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Educators Should Build an EdTech Portfolio

EdTech Portfolio

Educators Should Build an EdTech Portfolio

I suppose what I’m suggesting here is applicable to all educators regardless of where they work, but us international educators are a bit different. Our average tenure in a school or country is less four years. We work in schools that have little to no affiliation with one another. And we work with different curricula, school cultures, and resourcing every new place we go. Not to mention the languages and diversity of our colleagues, parents, and students.

With this turnover and inconsistency, how do educators document their skills and abilities as they look for new jobs? Having worked in school leadership involved with teacher recruitment, I can say this is an issue. When looking at candidates, we have to trust resumes and references reinforced with Skype interviews and gut feelings to make our hiring decision. Unlike local school systems, we have few avenues to verify skills, trainings, or abilities beyond what is provided by the candidate. In short, candidates have difficulty proving their skills and employers find it difficult to validating their claims.

There is one area where educators can document their skills and distinguish themselves from others: Educational Technology.

EdTech

But why focus on EdTech skills? Unlike other pedagogic knowledge or curricular competencies that are non-standardized, EdTech is global. The use of technology to enhance learning works in every school regardless of the operating system they use or the communications system them employ. A school may run the A-Levels when an educator has only worked with the DP. However, the skills used to collaborate with students using Google Drive are the same as those for Office 365.

Further, schools are implementing EdTech more and more each year. In a large portion of international schools, technology usage for learning and communications is a core competency for educators. Schools are seeing the need for developing computational thinking in students, a greater focus on personalized learning, and the balance between student created materials with consumed information. School boards are using EdTech as a measure of their competitiveness and as a recruitment tool. Also, the EdTech market is one of the fastest growing in the world. It is no longer a case of “can educators use technology,” but “how they use it.”

So, how do educators differentiate themselves in their use of EdTech? By creating a portfolio of EdTech skills that include certifications, recognitions, online presence, and a collection of learning activities.

Several EdTech companies have certification programs for their products. They vary in depth and quality, but all of them demonstrate functional knowledge of tools and services found in schools. The better ones start with tools knowledge then show how to use them in learning and assessment. Most certifications are free or low cost and come with completion certificates that can be included in a portfolio. Examples of these might be the Microsoft Certified Educator or the Apple Teacher. Educators who hold these certificates show their technical knowledge as well as their commitment to professional development and growth.

Google Certified EducatorCertified Microsoft Innovative EducatorApple Teacher

Beyond certifications, recognitions are available from EdTech companies and educational organizations. These recognitions evaluate an educator’s skills with technology and offer training, but they also recognize achievement in using EdTech for learning. Many include membership in worldwide professional learning networks at no cost. Examples would include the Seesaw Ambassador Program, Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship Certified Educator, and CUE Rockstar. These recognitions demonstrate educators have access to resources and learning networks that can aid colleagues and improve the reputation of the school.

However, certificates and recognitions are tied to products or organizations. A strong EdTech portfolio should include contributions to the overall EdTech community. Educators should show they stay current being active in professional learning networks, reading publications, and engaging in social media. Yet, to truly demonstrate competencies, educators need to contribute and have online presence. They should maintain a Twitter account highlighting their work and the work of others. They should write articles or blog posts describing their successes. And most importantly they should be easily searchable. The most organized educators will keep a blog or website with links to all their materials and networks.

EdTech Portfolio

Finally, an excellent EdTech portfolio should demonstrate actual learning activities and the products of learning. Educators should outline what technology they used, how it was used, what lessons were taught, and what learners created through their experience. Notice, I didn’t say “students.” A well-rounded portfolio will show student learning and professional development activities the educator led or helped plan. When showcasing work, educators should include materials and activities rather than planning documents or assessment data. Educators can upload presentations, pictures, videos, or completed work to the same website used to develop online presence. With these examples, a school will get a real sense of the educator’s capacity to use technology for learning and by extension their approach to the classroom.

And one last point: An EdTech portfolio is a fluid entity that should be kept up to date just as an educator would with their personnel records or a CV. Otherwise, it becomes stale and causes more harm than good.

