Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Big Four

CC0 1.0
Mix IT Up
There was a time when I would focus my discussions with others on how important infrastructure is when planning any type of technology integration project. My opinion on the importance of infrastructure has not changed over the years, however the conversation about the other ingredients that must go into the foundation for integrating technology in our classrooms are not independent of the infrastructure. As relevant as it is to have a robust network backbone and a great Internet connection, that by itself will not give our students the opportunities they need to be successful when they leave the K-12 environment.

Creating the right mix that goes into the foundation for integrating technology in our classrooms is similar to the science of creating the perfect batch of concrete that supports our houses, buildings and roads. The science used to arrive at the finished product is far more complicated than buying a few bags of concrete at your local Home Depot for the backyard swing set. Building a foundation for today's digital learners is as important as the base for the tallest skyscraper, and requires the proper mix of four key ingredients that I believe are critical for our classrooms. Let's take a look at the ingredients in no particular order.

Professional Development
Historically PD is the afterthought when integrating technology in our classrooms and becomes the first reason cited for technology integration failure. The excitement of having support to integrate the devices often allows a structured PD plan to be pushed aside, making it difficult to play catch up. If our foundation is going to hold up, we need our technology and curriculum departments working collaboratively with our site leaders, teachers, students, and parents to craft a PD plan. One way to accomplish a baseline for building a plan across all stakeholder groups is to leverage data. Participating in a survey, such as Project Tomorrow's Speakup Survey, allows educators, students, and parents to have feedback on their current and future technology use in education. The data provides starting points for discussions during the PD planning process and gives voice to all stakeholders involved. 

Digital Citizenship Digital citizenship is not different from the general definition of citizenship other than the medium where that community exists. If we expect our students to be responsible members of the digital community, then we have to collaborate with all stakeholders to create successful learning opportunities, have parental support, lead by example, and include our students in that discussion. A digital citizenship road map is a key ingredient to our foundation and one that will lead to many cracks if ignored. Having the proper resources and embedding digital citizenship within the everyday curriculum will allow teachable moments while not adding another layer and demonstrating real world application. Develop or adopt digital citizenship standards or elements that can be made visible throughout your school district and community. Providing a common digital citizenship language for all students, educators, and parents will help in changing the culture and support behavior in the digital world.

The million dollar question has long been, which device is the best choice for our classrooms. The simple answer is there is not a "best" choice or one size fits all device that exists, and the reason for that is simple in my opinion. Every classroom, school, and district is a little bit different than the next, the magic is finding the device that works best for you. There are a few ways to gather feedback from stakeholders that may take a bit of time, but will provide valuable feedback before making a commitment.
  1. Try and buy. If you are committed to purchasing devices, there will large amounts of budget spent, why not purchase a small number of devices first and distribute those to teachers, students, and technology staff. It is amazing how fast word spreads among teachers and students when they have a new device that allows them to improve what they are doing in the classroom. 
  2. Student devices. Once a decision is made, allow your teachers to have access to a device prior to them being implemented in the classroom. Our teachers need to know the device before there are 30 of them in their classroom. 
  3. Plan to manage. The technology team needs to understand the devices and be able to craft their plan on how they will manage devices in their network environment. Every device type will have it's own characteristics and the tech team will need to be able to support them in the classroom.
Remember that devices can be the most difficult ingredient in the foundation and cause the biggest cracks if not well thought out. Buy in from all stakeholders is important so that everyone is supportive of the device through its lifespan.

Watching the discussion relating to infrastructure change with the transition from desktops to mobile devices has been exciting. The good old days of deciding where to locate the 5-8 drops per classroom now revolves around supporting a 1:1 environment and wireless connectivity from the front office to the football field. The challenge becomes where to begin when planning your infrastructure needs and how to build for the future. Taking the time to properly plan, it is much easier than chasing connectivity and bandwidth down the road, here are a few things to think about.
  1. Take a field trip. Don't underestimate how much can be learned by visiting other districts, asking questions about their planning process and why they made the decisions that they did. Having prior knoweldge and learning from others before starting your journey is invaluable. 
  2. Schools and Libraries Program (E-rate). The e-rate program was established in 1996 to assist schools and libraries with making their telecommunication needs more affordable. The program has gone through a modernization effort and is focused on assisting schools with obtaining affordable access to high-speed broadband and funding internal connections to support the connectivity. Participating in the program can make a difference in the planning process.
  3. Use the resources available for baseline data. There are national resources available such as Education Superhighway, who's mission is to bring internet access to every public classroom in our country. They have spent time putting together tool kits to help with the infrastructure planning process. Their resources were put together by working with districts from across our country and provide starting points.
  4. Outside assistance. Reaching out and working with experts in the infrastructure field is not a sign of weakness, it's a smart move. Bringing a consultant to the table is not only beneficial for collaborating on designing the appropriate infrastructure but offers large amounts of knowledge transfer throughout the process.
How to Finish
The last stage of pouring concrete is known as finishing and like many aspects of construction is a form of art. A good finisher brings that smooth, consistent look to the end product, that makes the weekend construction warrior so envious of. Finishing can also be considered the last step in tying together the ingredients of a strong foundation. Building an environment for today's digital learners is challenging, strenuous at times, and absolutely rewarding when student and teachers have a great experience integrating technology in the classroom. Remember, it's the ingredients working together that is supporting the foundation of your structure. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Move Over Flair

Probably the most common issue we hear about in life has to do with not having enough time for, and fill in the blank. Often the counter to that statement is we will make time for what is important, which is true to an extent, but doesn't change the fact that in our professional lives we still must prioritize. What has been a struggle for a number of years now from a technology integration perspective, is how we provide solid professional development to our teaching staff that is relevant, timely, and doesn't require the traditional hour before or after school that teachers may not have time for. 

Short Meaningful PD
I like to use the average length of a YouTube video to provoke discussion on just how long someone will stay with you when providing PD. Depending on what day you check, the average length of the top five most popular YouTube videos vary from 2.5 to 4.5 minutes long. When I checked #popularonyoutube when writing this post, the longest video was 5.31 and the shortest was 31 seconds. I would imagine that some may say if the content is good, it doesn't matter how much time it takes to view and to some extent that may be true. However in the hustle and bustle of the K-12 setting, moving at the pace of 140 characters at a time seems to make more sense if we want to reach a larger audience. At AJUSD we have made the conscience effort to change the way we are providing PD to our teaching staff that provides short, meaningful bursts of sharing content while staying as close to the 15 minute window as possible. Bethany Ligon, AJUSD's Technology Integration Specialist, has taken this approach with our collaboration coach tips and tools videos recently and we are monitoring feedback on video length to see what is most effective for our staff. 

Badge Up
Another area that takes time and attention is growing our professional learning networks and sharing what our teachers and administrators are doing on their campus. Social media has obviously been a game changer in this area and blending this with the traditional walking by a classroom and seeing evidence of the great things happening, has led us into the badge game. It is difficult for just one district TIS, to get around to every classroom and see what is happening. With a quick Google Site and Forms, teachers and administrators can apply for a badge, share their artifacts, display their accomplishment, and share with others how they are integrating technology in their classrooms. Bethany summed up nicely what she enjoys most about implementing this program:

The best part for me, is that teachers are able to request training on exactly what they want. It's not a one size fits all professional development setting anymore. But it's me meeting with one teacher or a small team of teachers who want to grow their instructional toolbox in a specific area or with a particular tech tool/app. And because I now have documentation on which teacher is proficient on each tool, I can use them as a resource as needed. 
Another "best part" for me is the teacher's reaction when I walk into their rooms on a Thursday afternoon to hand them their badge. Yesterday, a teacher literally jumped up and down and clapped her hands because she was so excited and then her little first graders started cheering for her. That totally made my day.

