Smart Classroom | Feature

10 Tech Skills Every Educator Should Have

We surveyed educators around the country to get a snapshot of the key tech competencies in 2014.

In June 2005, T.H.E. Journal ran a story on the "20 Technology Skills Every Educator Should Have." Written by Laura Turner, a computer technology instructor at Black Hills State University (BHSU), the recommendations in the article were based on her experiences teaching in the college of education at BHSU.

Year in and year out, that story is among the most read on our site, even though the advice is almost nine years old — which, in technology years, is about two lifetimes. Curious to see how much the necessary skill set had changed over the years, we decided to do an update on Turner's article. This time, however, rather than relying on the opinion of a single academic, we used the more 21st century method of crowdsourcing. In an online survey, we asked our readers a simple question: "What tech skills should every educator have?" From nearly a hundred responses, we compiled a list of the 10 most popular. What's interesting is how neatly the most-mentioned skills from the survey dovetail with those Turner identified in 2005, even as new competencies made this year's list. Without further ado, here are our top 10 tech skills that every educator should have, annotated with comments from the people who use them.

1) Searching the Web Efficiently
A third of the survey's respondents advocated a back-to-basics review of browsers, targeted searches, and key words — all in the name of finding credible and relevant information online. Or, as David Withrow, the network administrator at Harford Day School in Bel Air, MD, put it, "The Internet is the information backbone of the world. Deciphering quality from junk is essential."

Jule Barta, a curriculum development manager in Redlands, CA, added, "Many teachers do not know how to do effective searches. If they are taught how to search the Web more efficiently, it will help them expand their knowledge and be able to teach the students the same skill."

2) Mastering Microsoft Office and Basic Word Processing
Those familiar programs in the Microsoft Office Suite — Excel, Outlook, Word, and PowerPoint — may be relatively old, but they are still vital tools for many educators.

Hiramys Santiago, associate professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Aguadilla, listed competency with the "productivity tools" found in Office as the most important tech skill an educator should have. "Effective use of the word processor, presentation software and spreadsheets," said Santiago, "are essential for class management and material production."

Beyond the infinite mysteries of the twelve drop-down menus found in Word, the venerable art of typing is part and parcel of the "Office" world, according to Marcia Rhinehart, a preK-12 librarian at Missouri's Sturgeon R-V School District. Rhinehart said, "Good typing skills are important since they are used every time a teacher sits down at a computer. Teachers need to effectively communicate to everyone in their school world — including parents, students, administrators and community members."

3) Being Willing To Learn New Technology
Does a mindset really count as a tech skill? According to survey respondents, the answer is a resounding yes. The response took many forms, but it all came back to "stay curious" and "be willing to learn from students."

Jamie Back, a math teacher at Cincinnati Country Day School , suggested that educators "develop a grit/growth mindset. Be willing to try new things, persevere through issues that come up, and keep focusing on a goal of using technology in a way that increases student understanding of the material."

4) Connecting with Social Media
The paradigm-shifting influence of online networking has clearly infiltrated the halls of education. Respondents touted the importance of platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Goodreads, as well as the more general practices of podcasting and videocasting.

As Jane Matthews, library media specialist at Franklin Community High School in Indiana explained it, "Social media expands communication between all constituents — community members, students, teachers and administration. We are able to showcase what we do and why. We can build relationships and share the workload."

5) Sharing and Collaborating via YouTube and Blogging
"Collaboration is important," said Richard Snyder, a teacher-librarian at Lake Washington School District in Sammamish, WA, adding that educators can, "Use these tech tools to share, receive ideas and learn."

Many respondents mentioned video creation as a key skill for today's educators. "Humans are visual beings," said Kristy Vincent, the director of visual learning at Hardin Independent School District in Texas. "Educators must know how to create video to share processes, products and accomplishments."

"What better way to show documentation of activities going on than video-making," enthused Diane Southard, a teacher at Missouri's Joplin Schools. "With more and more educators finding the uses of digital portfolios, this is a great way to document skills."

When it comes to collaborating off-camera, Lori Lalama, a computer educator in the Clifton Public Schools, said she turns to blogging, which fosters the "sharing of ideas, thoughts, suggestions and possibilities regarding a specific topic in an online format."

Extra Credit
Top Tech Skills, Circa 2005
Here is the list of the most important tech skills from T.H.E. Journal's 2005 article "Top 20 Technology Skills Every Educator Should Have."

  1. Word-processing skills;
  2. Spreadsheet skills;
  3. Database skills;
  4. Electronic presentation skills;
  5. Web navigation skills;
  6. Web site design skills;
  7. E-mail management skills;
  8. Digital cameras;
  9. Computer network knowledge applicable to your school system;
  10. File management and Windows Explorer skills;
  11. Downloading software from the Web (including e-books);
  12. Installing computer software;
  13. WebCT or Blackboard teaching skills;
  14. Videoconferencing skills;
  15. Computer-related storage devices (disks, CDs, USB drives, zip disks, DVDs, etc.);
  16. Scanner knowledge;
  17. Knowledge of PDAs;
  18. Deep Web knowledge;
  19. Educational copyright knowledge; and
  20. Computer security knowledge.

