Technology tidbits.

3502028224_d19df4870e“So, how do you like your new job?”

In the two weeks since I’ve been “officially” back to work, I have been asked that question over a dozen times by colleagues. Teachers, principals, central office staff, parents.

Well, truth be told. I kind of love it.

The first week of the school year was dizzying. In a good way. I’ve already learned some lessons about the role of the instructional coach and the ways in which we use technology to support learning. Here are a few tidbits that have been on my mind.

1. The more devices the merrier? Not quite.  Our grades 4-6 are 1:1 this year and our primary students have access to a ton of devices. Lucky us! However, with more devices come more headaches. Java incompatibility/updates/whatever. Desktop shortcuts pointing to the wrong URL for a site-based program. Upgrades to a new early learning system caused teachers to be unsure how to manage it. Newly enrolled students without access to key accounts. Entire labs freezing up when attempting to get online (via Internet Explorer, so.) These things will happen, and do happen, in schools everywhere. My takeaway here is that our technicians look like they have been run over by a bus during the last few weeks of summer and the first few weeks of school. If you’re going to increase the number of devices and services on your campus, you’d better be prepared to increase the amount of support personnel. Otherwise, you will frustrate the teachers, students, and administrators who expect to work with functioning devices and services.

2.  Email is the devil. In my opinion, it’s just not a great way to communicate. Threaded email is even worse. I sent a few mass emails during the first two weeks of school to communicate some issues common to all three schools, and it was like my emails self-destructed a second after they were opened by recipients. The administrators and I continued to get a multitude of emails asking questions that were answered in my proactive attempts at communication. I continue to send my teachers to our elementary instructional tech blog (a work in progress), in the hopes it will serve as the central hub for our teaching and learning efforts this year, thus eliminating the need for 50 emails about how so-and-so can’t access what’s-it-called. And let’s just all take a moment to remember that writing something in all-caps and/or boldface doesn’t make me pay more attention to your message. It hurts my ears. And feelings.

3. There’s probably a reason why your tech department is asking you to submit a work order. When I was a building principal, and I had a tech issue, I emailed the tech supervisor. I didn’t stop to consider that there were probably 100 other people doing that as well. (See #2.) I did it because I wanted an immediate response and action to be taken. I know everyone who has a tech issue feels that exact same way. This year I’m in a role where I’m not a member of the technology department, but I can help teachers with technical issues that arise. While my instinct is still to email technicians my questions so I can quickly get an answer in order to most efficiently help staff, I’ve come to realize that it’s important for us to submit formal work orders. The help desk system is designed to track, monitor, and assign work tasks to technicians. If we skip around that step, the system begins to break down. So as much as it’s a pain to log onto yet another portal to access yet another site and fill out yet another form, it’s necessary. Would I rather have access to the technicians on Google chat 100% of the workday? Yes.

4. Plan, plan, plan.  Then, backup plan. Due to an issue on Pearson’s end (so we’ve been told- we’re still waiting for our Successnet issues to be remedied -anyone from Pearson technical support reading this?), our teacher and student access to the online literacy program portal is not yet up and running. Heading into our third week of school, teachers had already planned to access the portal and use a number of the resources there. Now unavailable, teachers have to resort to plan B. Perfectionists all, it’s difficult to plan for the use of technology, have it fail you, and then buck up and try again when things have been remedied. You lose a little faith each time that happens.

5. Those who take initiative reap rewards. Since the first day of school, I’ve worked in the classrooms of about ten different teachers across the district. Some eagerly invited me in to teach a lesson about quality blog commenting and others asked for modeling the use of Google docs and helping their kids get acclimated to the tools. They asked for my help without hesitation, and I could tell they spent a lot of time over the summer or at the start of the year prepping their students and preparing themselves to include technology in the daily business of the classroom. They were brave in the face of challenges and accepted what they did not know. These teachers will serve as the leaders for their colleagues moving forward and will no doubt allow their students to make the most out of their learning experiences supported by tech. I’ve had initial conversations with teachers who want to integrate technology in more meaningful ways this year, but they feel absolutely swamped at this point. My role will be to support them where they are, all the while gently nudging…

6. Relationships rule. I still haven’t met face-to-face all of the new teachers I’ll be working with this year, but when I’m in the buildings I try to say hello and as unobtrusively as possible, let people know I’m here for them!

