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  • Writer's pictureMarynn Dause

"How to Learn New Technology" for Teachers

How many times have you had to learn to use new tools since birth? I'm guessing wildly, but maybe... thousands of times? Well, I'm with you. This summer I'm officially launching my coaching side hustle, and you know what that means: Instagram. As in, I have to use it. Which means I first have to learn how to use it. Here's my strategy:

Learn by Doing

The good news is that learning new techno tools works pretty much the same way learning any other tool does. You pick it up. You turn it around, find buttons and knobs and stuff, and then probably lay it down again. Maybe you try to intuit how it works. You find something you recognize and start messing with that part: twist screws, push levers, cut with blades, etc. Maybe you watch a youtube video or three. Eventually, especially if you have to use the tool to do something important, you probably ask for help from someone who's used it before. (Or if you're like my son, you jump in blind and hope for the best!)

That same process, the one you've already done several thousand times between infancy and now, will serve you well in learning new edtech [that's "educational technology"].

Step one to learning a new digital tool is always mess around. Press buttons. Click all the things. When learning a new tool, I usually do this for about 30 minutes; sometimes I have to do that on multiple days, like while learning to use Instagram. As an IT friend of mine once said, "If teachers would only stop being afraid of clicking buttons, half of the trouble tickets in this school would resolve themselves!"

On the other hand, it helps to know that if you do mess something up, there's nearly always an "undo" button. Especially when you're first learning to use a program or app, it's pretty hard to actually break anything. That usually requires some real skill or knowledge. So if you don't like something you've done, by all means try simultaneously pushing "Ctrl" and "Z" on your keyboard. [Ctrl+Z is the universal-ish shortcut for "Undo" or "OH SH**!"] If that doesn't work, try looking around in the corners of the screen for a "reverse arrow." That should do the trick.

You're Gonna Fail

On the other-other hand, it's important to remember that while learning new things, you're pretty much guaranteed to screw up. That's how learning works. It's cool - if you happen to fail visibly, or in front of someone, play it up! "Whoa, I'm really learning!" you can proudly exclaim. This way, your friend or colleague will be impressed by your bravery and chutzpah.

Since you know you're not going to figure everything out correctly on your own - even if you do, it's usually a lot slower than asking for help - go ahead and have a plan in mind for where to seek assistance:

1. The internet loves Youtube for a reason. There's almost always a "how to" or "_____ for beginners" video. Make sure to check the date below each video before you play it, though. Tech changes fast, and a video that's more than a year or two old may no longer be much help.

2. It's also a good idea to Google search "(name of tech tool) help." Skip the options labelled "Ad" at the top. Look for the tool or company's official website first. They have a vested interest in giving the best advice. If their help page or search function sucks, though, I like online tech magazines and blogs as second and third best sources of info.

3. If you can, reach out for help from friends and colleagues. Especially if you already know one specific thing you want to learn how to do, talking one on one should be most efficient. In-person instruction is frequently the fastest way to learn a new tool. The one exception is group PD sessions. Those are horrible. Avoid them if you can, and if you can't, focus on just clicking buttons until you've figured out what things do on your own. #hottake #opinion #negativebias #still

Never Give Up! Ask the kids! But be reasonable.

Two pieces of advice I frequently hear given to teachers about learning tech is "never give up!" and "ask the kids!" These are sort of true. Many people do abandon ship on learning new programs too quickly (see my "mess around" section above). The "bad attitude" my mom always warned us kids about seems particularly present when new programs are rolled out at schools. I can admit to being guilty of it, myself. So no, don't give up hope. You're a very capable person

, and your brain is smart, and you can figure nearly anything out.

HOWEVER. A lot of programs pitched to schools and teachers are just plain bad. Their UI ("user interface" or "thing I look at and click buttons on") can be glitchy and hard to find your way around. They use labels that don't make sense, and you have to try really hard to get the program to do what you want. Even after two or three solid hours of really trying to get the darn thing to work, it just won't cooperate. If that is the case and this is a free program that you've decided to use of your own volition: GIVE UP. You don't need that kind of torment.

If the bad program is something that your school is insisting that you use:

PLAN A = find a work around. A lot of times there are ways to do something else still make everyone happy.

For example: is there a coworker who is really good at or likes using said tech tool who will let you use his or her stuff? BEG BORROW STEAL. Can you post a link on the tool you hate that leads to the tool you prefer? DO IT.

PLAN B = get so good at using this horrible tool that it doesn't dare ruin your day ever again. MASTER IT.

Sometimes this requires investing weekend or holiday hours to conquer the beast. The time invested now earns its weight back in gold when the dumb thing no longer gives you trouble at critical moments.

Oh, and I almost forgot. Only "ask the kids" sometimes. For one thing, some kids are very good at figuring out new tech tools. By all means, find them and leverage their innate talents. That's empowering for them and helpful for you. I learned SnapChat from high school students. Many kids, though, are just as overwhelmed as you. Only they're in worse shape because they don't have the emotional regulation skills that you do. So be thoughtful.

Above all, remember this:

Sometimes it's best to confess to the class at large. "You know what, guys? I'm just learning to use this tool. It's driving me bananas, and I can't get it to work right now. I'll figure it out tonight and we can use it together tomorrow. In the meantime, let's try ________." {insert name of easy learning activity you're already very good at. Hangman counts.}

Until next time,

P.S. I know I said in the last post that I'd introduce my vlog soon. Today is not that day. I'm so deep in to learning how to use Instagram that it seemed a shame not to leverage the learning experience.

Takeaway Tip:

You don't have to be perfect at using technology if you can show that you're really trying to improve. As Ms. Frizzle said, "Get messy! Make mistakes!" When you do get stuck, call a friend. Or me! Someone will be able to help. I guarantee it.

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