11 Essential EdTech Action Steps for Back to School

Technologies can transform; even simple technologies can make a significant impact. Here are eleven of the technologies that often affect classroom procedures and workflow. Use this checklist and infographic to make sure you've included the edtech essentials in your workflow this year.

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1. Design Your Web Browser

Your start page and bookmark bar are strategic for both you and your students. Why waste it with standard Google Start Page?

Intentionally Select Your Start Page

Choose one of the four choices of start pages. Be intentional!

4 Choices for Start Pages:

  • A personal dashboard: Start.me is a service that has both free personal pages and a free start.me for your class. Netvibes will also do this. You can start with a glance at your email, your list, the news, blogs you like, and more.
  • A minimalist productivity start page. In Google Chrome, Momentum and Limitless have some cool features to help you focus. Momentum even has a simple list-building feature and link adding feature added. 
  • Links. Many teachers love Symbaloo, which gives cool icons and links. Some people like speed dial but most web browsers pull in links to pages people go to often.
  • Graphic News Reader. Newsmap is a slick news summarizing service will show you a big picture of what is happening in the world. It indexes all of the Google news for your selected country and shows with a quick glance what works. (Read more about newsmap here.)

TIP: For those who say they need the google box in the middle of the page, please remember that the address box at the top of your browser can do this. It is now called an “omnibox” which means you can type a web address or search.

Organize Your Bookmarks

Also, edit your bookmark bar. The handy icons show along the top of your web browser when you turn on bookmarks.  See my Chrome tutorial,

As you design your start page, you’re applying the mud puddle principle. Think of a toddler on the edge of a mud puddle – the closer they get to the brink, the more likely the toddler will jump in! By putting the things you want to do on your start page and bookmark, you increase your likelihood of doing them!

[callout]Back to School EdTech Action Step #1: Determine the start page for you and your students. Organize your bookmarks. Decide when you'll teach your students how to organize theirs.[/callout]

2. Mash up your textbook (or prepare to)

Lately, I have been using Shelfit software by EdTech Software. Shelfit is the future of textbooks today. As a teacher, we will soon all be mashing up our textbooks. We can add quizzes, videos, and materials right inside the textbook alongside with content. Imagine being able to add your handouts right onto the textbook page where students need them!

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Understand Where Textbooks Are Going: Test eBook “Mashup” Software to See How It Works

So first, I do recommend that you test a textbook modification program so that you can understand what this technology means. Shelfit from EdTech Software has made it so you can check out their service now and it is one I recommend you share with your school IT departments too.

Be Strategic About How You Use Your Textbook This Year

back to school education technology

My short link and QR code note. I organize these to make it easy to pull the resources back from year to year. It will be the springboard that lets me mash up my textbooks.

After you test the software and understand where your textbooks are heading, be strategic and intentional about how you organize the textbooks you use this year.

I am keeping a copy of all resources, links, and materials on each page of the textbook and pasted in a Google Doc to make things easier to retrieve.

Procedure for link shortening and mobile sharing:

  • Copy the hyperlink for the page or lesson that relates to a particular page in my textbook.
  • Shorten the link using bit.ly. Bitly makes the link shorter (and your QR code smaller)
  • Paste the link into Kaywa – a QR code generator to make a QR code. (Just click “static” and go with the free QR code.)
  • Paste the QR code and link into Evernote or a Google Doc organized by page numbers. Print it and tape it onto the page in the textbook as well so it looks like the photo to the right.

Textbook customization is here now or just around the corner for most of us. Shelfit from EdTech Software is platform agnostic, which means that if I go in Shelfit and customize the textbook, my students can download the app and read and interact with the textbook on any device. It is available offline; everything but the YouTube videos and hyperlinks will work (those need the Internet), but all other text, comments, notes and PDF's are available.

[callout]Back to School EdTech Action Step #2: Understand textbook customization by testing Shelfit from EdTech Software. Create a plan for how you'll capture hyperlinks to resources for the time when you'll be customizing your textbooks if you won't be this year. [/callout]

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11 Essential Edtech Action Steps for Back to School

3. Connect Devices to the Board

Every device in the classroom should easily be able to send their screen to your projector or interactive board. There are several ways to do this:

  • Lightcast Sender. I have an InFocus Jboard, so my students use Lightcast Sender to transmit their screens to the board (it works with Chrome and Chromebooks to InFocus devices.) Many brand name projectors have such apps.
  • Chromecast lets you mirror desktops and many devices to your television or projector. All you need is Google Chrome and the Google Cast extension. For phones, you'll want to install the Google Cast app.
  • Airplay lets you stream Apple devices to your Apple TV.
  • Miracast is called “HDMI over Wifi.” That isn't really accurate because you don't even need wifi. Many devices support Miracast, but Airplay and Chromecast do not support it. It is built right into many smart televisions., Android 4.2+ and Windows 8.1 and higher so you can connect Windows devices and Android smartphones to Miracast-compliant receivers. However, it just doesn't seem to be as easy as other options. You may be using a Miracast compliant device and not know it because many manufacturers name it something else!

