It's the understatement of the century to say that a lot has changed in the past year. For those of us in the field of education, our world has been turned upside-down. Tech is more available with more teachers equipped with basic digital skills than anyone would have dreamed of previously. While it is by no means enough in terms of delivering on the equitable educational experience many of our students deserve, it has brought about massive change in the way we think about education and what it could and should look like moving forward. The obstacle of convincing folks that tech should be an integral part of education has been, for the most part, removed.
Prior to spring 2020, I had always taken great pride in my ability to ground my work at the central level in my school-based experience - I taught math for six years, then supported schools with instructional technology support where I was embedded deeply in a school. I felt confident in my ability to lead our use of LMSs and make changes based upon relevant knowledge of what instruction and day-to-day life looked like for teachers and students. I could make solid decisions grounded in reality and think through potential unintended consequences. Then the world turned upside-down.
I'm sure for many people who have left the classroom or a school-based position, their school-based experience naturally becomes decreasingly relevant over time. Schools are an ever-changing ecosystem with a new environment crafted every year based upon changing staff, policies, priorities, programs, and any number of other circumstances. While many core ideas remain the same, there is enough change each year that it accumulates to a whole new world, given enough passing time. I believe this past year has seen so many of these changes in such a short amount of time that even if you were in the classroom and/or leading at a school for the 18-19 school year, your reference for what the school experience looks like is severely outdated.
We are at a key, pivotal moment in education. While many of us have always believed a revolution was necessary, there is no doubt in my mind that now is the best time to make the changes we have always dreamed of making to our incredibly broken system. I have always been angered by the ways our current system has failed our students, especially those who are traditionally marginalized. I can't imagine how uncontrollably furious I would be if schools see this moment and watch it slip away for the sake of 'normalcy'. And if you know anything about me - I am very motivated by anger. I have learned that the things that make me the most angry, are always the things I care about the most. I don't want to be in an office attempting my best guess at what schools need to make innovation happen and slowly build structures and policies to support that change - I want to be close to the work, at the table where ideas are born and innovation happens.
Based upon my experience over the past 12 years in education and my deep desire to live in alignment with my values, it was incredibly clear that I needed to be in a school where I could help be a part of what comes next. I have always been driven by a relentless passion for educational equity. All students deserve a quality educational experience that cultivates the brilliance already within them while creating an environment in which they can embrace, rather than abandon, their personal identities. We are at a critical juncture in the field of education where what comes next matters deeply for generations to come. To me, the next part of the education adventure story sounds way too important and way too much fun to miss. I am very much looking forward to being back in a school and being a part of it.
As the world of education has turned more digital than ever, I continue to find myself using the lens of User Experience when advising schools on how to best use technology to meet the needs of students. I highly doubt this will be the last time I blog about this connection, as I've been fascinated by this intersection for many years now. I am convinced that by embracing this perspective, we can truly revolutionize the way both education and work are done.
In my current role, I think of teachers and students as the users of our Learning Management Systems and recommend strategies schools can use to provide the best user experience possible. Below are a couple of ways this has showed up, as well as the resources I've recently used to gain additional insight and perspective for all things UX and design. I hope you enjoy my thoughts and find them helpful for rethinking ways to solve some of education's toughest challenges.
Course Design - Visuals and Course Organization
With instruction and professional development needing at least some asynchronous component, creating courses that are easy to navigate and visually appealing is essential to ensure strong engagement. I encourage folks to consider the basic question, "If I entered this course with no context or support, would it be clear what I need to do to be successful?" This includes clearly communicating how to best get support for the course and ways to build relationships between participants and the facilitator in a variety of formats - text, image, audio, video, etc.
I like to think of the platforms I support as the learning ecosystems for users. While they may be taking their courses on the platform, I also like to consider how the platform can be used to provide other educational wraparound supports like communication, resource distribution, and potentially solve other problems facing their school.
My favorite conversations with schools are those that lead to 'off-label' uses of tools within the platform to solve unique problems. For example, one school wanted to create a space for students to engage in fun online activities and social opportunities during remote learning. Knowing that Schoology is the digital 'place' where students are visiting, I know it is helpful to contain as much school business within the platform as possible. We ultimately decided to create a school-wide Schoology course to post these opportunities and bulk-enrolled every single student in the school so they would automatically have access without any action on their part. In general, I like to think of how to make it easy to do the right thing and harder to do anything else.
