Technology as a Tool for Productivity - No. I, 5766
Al sh'loshah d'varim haolam omed: Al haTorah, v'al ha-avodah, v'al g'milut chasadim. The world depends on three things: on Torah, on worship and on loving deeds. - Pirkei Avot 1:2
This year each issue of Vshinantam will be on a different topic in the area of technology and written by our Educational Technology Specialist, Renée Rittner. Renee received her Master's of Education in educational technology from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She also holds her MSW, MAJE, and MAJS degrees. She is currently the Director of Education at Temple Israel of Greater Miami.
Vshinantam is organized around the three pillars of Torah, Avodah, and Gmilut Chasadim. In the Torah section you will find an overview of the topic, in Avodah, applications for your classroom, and in Gmilut Chasadim additional resources.
The Role of Technology in Our Work
I am a first and foremost a teacher. My mission is to impart knowledge and wisdom to my students. Yet there are so many other tasks that I must accomplish before I am able to address my mission. I must be a graphic artist, publisher, scheduler, family liaison, transcriptionist, systems analyst and even a Sherpa. Not to mention the responsibilities of my personal life as well.
It always feels as though I have too much to do and not enough time, too much too carry and not enough hands, too much to teach and not enough sessions in the school year, and too much to learn myself, but not enough moments to even catch my breath. How can I accomplish these necessary tasks while preserving my time and energy for teaching? How can I balance all of these responsibilities and still have time for me?
Does this reflection ring true for you? Advances in technology may be one of the answers to streamlining roles and to enhancing productivity. Technology to enhance our productivity has changed and developed over time, from abacas to calculator to PDA, from quill to pencil to typewriter to touch pad, from telegraph to rotary phone to digital phone to cell phone the list goes on. Which tools are right for you? This issue of Vshinantam will show how can any given tool can enhance what you do from day to day and help you to explore your options and then put the tools to use. The next three issues will explore WebQuests, multimedia class portfolios and using technology for professional development.
Technology Tools and What They Do
Overall technology can assist with personal productivity by making large amounts of information portable; giving you easy access to new and stored information; providing communication, data and graphic editing tools and even enabling you to access to the entire world in something as small as a wristwatch. Before you jump on the technology bandwagon you need to assess your specific needs. The next step is to investigate all of your options to meet those needs and the qualities of each option (size, cost, ease of use). Dont purchase a technology tool just because it is the next big thing; be sure it is functional and increases your efficiency and efficacy. Below is a brief look at the current technologies available to you and a simple overview of what they can do.
Operating Systems (OS): Overall, there are just a handful of operating systems that most computers run onMicrosofts MS Windows and Apples Mac OS are two of the most known systems. Palm also has an OS that is widely used for handhelds. In general, these platforms are not fully compatible, though over time the differences are decreasing as is the ability for different systems to reach each others files. Which is best? Apple is known for ease of use and Microsoft for its ubiquity. Some handhelds now use a version of MS Windows.
Desktop Computers: The first home computers were all desktops, and they these models and they tend to be the first thing that many people consider. These stationary computers are generally bulky, multifunctional powerhouses. (Some may be in the form of heavier laptops, known as desktop replacement, allowing for some portability though not meant for daily travel.) The screens tend to be of larger size and in general their internal components have more speed and more memory. Over the years, their relative cost has plummeted. They are widely available and tend to be family friendly. These computers are good when you have multiple users for a single machine, can be used for word processing, publishing, other general data input, photo and movie editing, gaming or movie watching. Recently these computers have started coming in bundles with other needed accessories. The downside is that these machines are typically not easily portable.
Laptops or Notebooks: These computers are designed to meet the need for portability. Due to their smaller size and lighter weight these slightly higher priced machines are quickly replacing their more bulky counterparts. As the size of their parts shrink and their capabilities in speed and internal memory compete many families are switching to the laptop or notebook type computer which was once only seen in the hands of the businessperson. In general the screens are smaller, the mouse or touchpad and keyboard quirkier, but the productivity the same. Recently these too have started to come as a bundle with already included home or business software suites, virus software and even printers. Keep in mind that the smaller and lighter you go, the screen and keyboard get smaller, the drives become extensions rather than built ins and the price goes up.
Tablet PCs: These computers are only now becoming more widely used. The tablet PC (Personal Computer) allows its user to take notes with a data stick on the screen. Many of them even learn the users handwriting. Imagine going to a staff meeting and writing not on paper but on your PC! They are lightweight and highly portable. They have similar capabilities to laptops and desktops, but some of the software is not fully compatible with other computer systems. Currently, they are not widely manufactured and thus harder to find at an affordable price. Most come with keyboards or can be attached to one, but the tablet PC may be an option for people who do not like using a traditional laptop keyboard.
PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants): These hand-sized (and sometimes even smaller) computers were born from electronic organizers that held addresses and calendar information. They now provide for data storage, MP3 files (music), calendar, telephone, e-mail, Web access, Bluetooth, IM (Instant Messaging) communication, as well as some word processing, spreadsheet and other office-based tools. Each model provides different functions. Their new multifunction capabilities mean less to hold and less to lose. Some of the systems now run software that is completely compatible with larger computers for word processing and other data input needs. The PDA is certainly not recommended as a main computer but can be used to transport information from one place to another. The biggest downside to the purchase of these as your all in one for other capabilities may be the price-tag, but if you add up the cost of owning separate devices and having to carry them all, the benefit may outweigh the cost.
