Making I.T. Happen

In contrast to all the talk about digital natives being different from previous generations, the vast majority of teacher candidates we encountered five years ago did not appear able, and many weren't even willing, to embrace the use of technology to support teaching and learning. While I can understand how some people may not have the know how, we were often shocked by the candidates that were reluctant to becoming 21st century teachers, because they were more than happy to replicate the education they had received. Thus, our first step to Making I.T. Happen was to create converts.

Flickr photo by Jackal of all trades
Planting the Seeds 
When a colleague returned from a technology conference in the U.S. excited about a session he had attended - a session about creating your own tech conference, we felt that this is what we needed to start building a critical mass of educators ready to embrace 21st century teaching and learning. The Brock Teaching and Technology Collaborative Showcase provided teacher candidates and classroom teachers with an opportunity to see how a variety of educational technology resources were being integrated in the classroom. The individual sessions, sponsored by a educational technology company, allowed the participants to hear from skilled classroom teachers about how they were using technology in the classroom. Many sessions provided participants with their first hands-on experience using these resources. The end results was that participants left excited about the potential of integrating technology into their teaching practice. In three short years, the Brock Teaching and Technology Collaborative Showcase has grown to become one of the largest EdTech events in Ontario. It may even be the largest free EdTech event in the country. We feel that ensuring the event is free for participants (we even provide a free pizza lunch), will encourage all educators, even those that are apprehensive about using technology, to participate. Creating a critical mass of 21st century teachers will not be possible if teachers have to pay for their own professional development.

In addition to creating converts, the tech showcase also includes a luncheon for school and district leaders to gather and share ideas about promising practices that support technology integration. In addition to facilitating networking amongst education leaders, the luncheon provides a unique opportunity for school leaders, teacher educators and technology companies to collaborate on how we can work together to make I.T. happen.

The tech showcase has allowed us to build a relationship with a variety educational technology companies. These relations have become invaluable in getting the latest technology resources into the hands of our teacher candidates and their associate teachers. It can be very discouraging when teacher candidates have embraced everything they have learned in our program only to find that their school is devoid of the technology resources that they are excited about using in the classroom. As a result of the partnerships (Epson partnership case study) developed via the showcase and the revenue the event generates, we are able to provide our teacher candidates with many of the resources they learned about at the tech showcase, with an opportunity to use them during their teaching practicum. In addition to allowing our teacher candidates, their associate teacher and their students to experience 21st century teaching and learning first hand, our candidates are provided with a unique leadership opportunity, as their are often asked to provide training and support to teachers at their placement school.

Nurturing Growth 
In the fall of 2011 we welcomed the first cohort of Ed Tech Leaders to our Hamilton campus. These teacher candidates opted to participate in an additional 72 hours of training that included hands-on training with a variety of classroom technologies, training on professional development curriculum design, and an introduction to educational leadership and the current technological challenges and obstacles facing the education community

The first module of their technology training included hands-on training with LCD projectors, clicker, iPod Touches, Flip video cameras, Livescribe pens, Front Row classroom audio systems and SMART Notebook 1 & 2 certification. The goal of this training was to ensure that these teacher candidates would be knowledgeable in the technical use any technology resource they could encounter in the typical classroom. To demonstrate what they had learned, the candidates were asked to create a video that highlighted their knowledge of how to use a ed tech tool of their choosing.  The end result was a series of ed tech 'how to' videos that were posted to the cohort's YouTube channel.

This ed tech leadership training was in addition to the 20 hours of Teaching with Technology coursework teacher candidates receive at Brock University. This mandatory course develops the candidates' TPAK (technological and pedagogical knowledge) which is essential if they are to successfully use technology to enhance classroom teaching and learning.

Even before the first day of class, the candidates were asked to create a Twitter and blog account. Despite the fact that the majority of the teacher candidates admitted that had never used Twitter or a blog before, they quickly embraced these tools are a medium for professional development and reflection. To help guide their way through the Twitterverse and blogosphere, the Ed Tech Cohort members were provided with a list of Virtual Associate Teachers so that they could see how experience educators used these social technologies. Nurtured by the example of the educational leaders they were following online, the blogs and tweets created by the Ed Tech Cohort highlighted their professional reflection, but also posed questions and concerns about traditional education practices that supported critical reflection and professional dialogue. These interactions are the type of professional activities school leaders often desire from experienced teachers.

