Mastering Tools During the Strangest Year Ever


July 2, 2021 by Dr. Robbie Barber

This post is Week 4 of 8 in the #8WeeksofSummer Blog Challenge for educators. The prompt for this week is: Describe new tools you discovered or mastered this year.

This week’s prompt has provided a bigger challenge than one might expect. After a year of using a tool, did I discover it? Hone it? Drop it? Maybe I should make a list of tools. Some of the tools are MS Teams, Google Classroom, Google Meet, the Google suite of tools, Microsoft Office, Canva, Sora, Follett Destiny, and much, much more. Did I master any of them? LOL! 🤣 Probably not. It’s hard to remember learning tools because most of us were thrown in over our heads and swam to the surface dog paddling. Some teachers were more graceful in their swimming, but those who just doggedly (pun intended) kept paddling still reached the pool deck eventually.

I think instead of saying what I mastered, I need to say what I need to learn:

MS Teams: I can create a Team, a Teams meeting, and run it. What I don’t know how to do is drop students into a breakout room and monitor all of them, ensure that the Teams meeting is closed to members only or open to guests, the differences in scheduling in Outlook email vs. directly in Teams, and the differences between online Teams and the Teams app.

Google Classroom (GC) / Google Meet: I can create, archive, and duplicate a classroom. What I don’t know is how to know when students have added themselves OR removed themselves from the GC (this was a REAL problem). If the GC has a meeting link, can students go into it without me? Am I worried about that? Is it different if the Meet is created in the calendar instead of the GC? How do I add students to GC but not make them do last month’s assignments? And, ditto on the breakout room questions. Some of these questions haven’t been answered by Google yet. But we need to make lists of questions and hold the companies responsible for their products instead of accepting what it appears to be.

G-Suite / MS Office: This week at ISTE (actually from an ISTE volunteer!) I learned that I can have several different Google forms responses go to the same spreadsheet on different tabs. Game changer! (MS forms can’t do that yet.) And, the new things MS Immersive Reader can do have me so excited for my students. In general, I would have said that I’m expert on both platforms, but honestly, they both keep changing things up and I keep discovering those hidden, and not so hidden, gems.

Canva: I have used Canva for years. (If you’re a teacher and have not gotten your free education license, why not??) I am still learning how to share and edit with others. What I don’t think I’m doing well, particularly with students, is teaching design rules first. Dumping them in to play with templates is great fun but totally limiting. Students need some help designing first. They need to organize their thoughts, know their color scheme and use of white space, before hitting the software. A bad infographic is harder to read than a poorly written paper.

I don’t know how to market tools to my teachers and students. I suggest, demonstrate, and provide a safe playground space (software on my equipment so no one has to bring anything to try), but that does not necessarily work. I don’t repeat enough. I want to find that sweet spot between repetition to help learn and annoyance. When is an extra email helpful versus noise? “…Unnecessary use of emails by staff and students, the expectation of a quick turnaround and an escalation in email traffic were associated with email overload and, as a consequence, increased work-related stress” (Abstract, Pignata et al., 2015). I worried a lot about general communication support (my research interest), but this is moving off topic. 😏

Here is the best piece of advice I have discovered during the COVID months: Don’t assume you know a software that well. That assumption will keep you from looking for more.


Pignata, S., Lushington, K., Sloan, J., & Buchanan, F. (2015). Employees’ perceptions of email communication, volume and management strategies in an Australian university. Journal of Higher Education Policy & Management37(2), 159–171.

One thought on “Mastering Tools During the Strangest Year Ever

  1. Denise Krebs says:

    Robbie, such a great challenge. I love how you keep asking questions about what a program can and can’t do. Sometimes when I know a program must be able to do something, I remind myself that someone smarter than I created it, so I just need to find out how to do what I need to do. Of course, that doesn’t always work when my expectations are too off the rails!

    Thanks for sharing those things you learned, like adding the form responses to the same spreadsheet. I guess I always saw that as an option when I go to open the spreadsheet–do you want to create a new one or use an existing spreadsheet? Why didn’t I ever choose “existing”? Not sure, but now I know. This is especially good for registrations for the same annual event. I will definitely give it a try.

    And there is a good example of what you warn against: “Don’t assume you know a software that well. That assumption will keep you from looking for more.” Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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