Trick of the Trade Imagine developing your whole lesson plan on your PDA with an idea web, overview outline, linked websites and room design. You could begin your plan at home on your main computer, transfer the data to your PDA and continue to update and revise your lesson throughout the day on your handheld. PDAs now support many pieces of software created for the world of general education. For example, Inspiration, a piece of commercial software used by many public school systems (www.inspiration.com) now comes for the Palm OS. Inspiration is concept mapping software that can be used to design Web pages, outline presentations, create idea webs and lesson plans, develop room layout designs and much more. Having concept mapping software on your PDA as well as on your main computer will allow you to create on the go.
Data storage options: Whatever system(s) you choose for your own computing needs, it is imperative that you have a system to back-up your data. In the past, people retained a hardcopy by printing out documents or saved them to some type of diskette (5¼, 3 ½, CD-ROM and now DVD-R). Today there are more options, such as small external drives (flash drives, external hard drives, media card drives) and personal Web space (saving to another server). These new options enable you to transport information from one computer to another without having to print out the information or carry around large or easy to damage disk formats. Some of the drives are as small as a watch or pen. They tend to be universal as to which platform (computer device) that on which they can be read. With the small external drives and card readers, you can save files to this external device and just take it to another machine, plug it in and open your files. With the Web space method you can access your space over an Internet connection and either download or read your files over another machine.
Trick of the Trade Apples IPod Nano (generally thought of as an MP3 player) is really an inexpensive flash drive. Other companies will probably follow with similar technology. Other MP3 players contain small hard drives which also allow for file portability. This technology gives you not only an easy way to bring your files from home to school, but also a very portable way to bring music into your classroom. MP3 players are data storage devices that people actually think are cool and even fashionable! Your students will have them and so can you.
Scanners: A scanner can take an image of your information and convert it to an electronic version. By digitizing printed images, you can change hardcopies of documents and photos into a digital format.
Electronic sharing of information through e-mail, Web or fax allows for quick dissemination of information. It also provides another way for storing data at a second site. Remember when sharing files to send in a format that is most usable by the receiver (even if that receiver is you at a second location). PDF, JPG, GIF, RTF and TXT are all rather universal file types. PDF (Portable Document Format) and RTF (Rich Text Format) are less apt to carry viruses. PDF works for all types of files. JPG (Joint Photographic Expert Group) and GIF Graphic Interchange Format) are for images and RTF and TXT (Text only format) are for word processing. Communication with technology can also be done through list serves, Web sites, instant messaging, e-mail, bulletin boards, e-classrooms and blogs.
Trick of the Trade With your computer and an active Internet connection you can join a teachers community called Tapped In (tappedin.org). Tapped In was established for teachers to participate in an online learning community, but it also provides teachers with virtual office space and rooms with bulletin boards. You can leave e-messages, meet with parents and students and create a private office area. You can also participate in discussions, join teaching groups, explore the virtual community (there is a complete online campus) or create a Neopet (a virtual pet simulation game) just for fun. Tapped In can give you a way to access a group of parents or students at one time for a meeting, discussion, distance learning experience or simply a new way to extend your time together. It is less expensive than a conference call and can even generate a log of your event.
Software and Toys
Software: Office suites including word processors, e-mail clients, browsers, databases, concept mapping software, spreadsheets, publishing software and databases can save you time and energy. When you have a suite of programs you can jump between them. For example, you could use the information in your database to create an address list in your e-mail client. Concept mapping software will allow you to create a simple idea Web or develop a Web page following a template. When choosing software packages, consider cost, ease of use and compatibility with other systems.
The Internet provides places where you can download shareware and freeware or find Web access to all kinds of tools, such as roll books, lesson planners, game generators, worksheet generators, assessment generators, Jewish calendars, databases, click-art and newspapers. Each of these tools can assist with streamlining your workload by offering template or database assistance with once tedious tasks.
Digital Cameras and Camcorders: Useful in the classroom, these tools are great for capturing moments in time and with the right editing software, making home movies, slideshows, presentations and new images. These too are getting smaller, cheaper and easier to use.
Trick of the Trade Consider purchasing teacher assist software which will allow you to input needed student information, assessment data, attendance information, lesson plans, seating arrangements, student birthdates and nicknames all in one place. Some of the available software allows you to insert the students picture next to their name in the program. Before investing in teacher assist software, make sure to try the demonstration version first. GradeQuick, just one of the many options for this type of software, provides screenshots on its Web site www.jacksoncorp.com. Most companies allow you to test their full product for 30 days before purchasing. Though freeware and low cost shareware programs exist, for the all-purpose software, expect to pay something. This software gives you multi-functionality and portability, and much of it is now available for PDAs.
GPS (Global Positioning System)Units: Where in the world are you? These are fun to have and can get you from one place to another. They are coming down in price, getting smaller and can be found in cars, handhelds, laptops and cell phones.
Not every advancement in technology is right for or in every situation. We all adapt to new ideas at our own rate. Any given technology is also only as useful as our ability to use it. When investigating technologies, it is important to consider your own knowledge level and comfort level with the product, as well as the cost (financial and otherwise) to owning it.
There are also personal etiquette issues to consider with any given technology. For example, e-mail may be the quickest way to reach someone, but the written word is read in a voice (not always the tone you intend). Just because as a teacher a parent might be able to reach you at any time via cell phone, you may not be prepared to engage in a conversation about a student at the moment you get a call.
When we become too attached to our technologies other problems arise. Picture having your whole life electronic: computers, cell phones, cordless phones, satellites, etc. What happens when the power goes out? When investing in technologies, always invest in the backup: storage backups, power backups, even a 15 minute backup power source as well as car converters for mobile phones and, of course, a corded phone.
The best way to learn a new technology is to research it and try it out. When you purchase a new technology, consider enrolling in one of the low cost tutorial classes offered in most communities. First take the course in turning on your new assistant, and then learn how it can help you.
For more information and to research technology options: