As teachers, we tend to focus on pedagogy as the great hope for improvement.

We spend our professional development and meeting time talking improved syllabi, new theories of learning, better designed assignments, or improved feedback.


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And these are clearly, and massively, important.

But long ago (1980s), engineers, lawyers, accountants and other professionals looked to technology to save time. Spreadsheet softeware, CAD (Computer Aided Design) software, and other tools are now integral to these professions.

Educators are famously reluctant to look to technology for help. Sure, every school has its 10 to 15% (my estimate) of technology early adopters. But there hasn’t been a compelling reason for educators to embrace technology. In 1982 you either learned CAD as an engineer, or looked for another job (okay, or got promoted to management).

Thankfully educators are not usually under such autocratic rule, but perhaps it is no accident that the two industries with the least productivity over the last 20 years, and the largest year-on-year cost increases, are medicine and education. Both are people intensive. If you want to teach more students and cure more patients, you have to hire more people. Technology companies and accounting companies do not have their productivity tied to people-power in the same way, and so many medium-sized companies that had full-time accounting departments 20 years ago can now look to a single person or two, or simply outsource the work.

The comparisons with education don’t go too far, and they also become politically sensitive.

One of the great things about being a teacher is the ability to control your own process. We aren’t slaves to the computer system like so many credit card company employees who have to follow a script and cannot work around the computer.

Increasingly, teachers are doing more with electronic documents, blogs, wikis, and e-learning platforms like Blackboard. Whether entering grades online into PowerSchool so parents can keep up on their children, responding to discussions in Moodle, or reading hundreds of papers a term in Microsoft Word, we spend a lot of time looking at computer screens.

And the computer screens that most of us use are horrible. Teachers often opt for laptops for all the obvious reasons, but the screen real estate is quite limited. These days, it is very easy and quite economical to add additional monitors to your office set up. Even two 17″ monitors (less than $200 each) can impact productivity 20-30% according to many studies.

About 18 months ago I got a new desktop with two 20″ Dell monitors. I have really enjoyed having email on one monitor, Blackboard on the other. Or a Word document on one, and Waypoint on the other. Less clicking, less moving between programs…it’s like getting your first remote control or a car with power windows: you just can’t imagine going back.

I’m not that smart, though. I’ve been running them in landscape mode. I recently flipped one to portrait mode, and the results were unbelievable. Most documents and websites are far taller than they are wide. So I just flipped the second monitor…and I feel as though my workspace has doubled (and they take up less space on my desk because they don’t stick out much further than the width of my keyboard).

In all my travels to schools and colleges, it’s only the techies who use a dual set up (some have 3 or even 4 monitors, all connected to the same computer). So how far away are we from regular teachers being able to increase their productivity by 30%+ when using software and websites? Years?

Some will say that schools won’t pay. But in my experience, in multiple organizations, the money is there if people ask for it, then demand it, then really demand it. The techy person always get the latest computer upgrades and the person who doesn’t care is stuck with the old garbage.

Some will say that money spent on technology for increasing productivity will result in larger teaching loads. This is a more valid concern, and is partly the reason for ever-increasing costs in education. Everyone is afraid they’ll be asked to do more. That’s a subject for another time.

The easy answer for this blog is: buy them for yourself!

Currently, an extremely high-quality 20″ widescreen monitor from Dell is $289. Most contemporary laptops are capable of running an external monitor along with the laptop display. So for $300 you can bring home your school-provided laptop and have a dual-monitor setup.

For $600 (the price of a good 17″ flatscreen monitor 6 years ago) and a modest graphics card upgrade on your next desktop purchase, you’ll be in nirvana with two 20″ screens totalling 2100 x 3360 pixels.

When i talk to people about this idea they either love it or say they can’t imagine their cursor moving from one monitor to another, or that they won’t like it. Or that they’ve tried it and don’t like it. I’m not sure whether it’s a question of just working a little harder and longer to get used to the minor change, or if these folks are the equivalents of an older generation that didn’t want a phone in their house.

Leaving aside personal choices, here’s the bottom line. There are 4 screenshots below: a word doc and a Waypoint Evaluate page, both shown in regular ‘laptop’ resolution and on my 20″ monitor in portrait mode.

First up, a Word document in laptop resolution:


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Same document, now in portrait-mode on a 20″ monitor:


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Waypoint on a laptop:


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Waypoint on a 20″ monitor in portrait-mode:


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Finally, imagine these two documents, in their longer form, side-by-side on dual monitors. ‘Nuff said.