7 December 2016

Teacher Geeks: Technology Professionals

In the latest module of my Masters in Education and Instructional Technology, we studied "Administration of Technology Initiatives: Planning, Budgeting, and Evaluation". This involved us exploring how to research and write for grants, as well as design and plan at both classroom and school initiative level. As many schools are implementing technology into their curriculum, it is important that we think about the role that educators and technology integrators can play in successful technology use in the classroom.

This following is my research into technology professionals conducted during the summer of 2016. I have since gained employment elsewhere and am no longer working at the school mentioned in this paper.

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Technology Professionals: The ‘Interview’

With the advent of technology becoming more prevalent in schools, many establishments are seeking to employ Technology Professionals to act as coaches and mentors to help manage and implement successful and relevant transitions into technology-rich classrooms. This paper examines what Technology Professionals are doing in their schools at present and evaluates how these roles and responsibilities may change, with particular reference to my understanding of how I would like to share my expertise with colleagues in the future.

My current school does not use technology for teaching and learning and does not employ a Technology Professional. The Middle East is considered, by many who are here, to be ten years behind current learning theories and practices; as a result, schools here have been slow to embrace new pedagogies, and only four (out of over 70 British- and American-curriculum English-speaking schools) utilise any kind of technology at all. Our location, 80km away from the nearest school, at the end of the school year, during Ramadan in a Muslim country, all compounded into a real challenge in finding a suitable person to interview. Therefore, I turned to technology and developed a Technology Professional Survey (Fairbrother, 2016) on Google Forms (Google, Inc.) that I shared with my Professional Learning Network (PLN) via Twitter (NYSE: TWTR, 2006). I contacted a number of people directly, some of whom I know as Technology Professionals from working with previously, whilst others were recommended to me. 

Technology Professionals: The Questions


The questions on the survey are based on:

          a) What I believe Technology Professionals roles should involve and some of the traits I expect from someone in this role 

          b) Standards for Coaches (International Society for Technology in Education, 2016)

The questionnaire is divided into six sections; the first section, ‘You and Your Role’, deals with personal details in terms of teaching roles, responsibilities and experience. The next section is concerned with the part the Technology Professional plays in ‘Mentoring and Training Teachers’, as I believe this is a crucial aspect if we are to move schools forward in terms of technology-rich curricula. The third and fourth section seeks to discover how much the Technology Professionals are involved in decisions and implementation of ‘Learning Environments’ and ‘Digital Safety’, as it is important that schools set up secure, interesting and responsible digital environments. The fifth section questions how involved they are in the ‘Innovation and Leadership’ of technology in their school, to determine the extent they influence what is happening technology-wise. Finally, the survey ends by asking about their own ‘Personal Learning and Growth’, as I believe this is crucial if we are to remain coherent with both current and emerging technologies. 

  Technology Professionals: Evaluation


I received a total of six responses over a two-week period at the end of May and beginning of June 2016. Three respondents were female and three were male. As a woman, it is really important to me that I gain a female perspective in a field traditionally dominated by males, but also wanted a rounded response too, hence the 50/50 split.

One hundred percent of the teachers work in Middle School or higher (see Fig. 1), which is my area of focus as a Grade 6-12 teacher, and are based in schools in Qatar, America, Singapore, Malaysia and Japan. This not only allows me a glimpse into what is happening globally, but is pertinent to me as an International School teacher, with experience of teaching in a variety of institutions in four different countries. 

All have more than two years’ experience, with fifty percent having 6-10 years of experience in their role (see Fig. 2), slightly less than my 14 years, but still highly equivocal. None hold qualifications specific to the role other than the expected Bachelor degree and teaching certification, which, until this Masters Degree is finished, is similar to myself.

The educators surveyed teach across a variety of disciplines; some are tech-knowledgeable subject teachers, whilst others hold specific Technology Professional titles such as ‘Instructional Technology Specialist’ or ‘Lead Teacher of Library & Technology’ even though they do not hold specific educational technology qualifications. However, more importantly, particularly in terms of my beliefs and experience, half are based primarily ‘in the classroom’ (see Fig. 3). Whilst respondents stated that their roles do involve “support[ing] classroom teachers with integrating technology” and “develop[ing] professional learning opportunities”, fifty percent are based in the classroom, “planning”, “marking’ and “teaching”; four out of the six teach everyday, and one hundred percent use tech to “deliver learning”. This suggest that we appear to be moving away from ‘digital coaches’ or ‘integrators’ as discreet roles, and are instead, cultivating teachers who are adept at using tech. It would appear that education may be moving more towards what I believe is the future of educational technology, where “classrooms don’t need tech geeks who can teach, they need teaching geeks who can use tech” (Guerin, 2016). This is a positive step for me, as I am not particularly a ‘tech geek’ but a self-professed (and proud) ‘teaching geek’ who has had some considerable experience in successfully using technology in the classroom. 

A few years ago, whilst I was working in a 1:1 school in Singapore, I applied for the advertised position of ‘Digital Integrator’ but requested that it be ‘part-time’ to allow me to remain in the classroom. I felt that the current digital integrators had been out of the classroom for too long, they were focusing too much on gimmicks and it was becoming about ‘boys and their toys’. They were not at the ‘chalk face’ and not able to adequately assess the tools and apps they were ‘selling’ to the teachers, as they did not have a class of their own to evaluate them on fully. I asked to be able to remain in the classroom to be able to stay in touch with what truly worked, to still be able to plan and deliver tech-rich curricular and have time to share this learning and experience with others. I was told no. They wanted someone in the role full-time and did not see the logic to my argument. However, three years later, and in light of this survey and my learning, I still believe that if we are to “support transformational change throughout the instructional environment” (International Society for Technology in Education, 2016) Technology Professionals need to be IN that instructional environment on a regular basis.