[callout]Back to School EdTech Action Step #3: Simply projecting any screen in the room is an essential classroom procedure. Practice doing this before school. Teach students and have each student check their devices it your first week of school. This way, you're set up for the year. You could even have one student or two who are designated “streaming” support technicians. Don't forget to teach them how to stop transmitting! [/callout]

4. Set Link Sharing Procedures

Hyperlinks fuel much of the work in the modern classroom. Teachers and students should be able to quickly and easily share them with one another. For example, if they are sharing their screen and want to give the hyperlink to the class, they should be able to follow the procedure included in point two for link shortening and mobile sharing.

If you use QR codes, your students will need a QR code reader. (I like i-Nigma but check out my Classroom QR Code Implementation Guide for more info.)

[callout]Back to School EdTech Action Step #4: Determine the procedures for how you'll share links in your classroom. Have students practice sending and receiving hyperlinks onto their devices as rapidly as possible. [/callout]

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5. Connect with Parents

Determine how you will communicate with parents. This is important because you probably don't want to share all of those pictures and videos on social media. And not all parents are on social media. As I've said before, I use Bloomz for this and I'm working to make sure that all of my classes are set up properly before school starts. I also include the link to parents in their letter home. There are other systems out there. Decide what works right for you!

[callout]Back to School EdTech Action Step #5: Select your parent communication system, set it up, and include it on letters home to parents to get communication going from day one. You could also have students have the classroom job of taking pictures each week and sharing on your parent communication system. [/callout]

6. Design Your Online Classroom

As I shared at ISTE this year at the Blended Learning Panel discussion, our classrooms are built from bricks and clicks. You have a face-to-face classroom and an online classroom.

We spend a lot of time arranging furniture and on your face to face workflow. We want our classroom to be friendly. Make sure your online classroom is friendly and has flow as well.

[callout]Back to School EdTech Action Step #6: Review and add procedures to your first week lessons for your online classroom. Include: how students know what to do online, how students turn in online work, and other procedures for the online classroom. Include how to check their grades online. [/callout]

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7. Set EdTech Class Procedures

Make sure you have the language in place use technology in your classroom.

Language for Device Use and Non-Use

  • iPads: For example, some people who use iPads will say “apples up” when they want the students to put their screens face down on the desk. 
  • Chromebooks, Laptops and Tablets: Lids up or lids down
  • Fly (Go in Airplane Mode): Sometimes you may want students to use an app or film video while not being online. Make sure students know how to put their devices in airplane mode for those times you need distraction-free filming and photography.
  • In a Computer Lab. I'm in a computer lab, so I have something I call “teaching position.” Students turn their chairs towards me, point their knees towards me, and get their notebooks out and are ready to take notes.

A simple definition for a professional workstation

Clearly defining what a great looking workstation looks like is important. Teachers of younger kids often call this “a clean desk” but I really want to focus on what it looks like when they sit down to get to work.


Have a graphic that shows what you expect workstations to look like. Here's the one for my classroom. I made it in Powerpoint.


[callout]Back to School EdTech Action Step #7: Determine how you will ask students to use and not use their devices. What do you want note-taking and class discussions to look like? Spell out the procedures for using and not using technology. Clearly demonstrate what a professional student work area looks like. [/callout]

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8. Set Up Social Media

Determine how you will be connecting with the world this year. Will you have a class Twitter account? A class hashtag? A class Facebook page? A private Facebook group with your students? Will you have a class Instagram account?

What platforms will you choose?

Consider at least one way that you communicate and share with the world. (See See 10 Cool Ways Teachers Use Social media to Enhance Learning )

You may not think this is important, but I'll never forget the year I received some huge donations from a local person who watched what my class was doing on our class YouTube channel. It really does make a difference to communicate key things that are happening in your classroom.

How do you facilitate student sharing on classroom sites?

Make sure your photo policy fits with your school policy.

One way that many people like to determine what they're going to post on social media is to have an in-class Twitter board. Students write short updates of what they learned that day and stick it on the board with Post-It notes. They may sign their own handle or just put their initials.

If older students are connecting on social media, you could have a class hashtag for Instagram or Twitter.

