Monday, January 25, 2016

Sunday, January 24, 2016

What if Blobla DID look at us based on an algorithm?

So have you been on Facebook and seen the "Bill the Stickman" app by It keeps appearing over and over on my newsfeed. Occasionally I also see a little parody of it or frustration with it as well. BUT, I had to try it. Mainly because the edtech educator in me needed to see if it was algorithm driven. Was it really looking at my posts, friends, etc and deciding what to say about me? Obviously with the post on the right, I immediately thought it was a data driven algorithm. I found myself running it again, again, and again and finally realized it was just a random assigner of silliness. BUT, what if it actually ran on an algorithm? Before I realized it wasn't algorithm based, I would click and find myself looking hard at myself about the results. "I don't click like on friends photos just because they don't have many likes, do I?" "I don't just hate everyone, do I?" Forgive me as I chase this bunny down a trail but algorithms are so wonderfully interesting to me. In this case, what if it allowed me to take off the rose colored glasses in the way I see myself and truly see myself as others see me based on data? Would that be a good thing? Could I grow from that? Would it make me feel like sitting in a corner and sucking my thumb because I realize I am much more fake than I really want to admit? AND WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH AN EDTECH BLOG POST?

Ahhh...I'm getting there, I promise. "Big data" gets a bad rep at times. The educational industry is so enamored with data points from testing- and yes, I agree we are in an over testing culture right now, but what if these algorithms could lead us to personalize learning? I think it's the future of education. We are already seeing it happen within some software/app options, for instance Dreambox Learning and Mangahigh both have created intuitive environments that adjust to student learning. If a student gets one question right, he keeps being challenged with a progression of harder questions. If a student gets a question wrong, the student gets an easier question so as not to overwhelm the learner with a sense of failure but to keep them active and progressing just the same. At our school we are using a LMS called Edify and it has the ability to suggest to a student relevant learning aids (videos, etc) after taking an assessment. This is based on what that student is still struggling with. These examples are the beginning threshold of algorithms that help us with personalized learning.

See if you can wrap your head around this... 25 students in a class taking assessments that tell them and their teacher what their best learning styles are, what they still struggle with, who they best learn with (collaboration efforts), what days are harder for them to learn on, if they need to be challenged by a new modality, if the lesson will be a struggle or a challenge. The options could go on and on. The next day the teacher has looked at the data from the day before and knows where 8th grader Annika should sit, what modality she should be taught with, etc. Algorithms could do that. Could they replace the teacher? Not well. But what if it helped the teacher affirm they are doing everything in their power to meet the needs of that student? That's student-driven. Big data and the way we are seeing it being used to pour kids into boxes that place them into categories are scary but what if big data meant meeting an individual kid's needs better than ever before. I believe this is the not so distant future of edtech.

The question becomes how do we harness the power? How do we, as educators, use the ability without losing the relational aspects of school? As I look at our school's blended learning prototype this year I see so much potential. I see technology allowing teachers the ability to have more 1 on 1 and small group instruction time to build relationships with their students. I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt we are on the cusp of innovational educational change. Is it scary? Yes! Even for someone like me that is excited about it. I fear it being used wrongly, I fear it being depended on too deeply, I fear administrators thinking that relationships aren't that important and instead of it becoming a change agent for engagement between teachers/students it becomes another step towards "mill-based everyone looks the same, come in and get it done and graduate education." But I don't think educators will let that happen. I leave you with this Twitter post I saw today that makes me believe that teachers will choose to empower their students for lifelong learning as they begin to see the options and opportunities open up before their eyes.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

5 Easy Peasy Options for Tech Integration

There are some ways to integrate technology in your classroom that adds value to your learning environment and pretty much can be a go to no matter what the lesson plan. Here are my favorites no matter what grade level you might teach:

  1. Research.
     Allowing students to find information on a topic by themselves allows them to delve deeper into areas that appeal to them. It also allows them to be in charge of the path of their learning no matter how "locked down" the requirements for the lesson are. Most school systems have access to online research databases that are grade-based helpful. Teaching students how to curate all the information on the internet is no easy task but placing good research options in their path helps. Using digital encyclopedias and search engines like for younger students can help. 