A Forest of Leaders 
Within days of the start of the Ed Tech Leadership Cohort it became apparent that we had unleashed a tech-enabled virus into the education community.  Even before formally studying the leadership theories that serve as the foundation of the third Ed Tech Leadership module, the teacher candidates began to organically demonstrate their understanding of educational leadership and tech-enabled leadership. Their use of Twitter, blogs, Ning, and Google+ highlighted their understanding about the benefits of being open and transparent about their professional practice. Being open helped them to realize that they were not alone and served to develop a sense of community. Their commitment to being open facilitated the sharing of resources and ideas that serves as one of the hallmarks of leadership - the ability to influence the professional knowledge, practice or motivation of others.

As their professional learning community grew, they embraced the realization that using technology to foster collaboration would not only make their lives easier, but also contribute to their professional success. The candidates noted that without the use of collaboration tools such as Google Docs, they would not have been able to benefit from the insight of their colleagues or successfully complete many of their group assignments. Their easy acceptance of the virtues of collaborative practice is a realization that many educators have yet to acknowledge.

Through their use of a variety of social technologies it became apparent they were interacting with and being influenced by education leaders from across the globe. Participating in Twitter chats, Ning discussions, online and offline conferences and webinaires allowed them to be exposed to ideas and resources from around the world. It also provide them with an opportunity to share their ideas and possibly influence the practice of the educators they came in contact with. Watching their Tweets being retweeted and blog being commented on by experienced educators reinforced the notion that leadership is dynamic as it can come from a variety of places and is not dependent on formal roles.

By engaging in actions that were open, collaborative or dynamic that influenced the educational knowledge, practice or motivation or other educators, these teacher candidates have exercised tech-enabled leadership and have directly contributed to the advancement of classroom technology integration, and Making I.T. Happen.


  1. The tremendous ed tech distance already travelled by the teacher candidates involved brings several questions to my mind. What about the other cohorts especially at the Hamilton campus? Is there a gap now developing between this group and the others in Hamilton? What are the plans for bringing the other cohorts on board with this program in the future? If the ed tech focus continues to remain accessible to only one group of teacher candidates, there is clearly a dual tracked teacher training program emerging and the gap amongst cohorts will continue to widen. Will the teacher candidates see this as a have and have not situation with hiring potential unfairly distributed?

    I am sure that much behind the scenes discussions have already occurred regarding these kinds of questions and the feedback to be gained from this year's program will provide more data and information to address these potentially emerging issues. As with any new initiave, the process and product need to be evaluated at the end to ensure that the "next go around" becomes richer in every respect.

    Another personal observation centres around faculty advisors, their comfort levels with these rapidly expanding ed tech initiatives and related courses, and possibly a changing role that this new direction is creating. What are the expectations of cohort leaders in fully understanding the ed tech course and its related assignments so that they are in a better position to provide meaningful support for their cohort members?

    From a personal perspective, I have learned a great deal; however, faculty advisor role and possible ed tech prerequisite knowledge/skills for being involved with an ed tech group need to be clearly articulated. I have leaned on a skilled colleague a great deal and she has been a tremendous help in an ad hoc manner. Additionally, I have spent considerable time using social media to remain connected with my teacher candidates. I am creating personal blog posts, reading students' blog entries and commenting on them, skimming through copious tweets, and connecting through Google + means. I peruse gmail correspondences sent to my ed tech cohort so I am apprised of assignments they are facing; some of these (ADDIE process)are likely be completed in their respective field placements where I am involved as their faculty advisor.

    All of these behind-the-scenes tasks are extremely time consuming.I realize that I must follow suite to remain connected to the process this year; however, why am I still feeling "out of the loop"? Several teacher candidates have mentioned that they see a spill-over effect occurring with some wondering where the delineation is between the cohort course (8D09) and their ed tech course. It is this grey area that poses questions in my mind urging me to ask, "How is the faculty advisor's role being impacted by this ed tech program?"

    If this program expands as I am certain it should and will, the role and responsibilities of the faculty advisors involved need to be examined. I certainly feel that it is not "business as usual"for me this year. I am engaged in as much a professional journey, charting new instructional territory as my teacher candidates are. Yes, I am enjoying the challenge and the new learning accompanying it. My revelation is that I am develping coping strategies largely by default.

  2. Giselle, I look forward to discussing the questions you have raised.