Big News!

Image via Worcester Academy on FlickrI’m very pleased and excited to announce that I have signed a contract for the position of Technology Integration Specialist at Worcester Academy in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Obviously, accepting this position was not an easy decision to make as it will involve a fairly substantial relocation for my family to an area of the country where we have no family and few friends. I would be lying if I said I was not nervous… well, scared, actually. However, I think it is a wonderful opportunity, and I am very excited about the possibilities, too.

It has been time for a change for a long time, I think, but I had other considerations that might have prevented a move out of Atlanta. Now is a good time to move, and if we’re going to do it, we might as well make a big change.

I’m excited about my new position for many reasons, not the least of which is that my future colleagues are warm, wonderful people who solidly support professional development and technology integration.

You can learn more about their school at their website, follow them on Twitter, and check out their Facebook page, YouTube channel, and Flickr account.

Image via Worcester Academy on Flickr

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Tech without PD

I have seen a tweet circulating among several folks on Twitter with basic text as follows:

“I have yet to have a student tell me they can’t use technology in class because they haven’t received any PD on it.”

While I understand the frustration behind the tweet, I disagree with its basic message, which is that there is something wrong with a teacher who wants to receive professional guidance on technology before using it. The subtext is that we should all be able to use technology without help, and that if we say we won’t, then we’re just whining. We’re not willing to do what we ask students to do.

First, students who are unfamiliar with tools do often balk at using them. I have found that younger students seem to be willing to play around with a tool until they figure it out, but there is a fear of failure that we tend to develop, as well as a notion that we should learn how to do things effortlessly or quickly, as we get older, and I have frequently encountered high school students who shut down in the face of using unfamiliar technology. A case in point: several years ago, I asked my students to do a poetry project on VoiceThread. The tool was unfamiliar to them, and they really fought learning how to use it. When they finished their final projects, I have to admit that only one of the groups really produced work that met the standard I had in mind. It was a technology fail on my part because I didn’t do much training in how to use the tool with the class. I expected them to be willing to dive in, explore, and figure it out. That my students didn’t produce the work I was hoping for was partly my fault. No, none of the students complained to me that I hadn’t showed them how to use VoiceThread. I don’t think it occurred to them.

One of the common refrains I hear about integrating technology is how important professional development is. While it’s fairly common for technology to be mandated with little or no professional development, I think most thoughtful educators feel professional development is a critical piece of technology adoption. I do believe that exploring a new tool, trying out new things, playing around, is the only way to really learn how to use new tools. But we also have to remember that not everyone is comfortable taking that initial step alone. A professional development session that introduces the tool and offers participants an opportunity to try out the tool when a technology “spotter” is nearby can be comforting and helpful. Also, not all tools are easy to learn without professional development. I happen to think my school’s content management system, Edline, is well nigh impossible to learn without some help, especially for teachers who have never experimented with their own websites before.

We shouldn’t criticize teachers for asking for professional development. We should celebrate it. It’s not the same thing as being resistant, which is how I think this tweet characterizes teachers. Yes, some teachers are resistant, but those teachers are resistant even after the professional development, and in those cases, it’s not really the technology that is the issue: it’s more about change. Teachers asking for professional development want to learn to use the technology in the most effective way so they don’t waste their time and their students’ time floundering around with tools before integrating them in their teaching. There’s nothing wrong with that.

photo by: PaulSh

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Why Technology?

A question I have been asked quite a few times lately is why I moved into technology integration after having been a successful English teacher for over a decade. It’s a complicated answer because it was not a planned move. I like teaching English. It’s not like I woke up one day and decided I didn’t like teaching English anymore and was looking for a change in career. When I started down the technology integration path, I didn’t know where it would lead, and I never imagined for a moment that exploring technology integration and teaching English were mutually exclusive (hint: they’re not).

