An Ed Tech Interview with ME!

I was recently asked by a friend of mine, who is going through a teacher preparation program, to respond to a series of questions about technology in my classroom. As a current English teacher in a South Korean elementary school it may surprise the rest of the world how little technology i see used everyday at my school. One-to-one, not a one. BYOD, nope. APCATBOTD, All Phones Collected At The Beginning Of The Day.

In fact, I did my own informal survey of several students in the 5th and 6th grade and not a single said they regularly used their smart phones as a learning tool. They all had smart phones, they all had data plans and access to the internet twenty-four-seven, yet it never occurred to them that the thing was anything more than an entertainment and communication tool. It was astonishing for a much ballyhooed techie country like South Korea.

I think my answers about the limited use of technology in the different classrooms I have worked in over the years will surprise no one. The common barriers are cliche at this point; lack of PD, device access, and access to integrated lessons that are at least enhanced, if not transformed, by technology. I’m working on it, I’m motivated to experiment, I’d love some good PD and, in the mean time, I’m improvising to leverage technology any chance I get. PLN, PLN, PLN!

Here is the transcript of my Ed Tech Interview:

At what school and grade level do you teach?  How many years of teaching experience do you have?

I teach 3rd through 6th grade English as a Foreign Language at Ansim Elementary in Yeosu, South Korea. I have about eight years teaching experience, in my own English classroom, as a bilingual instructional assistant at a Seattle public elementary school, teaching adults, children, in American and many countries abroad.

Have you had any opportunities for professional development to help integrate technology into the classroom?  If so, please describe.  If not, do you want to learn more about integrating technology?

While I was an instructional assistant with Seattle public schools, we were given our own iPads to support English language development in ELL students, along with math support. However, we were given no professional development support and we had to find our own apps to support learning and design our own ways to integrate the technology. It was an interesting experience in how much work it is to truly leverage technologies for learning and how easily they can become expensive paper weights without the proper training and time for prep.

While I was going through the Teach-Now program, there was more PD on how to integrate technology, of course. In my current school district in Korea, there does not seem to be any push to leverage technology in the classroom to support or enhance learning and therefore I have received zero tech PD here. I have tried to use the knowledge and practices I gained from the Teach-Now program to integrate the limited tech that I have in my classroom and even let the students use learning apps on my own smart phone sometimes.

Describe your classroom simply, highlighting the technology available to you.

I have a large flat screen monitor connected via HDMI cable to a computer. That’s about it. Students have their smart phones taken away from them at the beginning of the day. I teach a couple extra classes after school and try to utilize my students’ smart phones then, BYOD style.

What’s your motivation for using technology in the classroom?  

I particularly like the SAMR model for tech integration in the classroom. I think technology can have a motivating power over some students, it can facilitate collaboration and authentic learning via publishing or researching on the web with other students and experts in a field. It can also allow students to exercise their curiosity whenever and wherever they want if they know the tech tools and resources available to them on the web. Tech can also encourage and enhance parent-teacher communication and collaboration.

Which form of technology do you use the most?  Why?

I use to create English vocabulary and target language mastery tests. I am planning a digital storytelling unit for 3rd and 4th grade to create stories collaboratively using I have used smart phones to look up and translate new words for students. I use ClassDojo for a visual class management system. I use them because they are free and effective in engaging my students.

What are some of the challenges of using technology in the classroom?

The limited hardware or devices I have available to me, the culture of tech integration for learning in my school and the students’ limited ideas about what a smart phone is for, ie games and texting friends. But most of all it’s the lack of identification and training on curriculum aligned technologies to support English literacy. This makes it so that I have to do all my own research on what technologies I want to use, how they work and how they would fit into a lesson and achieve what language objective.

Please provide a brief example of a lesson that went well and that integrated technology.  Why was it successful?

I have created learning centers in my extra classes, where students are working at different stations independently or in pairs, practicing a language acquisition target. The most popular center is the computer station where students independently take a quiz on new and old material that they need to master. Students love the visual elements of it, and the continually updated score that indicates their level of proficiency or mastery. They all want to get 100% and conquer the test.

Please provide an example of a lesson that integrated technology but it didn’t go well.  Why was it unsuccessful, or how could you improve it?

I can’t say that I have enough experience in experimenting with new technologies at this point to give an example of a lesson that fell flat. I hope to have that opportunity to fail with tech integration and learn from it and improve one day soon!

Do you have a tech coordinator at your school?  If so, what’s his/her role, and have you utilized those services?

No, we do not have a tech coordinator at my school. We have IT professionals, but no one who is in charge of integrating tech into the learning.

