Finding sense in the educational tech craze

I am always amazed at the missteps that occur when we try to use technology for education. Districts will spend tons of money to buy apps and programs for students to use and then try to think of reasons to use them. This seems a little backwards. I think my favorite thing is when school districts spend a lot of money to get iPads, while at the same time they have a policy that bans smartphones. For those who are not versed in these items, iPads are basically just big iPhones that don’t make calls. Now that policy is just silly. Now I definitely understand the hesitation with smartphones. Your students can use them to play games. But the amount of educational value a smartphone has is unlimited. They can basically access all information on the face of the earth. To throw them out because they can also be used to play video games would have been the same as if when I was a kid in school, Sister Catherine threw out all the textbooks because I used them to hide the comic books I was reading in class.

Now, to design lessons just to use technology because it’s there isn’t much smarter. We shouldn’t use technology for technology’s sake. We should use technology because it’s better at certain things than we are. So let’s look at some ways you can use technology to help out in the art room.

Google Calendar

Google calendar is free. Anyone can use it. And it lets you create and share calendars with whomever you want. So, you can create a calendar with your daily activities, assignments, due dates, and all other information students might need. Then, you can share it with any email address. This means that if your students have a Gmail account on their phone, the dates you put on the calendar will show up automatically on their phone. You can even set up alerts, so that it will remind them the day before they have important stuff due. It’s even pretty easy to embed your Google Calendar into whatever website your school is probably requiring you to use. All of this is free to use, and it all comes with free tutorials.

Google Drive

This is the greatest file sharing system I have ever seen. I have a folder on Google Drive for every AP student I have. I put the photos of their work in those folders as they turn them in. I can share the files with them so that they can upload and download the images. Also, if you install the Google Drive software on your computer, you can make it so the files automatically upload to the drive. You wont even have to upload them. It all just happens like magic. As we speak, my AP students are downloading their images, resizing them and uploading them on the AP Digital Submission Website.


When I give an important lecture, I record it. Usually I use the record feature on Keynote or Powerpoint, so it records as I am giving the lecture. From there, I upload it as an unlisted video and put the link on my school website. Any student that was absent can go and watch it. If I’m really on the ball, I will upload my rehearsal version before I give it in class so the student can watch it from home and be caught up when they show up for class the next day. If not, I tell them to put on their headphones and watch it on their phone before they start the assignment. Students who missed something, or who just love my lectures (Ha!), can go back and watch the video to experience the lecture again. Again, this is totally free. And if you’re like me, you use the same lecture over again for a couple of years. Record your lectures and upload them once, and you will probably be set for years.

Brushes Redux

This is a free app that can be used on the iPhone or the iPad. It was the same one David Hockney was experimenting with a couple of years ago. I used it for a cleaner way to do collage with my Art 1 students. I have a little more detail about the specific assignment here.

Self-grading Assessments

Now, our district pays for a program called eBackpack which allows me to create multiple choice and short answer quizzes for my students. I know there are free versions of this sort of thing out there, but I haven’t had to look for them (I’ve heard there is a way to set up Google Docs for this). I for the life of me cannot see why anyone would grade by hand a multiple-choice quiz ever again. There just isn’t any reason for it. Now, I don’t think multiple-choice quizzes are all that valuable, but if you have to use them, I don’t see a better way to do it. The great thing about these programs is, not only do they grade themselves, but they also give you clear reports on what your students answered correctly. You can clearly see if 80% of your students missed something so you know what you need to review.

iTunes, Pandora, etc.…

This is a no brainer. If you have a student who has to be in every conversation that occurs in your room, tell them to put in headphones. It’s an easy classroom management tool. Let them listen to their own music. One year, I had a student who I would not let into my room if he didn’t have headphones with him. Anything said, anywhere in the room, and he would have to jump up to make a comment on it. With headphones in, he couldn’t hear what was being said, so he just kept on working. Sometimes, between you and me, if my students are getting off track because of chatting, instead of harping on them, I will play opera. For some reason teenagers hate opera. Most of them put in their headphones and get right to work.


When I think of an artist that my student should look at for inspiration, I will write it in their sketchbook. A lot of times, I will stop what they are doing and have them look the artist up on their phone right then. It’s a great benefit to have access to all this artistic inspiration. I will even go so far as to include the Instagram handles of contemporary artists in my lectures so my students can add them to their feeds. I can just imagine my students wasting time on their phones in another class and having art education sneak into their entertainment. Every time, it makes me smile.

This is the bottom line: technology, when used correctly, is not something you go somewhere to use. You shouldn’t have to check out equipment or buy all new things. Your students are already using technology. All you have to do is find a way to enter the conversation that is already happening. Most of my students already use a lot of these apps. I am just finding a way to meet them where they are. Here’s a great example. I have a website the school requires me to maintain. I am pretty sure that only two of my students have ever gone to it. It’s not in their normal routine. But everyday they use Instagram, Twitter, Gmail, and a bunch of apps that are all designed to share information. And really, that’s all teaching is–sharing information. Why not use the free tools that these students are already using to increase their learning. Not only that, but when used correctly, these tools make teachers more efficient, meaning a few less hours working.

4 thoughts on “Finding sense in the educational tech craze

  1. Do you require all of your students to post their artwork to a social media site or at least some physical venue? Are some students reluctant? How do they respond to criticism? What if the work is too personal? Some artists are not concerned with others seeing their work.


    1. I do. I don’t require they post every work they make, just that something gets out there. Most of these students are doing it anyway. I haven’t received much push back and most of the comments have been positive. The one negative comment I saw was followed by support from peers and a rejection of the negative commentator, making the student feel even more supported. Some students do post anonymously and I have no problem with that.

      Liked by 1 person

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