When I began teaching English in 1997, my first classroom was a small room with old desks and a chalkboard. I didn’t have a classroom desktop computer. I had a laptop, but only because it had been given to me as a graduation gift. I can’t really say I did anything to integrate technology. We didn’t have any of the tools one might typically use to integrate technology. We had precious few computers in the school. We did watch VHS tapes of movies. We had one student in my student teaching cohort at UGA who I might have described as tech savvy, and that was because she could answer our questions about how to work email. I never imagined that years later I would be like her. I couldn’t imagine I would ever have any sort of aptitude for technology.

Back when GeoCities was still around, I experimented with creating cheap, garish-looking websites. I liked the creative process of bringing the websites to life, and I gradually taught myself HTML. I decided to start blogging about education in 2005. One thing I noticed was that many of the other education bloggers at that time were educational technologists, and for good reason: they were the “techies” who felt most comfortable with the tools of blogging. They became my models. I began reading about what they were doing. Then I attended EduBloggerCon before ISTE in 2007. Here is what a newbie I was to the whole notion of technology education: I didn’t even realize there was such a thing as an ISTE Conference (back then, it was called NECC). All I knew is the education bloggers were all planning to meet up in Atlanta, where I lived, and I decided to go. Once I got to the conference center, of course, I realized it must be part of some larger conference I knew nothing about.

What? You mean a whole conference devoted to technology in education? I desperately wanted to go, but I found out about it too late to ask my employer to help me pay for it. I enjoyed the time I spent with the other edubloggers. I met Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, who introduced me to someone as “a great writer.” I still relive that moment. I met Megan Golding, who recognized me by my blog when I introduced myself. I met Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay. I met Tom Woodward. When I wrote about the experience that evening on my blog, Chris Lehmann left a comment chiding me for not saying “hi.” I had forgotten this, but I was standing right next to Dave Warlick in the big photo someone took.

I’m going to look like a huge geek, but I’ll just say it anyway: I was in awe of these folks. I thought they were so cool, and I really wanted to be in their club. It really wasn’t long after EduBloggerCon 2007 that I began pursuing my instructional technology master’s. In fact, I enrolled at Virginia Tech in August of 2008, so it must have only been a matter of months between going to EduBloggerCon and deciding to get my master’s in instructional technology.

I had already started using technology in my English classroom before I went to EduBloggerCon. I considered a master’s in English, but I admit it didn’t appeal to me much. I had also thought a few times about a degree in library science. At one point in my career, I thought I wanted to be a media specialist. I don’t think that I had a notion there was such a thing as an instructional technology degree.

Around the same time as I attended the first EduBloggerCon, I also started presenting at conferences. I discovered that I liked working with teachers and helping them learn about ways they could use technology in their classes. I also enjoyed sharing ideas face-to-face in addition to on this blog.

My interest in technology integration and working with teachers grew organically into helping teachers integrate technology. Before long, I was the teacher in my building who answered the “techie” questions and helped colleagues.

If you had asked me ten years ago if I would be doing what I’m doing now, I would have called you crazy. In fact, ten years ago, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to teach anymore. After the 2000-2001 school year, I was determined to quit teaching. I wound up teaching pre-K for a year and decided perhaps I didn’t want to quit teaching after all. It is amazing how your life can change trajectory and open up possibilities you never dreamed existed. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately as I begin a new phase of my life as a technology integration specialist at a new school. But more about that to come later.

photo by: superkimbo

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You (Yes, You!) Need to be on Twitter

I recently encountered this article via Twitter (interestingly enough). The sentence that jumps out me is this one: “One assistant principal who refused to speak on the record said he believed any school personnel using social media were ‘exercising poor judgment.’”

I find that statement to be dangerously short sighted. Are there teachers who use social media in a way that exhibits poor judgment? Sure. Does it then follow that any educator using social media is exercising poor judgment because a few people make bad choices? I really hope this administrator was taken out of context (which happens when folks are interviewed). I couldn’t disagree more. I think it’s important for educators to be on Twitter and to use social media in order to learn, connect to other educators, and share resources. If you haven’t found social media useful for these purposes, then you’re not using it right or you’re not following the right people.

