Organization Before Innovation

All of the technology in the world is not going to make me a good teacher. It can help me to become a better teacher. Technology in the hands of a bad teacher can be disastrous. I think that every student can recount a time in the classroom where technology was used poorly. I know I can.  This week, in an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, even Bill Gates said that “Just giving people devices has a really horrible track record. You really have to change the curriculum and the teacher. “ (see the whole interview here ( Be a good teacher first. Use technology to become even better.

I am a relatively new teacher. I just finished up my first year as a full time biology professor at a small, primarily two year, school. I’ve always felt called to teach and I finally feel like I am truly pursuing the vocation I was made for. That does not mean that it has been an easy ride. Most days I feel like I am barely keeping my head above the water. Michael is a wonderful partner in this journey and has been incredibly supportive. He dove head first into the realm of educational technology in an effort to help me become the best teacher I can be. That said, many days I have to reign him in and remind him that my first priority is to make sure that I am building a strong foundation in the classroom first, then as I move forward throughout my career I hope to build in more technology and innovation to enhance my teaching.

My biggest struggle is just to remain organized. I know that students will perform better if I clearly communicate my expectations and present the course material in a logical fashion. I teach relatively large lecture courses and managing all of the assignments/lab reports/exams etc. can be overwhelming. Here are some tools/strategies that I have used to help me stay on top of these things:

  • Email. I know it may seem obvious in this era of electronic communication. Whenever a student approaches me at the end of class with a request that requires action on my part, I ask them to send a quick email to remind me of the discussion. Otherwise I will NEVER remember. Also, when a student emails me, I make it a priority to respond right away before it gets lost in the ether. For me that means that I am often responding to student emails right before I go to bed. That won’t work for everyone, but it seems to work best for me.
  • Electronic homework. For both of the courses I taught this year the textbook came with an optional website subscription that allows the students to complete homework assignments online. Putting the assignments together requires minimal time and the grades are automatically determined. I teach students that are not well prepared for college and have poor study skills. This is one way that I can ensure that they at least crack open the textbook every once in a while.
  • Dropbox. I simply cannot live without it. All of my course materials/gradebooks/etc are stored in my Dropbox account. It doesn’t matter if I’m on a work computer or a home computer, I have access to my files. I don’t have to worry about losing thumb drives and I can just walk into any classroom, log into the website and access all of my lecture materials for a given day.

These are just a few tools that I use to stay on top of things. What are the best tools/strategies that you’ve found to keep organized in the classroom?


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  • michaelprosario

    I really enjoy this post. In the business world, there’s a fun book entitled the “4 Hour Work Week.” Tim Ferris talks about some of major ideas that helps him minimize his work load. Your post reminds me of his idea class “DEAL”

    D – Define exactly what you want
    E – Eliminate
    A – Automate
    L – Liberation: enjoy the fruits of automation and delegation

    Your post suggests that planning, definition, and elimination may be more important than implementing any automation, tool, or app.