Digital Integration Support Teacher – Term 1

What on earth is a Digital Integration Support Teacher or DIST?

As new as this title may sound, the position has been around for quite some time. Most the time it has been done by a self-appointed techno-geek teacher, helping out when they could outside of our regular teaching duties. Over the years, I seem to have fallen into the role of head geek in my school. Although this role has been great for my wine cellar, the degree to which I could help teacher(s) was limited to a “can you do me a favour” kinda thing.

As our school moved toward a greater reliance on digital tools for teaching, this role started to require far more attention than just being a spare time, off the side of my desk kinda thing. Late last school year, it was decided that it was necessary to formally allocate time for an in-house “edtech specialist”

The tipping point was that, in the 2014/15 school year, our school was to begin the process of becoming a BYOD school and employing google classroom to facilitate curriculum delivery. If this was going to have any hope of being a success, staff would need more support. As a result our school has funded three 80 minute blocks, split between two teachers for the sole purpose of providing pedagogically sound tech support.

With this 240 minutes, we serve the technology needs of 1300+ students, 90 teachers and 70 support staff. When I interviewed for the position I referred to it as boots on the ground classroom support and so far it seems to be working for teachers, if not for my wine cellar.
Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 4.52.11 PMWhen we started this little adventure, I figured it might be useful if I tracked our tech related staff contacts over the year just to get an idea of what we were spending the most time on. In the first 4 months we have begun to paint an interesting picture of what teachers need in the way of frontline tech support.

Google Classroom – 21.2%

At 21.2% Google Classroom just narrowly edges out Workflow, BCESIS and Tech Issues for the most attention needed. This percentage should have been higher but the roll-out of Google Classroom took a bit longer than expected so it lagged behind other tech needs over the term.

So far the Google Classroom support has revolved around the nuts and bolts of creating a digital classroom. Time has been spent on helping teachers set up their Google Classroom, making use student passwords were Google compliant and showing students how to navigate the Google Classroom. Hopefully next term, we can begin to focus on helping teachers develop their digital curriculum for the Google Classroom.

Work Flow 19.7%

Work Flow is a significant issue for teachers in the digital world. Emails, calendar syncing, document sharing, posting digital assignments, collecting digital assignments… There is a lot to get your head around in the digital classroom and regardless of how simple we tell people it is, let’s be honest. We have not made things simpler by introducing technology into the classroom. To this date I have yet to see any Teacher >> Student >> Teacher transaction that is as simple as having a student write their answers on a piece of paper, then handing that piece of paper to the teacher.

The other thing we did a fair bit of, was helping teachers migrate the work they had created on a personal Google Drive, onto their new School District Google account. This work represented hundreds of hours spent by teachers creating digital content for their classes and that transfer was of the utmost importance to them if they were going to use Google Classroom.

BCESIS 19.7%

This category is only relevant to teachers in British Columbia but for those who don’t teach in BC. BCESIS is our long beleaguered student management system that does not play nice with Java. Especially Java on Mac computers. This term, I spent an inordinate amount of time making BCESIS work on Macbook computers. Needless to say, I hope the new student management system that is being rolled out in the next year, works better than BCESIS.

Tech Issues 19.7%

These tech issues usually revolved making people’s hardware play nicely with other hardware. Projection and printer issues topped the list but I also dealt with password issues, viruses, device set up and software installs. Things that were quick and easy to fix without bothering the district tech department.

Resource Consult 10.6%

This is what I was hoping to spend more time on with teachers this term but I think it will come in time.

What the resource consult would involve is sitting down with a teacher and exploring ways to integrate digital tools and media into their teaching. The DIST would sit down with the classroom teacher and go over what they would like to do or try in their class using a digital resource(s). Then the DIST would suggest what resources or tools would accomplish the teachers objective and then help plan how the teacher would implement it into their class.

This may simply involve a “Here try this!” or it might involve sitting down and helping plan a lesson, a unit, a delivery strategy or any other kind of support the teacher might need. This would Include working with the teacher in their class when they first introduce the new digital strategy, resource or lesson.

Google Drive 6.1%

Since Google Classroom is built on Google Drive, once an institution has signed up for Google Apps for Education, everyone on staff has access to Google Drive. What is happening now is that we are now helping non teaching staff move their work lives from storage on the local network, over to Google Drive. This includes Admin, counselling, learning assistants and whoever else has use for the Drive.

Website (The rest)

Bringing up the backend of this list is the lowly old website. As teachers become more digitally savvy, many begin to play with the idea of setting up a web space to call their own. Although it sits at the bottom of my tech contacts in my school, it is a topic I answer questions about quite frequently via my twitter account. For the most part, I direct most teachers toward Weebly or Google Sites as they are simple and less time-consuming. Those who are serious about their web presence (especially blogging) I tend to recommend WordPress.

So what do teachers want from there tech?

This term has been interesting but one thing has become abundantly clear. Teachers need and want help with technology in their classroom and we have left teachers to their own means for far too long. What has also become clear is that their needs are not all that complex.

A retired teacher friend of mine use to say to me “The overhead projector is the perfect piece of classroom technology”

  • Instant on, no waiting for it to “boot up”.
  • Not dependant unreliable networks
  • Easy to fix. No waiting for the tech department to come to your rescue.

Although we have come a long way since the glory days of the overhead projector, in many ways his sentiments still ring true. Teachers want technology that is fast, reliable and easy to troubleshoot when it isn’t working properly. Unfortunately, the simple days of the overhead projector have all but disappeared and as such, so have teachers expectations of their classroom technology.

2014 Top 6 Teacher Techspectations

  1. Projection – Teachers are dependant on projection, just like the days of the simple overhead projector and the nasty old chalkboard before that. If a teacher does not have projection, they are instantly hamstrung.
  2. Internet that works – So much of the supplementary material that teachers use for instruction is on the net, when it is down, an entire lesson can be destroyed.
  3. Reliable WiFi – As we move toward BYOD and students’ access to assignments and resources are dependant on WiFi, a reliable WiFi system becomes a necessity. When it doesn’t work, neither do the students.
  4. Assignment transactions – Teachers want a simple means of distributing digital assignments and collecting those assignments.
  5. Marking Digital Assignments – Being able to distribute and collect assignments digitally is all well and dandy, but if you want to REALLY make a teacher happy… Make it easy to mark those assignments in the digital environment.
  6. Marks & Attendance – The one necessary evil in the bunch, there is nothing more annoying to a teacher when the software they are expected to take attendance on and complete report cards on, does not work. If this were a day-to-day issue it would top the list of digital pet peeves.

Merry Christmas all!

Professional Development & Ed Tech – The solution is simple.

iStock_000009965178XSmallWell it was ProD day for me today. No I didn’t sleep in, play golf or catch a movie… Like all teachers I know, I came to work, sat down with colleagues and learned a thing or two. The shape of the day was nothing extraordinary. To start off we had an all in staff session where we addressed some standard operational issues and then we were released to pursue a our own professional interests.

For the second portion of the day, I was asked to head up a session on blogging for the classroom. Originally it was going to be a simple little 1 0n 1 tutorial but it bloomed into a full on multi person information session. Even though the numbers had unexpectedly increased, I didn’t want to pull the sage on the stage thing where I stood and delivered my wisdom upon people who are far more gifted pedagogues than I. Instead what we did was sit around a large table and I opened with “Why am I here?” and it went from there.

What resulted was something that went in a completely different direction than it would have if I had done the one on one session or taken the sage on the stage approach. It was a perfect example of Edcamp ProD where we all had the opportunity to share what we know on a common topic and ultimately come up with a solution that meets everyone’s individual needs.

What is even more significant, is that the solution most people ended up turning to, wasn’t even something I had planned to share with them. Imagine… Me! The “expert” being subverted by a bunch of luddites! Actually to be fair, there were some pretty tech savvy people in the room but the key here was that I wasn’t standing and delivering. Instead everyone had the opportunity to share what their needs were, explain what they wanted to achieve and contributed what they already knew. My role was simply to act as someone to bounce ideas off of. My opinion was of value but not the end all or be all of the discussion.

What today illustrated to me was that when it comes to Ed Tech, the know-it-all approach alienates and isolates teachers. Even the most traditional teachers in today’s session recognized the learning opportunities blogging offers them and their students. What they wanted was someone to listen to their needs and then together, come up with a solution.

What I also realized is that what I have to offer my colleagues in the world of Ed Tech is only as useful as its adaptability to their individual needs. Broad stroke Ed Tech solutions cannot work in a system that still involves teachers. The notion of a single device or platform that will serve everyone’s Ed Tech needs is grievously flawed and if we ever come to this place in education, we are in serious trouble.

Have a good weekend!

I’m Doing a Master’s in Ed Tech!

I sold out. I am finally doing a master’s degree. I know, I said I would never do one but here I am, reading and writing and being all academic like. For a guy who barely graduated from high school, I suppose it is something to write home about, so when I call my mom this evening I will tell her the news. The risk is that she keels over in shock that I was accepted into university again, and at 84 that isn’t a good thing.

So why did I do it you ask? What changed your mind? Well I had always refused to do a Master’s degree for the sole purpose of a bump in pay. I needed a higher purpose, a reason that transcended the tawdriness of money and over the past couple of years this blog has provided me with my masters muse.

My goal is to reinforce my reputation of being the voice of reason in the wacky world of Ed Tech, which can sometimes look like a flock of magpies chasing shiny objects. I want to be the wise old crow who rules the Ed Tech aviary.

To kick things off, I offer you my first assignment. Certainly not perfect, there are 3 spelling errors, a verbal error and some of the timing is wee bit off but I refuse to render this thing again. It will however, give you an idea of where I am headed.

#EdTech year in review – A constructive critique

iStock_000016696029XSmallAs hard as it is to believe… The school year is rapidly coming to a close and this means it’s time to reflect on the year that was and give you my #EdTech year in review. As usual, I will be assuming my role as the Eeyore of EdTech and focusing on the gloomier side of things but it is all well intended. As my loyal readers know, I am not a “Rah Rah, Sis Boom Bah!!” kinda guy, so without further adue, I give you my #EdTech year in review.

Adios to the iPad cohort

Gasp! I know, as implausible as it may seem, our iPads in the classroom experiment came to an unceremonious end this year. Knowing the iPads in the classroom community as I do, I already know what they are all thinking but NO!… we did not “do it wrong”. We just came to the conclusion that a one device model was not workable in our situation.

IMHO… The reason the cohort failed to thrive is that we have a dynamic school with kids of all stripes and configurations and as such, we quickly learned that a single device in the hands of a specified group of students, is a very difficult thing to engineer.

As much as the school system likes to categorize, rank and pigeonhole kids into groups, things just don’t work that way in a comprehensive high school like ours. Right out of the gate, we discovered that the diverse scheduling needs of our students, simply didn’t lend itself to a one group, one device model.

The first year we managed to keep the cohort together because we targeted kids who’s scheduling would be (mostly) the same but this year we opened things up and we immediately found that we could not keep the cohort together but that is ok. Like I said, we are a comprehensive school, we don’t want to schedule kids into a single track and as such the cohort model just didn’t work like we had hoped.

The other thing that happened along the way, is that our school quietly and unceremoniously hit the ever so elusive #EdTech tipping point (I think) and adopted a BYOD policy right under our noses. There is no longer a need to try and engineer a classroom where every kid has a device in hand, it just happened au natruel.

Regardless of how things shook down, we learned a lot from this little experiment. All the teachers involved came away with a greater knowledge and understanding of how best to utilize digital tools in the classroom and will continue to apply and expand their skills for the rest of their careers. Perhaps more importantly however, is that the group of teachers who were a part of the iPads in the classroom experiment are now sharing what they learned with colleagues both near and far. The iPads in the classroom pilot WAS a success, just not in the way we were expecting.

Bandwidth issues

As I had mentioned in the previous section, It would seem that we may have hit the #EdTech tipping point and what better measure to determine this than bandwidth use.

This year was a definite struggle with getting connected with the outside world, from within our schools. It was like we hit a wall this year and when I say “We” I mean the Royal “We”. Schools everywhere were discovering that a building full of people using the internet all at the same time, can pose a wee bit of a problem.

