I was looking forward to attending ISTE in Denver this year. Being a member of the leadership team for the Digital Equity PLN meant new responsibilities would squeeze into an already packed schedule of events, sessions and socializing.  I knew I would finally get to meet some of my online PLN, and hopefully participate in meaningful conversations. The conversations are usually the most interesting part of any of my conference experiences. This year didn’t disappoint.


Some of my takeaways from ISTE this year…….

The Maker movement is in full steam. Whether it be coding with the established (whose creator brought R2D2 to the ISTE stage), learning about Raspberry Pi or getting your hands dirty and creating yourself; this was the year of the Maker. I will be interested to see how schools and districts integrate Making into their day. Will it be viewed as part of the traditional learning and worked into the existing curriculum? Will they write a new curriculum using it as the foundation? Will it be an enrichment learning activity for the lucky few? Or perhaps an after-school program open to all interested students. Whatever they choose, they will have to somehow expose all students to what Chris Aviles terms Innovation Labs or Spaces, in order to usher in a new era of citizens to solve our world’s many problems.


Another takeaway was the importance and evolving role of instructional technology specialists (edtech coaches). I have always felt that eventually this position would fade into the background as educators became more adept at using technology to create learning activities for their students. In the ISTE Edtech Coaches Playground this year, I met so many of my colleagues (other coaches) who they themselves felt they needed coaching and guidance. That the speed in which new technology for learning spaces, coupled with the myriad of responsibilities {there is no blueprint for this position so in some cases coaches become the all around go to for all things tech in their building. Whether it be an IT issue or assisting an admin with their personal devices} is leaving them feeling overwhelmed and in some cases discouraged. The EdTech Coaches PLN definitely provided a space to meet with others who understand the mission, and sometimes dilemma, and there were plenty of resources that would meet any coaches needs. I look forward to participating in the PLN more during the upcoming year.

My last takeaway is more of a continuing thought about diversity; an underlying theme of the conference and recently in technology overall. Being a part of the Digital Equity PLN has given me a view, voice and platform to discuss not only equity, but diversity as well. In the society at large, the two are oftentimes tied in ways that they shouldn’t as each has its own history in respect to culture, schooling, technology and the culture of schooling and technology. The culture of educational technology mirrors that of its older siblings technology and education. Why would it be different? The people in edtech  live in our world of inequity, sexism, racism, etc.. How much of societies dysfunction has been brought into this subset of education and technology?

One of the keynote speakers, the brilliant Dr. Ruha Benjamin, helped us navigate that question, as she held up the mirror and forced us to look at the culture that as most feel edtech is the most innovative and progressive sector of education. Is it? As I look back on those 3 days I realize that being exposed to the latest and greatest technology is all well and good, but without the interaction, the conversations that push our thinking and the kind of risk taking and growth we want for our students; we are leaving the human aspect out of learning.


The Big Four

Over the years I have noticed that educators have begun to align themselves with particular technology companies. *Disclaimer I am a GCI* I wonder when the shift from seeking resources to assist in teaching in learning, became “there is one company will be THE tool/resource”. My concern is that when we focus on the resource itself, we lose sight of the reason we sought it out in the first place; to assist in facilitating learning. I was reminded of this recently when a colleague asked about becoming a “teacher asset” of one of the companies; that I call “The Big Four” (Google, Apple, Microsoft and Adobe). I questioned their reasons for wanting to align themselves. Was it the prestige, the free swag, the inclusion into an elite club of educators? How would this assist them in growing as an educator? Would it help them on their journey into using modern pedagogy in their classroom, if so had they thought of how? You see I have always been one to seek out strategies that will help my students learn. From  receiving training on JHU’s cooperative learning strategies, at the beginning of my career,  to my recent dive into Design Thinking; I have always sought out progressive strategies that have pushed my students thinking and helped me evolve as an educator.

Where do the Big Four fit into all of this? While Google has dominated my school’s landscape over the past 5-6 years, I have also been an avid user in the other three. I began using Microsoft’s version of cloud computing almost around the same time I started with GAFE. My home district was a “Microsoft” district and my son’s teachers preferred to receive school work in that format only. Issue: we didn’t have the Microsoft suite of tools locally on our home computers. We did have msn accounts (yes I know I am dating myself) that could be used with the then SkyDrive or Windows Live SkyDrive; which featured a rudimentary office apps cloud system. Problem solved, my son could complete his work in the desired format of his teachers, and I did not have to purchase Microsoft Office for our home. We have been using their cloud apps ever since. At work, when faced with the possibility of numerous daily revisions, of a curriculum document in Word, I asked, no begged for the committee to “try” Google Apps. While the idea was not accepted, the seed was planted for using Google apps to make the classroom more efficient; and led to me advocating for our district (initially our school) to adopt GAFE.

My use of Apple products came a bit later, as I was not an iphone user (#TeamAndroid). Thanks to my school being an early adopter of technology, I was fortunate to receive an ipad to learn and use in my classroom. We also had purchased a macbook to sync the ipads for app distribution. Well, I am a believer that no technology should sit idle if it can be used effectively in the classroom. With the permission of my principal, and the assistance of our then webmaster, I took the macbook and taught myself the mac OS. Yes, initially it was as if I were learning a new language, but with time I became comfortable with it. Many of my students owned a macbook and were able to teach me and other students to use GarageBand for projects like our depression era podcasts, and iMovie for collaborative learning activities with other classes.

Now my relationship with Adobe came last, but it has served me well in my professional life. Using their creative cloud suite has given me an entryway into the world of creatives and helped me bring that aspect to my students learning activities. Most people think of Photoshop when you think of Adobe, but they have other apps that are available, for free, with a learning curve that kindergarteners can master. After learning about Adobe Voice from my PLN (thanks @RafranzDavis) I recently began using it with first graders, for digital storytelling. After showing a couple of students  the workflow, they grabbed the ipad and proceeded to help other students and their teacher! Another app that teachers will love is Adobe Post (currently ios only). It allows you to create graphics on the fly that are beautifully designed. The latest application I have been creating with, is Adobe Slate. It is a presentation application, that is a worthy alternative to whatever presentation creator you currently use.

In sharing my own journey with the Big Four (and countless web 2.0 apps that came before, during and are currently in my toolbox) I hope I was able to give my colleague food for thought, and convey that keeping the overarching context of teaching and learning, in the forefront of decision making will allow you to embrace, land use the tools that will foster thinking, learning and growing for our students.