Free web tools and apps are like sinkholes. They drop to oblivion without any warning. This week I lost one of the core tools I planned to share in my presentation at ISTE 2014 NEXT week! (At least they posted a warning that they were going to close down.) Another sinkhole, now on to the next available path.
More resistant or reluctant teachers sometimes hear stories like mine and use the precariousness of free, creative tools as an excuse to never learn any of them. I think we should use the sinkholes as opportunities to look deep and discover buried treasures.
For every web tool/app that dies, there are at least three new ones that may even have better features. And some tools, when they sense their foundations are slipping, are able to reinforce the ground around them so they will last. A select few, such as Wikispaces, Dropbox, and Evernote, seem to have selected better ground in the first place. Longevity makes them at least appear beyond the risk of sinking. But teachers are not likely to ever have a full complement of free, sink-proof tools. So we as teachers should take the moment when a tool sinks to peer into the depths of the hole — and to other ground — for new possibilities.
As we built the TeachersFirst Edge, beginning back in 2006, we included a way to categorize tools by what they can do. That’s pretty tough, since new tools always add new “types” of products they can create or combinations of features. Yes, Timemapper makes timelines, but it also creates associated maps. So we tag it into both timelines and geo/maps. We try to be there for teachers who don’t have a lot of time to replace the sunken favorite tool, ready with another option.
When the next tool dies on you, what will you do?
To take out your exasperation, feel free to collect the names of all the tools you have lost to sinkholes — kind of like carving a set of notches on your techie teacher toolbelt. It might make for some funny discussion or party games with your savvy peers: “Remember Springpad? It sprung a leak!” (That’s the one I lost this week!)
But the immediacy of teaching means you will need to shift your directions a bit and turn the kids loose to find an alternative. I don’t recommend telling students below about 10th grade to “go explore for a tool,” only because less mature kids will waste a lot of time playing and less being critical consumers of what they need. Better to give them a list of possible new tools you have had a few moments to peer into… long enough to know these tools don’t have a public gallery of examples filled with naked women, neo-Nazis, or profanities. Alternatively, you can grab a tool or two from the TeachersFirst Edge and have them “tech it out.” Ultimately, have your kids keep a running list of the tools they have found successful and even of possible substitutes if one goes the way of the sinkhole. A graffiti wall, either electronic or actual, would be great for this.
Next time: Some criteria to watch for as you peer beyond the sink hole.