At the end of the day, the teacher selects the best couple of tweets and shares them out over Twitter or Instagram or whatever account the class is using. This is a great way to see what people are learning and also communicate with the world and create engagement with the world. You can also appoint a class communicator to help capture and share.

[callout]Back to School EdTech Action Step #8: Select your social media accounts. Create a graphic on your wall to help you decide what to share or appoint a student to help share content each week.[/callout]

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9. Set Up Screencasting

Student and teachers should know how to capture both video and photos of screens with screenshots and screencast. This is something that should be second nature and easy to do. It is part of the five steps to Internet safety and is a basic safety mechanism, but it also just makes it easier to share and to communicate.

Simple Ways to Take Screenshots

  • PC –  Try the snipping tool or just press Alt+Ctrl+PrnSc and look in your picture folder.
  • Mac –  Try Command + Shift + 4 on the Mac
  • Jing – A simple free tool that does screenshots and screencasts on PC's and Mac's.
  • iPhone and iPad – Press the front button and power button to take a picture of your iPhone or iPad. The Apple watch is similar, just press both buttons.
  • Learn how to take screenshots on Droids and Windows phones.

Simple Ways to Screencast (with video)

  • Screencastify – Jon Bergmann demonstrated this one in our blended learning session at ISTE. Great tool for video!
  • Snagit – I've been using Snagit but I haven't been able to find the extension any more on the Chrome store. (Share in the comments if you know what has happened.)
  • Screencastomatic – This simple free tool is one I use with my students. (See How to Screencast in 3 Simple Steps.)
  • Quicktime has tools built in for capturing iPhones and iPads or you can pay for a tool like Screenflow.

Students should be able to grab a picture or shoot a quick tutorial and turn it in quickly. If they have a problem with a website or on their phone, they should know how to take a picture and email it.

Sharing Video, Audio, and Photographs from Mobile Devices

If students film on personal devices, they should know how to send those files to other devices or publish them. For example, if you text or email from the mobile device, often the file is compressed and you lose quality. If a student is going to film on a drone or GoPro, I make sure they know how to download video before I allow them to use it to film. Familiarize yourself with instructions for sharing and grabbing video and photos.

[callout]Back to School EdTech Action Step #9: Students and teachers should know how to take screenshots and screencasts and publish or share them with each other and teachers. If a student is using a device, you're empowering them when they can take a screengrab. Stock extra cables to allow students to take high-quality videos and photos off their device and train students how to properly get the video and files off the device. [/callout]

10. Select Writing Tools

As I've shared before in 4 Writing Tips to Help the Writing Process, let technology do what it does best: proofread. Use tools like Grammarly, Pro Writing Aid and the Hemingway App to aid student writing. Help students who struggle with typing dictate in Google Docs or the microphone setting on your computer. (See the article here.)

[callout]Back to School EdTech Action Step #10: If you teach writing, educate students on how to use writing tools that will save them time. Require their use before they turn work into you.[/callout]

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11. Start with Student Strengths

I call my classroom the Wonder Lab. I tell them my room is a place where we wonder about things and where wonderful things happen. And my students are the most wonderful part of my classroom. So, we start the beginning of the year with a simple Play-Doh project I tweaked from one by my friend Dave Burgess. I asked students to model with a Play-Doh something that's wonderful about them that makes them unique.

Then, students take photos of that item and share it in our online classroom space. This technique does several things:

  • We immediately have a conversation about something the student loves.
  • Students take a photo.
  • Students immediately turn in their first assignment in the online classroom.
  • I have photos to share with parents demonstrating how we are talking about something they love.

[callout]Back to School EdTech Action Step #11: If you're using technology, find a way to use the technology as you focus on your students' strengths and interests. Use good old fashioned ice breaking with technology. [/callout]

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Let's Do This!

So, there are lots of things that we can do to start our school here well. Here I just 11 action steps to be ready to use technology successfully this school year. What is missing? Please share in the comments.

[callout]Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored post.” The company who sponsored it, EdTech Software, maker of Shelfit,  compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to edit and post it. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.) All opinions my own and not necessarily the opinions of the sponsor.[/callout]

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Kaitlyn July 22, 2016 - 2:42 pm

Hi Vicki – great article, I’ll be sure to share!

To answer your question on Snagit, Techsmith recently reported that it’s no longer supporting the Chrome extension: https://www.techsmith.com/screenchomp-snagitchrome-knowmia-retire.html
but the paid versions for Windows/Mac are still available.

Casey August 12, 2016 - 12:20 pm

Wow ! So many amazing EdTech essentials in order to have a wonderful school year. Thanks !


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