The Google Starter Toolkit for Teachers

Google Toolkit for Teachers

This Daily Genius infographic displays the basics in getting started using the suite of Google productivity mobile- and web-based apps and programs. These tools can help a teacher stay organized, curriculum map, lesson plan, create original materials, get student feedback, foster peer-to-peer collaboration, along with a host of other 21st Century skills. As a Teach-Now student-teacher we collaborated on assignments, shared research materials and communicated via these GAFE tools. On top of that, I have a Chromebook, which I absolutely love and recommend as a classroom device. In the above infographic you can see red boxes that I need to check because I am NOT yet using those Google tools. If you see a colored circle, then I am already using that tool in the classroom or as a professional productivity helper. Below I will briefly describe how I am already using the tool, if it is circled. Or, how I might use a tool that carries a red box next to it and could be leveraged in the future to further my teaching practice. My aim is to establish a baseline for my tech toolkit as a professional and see how it grows and evolves over the years.

Privacy & Security Tools – I have used a two-step verification (although it becomes a nuisance if you live or travel abroad), incognito mode to hide my history and not leave cookies, and I have learned that opt-outs are really important when managing a group of students on the Drive suite, for example. The opt-outs allow you to manage how students can interact, and more importantly, can control how they cannot interact.

Drive/Docs/Sheets/Slides – When I bought my Chromebook, it came with a 100 gigs of free Drive storage, which is not a tremendous amount, but enough to get you started using Docs, Sheets and Slides to your heart’s content. I am currently sharing videos of the lessons I am teaching for the clinical portion of my Teach-Now certification program with my cohort-mates. If you desire more Drive storage space, Google offers comparable monthly cloud storage plans to those of Dropbox and others.  Docs is a powerful collaboration tool, for creation and research. I have converted many Excel and Powerpoint files to sheets and slides, respectively. That allows me to have access to them on my phone or via the web at any time without the need for a physical storage device.

Calendar – Quite possibly my favorite Google productivity tool, I admit to being completely dependent upon my GCalendar. It’s the only way to keep track of a busy life, in my opinion. You can make as many personal or professional calendars as you like and share them with those who need access to your schedule. I know teachers who use GCalendar to curriculum map and as a weekly lesson planner.

Forms – I have little experience with Forms, but I am in the process of creating my first Forms quiz, which I will use to provide mastery vocabulary, phonics and reading practice for a small group of 3rd grade ESL students I work with after school here in Korea. My Teach-Now clinical instructor, Robert Mace, uses Google Forms regularly as a simple testing platform because Forms automatically analyzes and gathers the results of the test into a Google Sheet. When he uses it as a formative assessment, he immediately grades the students directly following the quiz, same class, same day, on the class projector, for all to see and learn from. He teaches high school science and has built a classroom culture that is positive and supportive enough for this to be appropriate. I am not sure I would use it in that same exact way at the elementary level. It is also recommended by many tech savvy teachers as a great parent and student feedback tool.

Mapmaker – Looks like an awesome community building, data or geography lesson waiting to happen. I have no experience with this tool as of yet. Stay tuned.

A Google A Day – My fiance and I are always commenting on the different ways we use Google to search for the same thing. Everyone seems to have a preferred practice or different tricks they know to get the best search results. I have a few Pins saved on Pinterest related to effective and efficient Google searching. Check out the plethora of graphics related to the subject on Pinterest here. Intentionally teaching search tips would be a practical lesson for all students and is certainly one strategy to use to close the digital divide between affluent and high-poverty students.

Google Now – I don’t currently use Google Now as my home page. I have in the past. In a quick search, I did not find anything obvious that recommended the use of this tool for teachers.

Accessibility Tools – I am not familiar with either the specific tools or how they are used in special education. However, I have seen tablets and apps used in special education classrooms to aid non-verbal and physically handicapped students. There are certainly some powerful tools out there for this use.

Blogger – Obviously I think blogging and social media should become more widely used as learning tools in the classroom. Their relevance for students cannot be questioned and the power of the collective information that can both be accessed and created via blogs and social media is immense. Conspicuously, I am posting this on WordPress. In the past I used Blogger to share my experiences working and living abroad. There are many great blogging platforms out there from the slick Silvrback to the clean creative space of Medium and the micro-blogging marketing monster that is Tumblr. Determine your purpose, identify the best platform and get posting!