The respondents of my survey also embody what I believe is crucial to be a Technology Professional in today’s world – and that is a life-long learner. This is particularly true if there are no ed-tech specific qualifications needed for Technology Professional roles. Using the TPACK model to help us to both move beyond using “older technologies” (Roblyer & Doering, 2013), and move across the ‘line’ of Puentedura’s (2013) SAMR model into ‘redefining’ learning, it is essential that educators remain current in content, pedagogy and technology practices and theory. In the last academic year, only one respondent had not attended a course in their subject content and one hundred percent had attended at least one course on pedagogy and at least one course in technology (see Fig. 4). Constant training is essential if “teaching geeks” are able to both stay in the classroom AND share their learning to encourage and train colleagues, which is part of what those who responded appear to be doing, with their input ranging from planning the school’s “professional growth plan”, “delivering staff PD” to “supporting classroom teachers with integrating technology”. Fifty percent are involved in ‘coaching teachers in the implementation of technology-enhanced learning’ on a regular basis, whilst fifty percent ‘model the design and implementation of technology-enhanced learning’. Some “are directly responsible for the direct instruction in terms of tech”, and one educator “monitors and evaluates how the technology is being used, delivering training “in the form of face-to-face, webinar, and online courses” as well as “a 3-day tech camp at the end of every school year” in order to ensure training “fits the needs of all” staff. 

Whilst it appears that planning and designing learning is a large part of the role Technology Professionals are taking in both modelling and training for technology-enhanced learning, a similar situation is not the case when is comes to the “use of data” (see Fig. 5) to enhance learning, and respondents have recognised this as an area that needs additional focus. One educator is “looking for learning opportunities as we gather qualitative and quantitative data to shape what learning we want our students to improve at” and part of one educator’s role next year is to “implement data analysis as a way to shape professional learning”. If we are to ensure that the learning we are delivering is effective, the use of data must become embedded into our regular practice and this is an area Technology Professionals need to focus on, particularly as many schools are very much ‘assessment-focused’. At present, educators are failing to use the data we do have to adequately and effectively inform teaching and learning. A reason for this maybe due to the ‘access and resources available to teachers’, which forty percent indicated as “requiring improvement”, with over sixty six percent of teachers having almost no involvement in ‘collaborative decision-making regarding technology access and resources’ (see Fig 6). One educator said there was “currently a top down district approach with little educational input”, a situation which could be improved by there being “more input from school staff into the required resources”. I asked the Technology Professionals to rate their involvement in the decision-making process with regards ‘technology access and resources for staff’, from 1 - highly involved, to 5 - not involved at all. Only one educator responded with a rating of 1, with the rest rating their involvement as a 3 or below (see Fig 7). The use of assistive technologies also suffers due to similar reasons, as none of the educators had any involvement with decisions or discussions around assistive technology, even though when asked if “there is a need for assistive or adaptive technologies in your school” not one replied “no”. Most suggest that learning could be enhanced with at least some “text to speech” applications, implementation of “hearing loop systems” and “visual assistance through better quality screens and projectors”, yet dialogue around this area of technology does not appear to be happening.

I believe that having a ‘Technology Committee’ of some kind, is a way that all stakeholders can be involved in the decision-making processes. Technology Professionals need to be part of this, along with students, so as to truly gauge the needs of the school and its population. Over sixty six percent of the respondents in the survey state that their school does have a technology committee, of which fifty percent are a part of, and who are directly involved making decisions about how technology is used in the school. Technology professionals need to be the voice of the people. Teachers need more ‘buy-in’ and responsibility when it comes to choices about the technology offered in the classroom, along with increased input into decision making. Becoming a “teaching geek” who constantly learns, models and shares their learning is only part of the solution in creating effective and technology-rich schools. There also to needs to be an increase in the involvement around decision-making.

Technology Committees could bridge the transitional gap in moving away from discreet roles of digital coaches or integrators, into one where “teaching geeks” are constantly learning and sharing new tools. This committee should be comprised of administrators, educators and students. Open dialogue with students, teachers and digital coaches will ensure that the technology that is brought into the school is both relevant and pertinent. Teachers are at the chalk-face; they know the learners and their needs better than anyone else does and their opinion is crucial to avoid expensive mistakes in purchasing hardware of software that is irrelevant or impractical. Constant training in relevant content, pedagogy and technology to, initially, a select few teacher-geeks will allow experts to remain in the classroom, but time should be allowed for them to share and model this expertise. A culture of life-long learning should be encouraged so that the ‘few’ become the ‘many’ with the goal that all educators in the school become Technology Professionals. An atmosphere where experimentation into new tools and ways of delivering teaching and learning is embraced should be cultivated, in order to create a dynamic and constantly-evolving learning environment. In short, the future of Technology Professionals is one that I envisage as simply being part of an effective and successful teacher.

References 

Fairbrother, H. (2016, May 26). EDTC630 Technology Professional Survey. Google Form.

Google, Inc. (n.d.). Google Forms. Survey Software.

Guerin, D. (2016). Retrieved June 28, 2016, from Edutopia via Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/edutopia/photos/a.108957049916.91597.82295304916/10154364651664917/?type=3&theater

International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). ISTE Standards for Coaches. Retrieved May 21, 2016, from International Society for Technology in Education: http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

NYSE: TWTR. (2006, March). Retrieved from Twitter: Twitter.com

Puentedura, R. R. (2013, Oct 25). The SAMR Ladder. Retrieved from Ruben R. Puentedura's Weblog: http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/archives/2013/10/26/SAMRLadder_Questions.pdf

Roblyer, M., & Doering, A. (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.