What Makes a Good Technology Integration Specialist?

Sarah Horrigan asked in a recent post on her blog, “What makes a good learning technologist?” I love this question, and it strikes me that I’ve never even really reflected here on what makes a good English teacher (that’s a separate post for another day, though). This year was my first year as a technology integration specialist at my school, and while I am kind of green as far as the role goes, I have some definite ideas about what a good technology integration specialist looks like.

Curious

Sarah and I agree here. I don’t know how to do everything, and since I only have one year’s experience, there is much I haven’t tried. However, one thing I do have is curiosity. I want to learn how to do things, and I’m willing to try, even if I don’t know how. I also want to learn more about how others are integrating technology and keep up with news and trends. I actually like learning in general a great deal, and sometimes, even when I’m frustrated by a problem, I like the challenge of learning how to solve it myself. The other day, for instance, my MacBook’s fan was going nuts, and it looked like Spotlight was the culprit, but I couldn’t figure out what on earth it was trying to index that was taking so long. I tried various solutions until I discovered a command I could input into Terminal to find out what it was indexing, and it turns out my computer was just unhappy that I had not moved the entire Audacity folder into Applications instead of just the application itself after a recent software update (which the installation instructions did, after all, tell me to do). Once I moved the folder, the fans immediately settled down. I was really frustrated by the problem, but I felt great that I figured out how to resolve it (with the help of Google).

Helpful and Approachable

One of the things some old school IT guys get zinged for is how aggravated they get whenever someone wants help. They grab the mouse when someone they are working with doesn’t move fast enough or click the right spot. They sigh and roll their eyes. They don’t listen. As a result, folks just stop asking them for help unless they are forced to do so, and can you blame them? Who wants to feel like they are putting someone out just because they need help learning how to do something? I don’t ever want to be that person. I want teachers to feel they have learned something after working with me, and I want to support them in their learning. Sometimes it is frustrating to work with someone who has very minimal technology skills, but we only perpetuate the problem if we roll our eyes, sigh, grab the mouse and do it ourselves. I have found a little bit of patience goes a long way. I use the same skills I learned working with students when I work with teachers. I haven’t found them to be that different after all (unless perhaps more set in their ways and less willing to try things, but even that varies). If I am approachable and willing to help, people are more likely to seek my help when they want to try a project in class.

Enterprising

Good technology integration specialists seek out opportunities and approach teachers and students with their ideas. It doesn’t do to wait for classroom teachers to come up with their own ideas for using technology, although they do come up with some great ideas. A technology integration specialist, however, is a leader in this area, and teachers and students look to the technology integration specialist to generate ideas. The technology integration specialist shouldn’t feel afraid to approach even reluctant teachers with ideas for integrating technology. Obviously, teachers may resist and even turn you down flat. However, if they can be convinced that your idea is either going to 1) save them time or make something they do easier, or 2) be more engaging for them and for their students than something they already do, then usually you can convince them. When you can’t, you should just keep gently trying. Teachers don’t give up on their students and just decide that it’s not important to teach their students, say, how to solve quadratic equations or how to write a good argumentative essay. We keep plugging away, sometimes feeling frustrated. We hope the students will understand the importance and relevance of what we teach, and we understand it’s our responsibility to sell students on the importance and relevance of learning. Technology integration specialists are no different. They need to help teachers and students they work with understand the importance and relevance of using technology. Why? Because Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach is right when she says, “The truth is that technology will never replace teachers; however, teachers who know how to use technology effectively to help their students connect and collaborate together online will replace those who do not.” It is the technology integration specialist’s job to help teachers learn this important truth and to give teachers they support they need to learn to integrate technology. It is the technology integration specialist’s job to help teachers understand technology is not a fad or an add-on, but an important part of how people today learn and work, and students need to be able to learn how to use it effectively for both work and play.

Connected

Sarah mentioned this trait also. I feel it is critical for technology integration specialists to be active participants in a variety of networks, including Twitter, Facebook, Ning communities, and professional organizations like ISTE. I also think they should be active online. If they don’t have their own blogs, they should be using Facebook or Ning blogs to reflect regularly and think out loud about technology integration. I realize I have a bias toward blogging because it was blogging that introduced me to technology integration in the first place. I was never what I would call a tech savvy teacher until I started blogging, and I taught myself most of what I know now, which leads me to my next point.

