The Importance of Instructional Technologists

Eric Braun Blog

KarenDitzler_Twitter_400x400The role of Instructional Technologist has developed in the schools as a response to the need to focus on technology that helps with learning in the classroom. Traditional technologists in the schools have been focused more on the necessary infrastructure like servers, networks, email and home pages. Once there is infrastructure, exciting learning can begin! We are at a point where we can truly connect the pedagogy with the technology to make a greater impact directly on our students. That’s where the Instructional Technologist comes in, and there are some unbelievable people working in this type of a role. Today’s newsletter focuses on one of these amazing people — Karen Ditzler, Instructional Technology Specialist from the Capital Area Intermediate Unit in Harrisburg, PA.

Like anyone who wants to make an impact, Instructional Technologists have to be movers and shakers. They have to be creative to come up with ideas to try out. They have to be energized to spread themselves over a wide area. They have to be customer-focused to make a lot of people happy. But since the rewards are so great — smiles, thank-yous, demonstrated learning — this is all cake for those who thrive there, for those who get up in the morning with the thrill of what they will encounter each day.

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Officially, Karen’s title is Instructional Technology Specialist and her area of focus is technology and curriculum as the connector between the Pennsylvania DOE and 24 different districts. That’s a whole lot of area to cover, but Karen takes it one step at a time, one success at a time. For example, when the Intermediate Unit wanted to explore bringing iPads into the schools 3 years ago, Karen helped a 2nd Grade class with a pilot using 6 iPads. The focus was not on whether 1-to-1 would be good but on how to use the devices for creating projects instead of just consuming information. Google Search and reading content on an iPad is not that much different than doing the same on a desktop computer, but being able to use a small touch device to create a project and to explain what you have learned changes the game.

One question asked was, “Can young students who cannot type or manage the complexities of a laptop, create great work on a tablet?”

This led to, “What can students do on an iPad that is different than just reading information from paper?”

WhatDoYouWantToCreate-WesFryer-modSo, the Instructional Technologist (with or without the title) jumps into the quagmire and becomes entrepreneurial — exploring, experimenting and discovering. Through this process, he or she curates apps and programs that will help students based on 21st Century Skills, standards and the different tiers of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Once the apps fill the iPad (a typical Instructional Technologist might have 400+ apps!), they are tested, evaluated and mapped to relevant learning activities for the classroom. This is a daunting task, so partnering with teachers who can help with this process is very valuable.

Karen started with five 2nd Grade classes across the district. Then, she progressed to twenty 2nd grade classes across the district, but only after effectively piloting what would work to enhance student learning. What she found to work very well was to get these 20 teachers together periodically throughout the year to collaborate and come up with ideas and share usage from their classrooms. As a cohort, they were stronger than if they had been working individually, and they increased their effectiveness exponentially. Interestingly, Karen was warned by one principal that the teachers were not excited about learning something new, and yet when they began collaborating with others, they loved it! Isn’t an important part of leadership the ability to inspire others to action? Karen led them by actively participating and catalyzing their collaborative activities, which resulted in positive results.

Karen wanted to make sure I knew that the 30hands app was a big part of their iPad success and that it was the number 1 pick among the K-3 teachers she has worked with. They like 30hands, because:

  • It is very easy to use and understand by teachers and students at all the grade levels.
  • It aligns with the existing curriculum but enhances it through video creation.
  • It gets the students excited about what they are learning.
  • It is more than just a reward like candy, because it contributes to their learning as they create a project and explain what they are learning.

As an example of how great Instructional Technologists are helping lead the way to effectively using technology in the classroom for better learning, Karen plays a very important role. Schools and districts that do not currently have such a role should consider the great value. But like anything else, it is not merely the role that matters but having the right person in that role. The role requires someone who is intrapreneurial, creative, proactive and a bundle of positive energy. From what I can tell, this sums up Karen and many of the others I have met who take on this important role. We owe them recognition and thanks. Thank you!


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I’ll end the blog with a post script outlining a 3rd Grade activity Karen helped design along with some phenomenal teachers at the Newport Elementary School in Newport, PA. She has continued working with the other 3rd Grade classes across the district. This 3rd Grade activity was done with the iPads and 30hands. The class was already doing autobiography projects as posters. Posters were just snapshots without a story flow, which is an important part of learning. Adding technology could make it multidimensional and flow like a story.

  1. Each student brainstormed and created a storyboard about what to tell.
  2. Each wrote his or her autobiography.
  3. Next, they highlighted areas in their stories where they wanted pictures and then decided what pictures to use to represent their ideas. They could choose photos, images or draw pictures. The video feature in 30hands Pro would be nice, too.
  4. They created their 30hands with the pictures and narrated their story over them.
  5. With only 5 iPads, Karen sat in the back and the kids came to her to learn how to use them and 30hands. Eventually, the teachers took over this role.
  6. In the end, the teacher combined the final videos for a movie day.
  7. Some students loved being able to incorporate their own drawings from paper or within the app. Others really liked taking photos for their stories.
  8. All of the students loved hearing their voices!

Here are some of the enthusiastic comments from the teachers to Karen:

“All 21 of my students have completed their autobiographies with your help.  Thanks so much! We look forward to watching our video!”

“These are awesome.  I can’t wait to do more publishing this way and sharing with parents. A very engaging way to meet our common core for kindergarten.”

“We just watched all of the video/stories! We loved them!! Thumbs-up kindergarten kiddies!”

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