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Technology and Support: Helping Our Teachers Through the Pandemic

Celebrate Teachers

At the time of this writing, we are still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has struck every nation, every school, every teacher, every parent, and every student on Earth in some form or fashion. We went into lock down in March and April, some of us got back to school in June, and now we are planning the rest of 2020 and beyond. For Southern Hemisphere schools, they have trudged on throughout the pandemic without major breaks or stoppages. For Northern Hemisphere schools, we have gone through the strangest Summer Holidays in my lifetime.

Remote Learning

However, despite what has been written, schools never closed. The buildings closed and the classroom doors were shut, but the learning continued with only minor interruption. And with schools above the equator into the new school year, learning starts anew. Some have gone back to the buildings while others continue to engage in remote learning. Most schools worldwide are somewhere in-between.

Through this we have learned two undeniable facts: technology can be used to facilitate learning and teachers are amazing.

The technology we have implemented in schools for past couple of decades was put on full display during the pandemic. And despite its obvious warts, technology fundamentally met the charge of ensuring continued learning for those who have access.

Yet, as I have said numerous times, technology is merely a tool. The real heroes of our continued learning are the teachers. They took the uncertainty, confusion, and fear of the situation and treated them like a 6-year-old having a temper tantrum. They spoke softly but authoritatively, handled the crisis, and got on as best as they could showing strength of character and resolve. Then, as all good teachers do, went into their staff rooms and kvetched about with their colleagues…however, now the staff rooms were digital.

We had hoped by this point the virus would be on the downswing and life would be returning the nostalgic times we all fondly remember, namely 2019. Yet, the virus is still ever present, and our school situations are still ever-changing and uncertain.

With this, we have found that drawing upon our technology and our teachers are still the lynchpins for learning in the coming months. It is critical, that we support both in the following ways:

Keep the Technology Well Fed

The data systems and online services schools are employing at the moment are now mission critical. It is vital that schools ensure their continued up-time and reliability. They do this through regular checks, continued maintenance, and healthy relationships with their vendors. Schools need to keep their IT teams well-resourced and supported to make sure they are checking on the operational health of the technology on a daily basis. They need to make sure any updates provided by the developers are well researched prior to implementation, then carried out with close monitoring to avoid unforeseen damage. They should also conduct regular check-ins with the vendors to ensure they stay full informed of all changes to their vital systems.

Freeze Instructional Technology Architecture

Simply put, nothing new, nothing removed. There are two reasons for this, stability and stability. First, instructional technology ecosystems are delicate, complicated, and full of moving parts. A change could destabilize the system which would cause far more problems than any incremental gain. Further, teachers’ emotional wellbeing while using instruction technology at this time will become unstable if the technology they rely upon changes. Whether they are teaching remotely or in a socially distanced environment in the classroom, consistent and reliable technology will provide them the best environment for quality teaching.

Be Publicly Supportive of Teachers…

Celebrate Teachers

Unlike any time in my memory, teachers are working alone and working in conditions that are truly unknown. On the whole, teachers are communal workers needing their colleagues and peers for daily reinvigoration. Since that is not available to them, it is our job to be publicly supportive. Remind them they are doing a great job, the students are doing well, and we are proud of them. Put it on the school’s website, on social feeds, in newsletters. Make teachers understand just how wonderful they are.

…and Avoid Adding to Their Stress Levels

Our teachers have shown their grit and skill in this tough environment, but it has taken an immense physical, mental, and emotional toll. Many of them are parents themselves having to juggle home learning duties in addition to home-based teaching responsibilities. This is not the time to enforce difficult policies, to overly analyze them, or to give them additional tasks. My suggestions are that school move away from informative staff meetings to supportive ones. Put the procedural items in an email and let teachers talk to each other. Don’t make any curricular or programmatic changes. Move to more qualitative assessments away from heavily quantitative or data-based reporting. After all, any data we collect on our students or teachers around learning will have so much confounding variation from pandemic conclusions drawn from them will be worthless.

We all have high hopes that in the coming months airplanes and restaurants will be safe to sit in mask free. But when that actually will come to pass we cannot predict. In the meantime, our schools are best served by doing what they have been doing: relying on stable technology to connect students to learning and drawing upon the awesomeness of our dedicated teachers.

Stay safe everyone, you’re doing a great job!

This article was originally published in The International Educator in October, 2020.

