Confessions of A Digital Leader: 6 Things I Learned While Implementing Digital Learning

1. Google Apps Aren’t Really “Free” 

Through the course of our implementation and relaunch of Google Apps, I’ve definitely learned that the word “free” is such a myth. When we decided to move forward with creating our student Google Apps accounts, I started to hear all about monitoring of teacher and student accounts.

  • I learned that kids will type terrible things and change ink to white in order to make pages appear blank.
  • Adults and kids may sometimes even share personal identifiable data via Google Drive
  • Kids and/or adults may write/post threatening content.
  • Pretty much every horrible, terrible, very bad thing that you can image can happen

While google doesn’t provide mechanisms for monitoring every aspect of their “free” product, several vendors do…to the tune of about $20,000 or more. And oh yes…it comes from my budget.

Also, I struggled immensely with such stringent monitoring even though I know that it is necessary because of the use of school provided accounts. Le sigh…

2. You can live in harmony with both Google and Microsoft
We offer Office, Office 365 and Google to our teachers and students which is great as I strongly believe that certain tools lend themselves to be more applicable than others. With the release of Microsoft Mix, which helps users create interactive videos from ppt and Sway, a tool for digital storytelling (that still needs work might I add)…There is no reason at all to marry one tool over the other, other than cost.

I’m currently toying with creating google slides, exporting them to ppt and using Microsoft Mix to create videos which works great.

3. Dynamic Content only matters if teachers and students know about it and how to use it.
We have district licensing for both Discovery Education and Brainpop. Both services have extensive educator resources available with my favorite being Discovery Education’s Spotlight on Strategies as it gives teachers immediate and actionable uses of media in the classroom. While both of these tools are amazing, they are only great if they are being used with purpose. Both also have admin panels which will give usage data and for me, this data matters. See #4

4. Data should inform the work of instructional technology too.
I checked our usage data for the tools that our district provides and I wasn’t surprised at all to see that the tools provided that aren’t “test prep” tools were barely used. This was important as it helped me to understand that we have to better support teachers in understanding that the tools exist and how to use them. Teaching teachers to “log in” isn’t enough. There must be correlation between content, purpose and personalization through student accounts. It’s not about mandating usage but understanding that when data shows “non-usage” it could mean…

  • Teachers aren’t buying it at all. (There is no why)
  • Teachers and/or students lack the access to reach those tools.
  • Teachers aren’t quite sure how to integrate them into instruction
  • Lack of professional development

It’s important that as we look at data that we look at ourselves first and ask…Are we doing enough to differentiate for our adult learners just as we expect them to do for students. This is critical.

5. Not all devices are created equally nor should they necessarily be the same.
When I got my budget, I looked at several options for device purchasing. I’m still evaluating as it was important to identify “why” before immediately determining “what”.

I didn’t want to purchase all chromebooks however, the price point of a Chromebook, ease of use and integration of web tools made it much more appealing. With that said, we are literally starting from scratch considering that our district is BYOD with basically no mobile devices other than in specialized areas.

If I had my way and the budget to do so, I would purchase selections of Surface Pros (Hello Minecraft!!), Ipads and Chromebooks. For year one, this is not feasible at all and I am doing my best to make the most of the budget that I have. In due time though…in due time…

With that said, this is year 1 and right now our goals are to effectively integrate what we have, support it with fidelity and create pockets of change with pilots…tapping into our teachers who are eager for it.

6. Take full advantage of applicable resources!

Our district is title 1 which means that we more than qualified to take advantage of certain ConnectEd Resources from Adobe, Prezi and other tools that have yet to unfold. In addition, the Office of Edtech resources have helped tremendously in creating our foundation from which we will grow. Although this is a new role to this district and a brand new dept, we are not in a system of “blind leading the blind” and that feels great.

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