This article was originally published in International Teacher Magazine in November 2017.

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The Touchpoints of Educational Technology Excellence

Educational Technology Excellence

The Touchpoints of
Educational Technology Excellence

I have had the pleasure to work with a number of schools around the world in the area of Educational Technology. Usually, if schools want to talk to me it is either to show me something amazing or to ask my advice on becoming a school that would have something amazing to show. Sadly, a large portion of international schools fall into that latter category. They have a desire to use technology for excellence, but have not been successful.

Educational Technology Excellence

Of course, “success” is a loaded word in our field. Success suggests an end point to technology for learning. As in, “we have all the computers we need, so EdTech can be removed from our to-do list.” This is a common mistake. EdTech is directly tied to learning practices, budgets, and operations of a school, none of which are ever finished. Further, the impact of EdTech success is not something that can be easily measured as it has such a breadth of influence on a school. Boards often ask me for metrics or ROI for their technology investments and while I have a few measures to show them, true impact across a school cannot be shown by standard assessments. Famed EdTech researcher Saul Rockman said, “Those administrators and board members who insist on a specific test score gain as the return on investment [in Educational Technology] are, more likely than not, going to be disappointed.”

So, where does this leave us? We know there are schools doing amazing things with technology. Are they not successful? These schools have opted for excellence, a concept of continued improvement with no time limit, rather than success. When you visit these schools, you will notice they have common touchpoints for excellence in EdTech in the areas of learning, infrastructure, sustainability, and leadership.

Educational Technology LearningFirst, and foremost, excellence in EdTech is found in a focus on learning. EdTech’s role in a school is to enhance learning for all members of the school. It is not about frequently used tools or Internet skills or even assessment performance. Excellent EdTech fosters personalized, rigorous, and real time learning that is not constrained by traditional understanding of knowledge or access to information. With this, excellence can be found when schools clearly define the skills and competencies their students will work towards with access to computing in the classroom (and at home). Excellent schools put continued professional development for their staffs, teaching and non-teaching, as strategic and budgetary priorities. Learning for parents and the community are also focal points. And these schools take time to celebrate learning through sharing and promotion. Perhaps the most striking element of learning excellence in strong EdTech schools is the technology itself is seamless. It has become part of the DNA of the school rather than an area needing special attention.

Second, technology enhanced learning is supported by a robust infrastructure. Schools with excellent EdTech programs have reliable internal networks, a clear device access policy, supplemental devices to account for damage, and online systems – such as learning management, communications, or student information – that work well and support teacher and student needs. However, the true lynchpin of infrastructure excellence in schools comes through personnel. Many times I find that less mature schools fund equipment and services without hiring and developing IT staff that will ensure reliability. A strong IT manager who leads her team, is customer focused, and is strategic is worth her weight in gold. And the team she has assembled with be vital members of the non-teaching staff.

Third, programmatic excellence is not a one-time investment. Many of the school boards I have spoken to talk about funds they have set aside for large technology purchases or upgrades, but when I ask them how they will maintain their systems in the coming years few have a viable plan. EdTech moves at the pace of technology. Devices will run out of life, better systems will come online, and the needs of learners are ever changing as our understanding of learning changes. Excellence in EdTech requires that schools strategically plan for and clearly budget replacement and improves cycles for their devices, personnel, and programs. Three to five year budgets for device and system refreshes are critical. Further, excellent school visit their EdTech learning plans frequently and revise them on regular basis to ensure they are aligned with current practices.

Educational Technology LeadershipFinally, and most critically, schools with excellent EdTech programs will have publicly supportive leadership. The Head of School, senior leadership team, and the board will understand the role of technology in the school and tout its benefits to the school community. Their support is key to making excellence in EdTech a commitment of the entire organization and its members. Such support will appear in newsletters, reports, hiring practices, budgets, strategic planning, and staff evaluation…for a period of time. Strong leadership can push EdTech excellence into the daily mission of the school to the point where their support will only be needed in budgets and evaluation practices. Leadership ensures the focus on learning, the quality of the infrastructure, and sustainability of the EdTech programs.