Autodidactic

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong with asking for or expecting professional development on tools you plan to integrate, especially if you are a regular classroom teacher and technology is not where you live. However, if it is where you live, I think you need to be willing to teach yourself lots of things. You need to have a willingness to try out a new tool. I taught myself HTML using a variety of online resources (of which, Lissa Explains it All, a website designed by a young girl to teach HTML to kids, was by far the best). I had to do some light coding for a website I used to have, and before long, I was designing my own templates. Next up: I want to learn Java and Photoshop and, well, actually a lot of other stuff, too. I could take classes, but I like the idea of trying to learn these things myself, too, and truthfully, I think figuring out how to do things on your own, finding your own resources (whether those resources are books, people, websites, videos, or other tutorials) is the best way to learn.

Passionate

Sarah mentioned this one also, and at the risk of simply cribbing her entire post, I had to include it. If I am not passionate about the possibilities of technology in education, I probably should be doing something else. If I’m not passionate about technology, I’m not going to seek out opportunities to help teachers learn about it and use it in their classes. I’m not going to continue learning about it myself. I will slog to work every day and not make a difference in the lives of the teachers and students I work with. Passion ties everything else together. It is perhaps the most important quality a technology integration specialist, or any teacher for that matter, should have.

What qualities do you think a good technology integration specialist should have?

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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.

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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.

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ITMA Portfolio

After about a year, I have finally edited my portfolio from the Instructional Technology master’s program at Virginia Tech. I needed to redirect a lot of links in order to make sure everything functioned. Feel free to check it out if you are interested in that sort of thing. A link to it has a permanent home in my left sidebar under Links.

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Instructional Technology Degree Programs

I'm working.(1)

I have a question for those of you who are instructional technologists or are thinking about it. What degree programs are you aware of that can help teachers who want to work with other teachers on integrating technology in their classrooms? I’m thinking of programs in preparation for being an educational technologist, instructional technologist, or technology integration specialist (or similar).

I am not interested in going back to school right now, but I’m curious as to what is out there for anyone preparing to move into this area. I chose Virginia Tech’s online instructional technology master’s program, and I’ve had reasons to regret the choice, but I’m not sure what else is out there for others who are interested in becoming instructional technologists. Mainly I think the program is in need of some updating for new technologies and tools as well as research. I also think students need more room to pursue their interests in the field and more flexibility to do assignments in different ways. I have been asked a few times for advice, and I feel less qualified to respond without knowing more information. Please do share what you know about other programs in the comments.

Creative Commons License photo credit: purprin

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Thinking Like an English Teacher

Moleskineh

I’m packing up my classroom this week. I won’t have my own classroom next year as I will only be teaching two classes. I am not weepy over losing my classroom. I don’t view it as home or anything like that. I have accumulated a lot of stuff over thirteen years of teaching English. I have been throwing a lot of stuff out. Not in the crazy way I did in 2001 when I swore I was leaving teaching for good and never turning back (I still lament some of the things I lost then). I think I might teach English again some time, but I’m not sure when. For the record, I am teaching a writing class and newspaper next year.

The weirdest thing is trying to turn off the English teacher in me. For instance, just now, I was reading Holly Tucker’s Wonders and Marvels blog, and she is giving away three copies of Mary Chesnut’s diary. I thought first that I could use that for my classroom library. What a great primary resource for the Civil War era if I teach American literature. But then, I reminded myself, I won’t be teaching American literature any time soon, and where would I put it if I just wanted it for some time in the distant future (just in case, you know)? This incident is not the first of its kind, nor do I think it will be the last. In some ways, it makes me a little sad. I am an English teacher, and it’s hard to switch gears and think of myself differently. I think in some way, I will always be an English teacher, even if I never teach English again (which I don’t believe will happen). Some things happened as I began the transition to Technology Integration Specialist that have left a sour taste in my mouth, and they have contributed to my mixed feelings—I won’t get into them here.

I am excited. I love working with teachers, which is something that presenting at conferences has taught me. I also love technology. Indeed, I have a passion for technology integration. I have a lot of ideas that I couldn’t necessarily implement in my classroom, but that I would love to help others implement. I have always been interested in other subjects besides English, and working with teachers will enable me to explore these interests alongside them. I will need to think more broadly about an educator. Instead of keeping my eyes open for interesting English ideas, I need to look for ideas of interest to teachers in all subjects. I think I will find the new role challenging and interesting.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Amir Kuckovic

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ITMA Project Finished!

Finish lineI am very pleased to announce that my ITMA project is finished. I have turned it in and am just awaiting the feedback.

If you would like to check out the finished product, visit the wiki.

The first thing I thought when I woke up this morning is that I didn’t have to work on the project today because it was finished. I am hoping to enjoy the last couple of weeks of my summer and not work on anything.
Creative Commons License photo credit: ThisIsIt2

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ITMA Project Update

A spider loves its workI apologize if you’re getting tired of these project updates. This ITMA project IS my summer, apparently, so I’m not really working on anything else to reflect on. Since my last update on June 18, I’ve done a lot. The first objective in the professional development wiki I’m creating is for the learners to create their own websites. I learned a great deal about video last week that will prove useful as I forge ahead, particularly with the podcasting lessons.

