I am probably the last person who should be writing a blog post on productivity – there are many who would attest to this fact. I often struggle to balance responsibilities and I frequently feel like I am scrambling to efficiently manage my time. That being said, I am also a firm believer in the purposeful use of technology to improve productivity and accessibility to critical information. As a school administrator, I have had to adjust my time and task management systems to address a wide variety of responsibilities and a plethora of paperwork and emails. While paper has its place, I am a firm believer that, in education, we use way too much. The printers and risograph machines whir incessantly. Scantrons, homework assignments, referral forms and even printed emails pile upon on desks, baskets and notebooks. Not only is the use of paper often an unnecessary waste of resources, it can be a substantial financial drain on the school budget.
In addition to be good stewards of our resources, believe that an important responsibility of a 21st educator is the purposeful modeling of instructional technology. That being said, neither teachers or administrators have time for contrived implementation of tech tools – it should serve a purpose and lead to more effective practice. Over the course of my school administrative experiences I have gradually developed systems for managing tasks and duties that minimize the necessity of paper and provide nearly universal access to the notes, paperwork and documentation needed to effectively carry out my responsibilities. It is a work in progress, but I have decided to share the web 2.0 tools I use on a day-to-day basis to improve my efficiency and model technology usage for our teaching staff. While these descriptions have a decidedly administrative slant, each tool is easily adapted for classroom use.
1. Google Docs
Google Docs has become a “go to” app for collaborative documentation. Meeting agendas are developed and distributed via a shared document. Data and required information is collected using forms and spreadsheets. This might include student interest surveys, parent feedback forms or school-wide data collection efforts from staff members. The sharing options make it easy to collect, organize and collaborate on documents, spreadsheets and presentations. In addition, documents created using the Google suite are nearly universally accessible via any computer or mobile device.
Evernote is a virtual filing cabinet, complete with an extremely functional tagging and search system. It is great for taking notes, but for me, the beauty of Evernote lies in the ability to capture images and save those scraps of paper and information that find their way onto my desk. Many times, these are reference items that I am never quite sure how to handle. With Evernote, I simply scan, or snap a picture of the item and upload it to my account, thus eliminating those papers that tend to create piles in my office. The Evernote mobile app is great for making notes during classroom visits, recording examples of student work, and documenting professional development activities. As with Google Docs, access to Evernote is nearly ubiquitous – keeping critical information at your fingertips.
There have been many education related uses for Dropbox documented on the web. I primarily use my Dropbox account to store current project files so that I am able to access them wherever they are needed – at home, the office, in classrooms, or meetings. It is great to have this information at my fingertips when it is truly needed and it saves me from having to carry around multiple notebooks, files, and loose papers. File sharing with Dropbox is a simple task, allowing for collaborative endeavors. Many apps provide opportunities for syncing with Dropbox, providing an easy method of consolidating work in one place.
Wunderlist is the newest addition to my suite of productivity applications. For some time I have had an unhealthy obsession with finding the perfect task manager – one that might tell me exactly what to do next, or possibly even complete my tasks for me. Well, Wunderlist doesn’t exactly do either of those things, but it does meet other criteria for an effective productivity app: it has an intuitive interface, is easy to use, is accessible from virtually anywhere, and has enough functionality to effectively manage a multitude of tasks. Wunderlist allows the user to collect tasks in an “inbox” and then organize items (if so desired) into an unlimited number of lists. Lists may be shared with others so that teams may work collaboratively on identified tasks. It is also possible to add subtasks, and notes to any task.
Sharing information and staying connected is a vital aspect of educational professionalism. Tumblr is a simple blogging platform that allows users to easily share ideas and participate in conversations to enhance professional development. I currently utilize Tumblr as an addendum to my WordPress blog because it is so easy to create and share posts. My Tumblr blog, jd 24/7, allows me to publicize quick thoughts, inspirational quotes, images, and ideas that don’t require a great deal of fleshing out. Tumblr is a great platform for beginners, and they have a great mobile app that makes posting on the go an easy task.
There is not much need for me to go into a lot of detail about the benefits of Twitter for educators. I have written about the value I see in this social media tool in other posts (see 5 Reasons I Use Twitter and You Should Too). Twitter has been a professional development goldmine – providing access to engaging conversations and outstanding resources. It is so important for educators to develop connections with colleagues in different schools, districts, states, and countries. Twitter is an invaluable tool for doing just that.
These are just a handful of the tools I use in an effort to increase my personal productivity and model the use of web 2.0 tools for colleagues. There are many others worth considering (Pinboard, Diigo, Prezi, etc.). Whether using one of these applications, or anything else, the key is to find tools that work for you and share your experiences with others.
Feel free to share your favorite web 2.0 productivity and networking tools.