It has become painfully obvious that infrastructure upgrades are becoming an immediate need for schools that are going digital. The problem now, is figuring out how to pay for it. With shrinking education budgets, it becomes very difficult to justify spending money on improving connectivity when you are looking at cutting back on teaching staff and educational programs.

My prediction is that, we (public education) will be looking at corporate sponsored funding for these types of upgrades very soon. It is a Pandora’s box waiting to be opened but it is coming… mark my words.

Note: The bandwidth issues we were experiencing in my school this past year were recently addressed and access is much improved. 

Plight of the naysayer

Ok perhaps “naysayer” is a bit misleading, so lets use contentious practitioner, or constructive criticizer or at worst contentious objector…

This year was an interesting one as the #EdTech movement, gained some significant momentum and began pushing hard for greater use of technology in classrooms. Along with this has been a growing expectation that teachers embrace the digitization of their professional development and to some extent their professional identity. The Personal Learning Network or PLN, was the topic du jour at many a staff meeting, blog post and twitter chat.

Now if you recall, I am a bit of advocate for the integration of digital tools in the classroom and I am a REALLY BIG fan of the digital PLN but things are starting to get a little ugly out there.

You see it at staff meetings, on twitter, in blogs and in main stream media. Those who are not on the #EdTech train are getting hammered with criticism. I even got attacked on twitter a couple of months back for questioning a “EdTech GuRu”. It was really quite astonishing how quickly this individual and her disciples piled on in an attempt to marginalize my critique. My questions weren’t even addressed as they immediately labelled me as a #EdTech heretic and proceeded to try to discredit me through the medium of twitter.

I have to plead guilty of being an #EdTech bully myself. During a staff meeting, I disrespectfully responding to a colleague when he questioned the usefulness of social media as a professional development tool. Although I eventually tried to answer his question respectfully, I started off with a dismissive smart assed comment, which had no place in the discussion.

Beyond personal attacks, there seems to be a concerted effort to silence and marginalize anyone who questions the #EdTech movement and this isn’t just a personal observation. In the past two weeks alone, I have been DM’d on twitter, received emails and was even approached at a social function, about how to deal with a subtle and sometimes not so subtle message of “You are either with us or against us, pick your side!”

I never thought the #EdTech discussion between the Pro and Whoa camps, would ever degrade to a showdown but I am afraid we are heading down a path toward greater conflict. Lines are being drawn and they seem to be more ideological rather than pedagogical.

To Wrap Up

All in all it has been a good year. I certainly haven’t been as active in the #EdTech community as I was last year but I just couldn’t keep up the previous years pace. Next doesn’t look good either as I hope to begin my Masters in Education Technology (if I am accepted) and will probably have even less time to share my insight and opinion. One positive however, is that when I do show up, I might actually know what I am talking about since I will be all lerned up reel good.

Have a great summer all… Cheers!

Some 2012/2013 Articles about #EdTech

Little gain from technology in the classroom

Outdated education model opens doors for tech companies

Technology changing how students learn, teachers say

 Teacher knows if you have done the E Reading

Microsoft Surface – An EdTech Smack down

Got my hands on a new Surface RT this week. Found it just sitting there on my Principal’s desk doing nothing, so I absconded with it. Actually, being a charitable fellow, Le Grand Fromage let me have it so I could give it a good going over. So I present to you, the Microsoft Surface – Ed Tech Smack down. I will have it for about a week, during which time, me and my cracker jack team of digital device experts will put the device through its paces.

The Testing Team

SONY DSC

Grumpy old dad Seasoned Educational Technology Expert with a keen eye for innovative design and application

Crazy 14-year-old Emerging Ed Tech aficionado who has a knack for finding practical Ed Tech solutions for herself and classmates.