7. There is still a lot of fear. It must be difficult to relinquish control. We have a classroom management/monitoring program to assist in the computer labs and the classrooms with laptop carts. I think for some teachers, the most exciting aspect of this is that they can blank the students’ screens and/or “control” what they’re doing at certain times to ensure they’re giving their fullest attention where it is due. Where is the attention due? Shouldn’t our attention be given to them? Here’s an idea. Plan well and engage your kids. Deal individually with the students who having difficulty using the technology to support their learning. Don’t focus on “locking down” an entire class as an attempt to have its undivided attention. I appreciate that we have tools to help monitor students’ use in order to keep them safe. I just don’t think we need to be all Big Brother-y about it.

8. Kids are the best. Kids are so great. I really missed my students. It’s been so fantastic seeing their faces. They are so much taller than they were when I went out on leave! I am also enjoying meeting some new kiddos at the other two schools where I now work. I love watching kids in the computer labs. Did you ever watch a kindergarten student try to work a mouse? It’s clear who has a mouse on their computer at home, and who uses Mom’s iPad/iPhone/tablet/trackpad/swipey device. Did you ever watch a six-year-old attempt to login to a computer with some ridiculous username like Gard3485 and an even more ludicrous password of GSKDG7485? Did you ever hear kids laugh out loud or sing along to a game while they’re wearing their headphones, oblivious to what’s going on around them? Adorbs.

9. I don’t miss administrative meetings.

10. I have a lot to learn. There’s so much I want to learn this year. I’m excited about our county technology integrators meeting coming up next week, held monthly throughout the year. (Thanks for organizing, Ken!) I really want to dive into some of the coaching academy courses from ISTE.  I continue reading some great posts and conversations in the instructional technology integrators/coaches Google+ community. I’ll keep tweeting and perusing chats and reading blogs. Hopefully I’ll get to some conferences like Edscape and Educon to connect with some smart folks. I started some lessons in Codecademy. I have a pile of books to read and blog about.

What have you learned with the start of your new school year? 

Photo Credit: Tiger Pixel via Compfight cc

17 thoughts on “Technology tidbits.

  1. Sheila

    Hi Lyn,

    I really liked what you had to say here. I start a new position as tech coach tomorrow. The item about the help desk tickets was very relevant. I think some people are embarrassed to open help desk tickets. We just moved to Gmail and I can see how the conversation mode could be problematic.

    Sheila

  2. Lyn wrote:

    it’s difficult to plan for the use of technology, have it fail you, and then buck up and try again when things have been remedied. You lose a little faith each time that happens.

    – – – – – – –
    Hey Pal,

    First, jazzed that you are digging your early work in your new position! I can’t wait to watch you learn new lessons that you can share with the rest of us.

    Second, I really DO hope you come to Educon. Can’t wait to meet again in the real world.

    Finally, this line from your post reflects every frustration that I’ve ever had with #edtech in the classroom — and the fact that I continue to fight those same battles 10+ years after starting to play with technology in the classroom prove that people haven’t given this enough thought.

    A simple example of the frustrations that poorly managed technology bring into the life of a classroom teacher: Our district has provided us with access to a thousand different tools. Some of them are management tools (online gradebooks, referral programs for special education, portals for managing teacher evaluation and recording time spent in professional development, email applications) and others are instructional tools (Discovery Education, VoiceThread, Edmodo, PBWorks, Google Apps for Education).

    But NONE of them follow the same naming structure for student and/or teacher usernames. None of them. Zip. Zero. Zilch.

    Sometimes our usernames are system generated numerical IDs. Sometimes they are system generated numerical IDs with leading zeros. Sometimes they are system generated numerical IDs with trailing zeros. Sometimes there are letters added to the front of the system generated numerical IDs. Sometimes it’s a combination of firstletter_lastname or firstname_lastname.