    Showing older students how to use the Google search engine tools ( well as how to use your library's digital learning databases are important steps to preparing our students to learn how to find quality information with ease.
  2. Mind mapping.
    This article talks about the benefits of mind mapping: There are many free or almost free websites and apps that allow students the beauty of gathering their thoughts on a topic in a systematic way. Apps like Popplet and Simple Mind+ and websites like allow students the ability to creatively make connections to ideas, discern important points, as well as map outlines for papers. Mind mapping has also often shown a benefit to recall as well.

  3. Collaboration.
    My favorite way to collaborate is using GAFE (Google Apps for Education), specifically Google Docs so that students can collaborate on writing projects through the use of multiple users on one document or even just allowing collaboration on a document by the adding of comments for reflection. There are also options like Padlet, Google hangouts, Skype, blogging, and the discussion boards of your school's LMS options that either allow students the ability to connect with each other or the world beyond the four walls of their classroom. 

  4. Whiteboard options.
    For years teachers have used whiteboards for quick formative assessment to see if daily learning objectives have been met. Today, we have websites and apps like A Web Whiteboard, Explain Everything, ShowMe, and EduCreations that can be used to give students personal access to content. Digital whiteboard options also are a great tool to allow students to use at the end of a class to show their learning for the day as well. Finish your lesson, tell the students to open their Digital Whiteboard and say "create a file that shows me the top three things you learned today in class," or "Create a math problem using the formula we used today and solve the problem." The possibilities are endless. 
  5. Studying aids.
    Technology is a great way to aid students in studying. Digital flashcard makers like Quizlet and word cloud creators like Wordle are a great way for students to reinforce spelling and vocabulary terms. Khan Academy,, and other online options as simple as youtube offer your students additional support in studying for exams or refreshers for homework. 

    The options for integrating technology into the classroom are endless and the creative ability to what a teacher hopes to accomplish is turning more dreams into reality every day. Technology often affords the teacher extra time to have more one on one opportunities with their students as well as supporting the learning environment in very concrete substantive ways that didn't exist a decade ago. The above 5 options could easily be adapted and adopted in any classroom to reap the benefits of technology in our schools and to equip our students for the world beyond their academic life.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Unsettling Stomach Lurch of Teacher Branding

Recently eduawesome Refranz Davis shared this recent post she wrote on her thoughts of the need to be "visually appealing" as an female edtech speaker. Refranz has been a champion for the underdog and I admire her for it. She posted the above post on Facebook and a few of us edtech women jumped on it and ran with the idea of "branding." Refranz quickly said that wasn't the direction she was going with the post, which we understood, but I find it interesting how quickly the three of us found the connection to branding.

I just googled "teacher branding" and in .36 seconds 13.8 million results came lie. What is teacher branding? To put it succinctly it is marketing yourself, your skills, your knowledge as an educator in a way that establishes a positive presence in the minds of others.

The idea of needing to brand oneself as an educator makes me feel uneasy. During Christmas break I shared that fact in a Twitter chat with a tweet something like this: "I struggle with the fact that edus feel they must brand themselves to be heard. We all have value." I was amazed at the number of people that this resonated with. I am realizing this statement rings true to a many in the educational community.

I then found myself digging deeper into the thought of branding. What bothers me about it? What good things come from it? And I will be honest, my t-account of debits and credits felt fairly equal. The pros: It allows an educator that's doing great things to have a larger and louder voice. It potentially opens up another form of income for these educators in leading professional development opportunities or having the ability to be an edtech speaker. Branding makes the school system these people come from look like an innovative thinking school. Branding actually leads to giving credit where credit is due in a world of easy Internet searches.

