I recently finished a short and fun read by Elizabeth Wurtzel entitled Creatocracy: How the Constitution Invented Hollywood. The book focuses on the U.S. Constitution and how it gave rise to much of the creative and entrepreneurial success of America. One of my favorite sections discusses invention–specifically, how invention requires infrastructure. Wurtzel points out that Silicon Valley is necessary for the development of technology because there needs to be a place for techies to congregate, for collaboration to ensue, for VCs to locate prospects, etc. Likewise, Hollywood functions as the infrastructure for films to be made. Producers, scriptwriters, studio back lots, actors, and more are all on hand to contribute to the movie-making process.
Just as technology needs Silicon Valley and movies need Hollywood, so does learning need a classroom; it’s the infrastructure for acquiring knowledge. In a classroom, students develop social skills, collaborate, produce essays, solve problems, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. The teacher is there too, of course, assessing students’ needs, providing direct instruction when necessary, and guiding students through project based learning and the use of technology.
The classroom is important infrastructure, and this is why students will never be able to most effectively learn at home while attending virtual schools. Of course, some young people may need to learn at home in front of a computer due to circumstances, but the majority of students require the classroom in order to navigate life in the 21st century.
If your school district is contemplating a 1:1 deployment, establishing a strong Wi-Fi connection in every classroom is the first task that must be completed before proceeding. If a school doesn’t have consistent internet connectivity, and you’re trying to teach a professional development session, it’ll be a very unsettling experience. (This is compounded when you’re teaching a roomful of students and the connection keeps dropping.) Not having reliable Wi-Fi and trying to provide edtech training is like an emergency surgeon with a patient who’s bleeding out but the surgeon wants to repair the patient’s ACL first.
Once the network connection is squared away, the next step is building the human infrastructure. Without this important component, your school will have a strong internet connection and 1:1 devices that are never used. An investment in people is what’s necessary to help teachers become confident with laptops or tablets in their classrooms. This is, of course, easier said than done. Setting up routers in classrooms is fairly straightforward: You run cable, install access points, and test the Wi-Fi signal until it works. Of course there are a number of variables, but if the result is strong internet connectivity, then you know the job is done. Figuring out how to effectively support teachers with PD sessions and ongoing assistance is a little more nebulous.
Fortunately, the school district for which I work has set up a good system that I’d like to share. We’re still learning as we go, but the basics of human infrastructure that I’ll describe below have been instrumental over the last seven months since our initial deployment of Acer laptop running an ubermix operating system.
Every school in our district has one C5 Teacher. (The ‘C’ in C5 stands for Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, and 1:1 Classrooms.) These teachers receive annual stipends, and their expertise is blended learning. They’re the tech leaders at the school sites who provide PD, communicate tech news from the district office to the teachers, and coach teachers in their classrooms when using the 1:1 devices, Google Apps for Education, or the myriad web-based programs with which students interact. If a teacher needs support on how to blend technology and instruction, the C5 Teacher is there to help. They’re the shining examples of how to be an effective 21st century educator in all areas.
Model Tech Teachers
Every school in our district also has a Model Tech Teacher (MTT). MTTs are the first line of defense before submitting an IT ticket. Let’s say a teacher is having trouble with a projector that’s not working. He or she can contact the MTT at the school site first before submitting an IT ticket. Oftentimes, MTTs can fix problems regarding projectors, printers, grade book issues, etc., right away. This helps the teacher immediately, and frees IT to support other teachers across the district.
MTTs have received two separate training sessions this year regarding phones, printers, network connections, and projectors. They’ve also been taught the basics about the ubermix laptops and had access to the various ‘Appy’ Hours provided throughout the district. The hope is that they have a very basic understanding of IT and are ready to step into the C5 position if necessary.
Almost every district has an IT department. IT is instrumental in setting up the Wi-Fi (or lifeblood), and they are needed for the maintenance of all the disparate pieces of technology school districts have adopted over the last 20 years. The IT department in the district for which I work has been very helpful in providing training sessions for the MTTs, and they are proactive in resolving all tech problems at school sites.
To have a successful 1:1 deployment, it is imperative that IT, MTTs, C5s, and the curriculum department are all on the same page and have similar visions as to how teachers need to be supported in the classroom. Oftentimes, all these departments meld together in the concerted effort to make sure Wi-Fi is up and running, devices are maintained, teacher and student account are functional, PD training (and ongoing PD training) are in the works, and much, much more.
Technology Media Clerk
In our school district, we have one person whom all administrators, teachers, librarians, parents, etc. can contact in order to gain information about 3rd party user accounts, 1:1 maintenance, and a whole lot of other programs; this is the Technology Media Clerk. In order to successfully aid teachers, there needs to be a person at the helm for the whole school day. Our Tech Media Clerk works 7am to 4pm and continually answers emails and field phone calls. It’s a grueling job at times because of not only the large amount of questions, but also because of the wide range of questions. The Tech Media Clerk has to be a fast learner, work well with people, and answer questions quickly. It’s arguably one of the most important jobs in a school district when it comes to 1:1 devices because if teachers can’t immediately get student accounts up and running (to GAFE, Lexia, Ren Place, etc.), then a lot of instructional time is wasted.
A website isn’t a person, but I’m including it because it fosters community–and there’s nothing more human than community. Our school district created a website entitled Teachers’ Lounge, where we house curriculum (via GAFE), provide login information, Appy Hour dates, lesson plans, PD via YouTube, a chat feature with our Tech Media Clerk, and much more.
School district need a central hub where teachers can access resources and find best practices. YouTube is amazing because you can embed videos you make on websites, providing teachers with step-by-step instructions on how to work a program. It also helps give teachers a look into other classrooms–which in the past has been extremely rare because teachers can’t just up and leave their own students to visit other classes without securing substitute teachers, creating sub lesson plans, and figuring out a lot of other arrangement.
Here’s a link to a teacher explaining how to print using Google Cloud Print in Chrome. Also, here’s an embedded video that explains the new Google Drive experience:
PD is extremely important, and it’s imperative that school districts use every means possible to helps teachers be confident while blending technology and instruction.
It’s a Brave New Classroom, and while technology can be an important tool, teachers will always be the most important factor in helping students learn. Deploying 1:1 devices in classrooms must be viewed through this lens, and a human infrastructure needs to be established to help everyone be successful.