One of the annual events that I look forward to in the world of educational technology each year is the ITEC – the Iowa Technology & Education Connection – conference in Des Moines. This two day conference touches on all aspects of educational technology, including IT support and management, curricular technology resources, the intersection of technology and instruction, and so forth. Perhaps even more valuable than the sessions are the opportunities to talk and debate with others from Iowa’s ed tech community; being able to learn from the perspectives of teachers, students, administrators, and technology professionals from districts large and small is exhilarating.
Here are some of my thoughts and takeaways from this year’s conference:
Technology is ubiquitous: one of the recurring discussions in sessions with other technology directors was that of service continuity, or making sure that the network and our data stay accessible no matter what. The fact that this is such a hot topic drives home the fact that we are increasingly dependent upon technology – wireless networks, cloud services, student information systems, file synchronization, etc. – such that outages can substantially impact learning. In this vein, service continuity is a big focus for us right now in the Iowa City schools, with discussions ranging from cross-training support personnel to the addition of a second data center for failover and load balancing purposes.
We have outstanding staff members in the district: prior to the beginning of the keynote presentation on the first day of ITEC, I was reminded about how innovative and forward-thinking our staff can be. Along with several other items to kick off the conference, I got to see Garner principal Nick Proud honored with ITEC’s Outstanding Administrator award. Throughout the conference, I saw ICCSD staff presenting at sessions, ICCSD students coordinating and creating podcasts, and was never at a loss for pride in the district I serve.
We have to reach students where they live: in technology terms, it’s easy for me to default to technology solutions and communication methods that I use. As an administrator, I have to push myself to innovate and learn such that my limitations don’t result in barriers to students’ effective use of technology.
There are tremendous benefits to a growth mindset in educational technology. Rather than fighting changes in communication technologies, we as educators need to work to stay ahead of those changes. Our kids live in today’s world; let’s teach them there.
Failure is fine, but it isn’t a goal: Among the other valuable messages from George Couros’ keynote was this one, which resonated with me: failure is part of learning, but isn’t the end of learning. While we need to encourage risk-taking and acknowledge the messy ups and downs of progress, we ultimately must work to build a mindset where failure isn’t the end, it’s just a part of the process from which we grow towards success.
I need to get in the classroom more: While I’m not usually a big fan of self-focused statements, I want to own up to this one. Since I started in the district in July, I’ve spent relatively little time in the classroom. This has to change, and I’m excited about making it happen. While administrative responsibilities are time-consuming and can seem to monopolize availability, it’s impossible to serve our students and teachers if I am not closely connected with their experiences in our classrooms.
Sometimes, the nuts and bolts can be innovative too: the Nevada School District, near Ames, has been implementing virtual applications to support their Chromebook 1:1 initiative for the past year. Attending a session presented by their Director of Technology Joe Wakeman affirmed our approach to offer specialized software through a virtual platform, such that students can access the software they need at any time, from anywhere. While, on one hand, this solves a very mundane problem of needing to run Windows software on a Chromebook, it has the potential to dramatically change how and when students work, and how teachers are able to deliver instruction. The next step is ensuring that all of our students have access to internet no matter whether they’re on or off-campus.