Dec 232014
 

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!

  2 Responses to “Digital Integration Support Teacher – Term 1”

  1. Hi Keith,

    Looking back and then forward, where do you see byod going? Having gone through UBC’s MET program and looked around at what others do, I still don’t think I’ve seen much significance in this movement. Not often do I see or hear of students using their smartphone for something important, and the inequality associated with personal notebooks has nullified their usefulness. The convenience that a smartphone affords is nice though.

    I also continue to struggle with chromebooks programs. From a science POV we can use inexpensive notebooks that run Java (simulations), Flash, programming IDE, and can interface with other hardware (arduino, 3d printers). Yet last week I’m informed of a new chromebooks initiative in my district. I just don’t get it, and I’ve yet to have a voice on this topic. Has your school looked into chromebooks? If so, how are their advantages weighed against those of notebooks.

    • Hey bcphysics, thanks for the comment.

      BYOD is an interesting creature. I find there are four types of students. Those that are already bringing, those who bring when asked, those who can’t bring because they don’t have one and those who refuse to bring.

      The first two is where we want to be the last two are where we find ourselves struggling. The problem is, who are we to tell kids that don’t have a device to “GET ONE” This isn’t all that difficult to fix as each school should be able to supply a device for those kids who can’t bring one. The problem with this is the ethical question of, if we can provide for some, then why not all?

      The other group the “refuse to bring” are perhaps the most frustrating. The majority seem to be the work avoiders. They figure that if they don’t bring a device, they don’t have to do work that day. “I’ll do the assignment at home!” they say… and then proceed to disrupt the rest of the class for 80 minutes. Again perhaps the solution is that the school has a set of devices to loan out to that type of kid but then others will see this as a viable alternative to bringing their own and a slippery slope has been set.

      There is a sub group of the non bringers that needs to be considered too. Those kids who’s parents say “There is no god damned way you are taking your laptop to school only to lose it!” I know because I am one of those parents and have said those exact words. What we have done is have the kids buy themselves Chromebooks with Grandma money and if they lose them, they are only out $250.

      This brings me to the Chromebook Question. I like Chromebooks. They work most of the time for most of the students and if there is special functions or software needed for a specific class, it is my belief that the school should be providing the hardware to do that work.

      Lastly, “Where do you see BYOD going?” Well I think as much as we would like to implement BYOD by decree, it will not happen this way. BYOD will grow organically as more teachers create more curriculum that requires a device in hand. What this device will need to be is a utilitarian one such as a laptop or distant second, a tablet. Smart phones should not be considered a BYOD device. THEY ARE NOT DESIGNED FOR WORK. They are designed for consumption of media and at best 140 character thoughts.

      We also need to rethink how we make computing available to kids in schools. We need to continue to provide in house digital access but we need to rethink how this will look.

      Anyhow, I am out of time and thoughts. Hope this was an adequate response

      Cheers,
      Keith

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