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Developing Technolamateurs and Technolexperts

On the evening of Christmas day, 2004 my family loaded in a vehicle and drove into Atlanta, Georgia.  That evening we stayed overnight in a hotel so that we could wake-up very early on December 26th for my family to take me to the airport.  It was the last day that I would be at “home” for more than a year.  It was a day of closure and a day of beginnings.  As the next 48 hours unfolded my life path would be set in a new direction…  I was moving abroad.

iStock_000004582429XSmallPrior to that Christmas, I had embarked on some of the most difficult personal/professional development training that I’ve ever encountered…  I trained my parents on general computer use, the internet and email.

At that time, my parents had heard of email and many internet “words”.  But, they had not engaged in any of those technologies.  We went back to the very basics of turning on and operating a computer… explaining “booting up”, hardware, software, opening programs, saving programs, file types, and those sorts of fun things.  Explaining a “window” was interesting.  Then, we got to email…  it took many demonstrations, but they finally got it!

I was watching my parents move beyond being an “observer” to become a “participant” in technology.

Throughout my career I’ve worked with faculty, across generational tiers, and discovered a few levels of engagement when it comes to using technology.  I’ve found these to be especially true of tech integration in the teaching and learning process.Technology Observer

Do you have faculty or team members that find typing difficult and cumbersome?  Do they ask a secretary or other team member to complete requests that require them to use technology?  These people can likely be considered observers of technology.  They may often seem negative towards the use of technology in the teaching and learning process and become frustrated easily if asked to learn something new that requires the use of technology.  Others may feel like the Observer is “asleep” when it comes to technology integration.  While intrigued by student use of technology, they are often fearful.  In my experience, they are often baby boomers that grew-up with media, but did not interact with other people through the use of technology.  They rarely require access to information, the web, and technology (connectivity).

The question for leaders: How can I more effectively engage observers to actively participate in the use of technology in the teaching and learning process?

In today’s academic settings, there are more and more technology “participants”.  In international schools, these are sometimes the majority of our faculty.  They find it comfortable to use various tools and embark on journeys in the online tech environment.  These people cross generational categories, but tend to be more in the category of Gen X and Gen Y (Millenials).  Not only do they engage with the required professional technology tools, they often use tech tools for social interaction and are usually Web 2.0 savvy (or very willing to try!).  As for teaching and learning, they will try to  integrate technology into any point of the process if they can see the value.  Some participants may be adverse to certain technologies and yet others can be “champions”.  Sometimes they see the primary use of a computer (and other tech tools) as to “get information” or to “simplify” processes.  These people see technology and the internet as “tools”.  They sometimes, often or always require access to information, the web, and technology (connectivity).

What the participant may dabble in creation of content (usually user focused), they are not authentic content creators.

The question for leaders: What ways can I engage participants in creating fresh, relevant, and authentic content for the benefit of others?

When it comes to technology and education, the Creator is in a different league.  They are usually masters of all the “tools” that participants use and focus on technology, the web and connectivity as an environment.  They live in the environment.  They connect through the environment and utilize it to mastermind their own, often
original, base of information or content.  Though they view technology as a means to get information, they are keenly aware of the audience  and see it as a valuable network.  Because of their outlook, they see the tech environment as an integral part of the teaching and learning process and as a way to serve others from their own, personal point of view.  Creators turn everyday technology habits into solutions and structures that present something of interest or assistance to others.  They create any time and any place. They almost always require constant access to information, the web, and technology (connectivity).

Stated another way, they build an online presence.

Across the spectrum, there are very few authentic, original content creators.  But the number is growing and the millenials do this much more naturally than any other generation.

The question for leaders: How can I leverage the creation and skills of the creator to design openings for other staff to fashion their own presence and personal learning network?

Whereas the number of Creators is certainly smaller than the number of Observers and Participants, the number of Designers is even much, much smaller.  Designers come in a variety of species and are much harder to identify or define.  These are the people who mash, merge and integrate various technologies not only for the purpose of creating a body of content or an online presence, but to create pathways and trends that others follow through.  These are often the those who design new technologies or niches.  They have foresight and depth of understanding from being successful, innovative Creators.  Others in the organization find ways to attach their content or create their content from the niches that the Designers creates.

The question for leaders: How can the Creators on my team collaborate to create innovative technologies to improve the teaching and learning process and engage students for greater achievement?