    Sometimes the student usernames mirror the teacher usernames. Other times, the student usernames are different from the teacher usernames.

    Now I don’t work at the Central Office, so I’m not sure who is cooking up usernames for all of these different applications — but I do know that I often struggle just to keep track of my own usernames. Making sure my kids keep up with their usernames is almost impossible!

    And when lessons fail simply because no one can log in, we all get frustrated. What’s scary is that even a heavy tech user like me can start to lose faith in the value of #edtech in my lessons every time this stuff happens.

    Anyway….rock right on,
    Bill

    1. Lyn

      Hi, friend! Thankfully our tech folks have begun trying to streamline as best they can the process kids and teachers use to log into things. Even though the passwords are crazy, the kids use the same one for nearly every service or program they log into, which is nice. I highly recommend that approach! Certain systems have certain criteria for login credentials, so I can see how your usernames/passwords could shift from one thing to the next. Gotta keep a digital sticky note cheat sheet :) Thanks for commenting!

  3. Lyn –

    I started at a new school with a new tech job this year, so I can totally relate to all of the points you just made! (Except for the mouse comment; I’m in a high school so they’ve got that figured out by now.) My school is BYOD with the goal of going 1:1 with additional Chromebooks, so the first 3 weeks has been a lot of getting that off the ground. I’m so ready to get out into classrooms!

    Good luck this year! I’ll be following along!
    Kristen
    @fouss

  4. Hi Lyn,

    I am glad that are loving your new job. I also appreciated you sharing what you are learning. We are moving forward with deploying Chromebooks. Your points about the need for tech and instructional support are well taken. We mustrovide support if we have any hope of transforming instructional practice and student learning!

    Jennie

    1. Lyn

      Jennie, I am looking forward to reading about your Chromebooks initiative. Best of luck to you, I know with you at the helm, your district is in good hands! Thanks for commenting!

  5. Hi Lyn,

    Congrats on your new position. It was refreshing to read about your observations and experiences from a District perspective. Having always worked at a District level I can appreciate what you’ve said first hand. My advice is to use your school-based experience to influence processes at the District level to make things work better for both. I’m sure you bring a lot of wisdom from the field to your new role and that will serve you well. One other piece of advice is to not just accept IT practices as having to be what they are – work closely with the IT folks and build a mutually respectful relationship and share your feedback in helpful ways to influence change. IT folks aren’t always fully aware of how what they do really affects those in the field.

    Cheers,
    Brian

    1. Lyn

      Brian, I couldn’t agree with you more about the need to advocate for what we need from an educational perspective. In the past, we’ve too often let technology decisions drive educational decisions. But that is backwards. Without open communication, with both sides contributing information and experience, and lots and lots of active listening, we can’t do what’s best for kids. Mutual respect is key!

  6. Jen

    Lyn,
    I thoroughly enjoyed your blog. I’m in a similar job position to you this year, except I’m at a single school rather than district wide. Thank you so much for sharing your instructional tech blog! I have been mulling over how I could set something up for the teachers at my school to access when they want to learn about some new ideas for instructional tech tools in their classrooms, and the layout of yours is pretty much exactly what I was envisioning – it was nice to see it in action! I agree with you that email is not the best form of communication, and by inundating teachers’ inbox with how-to’s and information, I’ll essentially turn them off of wanting me to help them.

    Glad you are loving your job so far! Keep blogging, and I’ll certainly keep reading!

    Cheers,
    Jen

  7. Terry Epp

    I started my new position as technology coach at the end of August and even though I was preparing for it all summer the learning curve has and I think will continue to be formidable. I think that you have accurately summarized many of the things that I have been pondering.

    I am looking forward to learning more from you and maybe sharing some of my struggles and successes in a professional learning community.

    1. Lyn

      Hey, Terry,
      Thanks for reaching out. I’m glad you’ve joined our G+ community! Looking forward to learning with you! Please do share your experiences. Do you have a blog? Thanks for your comments!

  8. Kande

    Count me as another new tech support person. I kept nodding my head as I read each number of your list. I am excited to learn about the Google plus community and running to join it right now. I look forward to learning with some great people!

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