After a long, arduous and challenging school year, I hope you are finding ways to relax and recharge! Before I slip off myself to my own vacation, I wanted to slip in one more Edtech Elixirs entry before the work of next school year begins.
As I look back on my first days as an edtech cheerleader (as a classroom teacher, and then as a digital learning coach), one of my biggest regrets was being too caught up in sharing the latest fancy, flashy tool. God help me, I actually enjoyed attending, or even sometimes presenting, those auctioneer-style "60 Sites in 60 Minutes" marathon conference sessions. I was eager to capture ooo's and ahhh's from teachers by introducing a just-discovered app. As a new staff member who wanted to prove my usefulness to a district, I was glad to at least get an audience engaged by showing them something novel and new. Don't get me wrong -- I always knew that you should never use edtech for edtech's sake. But before edtech has a chance to transform your teaching, you have to agree to use it first, right?
One of my earliest edtech successes in Shelby County involved Kahoot. As part of my traveling roadshow presentations to faculty -- probably titled something like "10 Digital Ways to Assess!" or something equally cringeworthy -- I shared Kahoot, and boy, did it make an impact. Every single time after I had a schoolful of staff demo Kahoot, I would get stopped in the hallway the next day. A teacher would be nearly giddy. "My students loved Kahoot!" the teacher would rave. "They were so engaged and excited! Thank you for sharing!" And I would smile, and pat myself on the back, and practically levitate.
I regret to inform you, reader, that it took a good year or two for my self-congratulations to turn into disquiet. Teachers and students were beginning to use edtech, so the first hurdle was cleared, yes. But eventually, I had to take a hard look at whether the usage was superficial. (Of course, this is an age-old problem with teaching. To paraphrase Precious Boyle from the title of her excellent October 2020 article, don't mistake engagement for learning.)
So one day, when a brand new convert to Kahoot came bounding out of her classroom thanking me for introducing the tool, I stopped my "you're welcome's" long enough to ask a few questions. "Hey, have you had a chance to analyze the data Kahoot gives you about how each student performed, and how fast they answered? Or noticed any other assessment metrics that proved the students . . . you know . . . learned the content any better?"
"No. I mean, not yet," she said, blinking at me, and probably wondering why I was being dense at understanding her victory. "The students -- they had fun!"
I'm not against fun. Like a charismatic mold growing on the tree of education, I consider myself a fun guy. And a fun classroom is better than a dreary one. Also to be clear: getting someone passionate about edtech is not a bad thing, and if there was a failure to understand a more transformative use of a tool, the failure is on me as a coach and not the coachee. But it was at that moment I pledged to get better at teaching teachers the pedagogy of transformative blended learning. I took a deeper dive into frameworks like SAMR and never looked back. I made sure when sharing a detailed exploration of a digital tool in this blog to at least ask "How could you use it?" as a way of really saying "Why bother in the first place?" That's not to say I've arrived as an expert or gotten it perfect, but I definitely am better at recognizing that edtech without clear instructional context has no value.
With all of that in mind, I was especially pleased to come across a relatively new website, the Chromebook App Hub.
The first thing you will notice about the site is (perhaps not surprisingly, given that Google is behind it) how easy it is to search. There are multiple filters to narrow down an app to various categories (like "Assessment & Feedback" or "Math" or "Storytelling"...or checkmark several that apply), as well as age range, purchasing options, languages and more. The amount of apps catalogued are prodigious; I can almost guarantee that even a cursory search will likely come up with several tools that will be new to you. Clicking on an app will provide further info, such as the developer and helpful resources to get you started using it. However, in the spirit of today's blog entry, all of that is the least impressive thing about Chromebook App Hub. What really struck me was the Ideas section of the site, which contains teacher "Sparks" -- real lessons and practical ways to utilize the various apps to positively impact learning. These Ideas also have filters so you can search by subject, age range, and learning goals. Even better, you can submit your own Spark.
And now we come full circle back to my promise to better contextualize edtech. About a year ago, our staff developer Tracy Huelsman launched the first draft of our seven SCPS Competency-Based Core Design Principles (based on language from the Aurora Institute and 2REV). When looking through the lenses of agency, performance assessment, feedback cycle, anytime/anywhere, move when ready, equity, and clarity of mastery, where might some of our suggested edtech fit? On our district page where such edtech suggestions are kept, I have now noted which competency-based principles apply, linked to a Google Doc with more detail and resources. Let's take Kahoot as an example. It connects with performance assessment ("timely data generated from Kahoot can drive instructional choices") and equity, based on a recently launched translation feature.
Like all things, my attempt to make edtech tools merely one part of a more meaningful blended learning experience is a journey and a work in progress. So wherever you and I may take our well-deserved rest this summer, let's just pledge together to not rest on our laurels!