Monday, June 19, 2017

Zen and The Art of Technology


As you reflect over the past school year and think about all of the technology choices you made—movies, videos, podcasts, screencasts, assignments scheduled in Google Classroom—can you say why you did what you did?  When working with educational technology, it is important to create meaningful and relevant experiences for students, but it is equally important to know the rationale behind all the uploading and cursor clicking.

Here are five Zen tenets that will inform a mindful approach to making sure your technological choices are effective, practical, and necessary in a modern, successful, 21st century classroom. I’ll focus on when to click, but I’ll also add just enough heart and soul to keep things interesting.
Intentionality.  Technology is a tool. And you wouldn’t pick up just any tool from your toolbox to build a house. If you need a hammer, you grab a hammer. On purpose. The same is true for educational technology. Don’t simply rely on thoughtless, knee jerk reactions based on what you’ve always done. Make intentional choices about which tool or device you need to achieve your purpose. Making a document? Know which is better for your job—Google Docs, Word, or Pages.  (And yes, they’re different). If you need Google Drawings, don’t grab Google Forms.  Which works better: Screencast or video? Or maybe some (gasp!) good, old-fashioned “live theater”-style direct instruction? Learn to make mindful, conscious choices about which tech options will serve you best and when.
Simplicity.  When I started the telecommunications program at my school in 1993, I had two tech savvy students who loved to experiment with the effects. They geeked out over wipes and fades, switchers and green screens. They couldn’t get enough of all of the bells and whistles in our brand new, state-of-the art television studio (when state-of-the-art meant VHS tapes, of course).
        These boys were very disappointed when I mandated that they begin with a script and insisted that they keep things simple.  Our mantra became, “It Starts with The Word.” Before you use an effect, it is imperative that you know what story you’re trying to tell (Actually, that’s just a great metaphor for tech use in the classroom in general).
        The point is that simplicity is key. As I tell my writing students, “Simple and clear is better than fancy and unclear.” Just because you have a piece of technology doesn’t mean you HAVE to use it. Or at least not all of it.  
        Start simple.
        Then level up.
Nonjudgment.  Not everyone feels comfortable with technology. And that’s okay.  If technology works for you, great. But you don’t have to evangelize. Don’t be a Moonie! Allow people to be where they are.  If a colleague expresses interest in learning a new platform, of course you should reach out and help. But know that there are other, traditional options that can work just as well as the newest gadget. No one has a monopoly on effective pedagogy.
        Non-techies unite!
        But in analog, of course.
        Maybe in a Moleskin journal.
        Or on a landline phone call.  
        Whatever works, still works.
Detachment.  It may sound like sacrilege, but consider periods of unplugging and digital detox as a normal part of your technology diet. The truth is, you will come back refreshed and with a much greater perspective to achieve even more of your technological goals.
Gratitude.  Be grateful for what you have. You may want to be a 1:1 school, but be grateful for your two iPads or the shared Chromebook cart. You may want Padlet, but be happy with your Post-Its. Pursue what you want, but be at peace with what is. If you have a book, some students, and a space, everything else is gravy. Modern education tends to look at technology as a panacea, but if the thinking and planning and purpose BEHIND the technology isn’t in place, all you have is a vapid, empty piece of media--the classroom equivalent of an episode of The Bachelor.  
        Technology is a wonderful gift from the science and engineering gods. But if we are to use it effectively in the classroom, we must remember who is the master and who is the servant.
        So the next time you’re about to click the power button, stop and breathe.
        Make sure it’s what you want.
        And make sure it’s what should happen.


Dan Tricarico has been a member of the West Hills High School English Department for over twenty years and is author of The Zen Teacher:  Creating Focus, Simplicity, and Tranquility in the Classroom (DBC, Inc. 2015). He can be found on Twitter at @thezenteacher.  In his spare time, he enjoys writing fiction, listening to music, reading mystery novels, and staring out of windows.  One of Dan's first loves is writing poetry, and he has published many poems both in print and on-line.


  1. Great thoughts, Dan. I appreciate you pointing out the need for balance between technology and non-technology. And the importance of choosing the right tool. This is definitely something I'll want to keep in mind at the start of the next school year!

  2. Dena, Thanks so much for reading the post and responding. I appreciate it! Summer is always such a great time to reflect and decide on some more meaningful approaches in the fall. Enjoy your time in the next few weeks!