Assess Yourself: Along with Better Diet and Exercise, Follow These Seven Tips for Getting Your Personal Technology Professional Development in Shape

Article excerpt

Many educators are interested in using technology to enhance their teaching but feel they're behind the curve or are overwhelmed by the number of choices and don't know where to begin. These tips below may help you get started.

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1 ASSESS YOUR OWN LEVEL OF SKILL AND APPREHENSION TOWARD USING TECHNOLOGY.

Be honest with yourself about what you can already do and how much time and effort you're willing to invest in gaining new skills. In a grant-funded team project I directed, we discovered that the greatest challenge to implementing technology in classes was team members' level of ability and the anxiety and frustration some felt in acquiring new skills. A simple and sincere self-assessment is an essential first step to your journey to incorporate technology in your teaching.

2 FIND WHAT LEARNING RESOURCES ARE AVAILABLE.

No matter what your level of ability, you can always learn more. Does your institution have a technology learning center that offers hands-on training workshops? Do they have a help desk available in case you get stuck once the training is over? A professional development and support system, even if it's a skilled colleague at work that can offer a lifeline at a time of need, is an important asset. For the independent minded, many software companies, such as Microsoft, have Web-based modules that offer training on their programs. Also, users of particular programs often interact on listservs to offer tips, strategies, and solutions to problems.

3 PLAN AHEAD.

Even with proper training and support, learning new skills takes time. Give yourself enough time to process the skills you're practicing. Adding the pressure of a short deadline increases the probability of making mistakes and getting frustrated. Make sure you give yourself an ample margin of error in the beginning; strive for quality, but not flawlessness. You shouldn't expect all of the details to fall into place the first time you try out a new presentation format or technique; both you and your students will need time to adjust to new practices.

4 START SMALL.

You may have ambitious goals. Make sure you break your complex plans into small, sequential, manageable bits. Think first about what you can do to simplify the administrative aspects of your life such as putting your syllabus, grade book, and daily calendar online prior to exploring more advanced techniques. Consider working in a group and dividing up tasks. In the project described above, each team member was assigned two content areas around which to design a Web-based learning module that included a topic overview, content, links, and a quiz. Dividing up the responsibilities allowed us to focus on specific tasks. Working as a team allowed us to generate more materials than we could individually.

5 CONSIDER YOUR AUDIENCE.

As you build your skills and choose the tools you're going to use, think about how your students will access the material. Do they need special software or an upgraded version of a common program to view the files? …