The latest issue of NCTE’s publication Council Chronicle has a great article about how teachers are harnessing social media to develop professional learning communities and quotes the likes of Donalyn Miller, Franki Sibberson, Ryan Goble, and Jim Burke. They and the other teachers quoted in the article all attest to the power social media has had to help them connect with and learn from other teachers. One important aspect of Twitter that the article (surprisingly) left out is the weekly Twitter chat #engchat, led by Meenoo Rami. If you are an English teacher and participate in #engchat, I defy you not to learn something. English teachers are not alone. Other disciplines have scheduled chats, too. Jerry Blumengarten has a great collection of education chat links on his website.

Twitter is my favorite technology tool at the moment. I find that you only really get out of it what you put into it. The more I interact with others on Twitter and the more I share ideas, the more I learn from others. I recently reached the conclusion that educators should be on Twitter, especially administrators. Twitter is a great vehicle for administrators in particular to share the exciting things going on in their schools and be transparent about their thinking. Some great examples of administrators on Twitter whom I admire a great deal are Chris Lehmann and Eric Sheninger. One of the things I like about both Chris and Eric is that Twitter is not just about work for them either. Their personalities shine through in their tweets. I know, for instance, that Chris is an avid sports fan and has really cute sons in addition to being a passionate leader and educator.

I will freely admit that before I joined Twitter and began using it regularly, I didn’t understand the point. At first, I think it’s OK to lurk, but I don’t think you’ll get it, not really, until you start tweeting yourself. At least, I didn’t get it. And here I am, about four years after I wrote that first post about not understanding Twitter, trying to convince you to join Twitter, too.

Another good reason to be on Twitter is to model its effective use for our students. Twitter is a fairly public space. Students look to their teachers to be role models and mentors in the classroom, but we can also do that through social media like Twitter. I recently had a discussion about this issue with a student. On the one hand, he argued that he didn’t feel it was fair to “get in trouble” for things written in online forums like Twitter, but I explained that if he didn’t feel what he said on sites like Twitter couldn’t also be broadcast over the school intercom or plastered on a billboard, then he shouldn’t say it. I know several of my current students are on Twitter, and I admit I don’t follow them. I do follow some former students, and I think they are being very smart about using Twitter to think out loud and share their projects. Think about how effective a teaching tool it would be if your school’s principal or headmaster was a presence on Twitter and that students and parents followed the school’s administration. A smart administrator modeling effective use of Twitter could be a powerful teaching tool.

So what do you think? Should educators be on Twitter? Why? Why not?

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Reluctance and Technology Integration

One of the questions I am often asked in interviews for technology positions is how I would approach dealing with faculty members who are reluctant to embrace or integrate technology in their lessons.

First, I think it’s an excellent question, and my answer to it says a lot about how well I would be able to work with faculty. It is a question to which any good technology integration specialist should have a good answer at the ready. Before I tell you what I think, however, it bears saying that I think a healthy skepticism of technology is not a bad thing. I have seen tools adopted simply because they will add technology to a lesson. If the only reason you’re using technology is to say you’re using technology, then you’re not truly integrating technology. Your faculty and students will see through it. I have been teaching fourteen years, which is long enough to see a few trends come and go. Technology has to be more than just flash. It needs to add something to the lesson (or whatever you are doing with it), and if it doesn’t, perhaps you don’t need to use it.