So why does it cause an unsettling lurch in my stomach? Truthfully, I struggle with the vanity of it. I struggle with the need to put myself out there to receive accolades before I am seen as a valuable educator. I struggle with the way some educators are doing this. I struggle with the idea of becoming an "ambassador" of any app/group/ website because I worry it dilutes my appearance of being unbiased in the field of education.  Over Christmas break I was on the phone with Ditch That Textbook author Matt Miller (@jmattmiller) and I shared my concerns. I appreciate Matt's humble heart and what he said resonated with me. In my words, not his...he basically said he agreed. He said he finds it important to focus on the things he wants to share in his branding approach, not on himself. I get that. Hence the hashtag #ditchbook not #jmattmiller.  I also understand that if an educator is going to put forth the time, effort, and expense to write a book, create a website, start a learning curriculum, speak at conferences that it comes at a price. We give up something in order to do this. It might be family time, coaching opportunities, vacations, etc but everything we choose comes at a price.

I find it interesting that before I was added to the 2015 list of top 50 k-12 I.T. blogs by Edtech Magazine, I was just Julie- tech coach/coordinator in a private school in Chattanooga, Tennessee doing her best day by day. I'm not saying I am a different person but I am amazed by the validation that simple list seems to have given me in some circles. I'll be honest, it was one of my most amazing honors since becoming an educator. But I leave you with this... I don't think there is a correlation between Twitter followers and great educators. I don't think there is much of a correlation between a dynamic public speaker and an Edtech guru. I don't think that just because someone is published they are a better educator from those that are working day in and day out in their classroom to do what is best for their students.

I'm not saying don't value and follow these great Edtech names on social media, all I am saying is make sure you are also listening to the quiet guy, the twitterer with 100 followers, the voices that ask the questions that make the rest of us ponder. Do not be pulled into the power of branding because someone is selling themselves well. A rude educator is a rude educator with or without their own website. There is value in all of us. I strive to remind myself of this everyday.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Fast Forward: What does a future educational technologist look like?

In 2007, I was a part-time related arts computer teacher in an elementary school with a desire to learn more. That year, I received my M. Ed. in Instructional Technology. This was prior to tablets hitting the market and the big push to go 1:1 in schools was not yet commonplace. I remember in some of my classes I was taking I was dreaming about every student having access to their own device all day long. It seemed so foreign to the world I was living in at the time. That was 9 years ago.

In 2016, I am now in year three of being a technology coach/coordinator at the same school. I work with teachers to integrate technology in their classrooms in a variety of ways. Our students consume, create, connect, and curate using technology on a regular basis. We have rolling carts of iPads and Chromebooks at our disposal that are very busy. Our fifth graders this year actually went 1:1 with iPads. I see technology being used as a significantly useful tool in this elementary. I see teachers seeing value in the use of technology in their classrooms.

As I sit in my office, right next door is the office of the curriculum coach. On a very regular basis I hear her discussing some of the same things I am discussing with teachers- the value of standards-based learning, how blended learning benefits our students, what new website/software/app or option is out their to meet individual needs of our students. While the things that intrigue us may be different on these things, we both find ourselves looking closely at the same things often. I am thankful that she and I work really well together. There are days we have meetings that I think "wow, we tag team this very well." We share things we have heard about with each other often. She starts from the curriculum side of evaluating options and I see the options from a technology feasibility standpoint. But there are times when it is reversed. I see a curriculum need from being in a classroom and she sees where technology just isn't working for what we wanted for whatever reason.

It got me thinking, what will 2021 look like for educational technologists? What will be the needs here at this school? When I started working her in 2003 I was an instructor of keyboarding. My role, responsibilities, and expectations were very exact. Look at how this has changed! I see things being asked of me that I am not equipped to answer yet because I have no training in these areas so I am on the fast track of learning these concepts to be the support I need to be. Technology integration opens the door for me to now need a good understanding of classroom management, standards based learning, curriculum mapping in terms of blended learning opportunities, and so on. What does the educational technologist look like in the future? Does the name go away because every teacher will be implementing it in various ways to meet needs? Does the position go away because teachers don't need the help anymore? OR....

