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?

photo by: torres21

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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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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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What is This Test Measuring?

070305I have been studying for the Technology Education GACE (Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Teachers) test I will take next month. This test is the last step in obtaining certification to teach technology. However, I have some concerns about the test based on the study questions provided at the GACE website. Technology covers a wide range of courses and fields. Were I to teach robotics or electronics, it would be important for me to know how transistors work, which is one of the free response questions. However, I wonder, given the fact that my goals are to teach my colleagues and students about computers and similar devices, how important is it that I know the safety procedures for operating a lathe? Or that the process used to increase the density of concrete by removing air voids is called rodding? I suppose I might, at some point, need to understand economics of supply and demand and perhaps even the advantages of oxyacetalene cutting torches over plasma cutting torches. Fair enough. But the advantage of flat-sawed lumber over quarter-sawed lumber?

More troubling to me even than the inclusion of questions related to what I would term “industrial arts” are the exclusion of questions about what I might actually do. For instance, where are the questions about the instructional design process (emphasized so heavily in my master’s course work)? Where are the questions about evaluation of websites? Where are the questions about the process for evaluating tools such as software for purchase? Where are the questions about multimedia authoring? Digital audio? Instructional media? Even basic computer literacy?

I believe that this test is designed to test teachers from a variety of instructional backgrounds, whether that background is industrial arts, computers, construction, manufacturing technology, and several other disciplines, but that’s precisely the problem. This test, from all appearances, is spread out across too many different disciplines. When I took the Teacher Candidate Test to be certified as an English teacher, all the questions were related to my discipline. They were about literature, writing, vocabulary, and grammar.

This test appears to be about several things that I don’t believe are related to my discipline. If I successfully pass it, I will be certified to teach wood shop. Do I feel qualified to teach wood shop? Not in the slightest. There is too much I don’t know about the equipment and procedures to be successful in that position. This test would also determine whether or not I could teach computer science. Do I feel qualified to teach computer science? Certainly, and this test won’t change that.

I understand that all of these areas can be thought of as “technology,” but I think it’s understood that when we use the term “technology education,” we’re talking about teaching others how to use computers, interactive white boards, software, communication devices, and similar tools. We’re talking about which tools to use to accomplish certain tasks. We’re talking about 21st century skills. I’m not concerned about passing the test, but I am concerned that passing it doesn’t really communicate anything to anyone about how ready I am to teach the material covered on the test. I would propose that the test be rewritten to focus on the different disciplines that currently fall under technology education so that both the test-takers and the administrators who hire technology educators can be sure that candidates have the skills required for their particular discipline. But I invite you to take a look at the testing preparation materials and tell me what you think.

Creative Commons License photo credit: COCOEN daily photos

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