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Put the Learning Before the Technology

Put the learning before the technology

“We’re getting tablets for the students!” Such a wonderful statement isn’t it? Think about the possibilities for the students. They’ll have access to personalized devices for use throughout the school day. Each device will be connected to the Internet which will provide access to a wealth of knowledge and information. And each device will be loaded with apps that students will use to communicate, collaborate, and explore.

For those of us who’ve spent a large amount of time in the EdTech game, this actually is a worrying statement for us, not an encouraging one. You’ll notice that nowhere in the preceding practice does the word “learning” show up. It’s all about access, usage, and tools not learning, individualization, or educational.

This is a dangerous approach we find in schools around the world. The enticement of devices or digital tools or the influx of funds that have to spent on technology can obscure schools from focusing on students’ needs. I’ve seen this done in schools (and entire countries) around the world where technology was bought before the learning was planned for and the tools created more problems than benefits.

In schools that are most successful with digital tools used for learning, they live the ethos, “no technology without purpose.” These schools have developed the experience and policies to identify the learning needs that will be filled with devices, online tools, or even Internet access. Frequently, they will tie these decisions to an Educational Technology Roadmap where evaluation procedures for technology tools and the intended learning outcomes for students are clearly defined and available for everyone in the school community to access.

How do schools follow this model of “learning before technology”?

First, schools need to define what their student learning outcomes should be with technology. Are they looking for 21st skills development, deepening and broadening of content knowledge, or even improved performance on summative assessments? Once this question is answered, schools need to articulate the learning outcomes they expect from their students when using technology.

I have seen this done in a number of ways. One school created a scaffolded set of technology and non-academic skills they expected from students and outlined them against grade levels. I worked with another school that mapped the areas of the existing curriculum they felt could be enhanced by digital tools and identified outcomes that they would expect when technology was infused. Other schools use the ISTE standards or the P21 Framework to help map and identify those outcomes.

Second, schools need to approach the teaching elements of technology for learning. Do their teachers have the capacity to implement such technologies? How will they offer ongoing professional learning in the functional aspects of technology and the pedagogic uses of it in the classroom? How will evaluate the efficacy of technology usage by teachers in the classroom?

The best schools I have seen will have a clear training and support system in place to help prepare teachers for the use of technology in the classroom. They will do this through evaluation of existing skills and attitudes and then provide continuous access to professional learning resources on the technical skills and pedagogical uses of technology. I’ve seen this in the form of EdTech coaches, connections to external training organizations, or internal time reserved for collaborative planning.

Last, schools need to recognize and plan for the “knock-on effect” of introducing digital tools for learning. A school is an ecosystem, with any change having impact on other areas of the organization. If new technology comes into the school, will it replace another tool? How will time be reserved to use it in the classroom? What other resources are needed to support that technology? Strong schools will investigate these implications before they purchase any digital tools because they know a significant disruption to the learning environment could result in teachers disengaging with the tool or the tool being misused.

Once these planning elements are in place, a school can confidently say they have put the learning before the technology. At this point, excitement about the students getting tablets should be encouraged around the school because those tablets will be used in ways that will enhance learning by teachers who are supported to use them well.

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Cybersecurity is Actually About People

Cybersecurity is About People

We used to believe that schools were immune to the cyberattacks that plagued the rest of the world because our missions was honorable and our resources were seen as less valuable. I think we can all agree those days are behind us. Schools worldwide are equally as vulnerable to online attacks and being targeted just as much as other industries.

In my work, cybersecurity has become one of the largest areas of concern and risk for schools worldwide. Schools are reliant on technology for academics and operations yet tend to be under prepared for cybersecurity. This often manifests in under informed staffs, insufficient funding, inadequate security, and lack of imperative amongst school leadership.

That is until an incident occurs. Once a school experiences a cyberattack they are often quick to action. Security is tightened, time is freed up for IT staff to address the crisis, consultants are hired, equipment is purchased, reports are written, and training is given. The money, time, and stress allocated is often far more than if the school had a more robust plan in place.