As professionals in an ever speeding, morphing environment, we need to ask ourselves how we can challenge those around us to use technology wisely and authentically.  Whether a digital native or digital immigrant, we can always find areas for growth, whether in skill, integration, efficiency, collaboration or other ways.  None of the tiers of engagement mentioned above are compartmentalized or “stand alone”.  There are often varying degrees of each of them in all of us, yet we may be able to easily identify which one is most likely a best fit for us (or our colleagues).  The good news is that no matter your fears or enthusiasm for engagement, there is always room for more growth.  Consider ways that you can “move along” the scaffolding or assist others to move along as well.

It has been almost 4 and a half years since I got on an airplane to move abroad.  Since the day I left, my parents have continued on their journey to use technology personally.  They now see their computer as a form of information, entertainment, communication and connectedness.  They use email regularly and shop online often.  My parents even send me text messages using their cell phones.  They use a webcam with Skype and use iTunes to download music for their iPod.  In their world, they are authentic Participators.  Maybe while I am home this year I will encourage them to begin creating their own online presence…..  I wonder what their avatar will look like!


Backward Design – My Experience

Training of Trainers program with Jay McTighe

Quote from Stephen Covey

Understanding by Design is a becoming a core part of the value system of our faculty.  It is a challenge to create a culture of UbD, especially with so many initiatives that are underway as a young school.  Having made considerable progress across all divisions, we are really beginning to see some of the principles reflected in curriculum development.  Teaching for understanding has become a discussion topic throughout the school and implementing in with obtainable goals is enriching our professional culture.

Participating in a Training of Trainers program with Jay McTighe, one of the authors of Understanding by Design, is proving to be an invaluable professional experience.  Seventy-four international school educators are Understanding by Designparticipating in a 2 year program that is to provide two levels of training for participants:

  • Year 1:  The first year focuses on developing knowledge and skills to conduct basic in-school training, review and give feedback to unit designers, conduct peer review sessions and assist in long-range UbD training.
  • Year 2: The second year focuses on developing knowledge and skills to conduct advanced training, support curriculum development with integration of differentiated instruction, and coordinating an on-going UbD program within schools.

This course is deepening and solidifying my understanding of UbD.   An introductory course last summer at the ASCD Summer Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, taking the online professional development course from ASCD and working with our faculty this year to build this philosophy into our culture has been a good start, but the Training of Trainers program is strategically important to support the school’s ongoing commitment to the UbD philosophy .

My Experience at our first workshop meetings

Recently, the 74 participants gathered for three days of meetings at Singapore American School, which is hosting the program.  This was the first meeting and I was impressed with many of the people in attendance.  While I had never met many of them, others I knew personally or had seen at regional trainings throughout the year.  Prior to our first workshop meetings, participants were required to participate in online discussions and complete both unit design and unit review exercises.  During the workshop sessions there were many discussions, collaborative activities and presentations.  Jay McTighe is a master communicator who is keenly aware of his audience and he constantly scans for non-verbal clues to guage audience engagement.  Jay speaks with his hands a lot and I find it interesting to watch him as he interacts with people in a large group setting.

Though the participants had varying degrees of UbD understanding and implementation at their schools were at many different stages, there was significant time allocated for collaborating and working with people in similar school setting and/or with people that have similar professional responsibilities.  One of the highlights of the event was sitting at a table with a group of other MYP Coordinators from the region.  The discussions were interesting although they sometimes (ok… often) centered around IB-MYP.

Further thoughts

Understanding by Design by Jay McTghe and Grant Wiggins is an important, undergirding philosophy for teachers that want to build classrooms for 21st century learning.  Teaching and learning is not simply about memorizing fact and being knowledgeable.  Teaching and learning is about “understanding”.  In conversations on modern pedagogy, this concept arises again and again because of the need to shift our pedagogical idealogy away from more traditional schemes of learning assigned sets of information/curriculum that is often limited to lower level skills and knowledge.

Additionally, Understanding by Design undergirds and supports the successful implementation and operation of IB programs within a school.  While many would argue that UbD is mostly applicable to PYP and MYP programs, it became increasingly clear during our workshop that it is important for IB-DP as well.  UbD gives our whole school a common terminology, understanding and pedagogical outlook so that we can have professional discussion across divisions.  It gives us a greater coherence in curriculum design across the IB programs and school divisions so that the continuum is clearer for faculty, parents and students.

– Many thanks to Singapore American School and Mark Boyer for organizing this training (
– More about Understanding by Design – McTighe and Wiggins (