Excellence in EdTech is not elusive or even overly expense, but it does require emphasis on multiple touchpoints rather than just focus on computers or short term solutions. Whenever I speak to schools aspiring to do great things with technology, I refer them to these excellent schools and then I caution them not to ask about the computers.

This article originally appeared in The International Educator in October, 2017.

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Find Your Digital Champions

Find Your Digital Champions

To fully embed Educational Technology (EdTech) into the DNA of a school takes significant resources. We know about the fiscal and technological resources to provide sufficient and sustainable access to tools. Schools also need vision, leadership, support, and grit. These key resources are not easily bought with money and rather take something far more precious: time. Time from leaders, time for students, and time from teachers to bring this goal to fruition.

Find Your Digital ChampionsMany schools will build in time for support from teachers by hiring Educational Technology Coaches who use their time to help teachers focus and execute on EdTech programs. However, coaches are teachers just like any other and hiring another teacher has serious impacts on budgeting in the short and near term. It’s doubtful any school has the financial resources to keep hiring teachers to the point of full support for every program. Further, many schools find it challenging to fund even one Educational Technology Coach while others do not have EdTech programs mature enough to warrant coaching.

This leaves an inevitable gap in support for teachers who are the most important part of the equation on technology effectiveness for enhancing learning.

We’ve addressed this issue, to moderate success, by identifying and supporting Digital Champions.

Find Your Digital Champions

A Digital Champion is a teacher who has aptitude in using EdTech effectively for learning, interest in trying new things, and openness to support fellow colleagues. For example, a Digital Champion might be a Biology teacher who uses technology for formative assessment and differentiation to success. She is vocal with our Learning Technology team and me that she wants to experiment with new data modeling systems in her classroom. And when we ask for information about challenges in the Science department related to technology she is knowledgeable and forthcoming.

At my school, we have identified at least one Digital Champion in every grade level team and every subject department. As a result, each group of teachers at our campus has a recognized Digital Champion we can use a conduit to support the faculty. Finding these teachers was the easiest part of the process as we already knew who our high fliers were from previous work.

Schools can leave the process here, with informal recognition of Digital Champions and as-needed communication, and they would have a strong supplementary support system for teachers.

 

However, we felt this was insufficient and we added some formality. First, we create a role description to describe the skills and attributes of our Digital Champions. Second, we added simple responsibilities to the role such as regular communications with our team, formal processes for experimentation with new tools, and a requirement to inform us of departmental challenges or teachers needing additional support. Notice none of this added additional time to the Digital Champions’ workload, just formalized our interactions with them. Lastly, we added line items into our budget to provide additional professional development training and access to technology resources specifically for the Digital Champions.

Find Your Digital Champions

In short, we have a formal role at the school where tech-savvy or tech-affinity teachers help us provide support to their department, offer us a clear line of communication, and we reward them with more tools and training. It is a win-win.

Since we created our Digital Champion program, we’ve seen a large uptick in effective use of technology in several departments and grade levels. Not surprisingly, those departments house the more active Digital Champions. We’ve also seen a reputational increase for the Learning Technology department as teachers feel more support

ed on an individual and group level. Digital Champions have brought in a handful of new tools and services that we have extended across the school. We have even removed a few tools that they showed us were obsolete.

My favorite outcome of this program has been the challenge our Digital Champions have given us. They, being empowered and well resourced, have pushed our IT and Learning Technology teams to improve service, uptime, and speed of response. Our Digital Champions have even called vendors directly (with our blessing) to request features and challenge customer service delays that have resulted in immediate actions from those providers.

Our Digital Champions have pushed technology into the DNA of the school in ways that my team and I could never have done. And they have done it by offering their time and passion with little financial or organizational cost.