I personally feel technology has two propositions to answer before it should be adopted for integration in a lesson/class/school/activity:

  1. Will it make it easier to do what I’m trying to do?
  2. Will using it increase engagement?

Having said that, sometimes a learning curve is wrongly interpreted as making something more difficult to do. We need to be willing to invest the time into learning how to use the tools properly sometimes, but just because they are not immediately intuitive does not mean they are making everything more difficult and need to be chucked. One case in point is the evolution of sharing handouts with students. I actually have used one of those blue ditto machines. We still had one at one of my schools, and we had to use it if we did not turn in our photocopying with enough notice for the secretary who did our photocopying (a practice that is looking more and more attractive to me for reasons folks who work with me will understand completely). The ditto machine produced handouts that were serviceable, but damp and blurry. I only used it as a last resort. The photocopier produced nice handouts, but required me to hand in assignments early to the secretary, or, in other schools where I have worked, provide my own paper and assemble the packets and hole-punch and staple them, not to mention the time spent making the copies. Now sharing documents is as easy as creating and sharing a Google Doc or uploading a document to a content management system. The students have the freedom to print or even edit the document as needed, but they can also store it on their device using their personal file management system. Obviously, there is a learning curve involved in switching to Google Docs over a more familiar word processor (not much of one, but still), and users need to learn how to share the documents with others. Learning how to upload documents to a content management system also involves a small learning curve. Initially, learners who have a little more difficulty learning how to use new tools might balk at being asked to use Google Docs or a content management system, but once they learn how to use the tools and have been convinced that the tools are making their jobs easier, they will not be reluctant to adopt the technology and may even be your biggest evangelists.

On the other hand, sometimes using technology is not necessarily going to make our jobs easier, but will increase engagement. A good example of a project that fits this criteria is a recent lesson I did with our social studies department on how to use PowerPoint. I am told that the students were reluctant to come to my lesson because they didn’t think they would learn anything. They had, after all used PowerPoint before. I, like you, have seen many ineffective PowerPoints over the years, and I have actively sought presentation mentors who have taught me about creating more effective PowerPoints. I shared these lessons with the students. In essence, I taught the students:

  • You are essential to the presentation. If you make yourself inessential because you put all of your presentation text on your slides, you have no reason to be standing in front of the room.
  • Your slides are visual aids for your presentation and should therefore be light on text and heavy on images.
  • Go beyond the default fonts and prepackaged themes.
  • Give credit for using images and try to find images licensed under Creative Commons.
  • Practice your presentation in front of your mirror, your dog, your parents. If your teacher lets you, put cues on index cards, but you shouldn’t read from the cards any more than you should read from PowerPoint slides.

The lessons went very well. The students asked great questions. I was impressed by what I saw them creating in class. They shared at the beginning of the lesson when I asked how they feel when they see a PowerPoint on the screen that they associated PowerPoints with boredom.

Creating good PowerPoints definitely does not make your job easier. In fact, it is easier to create a bad PowerPoint with all your speech on the prepacked theme slides and few images (or perhaps the odd clip art image). But these PowerPoints are not engaging for your audience. In order to make your presentation more engaging, you will need to do some work. Most people who have seen a great presentation will say that it was worth the extra work to increase audience engagement.

I was thrilled when I received this feedback from one of the social studies teachers about the students’ presentations:

Just wanted to give thanks to Dana Huff for helping with a very successful technology integration project for 9th grade CP2.  Dana helped to teach my students how to utilize MS Power Point to create a dynamic and interesting visual accompaniment to a presentation.  My students took Dana’s lesson to heart and have come up with some compelling visual aids.

Dana spent two class periods with my students teaching them how to use the Power Point software itself and also reviewing best practices for using Power Point in the context of a 10-15 minute presentation.

Thank you to Dana for all of your help!  The students greatly benefited from the time they spent with you!

Another project that required more work but definitely increased engagement was a QR Code project I helped our art teacher with. Creating and editing student videos was certainly more work for the art teacher, and uploading the videos and creating QR Codes that linked with them was also time-consuming. Hanging up the art and calling it a day would have been easier, but putting the QR Codes next to the art work so that the art displays could be more interactive made the art show more engaging for the participants.