6) Unlocking the Potential of Mobile Devices
The bring-your-own-device implementations in many school districts mean that more students than ever are bringing tablets, netbooks or smartphones to school. "So many schools are going with tablets, or kids have them at home," said Carole Zei, a technology teacher in the McHenry School District in Illinois. "Teachers need to know at least a few basic apps to use in the classroom."

A respondent who chose to remain anonymous said, "Teachers should use the technology that comes in the building with students to show how they are not just for personal 'fun' use, but also for gaining additional knowledge," adding that, "Students seem to have a disconnect with why they would use their phone in the classroom. They think it is just for texting, taking pictures, etc. However, they could text survey responses, take pictures of things that related to what they are learning or use Twitter as a back channel to comment on what is happening during a lesson/activity."

Linda, a teacher and tech coordinator at a private school, added, "Many teachers are afraid of what might happen when they put [mobile] computers in kids' hands," but, "If they develop procedures and routines for computer use and stick to them with consequences for students who abuse, the kids are able to reap the learning benefits of the technology."

7) Reaching Out with E-Mail
According to those who answered our survey, basic e-mail skills should include attaching and downloading files, as well as safely opening attachments.

"E-mail really is essential," said Barb Podkowka, a teacher and director of professional development at Virginia Beach Friends School. "This is the best way to communicate about students to families, regardless of your time or place. Organization and filing is important. The less time you spend looking for things the more productive you are. Organizing/filing documents and other information into readily accessible folders is crucial."

8) Making Your Point with Presentation Software
Even if many districts are encouraging their teachers to be the "guide on the side" rather than the "sage on the stage," PowerPoint, Prezi, Keynote, and a variety of screencasting apps are still prevalent in the classroom.

Lake Washington's Snyder said, "Presentation technology allows us to create an environment that can't be brought into the classroom. Presentation tools help that happen, be it a PowerPoint that motivates, or a first-hand account captured on video."

9) Googling It
The company that added a verb to the English language is so ubiquitous that it might be taken for granted in today's tech environment. With that said, innovative educators praised the versatility of all things Google.

"Not everyone has access to MS Office products," explained Kim Reynolds, a CTE teacher at Arizona Call-a-Teen Youth Resources in Phoenix. "Google docs is a free, anywhere-you-go 'office suite.' Add to that the forms you can create, and it is a very valuable skill. Forms can be used to collect data, do assessments, take polls, etc."

Denise Wright, a virtual science instructor and team lead at the South Carolina Department of Education, added, "Google Apps are important, since they allow a teacher to work Smarter, not harder. You can design your own quizzes, collect information on a form, design a presentation, get your e-mail or type up a document that can be published on the Web. Foremost, this tool can be used for teacher/student collaboration. I could not live without my Google apps."

10) Getting Ahead in the Cloud
Google factors into the mix again here, because virtually every function of the iconic brand is "cloud-based," allowing educators to conveniently access materials. Joplin's Southard said, "Google is important because you can access your work from any computer, anywhere."

Google is by no means the only game in the cloud. Our respondents pointed out the importance of Microsoft SkyDrive, Pearltrees (a visual and collaborative curation tool) and Dropbox. In the end, the specific tool is less important than a working knowledge of cloud collaboration. As Cynthia Reid, a health teacher at Inter-Lakes School District in Meredith, NH, summed it up,  "We have embraced Google and clouds. It is a must-know skill, or you are lost working in our district."

Extra Credit
Honorable Mentions
The ubiquitous Smartboard narrowly missed the top 10, a testament either to its new role or its potential obsolescence in an increasingly mobile world. The concept of "digital citizenship" also received attention, no doubt a response to the very real problems of cyberbullying and the unique growing pains of educational interaction online.

Roger Matthews, a teacher at Newfoundland & Labrador English School District in Canada, said that teachers should be prepared to "serve as the models for establishing the societal norm for behaviors and actions in the digital world," adding that, "Digital roles and responsibilities add new dimensions such as anonymity and distance, which may provide users with both a sense of comfort to participate in a digital world, or with a freedom to do harm. We must be the front line for establishing levels of acceptable norms."

Finally, new technology can be incredibly daunting for educators dealing with so many other challenges. Richard Snyder said that everyone in education must rise above their fear of the new. "Fearlessness is the most important skill," he said. "Fear of failure, not having control and of someone doing it better — or having already done it — will keep us from trying something that may just change how we teach and how students learn. Be fearless with technological integration, and you can't possibly fail."