Surfing the Wave: Keeping Abreast of the Digital Ed Field

Riding the Wave

This week’s question for EDTC 6103 was pretty straightforward. Given ISTE standard 5, I wanted to focus in on indicator C, which called for teachers to “evaluate and reflect on current research and professional practice on a regular basis to make effective use of existing and emerging digital tools and resources in support of student learning” (ISTE).  My question was about how to best do this in an ever-changing field.  Are  there any best-practices for teachers who wish to stay abreast of developments in such a rapidly evolving field?  It may be helpful to remind ourselves that the “digital” part of digital education is fairly recent.

In 1965 Gordon Moore predicted that the sheer processing power of computers would double every two years, and while there is some debate about the reality of the prediction today, the fact remains that in the last 50 years, computers have increased tremendously in power and decreased drastically in size and in cost.  In 1991, the year I got my first computer, an Apple laptop (Macintosh Powerbook) cost around $2300, or just over $4000 in today’s money, had a 16 MHz processor, and weighed about 6 pounds (Comen, et. al. 2016).  Today, I see I can get a 4.4 pound Apple MacBook Air  with 1.4 GHz Intel Core i5 processor on Amazon for just under $800. Combine the evolution of processing power, weight, and cost with other digital developments in the last thirty years like the creation of the World Wide Web (1989), the creation of modern-day internet behemoths like Amazon (1994), Google (1998), and YouTube (2005), and technology that made computers truly personal, like the iPhone (2007) and iPad (2010) and you have an inkling of the kind of hectic evolution we’re dealing with.  Factor in the educational components of this equation – like the tech-savvy teachers necessary to bridge the new digital divide (see previous post here), and you have desperate, persistent struggle to keep up with what’s current.  Keeping up with what’s new is crucial and it needs to be part of professional development as well. According to Patterson, “91 percent of teachers believe their success in the classroom depends heavily on having access to technology training. Unfortunately, 60 percent of teachers don’t feel adequately prepared to integrate technology into their lessons” (Patterson).  Keeping of top of all this technology and pedagogy can be difficult for digital education leaders, and it can be devastating for teachers who are not technologically inclined.  And it’s not just about the technology we have now.  The standard itself even requires us to not only stay current on that which exists (“existing…digital tools and resources”), but also that which does not truly exist in full form yet (“emerging…digital tools and resources”).  The standard requires us to “ride the wave” of educational technology and demands we stay current.

Looking to the Librarians

 the librarians
Photo from TV Guide (and apologies to TNT)

So I found some help from the librarians.  Ok, maybe not the librarians from the TNT show, The Librarians, but I did find help on this topic from the Association of College and Research Libraries, which is a division of the American Library Association.  In an article by Steven J. Bell called “Keeping up with the EdTech Surge” I found some useful advice for all of us trying to surf the EdTech wave…or “surge.”  After a brief overview of the “EdTech explosion,” Bell goes on to explain how we should “engage” with EdTech and here he provides 5 key thoughts/recommendations (Bell):

  1. Explore three to five new educational technologies a week. This could be as simple as visiting a website or viewing a video.
  2. EdTech usually falls into one of three categories. Is it “free, freemium or fee.”
  3. Asking permission versus forgiveness. Researching tech on the job IS part of your job (ask forgiveness if it’s a problem) vs. a librarian-specific situation where you ask permission before exposing someone else’s students to an EdTech solution (ask permission)
  4. What’s the EdTech community saying? Check reviews online.
  5. Exploration is good but ask why.  No matter how cool it is and how much you make like it, the EdTech product must serve a purpose.

Admittedly, these suggestions are for librarians, but I find these guidelines to be helpful for any EdTech leaders.  The surge (“wave”) can be intimidating at times, but this measured response feels manageable. It even seems encouraging as it’s a persistent process of exploration – not a never-ending hunt for the latest-and-greatest ed tech.  It’s purposeful (tip 5) but not deterministic.  It has guidelines, but ultimately it must fit the mission.

Bell goes on to identify a dozen links to help “navigate the surge.” These are a combination of k-12 and college-level sites that deal with blogs, twitter, and other forms of digital communication that can be useful for anyone involved in surfing the EdTech wave.

The Mystery Box

Bell also includes a section on the “Mystery Box.”  I’ll admit that I was a bit skeptical of what he was talking about here, but in the end, I think it makes sense.  Bell shares a link to a TED talk featuring director JJ Abrams.  In it, Abrams discusses a “Mystery Box” that he received as a child but never opened.  It was supposed to be full of incredible magic tricks, but for Abrams, this unopened mystery box served as metaphor for the power of the unknown – a hallmark of much of his subsequent work as director. Bell applies it to EdTech, “When it comes to EdTech and blending our librarianship and instructional technology skills, Abrams words speak volumes because it is the drive to unravel the mystery of how to best leverage technology to enhance learning that should drive us, as academic librarians, to explore, experiment and discover all that the EdTech world has to offer” (Bell).  Again, Bell is speaking for librarians, but I see no reason why “librarianship” cannot be replaced with “teaching sklls” – especially if we are to be EdTech leaders.

