Tuesday, November 24, 2015

I Am a Technology Integration Specialist, But What Does That Really Mean?

Kindergartners learning to code with Scratch Jr.
I've thought a lot about this since starting my new job as Technology Integration Specialist in August.  I was pretty much handed an arm full of laptops and iPads and sent schools in a rural district in Vermont.  There wasn't much training except for a few shadow days towards the end of last year and a list of things that had been done previously.  The one thing I did know for sure that it was my job to integrate technology in the classrooms.  But what does that really mean?  And how does one do that?  Luckily, I thrive on the new and unknown because pretty much every career choice I've ever made had the same sort of scenario when I started: Here's your job, now go figure out how to do it.

First I feel I need to define the differences between a Technology Integration Specialist, Technology Teacher, and IT Specialist.   The keyword in my title is Integration. Technology Teacher and Technology Integration Specialist are two distinct roles, at least it is on our district.   A Technology Teacher will hold "Technology Class" with groups of students and is the lead teacher of that group at that time. Technology is treated like a separate subject with a specific time carved out to hold Technology class during the day or week.  A Technology Integration Specialist will also work with students, but he/she is not usually the lead teacher yet rather a co-teacher.  A tech integration specialist works with the classroom teacher to find ways to integrate technology into their already existing curriculum.  The classroom teacher will teach the content while tech integrationist teaches the students the tech component of that lesson.

Technology Integration Specialist and IT are also two very distinct roles in my district.  In some neighboring districts, the IT person is also the Technology Integration Specialist, and I am extremely grateful that isn't the case in my district.  Tech Integration will always take a backseat to the high priority of some the IT issues, which means very little integration actually takes place.   Still, sometimes people confuse my role with that of my IT counterpart.  I try to fix what I can, but if I cannot figure it out within a few mins, I'll suggest they contact IT.  I panic just like the rest of you when the internet goes out because I don't know how to fix it.

I spent the greater part of the summer compiling lists and ideas while simultaneously creating an informal job description based those lists.  Combined with a few months of fresh experience, this is what I have determined is the role of a Technology Integration Specialist.  I'm sure as time goes on this list will morph and change, not only because I am brand new at this job and still figuring it out, but also because technology constantly changes and so I expect my job will as well.  I know I still have a lot to learn, but this is what I have come up with so far:

I am a:
  1. Collaborator -  I work with teachers, guidance counselors, principals, school nurses,  etc on all types of different projects that involve technology.                            
  2. Co-teacher - I work with teachers to develop lessons plans that integrate technology into their curriculum, and often I am in the classroom with the teacher co-teaching a lesson.  Usually, the teacher will teach the content while I teach the technology component.
  3. Researcher and Resource Finder -  I spend a portion of my time researching apps, programs, websites, etc.   I often have teachers come to me and say, "I'd like to have something that did ..." or "I want to learn how to..." And since I am new at this job, I don't often have the tool up my sleeve, but I'll take their request, do the research for them, learn how to use the technology, and then come back and teach them.    
  4. Disseminator of Information - Often times, teachers don't know the tools that are available to them, so I spend a portion of my time making sure I find ways to provide that information to them. Many times, it is hard to get enough professional development time with teachers and that time is usually few and far between.  I still want to let teachers know what's out there, so I use different mediums to deliver the information to them.  Teachers, just like our students, learn in different ways, and so I  try to provide a variety of learning platforms.  Some of the things I do are create videos, blog, send out a weekly edtech newsletter, tweet, hold bi-weekly lunch and learn Tech Talks, send out emails and create self-guided PD using Gooru.org
  5. Innovator - I am constantly seeking out new things, teaching myself how to do things and then sharing that information with teachers and staff.  It is my job to find out what's out there and keep a pulse on what's going in schools with edtech.  
  6. Mentor - Sometimes teachers just want to bounce ideas off of me and I am there to listen.  Other times, a teacher, who is a reluctant tech user, might want to have me around when trying something new or needs reassurance they're not going to set off any nuclear bombs when they touch the computer.  
  7. Professional Development Facilitator - A key component of my job is to create and facilitate edtech professional development both school and district wide.  
  8. Teacher of Digital Citizenship - This was the first project I dived into.  I noticed there hadn't been a whole lot of digital citizenship before I arrived, and so I immediately started working on finding a curriculum that would work with all grades that had 1:1 Chromebooks.  The curriculum I choose is from Common Sense Media because it breaks it up nicely by grade level and was developed by known researchers in the field.  I believe that digital citizenship is something that should be taught in every grade, every year.  One lesson, one time in 8th grade isn't going to do any justice and the kids will forget it all by lunch.  But if we make it a vital part of the school's curriculum - something they discuss and learn about every year - then, hopefully, the impact will be greater.  
If you are a Tech Integrationist, or work in the field of educational technology, I'd love your feedback on this list.  I am also a learner, and it is part of my job to learn from others in the field.

