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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Boston Learning Community Conference Promotes Discussion of Optimal Tech Integration

This week I'm attending November Learning's Building Learning Communities (BLC) conference. Many of the presentations I've attended so far have focused on technology integration, mindset, voice, creativity, and digital presence.

I must say I am positively challenged by these presentations mainly because tech access where I work is not as fluid as the schools the presenters are representing. Unlike the presenters' schools there are many limitations when it comes to access in my current education setting. If I learn about an app that I believe will impact students with strength, I have to undergo a lengthy, intense curation process before I'll hear if an app is approved for student use or not. The process is so strong that even if I identify an app or tool and write a grant to the local foundation to get that tool, the grant may not be forwarded to the grant source if not approved by the tech decision makers.

Technology, particularly apps, are used best when they are used with fluidity. A lengthy curation process distances an educator from knowledge and enthusiasm for a new tool and its use. For example, yesterday I was reminded of a great tool that many educators use. It's an app that some teachers at our school use. Last year I asked for the tool, but was told that money had already been spent and I didn't ask for the tool in a timely manner. This year when we were asked about apps again, I had forgotten about the winter request, but now, when it's too late to order since we order new apps about once a year, I've been reminded about how great this app is.

In an ideal world, educators would have their own budget for apps and the ability to upload great apps when deemed worthy. If that were the case I could leave this conference, upload the apps I've learned about, integrate those apps into my planning for the year ahead, and begin using the apps fluidly. Instead, if I wanted to use this app, I'd have to come home, fill out a form, and await approval which will probably happen sometime in mid September when all the people in the approval process are back to work. It's likely there won't be approval as we're already past the once-a-year-ordering process, but if approved then it will take more time to upload, and at times the upload is limited to a less expensive version of the app--one that often can't be shared in greater ways.

To put in hours upfront to receive approval or disproval of an app is discouraging--it's a lot of time for the unknown result. Plus time is critical since most teachers have little to no extra time during the school day to implement new ideas so summer is the fertile time for this kind of investigation and exploration. As I've noted many times, a real mismatch in professional development in schools is the use of time. Many administrators and some education professionals have significant time during the school day for research and development while typically the people who spend the most time with students have little time for this kind of work during the school year. This mismatch results in slower than necessary professional development and improvement in schools and may be one reason why some schools lag behind other schools.

As I listened to presenters yesterday, I was inspired by two educators from an Amsterdam International School. They had a lot of say about the terrific work they do day in and day out. Their creativity was stellar and the obvious student investment, ownership, confidence, and growth was extraordinary too. Those educators found it surprising that we had such a lengthy curation process associated with student-friendly, advantageous tools, programs, apps, and tech use.

Over the years I've spoken up with regard to our current processes in hopes that we could create more fluid ways to learn about, employ, and develop our tech use in schools. In our day-to-day world, technology is no longer a separate way of learning, but instead an integrated part of our day-to-day living, learning, and teaching. Our structures and processes should represent that transformation. Schools should mirror society in this regard. Look around--tech is EVERYWHERE!

I'll go back to BLC today to learn more. I look forward to the learning ahead. I'll also continue to think about how I utilize tech in school and will look for ways to maximize the use of a few iPads available in my classroom, a hallway computer lab, the availability to laptops, and existing programs and apps to teach well. I am grateful that our school has multiple tools while many schools are still struggling to obtain tools, and I am confident that, in time, our structures and systems will change to promote greater quality tech integration in the days to come.