To support schools with utilizing the platform as a one-stop-shop to it's fullest potential, I rolled out this Implementation Guide for schools. While it is by no means an exhaustive list, I think it provides some high-leverage strategies for schools utilizing Schoology in a way that stays true to UX concepts of creating the best possible user experience.
Inspiration and Resources
If you've read any of my previous blog posts, you may already know I'm a bit of a podcast junkie. Of course, there is a podcast where I get some of my main UX inspiration.
For all things design, I often turn back to this classic text from my days in graduate school.
And last, but certainly not least, here are some newer reads that have helped me understand more specifics about the field of UX. For those looking to browse the topic without buying anything, I encourage you to look for these books at your local library.
As I continue to continue examining how UX and education intersect, I'm sure I will create more posts to process my learning on the topic. If you have any suggestions or just want to chat about this concept, feel free to type in the comments below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope everyone is doing well during this challenging time and is able to find the resource they need to make it through.
As I being writing this blog post, I want to acknowledge at the top here that I'm using this post to process my COVID-19 experience. As I'm begin week 5 of working and living remotely, I'm realizing that I have a lot I want to get down, so this will probably be the longest blog post I've ever written and won't include my usual visuals. Feel free to skip to the section that speaks to you or skip the entire post.
A a part of my personal growth journey, my goal is to do my best to live by my values and cultivate healthy mindset. While I am by no means perfect, I have been trying to use this time as an opportunity to deepen my study and show up in ways to show up in alignment with these values. Below are some of the top ways this has showed up.
Top Pedagogical Practices
As a part of my work, I created a quick-study course for teachers with top pedagogical practices to keep in mind for remote learning. Knowing how saturated the Internet is with articles about this topic, I focused on these top practices, keeping them tech tool/platform agnostic.
In case you don't already know, I'm a complete podcast junkie. Below are the podcasts I'm listening to that others may also enjoy and are specifically supporting this journey.
While I have made time to connect with family and friends, I have also found it important to find professional means of connection during this time. Below are a few connections that have really stuck out and meant a lot to me.
If you've made it down this far on my post, I want to thank you for reading it and hope that you found something that helps you during this challenging time. We are all hurting. We are all grieving the loss of our lives as they were. While the current moment feels incredibly difficult, I am excited to see what happens next in the field of education and how we rise from this moment stronger and more innovative than ever. I hope you are all able to do what you need to take care of yourself and your families. I know I am trying to use this moment to cherish and soak in moment with the loved ones near me and I hope you are able to do the same. Take care and feel free to reach out and connect. We are all in this together!
A quick post for challenging times. In case it is helpful, I put together my top resources and posts that could come in handing for any teaching being asked to teach online. If there are any other resources you need (especially related to Schoology - I currently manage the enterprise version for a large district) please feel free to reach out via email - email@example.com.
Last month, I had the opportunity to Keynote the Connect Colorado Schoology Conference. In my presentation, I talk about the importance of systems, empathy research, and using collaboration to create meaningful learning for all students. My friend and colleague, Paul Iwancio, was kind enough to record it for me. Below is the video he produced. Enjoy!
While the background of each school was very different (I made some modifications for each school), I was able to bring an engaging session for staff about Digital Citizenship, Classroom Management, and SAMR/4Cs while modeling instructional technology strategies. I'm all about the meta approach to professional learning and thought I would share how I designed and facilitated one of my favorite professional learning sessions to date.
While I prefer using as little text as possible and full-bleed images when designing presentations (see design tips from Presentation Zen), I find it helpful to have an aesthetically pleasing template to fall back on when I feel more text is necessary, especially for interactive slides. For slides with full-bleed images, I use copyright free images from the Unsplash Photos Slides add-on. This saves me a great deal of time when finding images. For my recent presentation, I pulled slides from many of my previous presentations and converted them all into a common theme from Slides Carnival.
Using an avatar of yourself, or other images can add a nice personal touch to any presentation. Bitmojis are an easy way to to this, especially with the Chrome Extension which allows you to drag and drop the images directly into your Google Docs. You will need to create your Bitmoji using the app (iTunes, Google Play) on a mobile device, but once you create your Bitmoji, you can use it in a variety of places.
I especially enjoy using Bitmojis on presentations slides that have some text and don't have room for much else. Did I wear the same outfit as my Bitmoji during my presentation? Yes - I happen to have the same outfit and it seemed too fun to not do it.
While I could go on and on about the decisions I make for including question types (maybe in a future blog post), I want to highlight the presenter logistics I used to facilitate this session on the day of the PD.