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Committed Leadership is the Fuel that Keeps EdTech Alive

Committed Leadership is the Fuel that Keeps EdTech Alive

Educational technology (EdTech) is a movement towards contemporary learning needs. It takes the tradition view learning that consists of paper and pencil delivered by an expert in the front of a room and flips it on its head. EdTech brings learning, for both children and adults, into the modern world. It uses the tools and information at hand to build skills, competencies, and attitudes in learners rather delivering information to be regurgitated. It prepares people to live and work in our connected society in ways that 20th century schooling is unfit to accomplish…Committed Leadership is the Fuel that Keeps EdTech Alive

…and it is difficult for schools to fully engage as it challenges their long-held beliefs, their perceived role in student development, and the learning experiences of teachers and administrators.

Yet, creating successful EdTech programs in schools is moving away from “nice to have” or “emerging need” to “requirement” and “expectation”.

To meet this requirement and create a successful and sustainable EdTech program in a school there are three key factors: resourcing, engaged teachers, and committed leadership.

Resourcing is relatively simple. Does the school have ample technology, personnel, time, and budget to run its EdTech program? These need to be appropriately allocated and managed, of course, but the real factor is their existence in the organization. EdTech programs without resourcing can be challenging.

Next, an engaged teaching faculty is important. Teachers are where the rubber hits the road as they deliver the program. Teachers need to be engaged in improving learning for students and for themselves as part of the overall initiative. Without engaged teachers, EdTech will run into many barriers or become forced and autocratic.

However, committed leadership is what brings EdTech to life into a school and, more importantly, keeps it alive.

Committed leadership ensures that the ethos and operations of the school support EdTech in its development and its continued growth. Committed leaders, such as school boards, heads of school, division principals, and middle leadership, will demonstrate their commitment through multiple avenues like communications, time allocations, planning, and budgeting.

When you enter a school with a leadership commitment to improving learning with technology, you’ll feel it. EdTech will show up in newsletters, on the school website, and in the mission and vision. Leadership will speak about EdTech with enthusiasm and clarity of purpose, easily articulating the school’s long term commitment to the program. They will ensure that EdTech has become part of the school’s DNA, not just an add-on.

Committed Leadership is the Fuel that Keeps EdTech Alive

Leadership will provide teachers with time and training to build their skills around using technology for learning and the pedagogic shifts found in modern education. They will insist on robust strategic planning and indicators of success. And committed leadership will develop budgets that allow for program growth in the short term and sustainability in the long term. For example, they will allocate money to buy devices this year then include an annual line item to replace those devices as they become obsolete.

This is where we see the most trouble with EdTech in schools. Leadership makes a strong commitment and push for the development of the program to start. They build a strategic plan, hire personnel, buy equipment, and offer professional development programs. However, once those are completed the commitment wanes. They put a check mark next to EdTech and consider it accomplished. The commitment to continual improvement erodes as the newness of the program fades away. It is a common problem in school who have had early success in their programs.

However, EdTech is a long game. Technology changes, the ways it can improve learning changes, and the supported resourcing and professional development never go away. Further, devices get old and bandwidth needs increase.

For leadership to fulfill their long-term commitment to EdTech in a school they must include EdTech in the assessments, budgeting, and strategic analysis. The way the school assesses learning for its students and teachers should include an EdTech element, such as skills ladder for students or EdTech goals for teachers. Budgeting should include fixed annual funds for depreciation, replacement, and new equipment. And, most importantly, when the school conducts strategic analysis of themselves, as in external audits or accreditation, they should delve deep into the accomplishment and plans for their EdTech programs.

Committed Leadership is the Fuel that Keeps EdTech Alive

I have worked with several schools around the world and rarely have I found they have all key factors in place – resourcing, engaged teachers, committed leadership – instead being stronger in one or two of them. Yet, many of these schools have still made immense strides in developing impactful EdTech programs by overcoming their shortcomings. That said, none of these successful schools has been lacking in committed leadership. If a school can’t commit to EdTech from the top it will never develop a meaningful or lasting program, regardless of how much time and money they invest. And, as a result, they will find themselves falling behind their competitors, the expectations of parents, and the needs of students living in the 21st century.