Does this persona become something all together different in the next 5-10 years? Someone that takes part in any type of innovative change. I think in the future technology is going to be such a seamless part of the educational landscape that the needs that I am currently fulfilling here will become less and less. I do believe that the future will be initiatives where I walk hand in hand with innovative-minded educators that see a need and have a passion to try something new or different to find a solution. I see this role being a resource, support, encouragement, a pusher of new ideas. I see future educational technologists as an evaluator of work flow, a beta tester of buzz words, an educator that creates a safety net for challenges and change and lastly, a handholder for those that fear.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

#AlmostFamous - Guest Blog by Tina Faust

Tina Faust (@tntechgal) is a passionate educator, motivator and technology implementer all wrapped up in a lively, vivacious personality! Currently, Tina is an Instructional Technology Specialist for the Hawkins County School District in Tennessee. In this capacity, she provides professional development opportunities to assist educators with technology integration in classroom. She has presented at multiple regional and state conferences, and will be presenting at FETC. 

Words can't describe the happiness that Tina Faust has brought to my life since meeting her. She is not only an instructional technologist but an encouraging, exciting person. Most recently she climbed the ladder of respect for me when she led a 1 1/2 hour session at TETC and the internet wasn't cooperating. She continued to own the room like a pro! I'm fairly certain I would have been sucking my thumb in the corner of the room doing the ugly cry in fetal position.  While at TETC we had a really great impromptu discussion about her topic below with another wonderful instructional technologist, Chris Tenbarge. We all left the discussion feeling thankful for that brief hour of interaction and I asked Tina to be a guest blogger for me. The following post is a Tina Faust creation...Enjoy!

It was December and the TETC conference was around the excitement grew because two of my favorite EdTech tweeps (Twitter PLN) were the keynote speakers. My excitement quickly turned to glee when I arrived and met Adam Bellow and Kathy Schrock face to face. At this point, I was star struck and more excited than a child on Christmas morning! In the EdTech arena, both of these people are considered prominent and I felt privileged to meet two “famous” people. My star struck impression quickly faded and I became thoroughly impressed because neither of them gave the persona of being EdTech Rock Stars...they were REAL people. Not real in the physical sense but REAL because they were humble and never displayed a pretentious persona. Both of them took time to pose for selfies, took time to converse with everyone that approached them, took time to attend sessions that were being taught by educators just like me, took time to encourage conversation, and took time to make all of us feel #almost famous.

Have you ever wondered what famous really means? Every one of us could be #almostfamous to someone. Take teachers for example...I love seeing students spot a teacher in a grocery store because they run up to say hello and immediately flush when the teacher speaks. Many times, I’ve overheard excited kids return to parents saying I saw Mr./Mrs. (insert teacher’s name) and they said hello to me! You know a teacher is #almostfamous when they have the ability to impact a child simply by recognizing them and when they can make a child feel special by stopping to say hello. As I pondered exactly what it means to be famous, it occurred to me that famous is relevant based on the setting, the people that you are with, and the impact the person leaves on you.
When I ask my 11 year old what it meant to be famous. He replied, “mom, it depends on who you ask but it’s someone that the majority of people know.” So, who is the majority? As we discussed #almostfamous people, it appeared that famous depended on who you ask. So, why did I feel elated to meet two strangers at a conference? It was because they added value to my professional learning experience. If famous is based on added value, in education, all teachers are #almostfamous. Every teacher is prominent to every student they teach and/or influence. As teachers, we are famous to every student we come in contact with because we have the ability to make each one of them feel important. We can add positive value to every life we touch by having a positive impact on each student as we shape their future. We have the golden opportunity to add value to the future of our society as we encourage students to grow. As teachers, every generation is our legacy and we are prominent contributors to our society. If you need reassurance, ask a my son, every one of his teachers are #almostfamous and like you, they are shaping the future.