I have completed four modules for this first objective, which means my lessons on choosing a site type and selecting models; RSS and feed readers; selecting a site service and creating a website; and copyright, fair use, and Creative Commons are all finished.

I learned a lot I did not know about fair use. I am hoping that module will be informative for learners, too. It’s strange how some parts of the project I thought would take a long time haven’t, while others I didn’t anticipate taking much time took a lot of time. Case in point is the section on copyright, fair use, and Creative Commons. Altogether, I spent about 9 hours and 30 minutes on that part. Most of that time was research. On the other hand, I have already completed 3/5 of the module on adding content to a website (adding text, adding images, and adding videos). I worked on that part of the project for four hours today, but probably about an hour of that time was going back and finding the original Flickr images I used in the project and making sure I gave proper attribution. I really would have thought it would take longer, but with so many site services offering easy content management, it didn’t turn out to be difficult to learn how to do anything. That’s a good thing. I think the easier it is to create websites, the more encouraged the teachers who do the program will be. I really hope they utilize our Google apps and create Google Sites.

I am still not 100% happy with the quiz service I used to create the two quizzes on the site, but I have not yet found a better one.

If you want to check out what I’ve done, you can find the wiki here. If you want to check out specifically the parts that are new since the last time I discussed the project, take a look at these pages:

I track my hours using a time log in Word that details each task I’ve done and also in Excel, which figures out the math for me. As of today, I’ve spent 79 hours on the project. I am required to spend a minimum of 150 hours.

Creative Commons License photo credit: kadavoor.

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ITMA Project Progress Report

Caution Works in Progress & Reflection by u07ch on FlickrAre you getting tired of my progress reports on this project? I hope not! It’s all I’m doing aside from summer stuff—reading good books I don’t have the time to read during the school year, making pies for the family reunion, trying to figure out if the oven is broken (it’s not), and updating WordPress.

The project, if you haven’t peeked at it yet, is a professional development program that will allow beginners on up to learn how to create their own websites and podcasts and teach their students how to do the same. At this point, my storyboard plan has 48 pages, but I have discovered the need to add pages here and there, and the final project may be longer. I have (almost) finished the first two modules for the first objective: creating a website. I uploaded some screencast videos to TeacherTube not realizing their moderation process was so long. I don’t know why, given how much of my writing is available online, but I felt squeamish about posting the videos to YouTube. So I am still waiting for the videos to appear on TeacherTube, and therefore, the RSS module is not quite finished.

I don’t think I explained the modules before. The lesson on creating websites has five modules:

  • Module 1: Choosing a Site Type and Selecting Models
  • Module 2: RSS Feeds and Feed Readers
  • Module 3: Selecting a Site Service and Creating Your Site
  • Module 4: Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons
  • Module 5: Adding Content to Your Site

I am in the midst of building Module 3. I have completed the first segment, which concerns wikis. I’m not sure if I will work tomorrow because it will be a busy day, but when I do pick up the project again, I will be working on the blogs page. So far, I am having a lot of fun creating the project. I am finding all kinds of websites, particularly blogs and wikis, that I didn’t know about.

I haven’t started the podcasts lesson yet, but it will have three modules:

  • Module 1: Subscribing to Podcasts
  • Module 2: Selecting Podcasting Software
  • Module 3: Creating and Editing Podcasts

You can check out the work in progress here, but it’s far from being finished. Still, I feel good about the progress I’m making.

Creative Commons License photo credit: u07ch

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ITMA Project Update

NECC 2009 Wednesday Day 4  - 07I am making some good progress on my ITMA project. You can read my project proposal here. I finished my instructional analysis, which was a lot of work, but valuable for planning.

I have just begun creating the actual project. I have been having a lot of fun with the project. So far, I have completed six pages on the wiki that will house my project. For the first module, I have teachers exploring what kind of website they want to create. I had a lot of fun finding models of wikis. Some teachers are doing some great things with wikis. Here is my model wikis page.

I’m possibly looking for something else to use for the personality quiz on types of websites. I don’t have a lot of confidence that the one I used will do what I need (it seems to limit the number of quiz takers, forcing me to reset the numbers). If you know of a good personality quiz maker that I can embed in a wiki, please share.

A while back I promised more regular posting. I am going to commit to three days a week for the summer, starting this week. Here’s the schedule:

  • Mondays: Reflections on professional reading, professional development and grad school.
  • Wednesdays: Sharing lessons, tools, or ideas.
  • Fridays: Wild card. Whatever I feel like posting goes.

Creative Commons License photo credit: krossbow

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