazed at the creativity that flowed from these students with a little technology background. Learning how to use these tools in the classroom is not only teaching them content but for many is piquing their interest in future occupations from website designers to desktop publishing.

PS As for my comment on the mistakes, I think we are all guilty about checking our email during professional development/meetings. It is those that abuse it - for example, we had a table to teachers recording themselves on their webcams (which had nothing to do with the training) and emailing it to one becomes disruptive for everyone from time to time...

December 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey Smith

Hi Paul,

I like your last item. I would only add “...even if they need to be subversive in order to do so!

All the best,


Hi Ken,

And the technology adds a level of complication to this!


Thanks, Clif. Let us know what brilliant observations they might have!

All the best,


Hi Penny,

EDUCAUSE has a good 7 things you should know about Google Jockeying. It’s a great concept that more teachers should know and take advantage of.

Thanks for the comment,


Hi Abimbola,

I am guessing most of us have been lucky enough to have had brilliant teachers at some time in our educations. Even if they were before technology!

All the best,


Thanks. Dr. Davis,

I especially appreciate college profs who actually model tech integration to pre-service teachers. Nice having new teachers who already “get it.”

All the best,



Another one that should have been in my original 7. Thank you!


December 16, 2008 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

What a great list! I would like to hang this in the teachers' lounge at school as a sort of checklist. Have you hugged your computer today?

December 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKelly Hines

New to the this list. Thanks for affirming my thoughts on this the last day of 2008, or rather the portal day for a great new year in teaching and learning!

December 31, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTricia Buck

All of these are wonderful reminders and ideas for the new year. I am making #3 one of my big goals for 2009. I started an e-mail list for parents and e-mail out newsletters instead of printing. I also have a blog that I encourage my students to respond to. I hope to keep the momentum up on this. Thanks for the overview and great thoughts!

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHeather Rogers

“Technology is not ‘just one more thing’ but a vital experience that brings discovery, excitement and, yes, fun to the classroom.” Well put! At first, it’s easy to feel lost when trying to integrate a new technology into the classroom but it really is exciting to “play with a purpose” and explore together. One of our blog contributors, who teaches AP Calc, teacher, wrote an entry with tips and his firsthand experience with introducing new technology into the classroom. I think he shares a lot of your thoughts on this subject. Check it out if you’d like

February 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTI Teachers

Thanks, TI, for the link. I will indeed check it out.


February 21, 2009 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

This is such a great list and one that I totally agree with....I would love to give it to the teachers in my school.

April 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSandra

I really appreciated this list. Often, technology addicted teachers are criticized for using technology as a crutch or, worse, making their students dependent on technology. I remember when this same accusation was leveled against higher mathematics teachers who allowed students to use calculators. As an English teacher, I have colleagues who still feel that penmanship is woefully neglected in the modern high school curriculum. I was accused of depending too much on PowerPoint. I have also been told that I violate the "rules" for how PowerPoint should be used because of excessive font variety, loud colors, "distracting" imagery, music, sound effects.... These same colleagues use this incredibly versatile software exactly the way they were using an overhead projector in 1980. Of course, many of us see the vast pedagogical potential of multimedia tools for instruction. But I was thrilled that you acknowledged that a big part of tech obsession is just fun. If I am excited and having fun, my students seem to be, too. If we're all having fun, we are engaged and learning. Is that so wrong?

September 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDouglas Gauld

Hi Douglas,

One of my favorite pieces of advice I was once given as a teacher was "if you're not having fun in your classroom, neither is anyone else." Something to think about.

Thanks for the comment,


September 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Thanks. We had fun today with some silly student videos portraying Ovid's myths I was able to download from YouTube using Even my administrator seemed amused when she stepped in to find out what all the hilarity was about.

September 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDouglas Gauld

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