I think the best way to approach a teacher who is reluctant to integrate technology is to share a specific idea and be willing to do some convincing that the idea will either make their jobs easier or make what they do more engaging (for them, their students, whoever). After that, you must be willing to support that teacher’s learning with professional development. The worst thing you can do is give a teacher a tool and tell them to figure out how to use it. It won’t be used because it is much easier to just keep doing things the same way. Which is essentially what Tom Whitby said on Twitter the other day that prompted me to retweet:

So in the interest of learning more about what others thought, I tweeted the question “What do you do at your school to encourage teachers who are reluctant to embrace & integrate technology?” and added the hashtag #edtech in the hopes of attracting answers from folks who don’t follow me, but keep track of that hashtag. Here are some of the responses I received:Gary Anderson

Allison BerryhillAbbey WilsonAbbey WilsonDeej LucasShervette MillerSome definite themes emerge in the responses:

  • Offer extensive professional development.
  • Demonstrate using the technology is really going to make their teaching better.
  • Model technology integration (or provide models).
  • Provide resources and choices.

I would argue that there are simply cases when mandating is required, such as when a school-wide grade reporting system or content management system is rolled out. Inconsistency can cause a lot of headaches for a school, but the important thing is to allow faculty to be part of the decision about which tools to use so that they are more likely to buy into their use.

The worst thing a school can do is mandate use of some new form of technology without any professional development.

Leadership in technology integration comes from the top down, as I have said before, and if administrators are not prepared to support their teachers’ use of technology, their teachers will not use the technology. It’s not because teachers are not willing to change or to do the right thing for their students. It’s because teachers, like everyone else, want to see the relevance behind what they are learning, and they want to know why and how they will use it. In integrating technology, like everything else, you need to begin with the end in mind and determine where you want teachers and students to be, what you want them to learn, and what you want them to be able to do. Then you need to determine how you will get them to that place.

Some additional resources I found as I was thinking about and writing this post (via Twitter):

photo by: purplemattfish

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Technology Goals

In the spirit of setting goals and writing them down somewhere so I will attend to them, I’m sharing some of the career/technology goals I have. My timeline for completion is a little up in the air as I search for a new position.

  1. Become a Google Certified Teacher. Some of my friends have this certification, and as I have become the go-to person for Google Apps at my school, I would like to learn even more about them (even though I am moving on, I think a lot of schools I have spoken with are doing amazing things with Google Apps). I also want to become a Google Apps for Education Certified Trainer. Without knowing where I will be next year, I have elected not to start the application process until things are more settled.
  2. Become an Apple Distinguished Educator. Most of the schools I have spoken to are 1-to-1 Mac schools. I wouldn’t have been able to justify pursuing this program on my current school’s dime, as we are officially a PC school with no 1-to-1 program at the moment, but I can see that in a 1-to-1 Mac environment, this program would prove useful, especially as I would have more opportunities to use what I learn.
  3. Obtain OS X certifications, Certified Mac Technician Certification, and  iWork Certification. Depending on the needs of my future school, I’m willing to pursue Final Cut Pro Certification, but I don’t currently have or know how to use that software. I think most schools use iMovie for their purposes.
  4. Pursue additional SMARTBoard training. Many of the schools I’ve looked at have SMARTBoards, and I haven’t had as much training as I’d like, but there are several self-paced online courses I can take in addition to the ones I’ve already taken.
  5. Participate more often in Twitter chats like #engchat and #edchat. I have always got a lot out of these chat sessions, and my experiences in leading #engchat in the past have been positive, too (and are something I would like to do again). For the record, if you were not able to participate, I moderated chat sessions on integrating technology in English and on authentic assessment.
  6. Become more involved in my field through conference attendance. I’ve been able to attend English conferences, but I have wanted to go to ISTE for about five years and have not been able to do so. I sometimes feel out of the loop, even though I connect with several innovative tech leaders and teachers on Twitter and elsewhere.
photo by: Makena G

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