Don’t throw the IT out with the bathwater

I’m just going to start this out by putting a link here.  If you’re interested in educational technology, then I think you should click it.

I come from a strong IT background – 4 years of IT work as an undergrad and then 10 years of professional IT work at the same University.  In the Educational Technologist’s role as steward we cannot forget the basics of keeping the house in order.  It may be easy for some people to say, “That’s the business of our IT department” – but being easy to say doesn’t make it any more correct.

The final number for UNC’s fall 2010 enrollment put the university at 29,390 students across all programs (source).  The IT staff supporting that less than 30,000 number was about 500 in ITS, and then additional, non-negligible personnel through other department support groups probably totaling no fewer than 100 (wild guess on my part, but I’m willing to stick beside that number).

UW-Milwaukee has a similar enrollment size of around 30,000, and while I don’t have the exact number of IT personnel, the org chart for the central IT organization seems to have fewer than 500 spots.

Those are universities.  The picture within most public schools is less favorable.  I have seen the school where my sister is an Assistant Principal, which is by no means an impoverished school and lies on the outskirts of Chapel Hill, but even so I probably wouldn’t trade my gaming desktop at home for all of the technology there.

The computer-based educational technology that we do has dependencies on the sure and reliable operation of computer systems.  For all of the talk that we bring forth about “How to use Google Hangouts for X” or “Why the web is transforming blended learning” – there needs to be an equal dialogue about how we preserve the ability of systems to accomplish these things.

And that dialogue doesn’t need to always be overbearing or so loud that it drowns out the signal of the core ed tech things that we do, but it needs to be present because we are stewards of technology.  So here’s my contribution to that effort today (along with a separate tweet about the virus).  At the very least I will know that I have worked to inform people.

Even if it’s “the job of the IT department” – IT departments at different institutions are going to have differing capacities for addressing the issues that come up.  And pointing out whose job it is once something goes down isn’t going to be nearly as effective as doing what might have been done beforehand by an informed Educational Technologist to see to the integrity of their own systems (and system dependencies).


The hidden benefit of TPA for #edtech

Sometimes being thrust into the middle of something big can be overwhelming.  Like, say you are a School of Education with an enrollment of 1,000 students and then your state legislation decides that graduation should now require an additional requirement.  And you’ve only got a timeline of a year before you need to begin field testing, and then another year before it’s fully live.  Also, there might be a budget crunch – which directly affects your ability to hire personnel resources and provide technical resources to scale out to those 1,000 students.

Ready, set, go!

So yeah, something like TPA can be overwhelming.  Fortunate for me, I’m too busy being overwhelmed by the fact that I just moved from a medium-sized college town in North Carolina to a full-fledged city in Wisconsin, so I’m able to see through all of the muck and the mire that will be overwhelming me later and see to the unintended benefits of this.

First, a bit of perfunctory background for those readers not familiar with it.  TPA is a new set of teaching accreditation standards co-developed by Stanford and Pearson designed to evaluate the ability of student teachers to effectively teach.  For now I’ll not comment how how successful this design is, or how valid it is as a construct, but rather just say that it exists.  The way the TPA works is that student teachers record a video segment totaling about 15 minutes during their student teaching section.  The video along with a lesson plan and reflective essay are sent to Pearson, and then Pearson scores that work on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 low, 5 high).  And much like your social security number, this score stays with you for the rest of your life and defines your worth as a teacher in the eyes of people who care about such numbers.

Please accept that as the 30,000-foot view for now.

So it’s understandable that a lot of people might see this new thing as a hurdle – or maybe even as a monster under the bed.  But part of what we do is also try to find the opportunities, right?

What’s the opportunity of the TPA?  The TPA process is a practicum in pedagogical portfolio building.  More than just something that students who go through the process have for showing to prospective employers, this experience represents a new vector for teaching their own students.  And we all know that we should be excited by this, right?  Generation Z (and every subsequent generation) is digitally native.  Their brains are wired in ways that traditional forms of education can’t always exploit to the fullest degree.

By having student teachers complete digital portfolios, and giving them experience with understanding how it’s used, and how it fits into curriculum, we will be giving them a new tool to use in their classrooms to help push that educational technology envelope.  Assignments that were traditionally end of semester reports or simple book reports can now become very dynamic and engaging projects that are delivered through this very flexible medium.

The value added is that we go beyond teaching students the lesson at hand, and at the same time give them an education that will help to invest them with a set of digital literacies that they will quite frankly need in order to be successful throughout the rest of their educational career and beyond into the rest of their lives as citizens and professionals (and maybe, just maybe, even as educators themselves).