When I came to Notre Dame’s recent workshop on teaching well using technology, I quickly noticed that participants demonstrated varying degrees of technical savvy. But each left having learned how to learn more, thanks to the advice presenters Chris Clark and Bruce Spitzer shared. Spitzer described the “technology learning cycle” that educators experience as they progress from hearing about a new tool to finding new uses for it and sharing them with others.
“Chris and I haven’t so much perfected our technology skills as we have our ‘learning how to learn skills,’” Spitzer said, as he detailed the five stages of the cycle, which are:
To see how this works, take an application like Google Forms — a cloud-based tool that allows users to sign in and create surveys they can share. When people complete those surveys, the answers are automatically placed in a spreadsheet the survey creator can access from any web browser.
An educator might begin with a general awareness that Google offers such a tool. They explore it by reading up on how it works before learning how to manipulate it. Next, they try it in their classroom —maybe to share a survey on the first day of class and gauge their students’ knowledge levels. Having applied it, they start thinking about other ways they might use it — perhaps to distribute quizzes or course evaluations — and they begin sharing this with colleagues. Over time, they move from beginner to advocate.
That, practically, is how the technology learning cycle works, with one caveat: Educators are busy people, and they can’t expect to become experts on every technology. Sometimes, Spitzer said, the trick is identifying a problem that needs solving, and turning to a more tech-savvy person for a solution. So rather than researching Google Forms on their own, some people might begin by asking how they could share surveys in class, then rely on support staff to provide the answer, an approach that makes sense for a professor focused on researching, publishing, and teaching.
“You’re all very highly trained in something,” Spitzer said. “It might not be computer applications, and that’s OK. Seek out the people who are trained to get the help you need to do what you want to do.”
That’s a solid approach for an aspiring academic: Know how to learn tools that help you teach better, and remember that sometimes the best approach is asking a specialist to provide you with a tool that meets a particular need.