Tech Tools for English Teachers: Series Intro

21st Century Toolbox Series Graphic

This post begins a series focusing on some technology tools that teachers can use to enrich learning.  I’ll start off by sharing why I think it’s crucial that we English teachers integrate new media and technology into our classrooms, along with some thoughts on how to do so successfully.

Using New Media and Tools Equips Digital Citizens

Our students are, to varying degrees, communicating in ways that were unheard of even ten years ago. When they leave high school, they will be expected to interact even more in the digital world.  From online courses to telecommuting, our students will need to know how to communicate and collaborate digitally.

We English teachers, by equipping students to read and create a range of texts, can help them navigate their future world.

Using New Media and Tools Extends Learning

For me, integrating technology is about extending the learning opportunities for students.  When selected carefully and used well, new tools and texts can offer students a way into the unfamiliar worlds of Shakespeare or Charlotte Brontë or Mordecai Richler.  Technological tools can create an environment where students want to take the trouble of communicating their ideas as carefully and clearly as possible.

The Writing is On the Wall

I’ll offer this final reason for us English teachers to integrate new tools and texts into our classrooms:  if we don’t, we will be obsolete.  The digital revolution is here and it is changing our culture.  Our social lives have been impacted by Facebook; our professional lives by telecommuting.  It sometimes seems that only in our classrooms is there still some question about whether or not we should use technology.

If we don’t begin to work with new texts and tools, then our classes will become irrelevant to the real world that students are facing. And with the new tools at hand, students can easily get the content that we offer elsewhere. What they need from us is not only content, but help in developing a framework that they can use to critically analyse and create any text in any medium for any audience. If we step up to this challenge, then we have a crucial role to play in students’ education; if we don’t, then we will be bypassed.

For more on this topic, I highly recommend Mr. B-G thought-provoking narrative essay Technology’s Role in 21st Century Education.

Using Tools Intentionally

I’ve found that, once started, it’s very easy to get caught up in the buzz of new tools and thus try to squeeze them into places where they just do not belong.  If we can’t explain how a given tool is enriching the learning that is going on, then it’s not helping.  I find that I need to take time at the end of each class or week to consider how well a tool supported learning objectives, and to imagine if there might not be a simpler or better way of achieving the same end.  We teachers need to be intentional about any tool that we bring into the classroom, and rigorous in our reflection on the learning that is happening.

I’ve also learned that we need to give ourselves the grace to fail.  Using a new tool is intimidating, especially with 20 teenagers watching, and it can be much easier to fall back on our tried-and-true tools rather than branching out with something new. I try to get past this by pushing myself to implement at least one new technological tool per semester, sometimes with greater success than others. If a tool flops, then I do my best to learn from the experience and either leave it or adapt for next time around.

In the next post, I’ll share some of my ideas for laying the groundwork that enables successful integration of technology into any English classroom.


Image by ryan_franklin_az


  1. says


    My boss and chair of the English dept. is generally wary of new technology, arguing she’s too old for it. When the university had Smart Boards installed in all the classrooms on campus, she requested the one in her “Intro to Modern Grammar” classroom be removed because it hogged up precious board space for diagramming sentences.

    But this coming Fall, she’s teaching a section of our newly designed College Discourse class, in which educational technologies are going to be introduced to students who generally don’t have or know how to even establish e-mail accounts. Those units will be guest lectured by an IT expert. Surprisingly, she’s very excited about getting to learn how to do all of this with her students :-)

  2. says

    I can appreciate that for some, the integration of new technology is a daunting idea — especially for those who have been in the profession for many years and have seen various fads come and go.

    One of my favourite quotes is from Dennis Lee’s 1968 poem ‘Civil Elegies’ … “and though I do not decry technopolis I can see only the bread and circuses to come.”

    Still, with much of our job demanding that students are better prepared for their future after they leave our classroom than before they entered, educational technologies should be — and will be — embraced.

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