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Coaches and Champions – The Essentials of Educational Technology Support

Coaches and Champions –
The Essentials of Educational Technology Support

Educational Technology in international schools is a complex undertaking. Schools must implement robust information technology systems that are reliable and sustainable. They must continually develop instructional practices, programs and curricula that draw upon the potential of technology to enhance learning while accounting for teachers that come from diverse pedagogic backgrounds. And they must achieve student learning outcomes that align to the realities of 21st century life while meeting traditional academic standards. All of this, while operating in a foreign environment will little of the support mechanisms enjoyed by schools that belong to Ministries of Education or school districts.

However, consistent amongst all schools around the world, both international and not, the learning impact of technology rests primarily on one factor: the teachers. Teacher capacity for working with technology rich environments, their understanding of fundamental learning principles and pedagogy, and their willingness to innovate are the life blood of exemplary educational technology programs. In international schools, this is far more complicated as our teachers are transitory and their innate abilities to meet these needs go with them as they leave our schools to explore new opportunities and adventures every 3-4 years.

Coaches and Champions – The Essentials of Educational Technology Support

Yet, there are still many highly impactful educational technology programs in international schools around the world that maintain their levels of success despite staff turnover. They do this through institutional commitment to teacher support in educational technology. Teachers in these schools have support to learn about technology tools and how to use them in teaching. They are given instructional support, both in and out of the classroom, to develop activities and collaborate with peers. And they are encouraged to explore new practices and tools that may improve learning within the school.

This type of support includes may different elements such as financial resourcing, time, and leadership. However, the most essential elements of educational technology support come in the form of coaches and champions.

Coaches and Champions – The Essentials of Educational Technology SupportEducational technology coaches are members of the teaching faculty who are trained educators, experienced in curriculum design, assessment for learning, and the fundamentals of good pedagogy. Secondary to these pedagogic skills, they understand how technology can improve learning. They are not IT technicians or systems engineers, but teachers who coach their peers on the use of complicated IT tools to meet teaching and learning needs. Often, educational technology coaches start their careers as classroom teachers and move to coaching after they develop skills with, an affinity for, and a reputation in using technology for learning in impactful and innovative ways.

The job description for an educational technology coach is simple: provide training to teachers on technology tools and their uses for learning, help departments or grade levels develop curriculum that leverages technology, provide in-class support for teachers delivering technology reliant lessons, and offer strategic planning expertise in educational technology. Educational technology coaches must be personable, approachable, and energetic. They are the advocates for innovative practices in successful schools. Note, their role is not to directly teach students or to provide technical support. They are instructional coaches with an expertise in technology for learning.

Schools will approach educational technology coaches in a few ways, but the most successful programs will keep their coaches off the timetable. Educational technology coaches must be available to teachers during any period of the day, before and after school and at lunchtime. Successful schools will also hire a reasonable number of coaches, often striving for a ratio of one coach per 500 students.Coaches and Champions – The Essentials of Educational Technology Support

However, I have found two things to be true with educational technology coaches. First, even the ideal amount of coaching is not enough. Second, schools have difficult time maintaining coaching positions as they are qualified teachers with limited or no direct student contact time.

Thus, good schools will complement their coaching support with a network of educational technology champions. These are members of the faculty who show the same characteristics found in emerging educational technology coaches; excellent teaching practices, desire to try new tools and methods, a growth mindset, a personable and approachable personality, and a commitment to the teaching faculty as a whole. Champions, once identified, can help deliver instructional support to fellow teachers and provide valuable insight into the needs of a department, grade level, or individual teacher. They can also serve as advocates for new endeavors or pilots for emerging technologies. When used well, champions can be the seeds, water, and sunlight of a growing educational technology program.

 

Coaches and Champions – The Essentials of Educational Technology Support

In my school, we identify at least one champion in every year level and department. My team of coaches and I meet with the champions on a regular basis to learn about their peers and offer insights into new projects. We reserve part of my departmental budget for special professional development for my champions and at times the occasional new toy to play with. We encourage our champions to share their passions internally throughout the school and externally to the international school community. As a result, we are able to better align our educational technology coaching with the needs of each department, supplement that support with a peer champion, and ensure a clear line of communication through the school.

 

 

Regardless of whether they use coaches or champions or both, effective educational technology programs recognize their greatest impact of technology on learning comes in supporting teachers by using teachers.

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