Whether or not we view it as a “mystery box,” exploring EdTech is something we must always be doing as digital education leaders; it just comes with the territory.  After all, we don’t want to be using last-decade’s digital tools any more than we want to be using last-century’s pedagogy (though we often see both).  I believe Bell’s suggestions can go a long ways towards helping us avoid these hazzards and help us get on our boards and more effectively surf that Ed-Tech wave!

Addressing the Prompts:

Connecting with ALL of the ISTE Teaching Standards, write a narrative of your learning throughout this quarter: 1 What level of understanding and competence of the ISTE Teaching Standards did you start with this quarter? 2 What were one or two of the more significant areas of growth throughout this quarter? 3 Where would you like to continue to grow? 4 How can you empower others- colleagues, etc., as outlined in ISTE Coaching Standard 2?

  1. While I started with no formal understanding of the competence of the ISTE Teaching Standards, I was familiar with them through their connection with the ISTE Student Standards from last quarter.  Dr. Wicks had indicated that we would be addressing these in the following class, so while they were not completely unknown to me, this is the first time had studied them in-depth.
  2. While there is quite a bit of overlap between the student and teachers standards, there are others that were more unique in their application to teachers and thus afforded me the most opportunities for personal growth throughout the quarter.  These would be standards 2 and 5.  Standard 2’s requirement to develop digital age learning experiences and assessments – particularly as it applies to technology-rich learning environments, was very interesting to me; and standard 5’s requirement for professional growth is another area where not only myself, but all teachers could afford to grow (“growth”is in the title, after all, and it therefore connotes a continuous process).
  3. I think I would like to continue growing in the two aforementioned areas, particularly in #2 – as it relates to the digital teaching environment. I believe that if teachers are impeded from truly transforming their classrooms into digital learning environments, then we will not see the 21st century classroom, just the 19th century classroom with computers in it.  That would be a shame.  The Patterson article comes to mind again, “This misstep [lack of tech training] can increase teacher resistance and negate the power of technology implementations.” (Patterson). The true promise of digital education lies in its effective implementation, not merely its presence, and therefore the more we can do to make that evolution a reality, the better.
  4. When looking at coaching standard 2, the piece that jumps out to me the most are the verbs used in the standard.  “Coach and model” appear in all of the indicators for standard 2 and the verb “assist” is the primary action given in the standard itself. It seems to me that the standard is requiring we empower others by modeling the effective use of technology and assisting them in doing so also.  To that end, I believe that I can best empower my colleagues by demonstrating meaningful, effective use of digital technology and encourage and facilitate others in doing the same. This involves not only using the technology, but also maintaining a positive mindset about the use of technology (which can be difficult when things go wrong) and demonstrating flexibility in the face of adversity (like when things go wrong).


Bell, Steven J. “Keeping Up With… The EdTech Surge.” Association of College & Research Libraries.  Retrieved from:

Comen, Evan, and Michael B. Sauter and Samuel Stebbins (April 15, 2016). “The Cost of a Computer the Year You Were Born.”  Retrieved from:

ISTE (2008). “ISTE Standards for Teachers.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from

Patterson, Mike (2016, April 26).  “Tips for Transforming Educational Technology through Professional Development and Training.”  EdTech K-12 Magazine. Retrieved from



3 thoughts on “Surfing the Wave: Keeping Abreast of the Digital Ed Field”

  1. I like the suggestion of checking out 3-5 new tech tools each week. I see this even applying to reading 3-5 Ed articles per week. Just helps keeps us informed on some of the shifts happening and ways we might want to incorporate new ideas in our school.

  2. I like Bell’s 5 tasks. Especially the comment on purpose. I find that sometimes getting a teacher to start with purpose, as in “what learning task do you want to try to make easier or enhance or make more engaging for your students?” and then have teachers look specifically for a tool for that purpose can help. Sometimes keeping up in general is overwhelming even for those of use who love technology.

  3. You wrote, “Whether or not we view it as a ‘mystery box,’ exploring EdTech is something we must always be doing as digital education leaders; it just comes with the territory.” I’ve been thinking this! I hadn’t put it into a sentence yet, but it’s been on mind. It’s a way life really. Instead of browsing FB or something, drink your coffee while browsing tech news. <- This made me wonder what would be a good thing to browse. I wonder if I could make an RSS feed for it.

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