Before Presenting My Session
To Present My Session
To End My Session
Day 2 at InnEdCO19! Keeping with my organization for yesterday's post, I decided to reflect upon the themes of instructional strategies, new tech tools, and questions I'm thinking about. I want to note that I intentionally put instructional strategies before tech tools. I do this because I think these to be the most helpful, equity-focused information to be gained at InnEdCO. Not every school, teacher, district, etc has access to an increasingly long list of paid tools. However, they do have access to strong instructional strategies and good pedagogy that they can incorporate using whatever tools they already have access to in their classroom.
Using a tool like Hypothes.is, Scrible, or just Google Docs, students can all annotate the same source of text - generating more learning and deeper conversation. This makes reading a social activity, with opportunities for students to gain insight and support from their peers. Have a class of ELLs? Students can comment on words they know or check to see if their interpretation of a statement is correct. Students don't have to wait until the end of an article to receive feedback from their peers, allowing them to more fully engage in the article.
Curation, Remixing, and Parody as Production
Using just about any platform, how can we provide students the opportunity to curate articles, videos, podcasts, etc? I think about how I used to curate YouTube playlists as support for my AP Calc students. Even though students might not be making the original content, the gathering of materials is a kind of production in and of itself, requiring a keen eye and critical thinking skills. I also think about how students can remix or create a parody of existing content in a way that demonstrates deep understanding and analysis of the original source materials. I think about my love of the podcast Buffering the Vampire Slayer and how the song at the end of each episode demonstrates deep understanding of the Buffy Universe.
Top New Tech Tools
Check Mark Extension
Providing feedback to students on a Google Doc? Tired of copying and pasting the same feedback over and over again? Check Mark Extension stores your most common feedback, sorted by class so you can easily use it when examining student work.
I've been wanting to play with Anchor for a while - this podcasting tool add a social element to podcasts that didn't previously exist. Since I'm a total podcast junkie (previous blog post here), I think it's time that I dig in and finally use this application for its full potential power.
Questions I'm thinking About
Today I had the pleasure of attending Day 1 of InnEdCO19 for the Leadership Conference. I was able to attend a handful of sessions (some in-person and some virtually through their linked resources). Instead of my normal session by session sharing, today felt belt processed through three themes: instruction, tech tools, and Critical Digital Pedagogy. Below are my highlights from each of these three areas.
New Instructional Strategy
I saw this video highlighting the strategy Talk Detectives in the Get Them Communicating session materials. I fell in love with the simplicity and impact of this instructional move, especially in supporting English Language Learners. In the age of standardized testing and data-driven instruction, discussion skills can get tossed to the side. This is a great way to ensure students know how to engage in productive academic conversations that lead to learning and is well-aligned with sociocultural learning theory.
New Tech Tools
Below are two tools I had not learned about before today (shout out to the Get Them Communicating and A Tool Parade sessions). Each offer a unique opportunity for supporting student learning.
This open-source tool has a web-based version that allows students to create choose-your-own-adventure stories. This tool has a bit of a learning curve, but offers a free, no-account-needed solution to teachers wanting to support students with a unique writing project.
Critical Digital Pedagogy
Today's conference opened with a keynote from Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris, focusing on Critical Digital Pedagogy. I was able to engage in a conversation over Twitter on how we use Critical Digital Pedagogy to look at systemic inequities in our education system. Jesse shared this presentation with me from a previous keynote he gave at WILU2019, The Workshop for Instruction in Library Use. Below is the Twitter conversation, along with my favorite quote from the slides shared.
Jesse and Sean also offered a follow-up session, focused on applying the following questions to the tech tools we use with students. Below are the questions to consider when thinking about implementing a specific tech tool in the classroom.
What are your Day 1 InnEdCO19 highlights? Share them in the comments below!
I have been fortunate enough to spend the past two years coaching and learning with teachers implementing a school-wide 1:1 device program at an urban traditional high school. Grounded in the SAMR framework and the 4Cs, I helped teachers with a wide variety of instructional strategies - from setting up a Schoology grade book to planning for Project-Based Learning. Below are the tech tools I used most frequently with teachers to start them on their instructional technology journey.
There are several fancy features that come with the premium version (I absolutely love it), but the free version is still worth using. It is clear that teachers created this tool, based upon how user-friendly and intuitive it is. Pear Deck has this incredibly helpful guide and wonderful YouTube Channel to support teachers on top of built-in helper text as you use the tool. When it came to coaching teachers on technology, this tool had a low learning curve with an incredibly high impact on instruction. If you have a teacher new to using technology, this tool is a great one to start with in your coaching work.
