Digital Reflection

I consider my current knowledge and skills regarding technology to be exceptional, at least compared to my personal and local network of teacher friends.

When I think about the technology I’ve used in my past 25 years as an educator, I am reminded of what a self-learner I’ve become. That’s the most important contribution I see technology to have made in my professional life. I’ve never taken a technology course, other than a basic college course in 1987. But I’m a self-taught, advanced user of Adobe Creative Suite, I’m a certified specialist in Microsoft Office, and am completely comfortable with just about any software program that I have the opportunity to use. And if I haven’t used it before, I learn to use it rather quickly.

I pride myself on my comfort with technology and learning new things, and yet I feel as if I have less opportunity to do so these days. In reflecting on my experiences in the past, I realize the amazing opportunities that I was provided as an art and technology teacher in a private, Catholic high school.

In 2009, our school implemented a 1:1 laptop program. Our students and teachers all had Lenovo ThinkPads, which were laptops/tablets with stylus and webcam. We had every bell and whistle a tech user would want. Most of our teachers were uncomfortable with technology, but as the technology instructor in our computer lab for more than ten years prior, I was thrilled. My role as a tech instructor changed greatly. Not only was I able to teach my students much more effectively, outside a computer lab, but I created a blog that first year, which updated our teachers on what students were learning in my class. I even provided tutorials so that our teachers would feel more comfortable reinforcing our students’ new skills.

In the art room, students were able to create amazing works. Adobe Creative Suite and the use of a stylus made the artistic process much easier. They learned to critique one another’s works online, through written, video, or audio comments. They each kept an online gallery of their works, which some even used to apply to art schools their senior year. They used Google docs to collaborate in small groups, designing board games and advertising campaigns, which were created in part using software on their laptops.

I attended many Educational Technology Conferences, through grants provided to my school, including the Lausanne Laptop Institute, Boston Learning Conference, and ISTE. I also presented at a handful of them, including the Illinois Education and Technology Conference in Springfield. I served in a leadership role in professional development at our school, which was leading the way in technology in central Illinois.

And then, an administrative change changed everything.

It’s amazing how the attitude of an administration can change the atmosphere of a school. Without getting into the horrific details, I found myself feeling restricted in an environment where technology once created an enthusiastic learning environment, but was now stagnant and irrelevant. My need to push the boundaries of technology in education prompted me to leave the school that had once been a technology leader.

Currently I work as a Technology Instructor and Tech Integration Specialist in a lower income public elementary school. It could not be more different than my twenty-four years’ experience in a Catholic high school.  But it is quite rewarding just the same.

I am challenged differently, in many ways. First, my audience ranges from Kindergarten to 5th grade, so the skills I am teaching are much more basic. Second, I don’t have the same opportunities to use the software I’ve become accustomed to using. District policies are quite restricting, which is something I had never had to think about before. Third, I only see my students for thirty minutes each week, so it’s hard to gauge how much they are learning and retaining from my classes. Fourth, many of them don’t have access to technology or the internet at home, unlike my high school students, who brought their laptops home with them each night. I can’t expect them work outside the classroom.

Perhaps the biggest difference in my past work and my current work is in regards to the technology we are using. Kindergarten and first grade students have a 1:1 iPad environment in their classrooms. This is new to me, but I enjoy learning about new apps that can be used in the classroom, and I’ve become an expert user of Casper suite, and Apple’s Volume Purchasing Program, which allows me to remotely install and update apps on the 250+ iPads in our building.

I am back to using a computer lab for my technology classes. Software on the desktop computers is quite limited, and most work is done on district approved websites. I do not have downloading privileges and can’t install software I’d like to use, or even update Flash Player or Adobe Reader without ITHelp from district administration. Opportunities to attend Tech Conferences are much harder to come by. I’m a bit frustrated with the difficulty I have in staying current with tools I used to rely on, and I worry about falling behind as a technology leader.

I completed Lamar’s ETL graduate program in 2014, when I was still teaching in a 1:1 high school environment. Since my role in education has changed, I continue to seek ways to challenge myself and learn new things. I hope to apply my experience and knowledge in technology to serve as a technology leader in an administrative role in the near future. Fresh eyes as an elementary teacher make me excited to be starting my second graduate program with Lamar University.