So, why don’t school focus on preventative cybersecurity? This is because schools view cybersecurity like flossing. A daily flossing routine will ensure healthy teeth and gums, which sound very important from a logical perspective, but doesn’t offer much observable impact in the near term. Many people take healthy teeth for granted and don’t want to be bothered maintaining them without an immediate benefit or consequence. However, when that first cavity springs up, those same people feel quite strongly that they should have been flossing the whole time.

woman smile with tooth floss; Shutterstock ID 646610392; Purchase Order: GSK02122019

And just like flossing, cybersecurity can be tedious. A good cybersecurity program will include penetration testing of the physical and logical security of the network, backup and recovery systems, data protection procedures, policies for access and security, regularly informed leadership, and, most importantly, training for all users. Since the benefits to teaching and learning of cybersecurity are so indirect, it can become quite difficult to maintain interest and compliance in cybersecurity from users at the school.

Non-compliance from users is actually the largest issue in the cybersecurity challenge for schools. Research has shown that users, typically employees or students with network access, provide the largest security hole for schools. This comes in the form of unsafe devices, weak passwords, and lack of knowledge about what should and should not be clicked. Cybersecurity experts will tell you that their best efforts are only as good as a mobile phone in the hands of their most dangerous employee.

As an example, I worked with a school that had two significant cybersecurity issues in the span of one week. The first came when a teacher left his computer open in a classroom. The teacher had not changed his password from the default password given him and a student accessed an exams repository. The second came when an office employee with access to vital parts of the network clicked on a link that downloaded ransomware that locked out the entire file system.

These incidents are illustrations that people are at the heart of cybersecurity.

Of course, we can view this from deficit approach by saying that people are not taking up their flossing responsibilities to follow strong cybersecurity practices. That is true and should be viewed as the primary area of focus for cybersecurity enhancement. Teachers, staff, students, and parents should learn about best practices for protecting their devices and their data. They should be taught how to spot phishing, use strong passwords, and how to avoid viruses and malware. They should know what can happen when a breech occurs.

And it is this last piece where we can flip the script from a lack of interest or negativity to one of affective impact and personal responsibility. Again, we must focus on the people aspect of cybersecurity.

Cybersecurlty

To begin, let’s think about what happens when a cyberattack occurs. Hackers and crackers gain access to a school’s network, devices, and data. They can cause damage or steal information for their own purposes. On the surface this sounds bad, but not catastrophic. Yet it can be catastrophic for people in the school.

Let’s reframe this to impact on a student. What happens if her device and the school network are damaged at a time when she need access to learning materials to study for an IB exam? What happens if a student needs to contact a counsellor about a bullying issue, but the communications system has been hacked? What happens if a student’s data, including personally identifiable information and medical history, are used by crackers for extortion purposes?

Cyberattacks don’t simply affect systems; they affect the most important people in our school communities. By framing our cybersecurity in the light of protecting children the way we would from child abuse or other maleficence, users will take on their responsibilities more seriously. They will view changing passwords and closing computers the same way parents look at putting away knifes in the kitchen.

The best approach to closing “the people gap” and improving best practices is to begin with the people that will be protected and then moving on to the hows, whens, and wheres of cybersafety. This will develop a culture of cybersecurity amongst all stakeholders that goes beyond compliance to stewardship and responsibility for others.

Now, getting them also to floss, well that’s a different challenge.

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Craig Kemp – Global Conversations – Building EdTech Capacity

In this episode of the Global Conversations series, we talk with Craig Kemp from Ignite EdTech. Craig is an international EdTech consultant who focuses on the learning side of technology in schools. In this interview, we talk about ways to engage teachers in building their EdTech capacity both in tools and teaching approaches.

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Technology is the Circulatory System of the School

Technology is the Circulatory System of a School

People often ask Tech Directors, “What exactly do you do?” The answer is of course incredibly complex, but in essence they keep the blood flowing to all the parts of the school.

Let’s think of a school as a living organism (which in many ways it is). This organism is a community of people working towards a common mission of student learning. They work together an interconnected set of systems, workflows, and dependencies much like the human body.

In the human body, each system serves a purpose towards the greater goal of keeping the body alive. Some of these systems are quite visible to use (the consumption of food, our ability to move, our senses, etc.) while others work in the background (the nervous system, the respiratory system, the circulatory system, etc.).

In schools, technology serves as the circulatory system.

In the human body, the circulatory is vital system that branches to every part of the body exchanging blood to ensure continued life. It contains a collection of mechanisms and parts that ensure the blood continues to be oxygenated and distributed, while prepared for emergencies should there be a problem.