Tenacious 10-year-old Ready willing and able to lay thumpin on the 14-year-old to get equal time on the household digital devices. Budding Blogger and Ed Tech neophyte

The First 24 hours

Grumpy Old Dad

Really like the look and feel of the surface. Doesn’t feel cheap and has some heft to it. The iPad… Well it is the iPad what more is there to say that hasn’t already been said

After trying to set up my user profile on the surface, I thought to myself “Man the iPad is Fisher Price Simple” but here is the thing. The iPad is a one person device. You set it up the way you like it quick and easy and it is a reflection of that one user. The surface on the other hand, might not be Fisher Price Simple BUT you can set up multiple users on one device.

This makes me think the surface would be a better device for a school, which might have dozens of different users, especially districts that are running on a Microsoft Network. With the surface you can set up workgroups and other useful multi user functions, especially if your organization is running a Share Point Network. (SPN) This leads me to the second important distinction between the iPad & Surface.

Historically, Share Point did not to play nice with Apple products. It would drive me nuts when kids using an Apple product couldn’t access my online classroom. With the most recent version of Share Point however, Apple users can navigate through an SP site without too much trouble BUT with that said. The iPad still has some annoying issues with scrolling and rendering a SP site. The Surface on the other hand has full functionality in a SP environment.

Once I set up my profile and visited my Share Point classroom, I figured I would grab Google Chrome and load it onto the Surface. Unfortunately Chrome does not have a Windows Surface RT version… I assume it is coming but for now I am stuck with Windows Exploder.

After I mucked about trying to get Chrome loaded on the surface, I had to get to an Online meeting so I tried to load the Blackboard Collaborate applet and lo and behold… No applet for the Windows Surface RT operating system.

I see a theme building here…

14 Year old

  • “COOL! Is that the new Windows thingy? Can I play on it!?”
  • “Keyboard is cool but it is weird”
  • “Too much moving around to get to stuff”
  • “The corners are too sharp”
  • “WHAT! Angry birds is $4.99?”

10 Year old

  • “What is that?… Oh cool!… Where is the iPad?”

48 Hours

I am a little less pleased with the surface at the moment. It is almost like the Surface tries to be too much, both a tablet and a computer. As such, it is not Fisher Price simple like the iPad. Perhaps it will just take some time to unlearn Apple and get the functions of the Surface burned into my thick skull.

A couple other negatives I discovered in the past 2 days. I haven’t found a decent twitter app and Internet Explorer wants to render everything in compatibility mode. Both are little things but very annoying, sorta like a thorn in your sock that you can’t track down.

What I do like about the Surface is that I can upload documents into Edmodo with it, something that has been a Royal Pain in my backside with the iPad since I started using it in the classroom. As user-friendly as the iPad may be up front, it is far too restrictive when it comes to moving YOUR OWN FLIPPING FILES! around. The old “Apple way or the highway” thing gets a bit wearing when you are trying to get work done. This is something that the Surface does not do to you. Need to put a file someplace, no Problem! Just like a regular computer.

I also found that I liked the sound quality of the Surface when the kids discovered the live streaming radio feature. It is part of the Xbox live integration on the device. I have a deluxe Xbox live membership, so all the cool features available to me on the TV, are now available on the surface. Kinda nifty!

The last thing on today’s list is the keyboard cover combo. I like the ergonomics of it but I don’t really like the feel of the keyboard but with that said, it is better than having to pack around a bluetooth keyboard for the iPad. My dislike of the touch and feel of it is probably more a function of 30 years of using real keys. I don’t even like my Macbook keyboard. I like big, stiff, noisy keys like those on an old Hewlett Packard electric typewriter. The kind that you can actually feel the mechanical parts clicking and clacking under your fingertips. Ahhh Those were the good old days.

14 Year old

  • “I still can’t believe that angry birds is $4.99!”
  • “I like how Google Docs is exactly like it is on the computer, using the surface. I hate trying to work on Google docs with the iPad, it doesn’t work right!”
  • “I don’t like the onscreen keyboard, getting to the numbers is stupid! Why can’ they all be lined up on the top like the iPad keyboard?”

10 Year old

  • “It works good with my classroom blog but I didn’t type anything in so I don’t know if that works or not”
  • “I like the music streaming! I can listen while I play Cut The Rope.”
  • “I don’t like how the on-screen number pad works, it is weird that you have to change keyboards to get to the numbers”