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Feb 8, 2022

Teachers' 'Golden Ticket' for Solving Tech Challenges

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Educational systems have acknowledged that technology is here to stay, and that they should make the most out of it to provide the best student experience. But some still might fear incorporating various tools because of the perception of complexity. 

Fortunately, with the help of experienced tech coaches, everything became more accessible, and educators now have the opportunity to work with professionals who can make this shift straightforward. 

In this episode of EdTech Heroes, host Nef Dukes chats with Ron Carroll, the Manager of Instructional Technology at Chicago Public Schools. Ron and Nef discuss the most common tech-related challenges teachers face today and encourage them to reach out for help in overcoming them. 

They also talk about how video can impact educators' approach and help students move from writing essays to using their creativity to create videos that show their understanding of the lessons. 

Finally, Ron shares valuable advice for all the teachers who still might feel hesitant to ask for help and encourages them to give technology a chance because “practice makes permanent.” 


👋 Name: Ron Carroll

💻 What he does: Ron is the Manager of Instructional Technology at Chicago Public Schools.

🏫 District: Chicago Public Schools

✍️ Noteworthy: Ron holds two degrees from the University of Iowa and has held several Technical Coordinator in Instructional Technology positions across the Chicago area.

📱 Where to find Ron: LinkedIn | Twitter

Key insights

It's all about practice. Many teachers see how technology can improve their classrooms. However, they might fear that it's too complex to incorporate new tools because they may lack experience in this area. That's why all of them should embrace the change. No one expects perfection, and everyone gets better over time. ''It's doing it over and over again and starting with little things. Don't jump into the deep end, saying, 'Okay, I'm going to make an instructional video.' You start small, and you practice that.''

Reach out to the tech person in your school. The job of a tech coach, among other things, is to help teachers get comfortable with using technology. But, many educators might believe their problem is too minor, and they should not bother anyone with their tech-related challenges. ''They almost invariably always begin, 'I know you're busy, but…' Yes, I am busy, but I am never too busy to help a teacher do whatever they need. So don't be afraid to reach out. The other thing is a lot of teachers are hesitant. They're like, 'Oh no, my problem is too small. I'll live with it.' And it's not. Whatever your problem is, it's important to you. So it's important to me.''

Video is an excellent learning tool. The implementation of technology in the classroom is not only reserved for teachers. It can also help students show how they’ve understood a specific lesson. Still, many believe that writing essays is the proven formula, and videos will distance students from writing. However, Ron thinks differently. ''From the student angle, if you think about it, a video also requires writing. So you're making the students work a little bit more if they're making their video because they have to have something written. We can all sit there and spitball.''

Episode highlights

Practice makes permanent 🥇

''It is all about mindset. I used to say — and still occasionally do — that ‘Exposure isn't mastery’ to remind us that tech PD shouldn't just be a one-and-done sort of thing. But the more I've thought about that — it comes from a deficit mindset. It's pointing out the problems without providing a solution, but the phrase ‘Practice makes permanent’ is powerful.

It's like a joyous reminder that we can change and that we can improve. We just have to put in a little work, and I think that's true for all aspects of life.

So I love gardening, but I kill so many plants every year, and it's not on purpose. And for a long time, I always saw that as a failure; I just wasn't a good gardener. 

But over time, doing it more, you learn about soil conditions and the concept of the right plant in the right place. And so, now I see those sad plants as an opportunity. Technology's just like that. You start trying something, and it doesn't work. So you try something else, and then that does work.''

Teacher feedback is crucial 🙋

''I can love something, but if a teacher is never going to use it, then what's the point of investing in it. So that is very important — that teacher's voice. We do random surveys, and for any PD, we're always asking, 'What are you using? What's new? What's out there?' 

Teachers are at the forefront; they're always looking for new things. And so, listening to that. But on that topic of feedback, I want to give a really strong piece of advice to teachers: 

Tell your administration and tell your tech folks what you like, what you wish a tool could do better. Every platform, or at least every platform that's worth using, has some sort of feedback mechanism from its users. So find that button, click it, and tell the developers what you want a tool to be.''

Video is a great place to start 🎬

If you think back on just making a video, even just a few years ago: the tools were complex, and you needed specialized equipment. It was hard. 

I used to co-teach a broadcast journalism class, and I was the tech angle of that one. It was hard. There were a lot of things to figure out, but the tools have gotten so much easier.

Like Screencastify, it is simple. It's dead simple to just click that button and start recording. Now, from there, you can get as crazy as you want, but for that basic thing, it's so much easier than it’s ever been.''

Skyline: the first universal curriculum accessible to all CPS educators 🏙

''About three or four years ago, our chief education officer at the time sat down and looked at the inequality in our district. As a project realization, a third-grade classroom on the south side looked completely different from a third-grade classroom on the north side.

Everywhere, there are pockets of amazing things and pockets of not amazing things. But there are schools that are, pardon me for saying this, failing our students, and it's not for lack of trying; it's often a lack of resources. 

[We were] starting to look at these giant questions. She [chief education officer] started the Curriculum Equity Initiative at the time and set up this new department of which instructional technology was a part. 

[...]  It's really about access and bringing resources everywhere. [...] So we're about to end the first semester. It was an opt-in model. About 5,000 educators are adopting at least one curriculum area right and helping us define it.

So not only is it digital, but the really exciting part is that all of the folks involved were tasked with ensuring that the curriculum is standards-aligned, high-quality — all of the buzzwords — and culturally relevant to Chicago. 

The 1.0 version is just the base. We've got another group starting up called the Curriculum Collaborative — a group of those teachers who have been using it this year. And we're going to work with them to tweak, adapt, and build out even more resources and materials.''

A piece of advice for teachers: reach out to tech coaches 🛠

My wife's a high school English teacher, and one of her classroom catchphrases is, 'No judgment, no fear.' I've adopted it as well. Don't be afraid to reach out no matter which district you're in. There is a tech coach somewhere, and all of us got into this gig because we care about these things. 

You don't become a technology integration coach if you don’t love working with people and technology. That's why we got into this game. So find those people and don't be afraid to ask them questions.''

Highly quotable

[15:41] ''Teachers, find that feedback button and tell the developers of your favorite tool exactly what you want.''

[22:54] ''When we're creating, we're accessing all sorts of different parts of our brain. And that's really where deep learning happens, and it can happen in every subject area and at every grade level.''

[31:32] ''As a teacher starting to think about making videos, don't worry about making crazy graphics and all of that stuff. Talk to your students — that helps build community.''

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