Open Online Education – Course Builder has changed to Open Online Education, I was completely unaware of this Google product until now. I know of teachers who use Google Sites to create an online classroom platform. And, like many, I am anticipating the release of the Google Classroom learning management system (LMS) to a larger audience once it gets beyond beta. Course Builder is different because it is the MOOC building platform for Google and is therefore meant for a massive student audience. I have taken a few MOOC’s, but none on the Course Builder platform and I have not seen much buzz about it on social media. If you are interested in designing and creating an Open Educational Resource, here is a 7-step guide from Julie Willcott and EdSurge.

Google+ = I have just begun using Google+ as part of my Personal Learning Network (PLN). I have taken part in a couple professional development Google Hangouts hosted on Google+. The CUE GIE Summits are held on Google+ and all of their Hangouts On Air are recorded and archived for future access. I am a member of the Buck Institute for Education’s (BIE) community on Google+, a community focused on project-based learning (PBL). Right now the BIE Google+ community is collaborating on the creation of the BIE Gold Standard for PBL. Finally, this Deeper Learning MOOC used their Google+ community as the principal collaboration and communication tool of the course.

Chrome – You already know that I am a Google fan. Chrome is their best product in my opinion. For me, it is even more essential than their search engine. I use the TechSmith SnagIt extension, my favorite for impressing friends with maps and labeled graphics. I also use the Diigo and Pinterest extension buttons for social media bookmarking. I use the Google website shortening extension for Twitter posts. And finally, and most importantly here in South Korea, I use the Hola Better Internet VPN extension to access content (mostly entertainment) that is limited by region. The predominant web browser here in Korea is Internet Explorer….IE!!!!! It is offensive to me.

Moderator – Not sure about this one. It looks like an out-of-date Google site to me. Not sure if this is a product they are still updating and improving and see as a future asset. It was intriguing because the caption mentioned its usefulness as a PD tool. I have my doubts though.

Translator – The website and the app are in heavy use by me. Of course, it has its limitations and one should be cautious of the fluency and grammatical accuracy it will produce, especially depending on the languages translated. However, when I was working as a Spanish language bilingual instructional assistant in a Seattle public school, myself and the rest of the bilingual staff that was called on to translate the school newsletter, permission slips, and legal documents constantly relied on Google Translate for quick reference. Use it with reasonable expectations. It could certainly be used in classrooms to get the gist of a piece of information that was found in foreign language.

Sites – This is an easy way to create your own website, with limited design possibilities. One of my Teach-Now instructors used it as his online classroom platform and had built himself a large cache of great education resources that could be accessed by students and teachers alike. I have not created a Google Site myself, but may consider in the future.

Groups – My primary experience with Google Groups was in my capacity as a board member for Long Way Home, a non-profit building a sustainable school out of repurposed waste materials in rural Guatemala. We used Groups to communicate, share documents, and collaborate on assigned domains of responsibility between US-based board members and Guatemala-based staff. It is easy to use, easy to set up and can facilitate collaboration in many basic ways and can be a closed classroom community as opposed to a Google+ community which is public.

Chromebooks – There is a lot to write here, from the basic pros and cons of the device in the classroom, to the policy debates around large tech role outs like the botched, highly-publicized iPad adoption by LA Unified School District which got a superintendent fired. There are Bring-Your-Own-Device proponents (BYOD) and those who point to the digital divide and say we need to spend the money to close the gap among students of different socio-economic backgrounds. This is a subject for a whole other post. For now, I will say that I am typing this post on a Chromebook, I have used my Samsung Chromebook for the entirety of my online teacher certification program with Teach-Now, if you are in need of a new computer and don’t want to invest in a costly Apple product, then consider buying a Chromebook. The cloud is the future and the present, Chromebooks operate primarily in the cloud and I am a big proponent of it as a professional device and a classroom device.

Scholar – I think Google Scholar has been around long enough that most educators and students of a certain age are aware of it as learning resource. As more open source academic, peer-reviewed content becomes available on the web, Scholar should grow as a hub for that content. It is a the best free search tool in establishing the most important or most recent scholarly articles on a particular subject or by a particular academic. But it is limited by copyright in terms of what can actually be accessed and read or downloaded from it.

Cultural Institute – Last, but certainly not least, is the Google Cultural Institute, which if you click on one link in this entire post, it should be this one! Do it now! This is a huge rabbit hole of art, history, art history and cultural heritage in one digital museum site. I was unaware of this resource until making this post and upon first look, I am thoroughly impressed. The collection of historic images alone is a fantastic resource for teachers and of personal interest to me as history lover. I could see teachers accessing high-res images important works of art from The Art Project to show and lead a Visual Thinking Strategies discussion. I recommend perusing the collection of Life Magazine photos for starters. And as a resident of Korea, I am planning on perusing the Jeju National Museum archive as well.