Kids, Solid Foods, and Allergies: An Analogy for New Tech in the Classroom?

Jonas_Cordell_eatingLooking back through the archives of ProfHacker articles focused on teaching, I realize how many of the ideas and approaches that I now use in my classes came from my fellow ProfHacker writers. I also realize how many great ideas I have yet to try. As I was working on my syllabi for the upcoming semsester, I found myself trying to add every interesting idea to all of my classes: I imagined my students and I blogging, editing collaboratively with Google Docs, building course Wikis, doing textual analysis with Wordle, challenging the presentation paradigm with Pecha Kucha talks, meeting during digital office hours, letting Moodle handle reading quizzes, learning to code, researching using NINES Collex, exploring audio composition, ditching our textbooks, building exhibits in Omeka, engaging through social media, and continuing course discussions on Twitter. Phew!

Of course, I would be crazy to add all of these elements to any one class in any one semester. Some of these ideas will fit one class and not another, or one institution and not another, or one professor and not another. The goal of ProfHacker is to offer a wide range of good ideas so that our readers can find those that best meet their needs, and the needs in their classes.

There are times when an extreme syllabus makeover is called for, but this semester I will take my cue from the advice our pediatrician gave us when our twins started eating solid foods. As many of you will know from your own experiences with kids, we were told to introduce different foods slowly, one type at a time, leaving several days in between each type of new food. Because our boys tried each new food separately, if they had experienced any negative consequences—such as an allergic reaction—we and their doctors would have had a good idea of just what food caused the bad reaction.

Likewise, I plan to introduce new tech into my courses deliberately, making sure each element works how I expect it to—and that it fulfills the pedagogical purpose I hope it will—before I attempt to innovate further. This way, if a particular tool or method doesn’t work, I can easily identify the problem, and either rethink the way I’m using it or find another solution. Tech tools are great—if I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t be writing here—but I recognize that my own fascination with all things digital shouldn’t overshadow the content of my courses.

How about you? How do you balance your desire to innovate with your desire to maintain what already works well in your classes?

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