Students can record presentations, music playing tests, explanations of math problems, or anything else that is a combination of webcam, desktop screen, and basic annotation tools. This tool is incredibly powerful for all students, but especially supportive for English Language Learners - giving them a great tool to practice speaking skills. Connected to their Google accounts, students can click to record and then share the link to their video file. The tutorial site is complete with easy-to-use videos and ideas for classroom implementation. From a leadership perspective, this tool is also great for creating easy tutorials, sharing school-wide announcements, and avoiding informational whole-staff meetings.
The power of Google Sites comes in its functionality - because it is a Google product it integrates well with other Google products such as Drive, Docs, Slides, Sheets, MyMaps, and YouTube. Sites are a great way to support students with blogging, organizing information from a research project, or creating a product of their learning.
What are your top tech tool recommendations? Leave them in the comments below!
It is no secret to those that know me that I am very passionate about equity work as it relates to education. I have helped create a hybrid bias and equity year-long course, reflected on conference sessions and presentations, and engaged in countless conversations related to the inequities that plague our educational system. You can find my previous blog posts below.
While engaging in professional conversations and attending professional development around equity is valuable, I have found the impact to be limited. I believe that the hardest and most important work we can do as educators is pursue personal growth and education as it relates to issues of equity, inclusion, anti-racism, culturally responsive education, etc. This requires us to immerse ourselves in these topics on a regular basis - examining our identities, biases, complexes, blind spots, and fragility. It is never-ending work requiring intense study.
Before I share some of the work I've personally engaged in, I want to name that I come to this work as a complex mash-up. I am a mixed, racially-ambiguous-looking, queer person who uses she/her pronouns. I took the last name of my spouse and co-parent a tiny human made with the help of science. Much of my family lineage has benefitted from systems of white supremacy and other parts have been oppressed by these same systems. My growth is incomplete and imperfect. I know I will not get everything right and I will continuously mess up. I am actually quite nervous to write this post because I know I still carry many biases and still have so much work to do. I am not an expert by any means. The work is hard and vulnerable, but I also know that for me to continue growing - reflecting and sharing my journey is necessary.
As someone who struggles to read books on a regular basis (for a variety of reasons), I have found short articles, videos, and podcasts to be my main mediums for personal study. Luckily, I have also been able to participate in book studies and other formal professional development related to this work. I find colleagues, family, and friends to process my learning with and engage in deep, difficult conversations. I take time to internally reflect on my learning and try to practice awareness and speak up as often as I can manage. It is exhausting. There are some weeks that I have to take a break - but I always come back and dive in again. Below are some of the resources that have impacted me the most.
White Supremacy Culture Article by Tema Okun
This article breaks down common organization cultural practices that are soaked in white supremacy culture. I find myself reflecting on meetings, interactions, and school cultures as it relates to this article all the time. Mostly, I find myself deeply concerned about the way schools feed into the 'Worship of the Written Word' element of this culture. Frequently, we do not count students as having mastered a topic unless they can write at grade level about it. Discussions, presentations, videos, and other non-written representations of understanding are seen as less valid or rigorous. This article gives me the words I've needed to engage in conversations to push back on this idea.
This journey has greatly impacted me both professionally and personally. Between my work in public education and the complexity of my family background, I think about issues of equity ever single day. It's definitely changed me, pushing me to be a stronger advocate and solidifying elements of my personal identity. I know I still have a long way to go and I want to take this opportunity to reflect on some of the ways this work has impacted me in terms of awareness, advocacy, and identity.
There are a ton of personal experiences that have gone into shaping where I am at in this journey - it is likely I could dedicate and entire blog or write a book and still not capture everything. I hope that by sharing a glimpse into my story and this work I can inspire other educators to find the resources and community they need to either start or continue their own equity journey. Our students need stronger and better allies to overcome generations of systemic oppression. Unless we make a greater effort, we will continue to fail our historically underserved populations and perpetuate the inequities still seen in classrooms today.
We can and must do better, but it take each of us sitting in discomfort and engaging in this work. To quote Brené Brown from her most recent Netflix special, “To not have the conversations because they make you uncomfortable, is the definition of privilege. Your comfort is not at the center of this discussion.”
Mattea Garcia is a passionate creative educator dedicated to improving the student experience. This blog is dedicated to reflections on educational technology tools, instructional coaching, and educational equity.