Friday, November 20, 2015

What's new in Google Classroom as of 11/20/15

As many of you have discovered, Google Classroom is an extremely useful tool, especially for those of us who are paper challenged.
 I personally have a terrible time keeping track of hundreds of pieces of papers throughout the day and that was my biggest downfall as a classroom teacher. I realized that many of my students had the same organizational issues that I had, so when google apps first became available, I was sold. I had my students draft work on Google Docs and share them with me, and they created ePortfolios with Google Sites to keep their work organized. I was hooked on Google. 
Last year, Google Classroom came out and boy do I wish I had access to this feature as a classroom teacher! It keeps everything organized in one spot for each class. You can create assignments with due dates, and students can turn in their assignment right from their Google Docs. You can also post and assign to multiple classes at the same time. One of the best features is you don't have to invent the wheel year after year, Google Classroom allows you to reuse posts from those classes and post them in the new class! Watch the video below to check out the newest features in Google Classroom. 
But first there are 2 new features that have come out since I've made that video that I'd like to tell you about. 
1. Calendar feature - If you use Google Calendar, then you've probably noticed this feature by now. (If you don't use Google Calendar, then you must be a wizard to be able to keep track of everything all on your own). Now, each class is assigned a calendar that can be accessed through Google Classroom or Google Calendar. Assignments with due dates are automatically added to the calendar and students and teacher can now easily see when assignments are due on which day. 
2. Google Forms can now be easily attached in Google Classroom right from the drive and when they complete the form it automatically marks it as done in Google Classroom. Before Classroom was anti-Form for some reason and wouldn't allow you to attach a form from your drive. 
The video below will show you the following new features: Create An Announcement or Question, Reuse a Post, Invite a Teacher, Select Multiple Classes when making a post and a really cool new feature called Share to Classroom. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

So What Are Open Educational Resources Anyway?

On October 29th, the US Department of Education announced #GoOpen, a campaign to encourage states, districts and educators to use Open Educational Resources (OER).  As part of the campaign, the Department announced that it will now require all copyrightable intellectual property that use Department grants to be openly licensed.  If federal education funds were used to create something, they then must provide that resource free of cost to educators.  So in other words, Open Educational Resources (OER) are going to explode.

So what are OERs?
In a nutshell, they're high-quality educational resources available to be revised, reused, remixed and redistributed at no cost whatsoever.  Teachers can go to OER sites and find excellent lesson plans, units, courses and other teaching resources created by other teachers or experts in the field and then they can copy the resource or pieces of the resource to use in their classes.  There's no need to keep reinventing the wheel when it's been created a thousand times out on the web; it'll make an educator's job easier in the long run.

Why use OERs?
1. Rich schools shouldn't be the only schools to have access to high-quality resources.  Open Education Resources level the playing field a bit by increasing equity.
2. OERs can replace expensive textbooks freeing up funding to be repurposed somewhere else.
3. OERs will be constantly updated and stay current, unlike many of our textbooks.
4.  It empowers the creative side of educators giving them power to adapt and customize materials as needed for their diverse student body without worrying about breaking copyright laws

To get started with some Open Educational Resources, I've started compiling some below.  Check them out!

Monday, November 16, 2015

How to Keep All Your Favorites Websites Organized by Using Symbaloo

There are so many wonderful Open Educational Resources sites on the web that at times it can seem like you are introducing a new site to your students on a daily basis, and the bookmarks bar can only hold so much before they start disappearing off the bar.  So how do you keep them all organized?  Symbaloo can do that for you! Basically, Symbaloo is a collection, or web mix, of websites organized by customizable tiles.  With the Symbaloo chrome extension, you can add a website to a Symbaloo collection with the click of a button.  The best part, you can embed Symbaloo into your class website!  It's easy to make an account and get started creating collections.  Symbaloo helps your students stay organized so they can focus on learning.  Take it a step further and have students create their own collection of websites for a fun project.  

Check out the video below to learn more!