Find A Way
Time doesn't have to be a monster that keeps us from growing and sharing on a professional level. If we look around and see what others are doing, share what we are doing, and be willing to try new things, great things will happen. In the words of Ian Malcolm, life finds a way. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Edublog Awards

Thank You!
I wanted to take a quick moment and say thank you for the Edublog Awards 2015 nomination. I appreciate it very much and enjoy sharing through my blog as often as I can. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season and looking forward to 2016!

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Tech Director's Reflection V: Be Happy Now

Part V is going to be a two question wrap up of a Tech Director's Reflection. I have enjoyed sharing these questions with everyone and I hope you have enjoyed answering the same questions yourself.

When you work in IT, you have to understand that constant change, end user issues, and other variables that you can't always control are part of the gig. If flexibility and understanding are not part of you, then satisfaction on the job is probably going to be hard to come by. Salary in the K-12 setting can also be a challenge for some as it isn't always comparable to a similar industry job. Talking often about other reasons that create personal satisfaction on the job are an important part of a tech director building a strong team.

What is the most important personal satisfactions connected with your position?
Knowing that what we are doing on a daily basis provides our students and teachers with an opportunity to have and provide a relevant education is very rewarding and that makes the stressful situations seem very minor.

What other job(s) does your background qualify you for?
I don’t think there is a specific job(s) that I would name to answer this question. Good leaders develop a style that work in a number of settings because they understand how to build great teams.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Tech Director's Reflection IV: Leading From The Middle

Everyone Can Lead
I truly believe that everyone can be a leader if they choose to be. Leading up, down and across can be beneficial for an organization if encouraged and there is a way for the communication to happen. The saying is a bit old now, but bringing everyone outside of the four walls of their classrooms and cubicles is still relevant and if we can do that, strong working environments can happen.

How do you promote and encourage the use of new and emerging technology in the classroom and district?
I like to share as much as possible through my social media outlets, write using my blog, and support staff through quality service. More important than that is  providing  a way for the real experts, the classroom teachers, to have a way to collaborate with one another and share what they are doing with emerging technologies and practices. To do this we have a Technology Integration Specialist, Collaboration Coach Leads, and Collaboration Coaches in the district that work to support one another. I do my best to support them with what they need to make that happen. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Tech Director's Reflection III: The Journey

Morning Coffee
The great thing about careers is that often we have no idea where our current jobs and experiences will lead us in the future. I understand  that many people may map out a career path from first job to retirement, however I would assume when that plan is reviewed while sipping coffee on the front porch enjoying the morning sunrises of retirement, that there were different roads taken along the way. Reflecting on how you have arrived at your current position is a good reminder of the hard work that you have done over the years and a nice trip down memory lane, give it a try!

Courtesy Jeff Power
What jobs and experiences have led you to your present position?
I feel all my positions in education have lead me to my current position. When I started my career as a classroom teacher, I gained knowledge of what it is like to not only guide students, but what teachers need to be successful in the classroom. As a Technology Integration Coach, I was able to work with adults and develop leadership and collaboration skills and also continue to become familiar with technology on the data center side. These real world experiences prepared me for my current position and everyday is another opportunity for a hands on learning experience for continued improvement.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Tech Director's Reflection Part II: Why Tech Director?

Morning Commute 
We should all be able to answer in a few sentences why our jobs interest us. I have spoken to a number of people that have to ponder how to answer that question and reply with, "that's a good question." The ride to work everyday should not be dreadful, if you are looking for an excuse to exit the freeway early, it may be time to reflect on why, so you can start enjoying the commute to the office.

Why did this type of position interest you and how did you best prepare for the job?
I enjoy change, moving forward and trying new things regularly. The technology landscape is an ever changing world that continually reshapes itself and that keeps my job fresh and challenging. Preparing for an ever changing set of circumstances takes understanding, patience and the ability to have strong people around you to handle the situations that will arise. I believe I prepared by being in real world situations, working hard, and not being afraid to fail. 

How does your job interest you?