The same is true of technology in a school. Technology’s purpose in a school is to distribute the life blood of the organization: information. Whether it’s network cable and wifi serving as the arteries and veins or maintaining access to the most updated information as the oxygenation of blood, technology helps ensure that every part of the school that needs it. Technology has backups and protective measures to handle issues and emergencies similar to the circulatory system. And just like the circulatory system, technology works about 97% of the time and people rarely notice it unless there is a major problem.

Of course, we have to address a key thought you might be having: with this analogy, does he think technology is the heart of the school? Well, yes…and no. From a functional standpoint, yes, technology runs the heart of the school. The servers and systems that pump information everywhere its needed acts as the four-chamber heart of the school. It needs to be well maintained, protected, and free of clogging. A breakdown of this system is akin to a heart attack with the same potential severity. From a metaphoric standpoint, no, technology is not the emotional heart and purpose that drives a school. It is not the reason the school operates or the school’s driving force. Nor should it ever be…though I think we all know tech people who might disagree.

Technology as the functional heart and circulatory system, but not the emotional heart of a school is key concept for all stakeholders as it sets clear expectations and culture.

If leaders, teachers, parents, students, and technology personnel understand the critical role technology holds in all academic and operational areas of the school then expectations can be appropriately set. Uptime requirements and communications from the tech department will be more in line with the reliance all others place on their work. The need for institutional support and appropriate funding will help ensure system health. The need for clear protective measures and operational procedures will be understood by all stakeholders. And realistic expectations around technology capacity, functionality, and reliability will be held by all. Further, when everyone in a school understands the circulatory system role of technology a culture of better communication and efficient technology usage tends to arise.

This begs the question: how do leaders, teachers, and parents better engage the technology department to build this understanding?

First, a technology roadmap for the school should be co-created to outline the current state of technology across the organization. This will outline the veins, arteries, and (functional) heart of the system. Such a roadmap will allow for greater clarity of decision making and serve as a backup of institutional knowledge.

Next, the process and data flows should be mapped by the tech team. This outline of the blood will allow the school to better understand what data it has, how it is used, and how teams work together to ensure consistent flow.

Last, an exercise program and healthy eating program should be put in place. The goal of better data flow, protected technology, and systemic improvement should be treated the same way we aim to exercise and eat well. The school should do this through strategic planning, cybersecurity auditing, and data flow and protection procedures.

By understanding that technology is the circulatory system of the school and treating it as such, the functional aspect of the organization can be maintained and improved in a healthy manner. This will allow everyone to focus on the true heart of the institution.

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Tara Linney – Global Conversations – Girls in Coding

In this episode of the Global Conversations series, we talk with Tara Linney about her book Code Equity: Keying Girls Into Coding. Code Equity is an EdTech book talking about Girls in Coding. We talk about empower girls in coding and computer science, from clubs to support to activities to encouragement. An inspiring discussion for helping girls become more involved in EdTech.

Buy the book here:
https://www.amazon.com/Code-Equity-Keying-girls-coding-ebook/dp/B07B9HN6YB/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=code+equity&qid=1587372291&sr=8-1

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YOLO – You’re Only in Lockdown Once, SO HAVE FUN!!!

During COVID19, most of the rules and social norms are out the window. So, now is a time to experiment, goof off, try new things, dress up, tell stories, make videos…do things you couldn’t normally do in school.

In short, YOLO – You’re Only in Lockdown Once…SO HAVE FUN!!!

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Go for Creativity, Not Complexity

As teachers are thrust into using technology for learning, they tend to slip back into a common pitfall of more, more, more. We see more tasks to do, more questions to answer, and more complexity in our tasks. However, more isn’t always best…in this COVID19 time, I suggest we give more control to students and ask them to be creative in their work. Have them show their learning through their creative ideas. This will take up time, increase engagement, and make learning more meaningful.

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Digital Hygiene during COVID19

Cyberattacks, data breaches, and privacy issues have been all over the news during our stint of force remote learning. In this video, I talk about Digital Hygiene for cybersafety and cybersecurity. We should take the same approach as we do with Physical Hygiene during COVID19 – Social Distancing, Wearing Face Masks, and Quarantines.

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Try Something New If Not Now, When?

In these unique times, we have a huge opportunity to experiment and try things we have never done before. Whether professionally or personally, the time is now. We don’t know when this will end and the stakes are different. No exams, fewer grades, and students ripe for new experiences. So whether you a teacher or a parent, try something new…maybe even shave your head!

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