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Addicted to Technology
Ok, first of all, I need to get this thing registered as a paid account. I forgot how bad the ads were here. Soz. :-/

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For the World View workshop I attended a few weeks ago, we had to read Prensky's article, "Turning on the Lights," and do some reflecting on it and a few other things. My response is below. I haven't edited this.

1. Prensky concludes that students living in developed countries have access to information at their fingertips and are using this information to learn and connect to the world. He proposes that educators need to use, build on, and strengthen the "reservoirs of knowledge" that these students are acquiring. Thus the role of educator is shifting from provider of information to explainers and evaluators of information. Are you experiencing this shift in your school? How do you make sure that students in your school have equal access to information?

This shift from provider to explainer/evaluator is just beginning to occur at my school. Our students are mostly low socioeconomic status (I think we have something like 95% free/reduced lunch), so their access to the Internet/technology and thus to information has been severely limited up until this year. This year was the first year computer skills were taught at my school, and teachers were not supported in their technology use. Adding new staff and a new computer skills teacher (me) has enabled both teachers and students to explore learning resources (both for professional/educational and personal use) and become more confident in accessing and using hardware and software as the teachers who had been here for a while had new role models. So far not much has been done to ensure equitable access. I would like to have the computer lab open before and after school for both students and parents, but I'm assigned supervisory duties and also have to manage hardware placement and repairs. Our school system encourages the use of community computer labs, but none are convenient to our area, and we don't have any local library branches, either. Our media coordinator (also new) does not encourage early or late visits to the media center. In short, we have a long way to go.

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Do you agree with Prensky's comments that students are learning less in school and more "afterschool" to prepare them for the 21st Century? How should schools be moving toward a more future-oriented curriculum?

Yes, I strongly agree with this comment, and with another quote I've read someplace about students "powering down" for school. Too much emphasis is placed on learning facts (easily tested on EOG's/EOC's) versus evaluation and product creation (what's needed for the real world). In addition, due to the levels of beaurocracy present in school systems and in state boards of education, schools simply cannot keep up with what kids are really into - and thus what they could use to make learning most relevant to them in terms of technology.
I'm not sure what path is best for moving toward a more future-oriented curriculum. Obviously providing hardware and infrastructure are key parts. But without a change in teaching methods, hardware items are nothing more than shiny toys when it comes down to it. Frankly, probably 85% of our current teaching population are either uninterested in adapting to these new devices in addition to software, or feel that they don't have the time or support to use them effectively. On top of that, in my experience very little support is being provided to the teachers who ARE interested, and so we've developed a wide gap between the innovators and the naysayers. In between are the teachers who read about the amazing things that the innovators are doing, but can't see their way to that level of competence, or who simply don't have access to the technology that the innovators do.


Ok, so one pathway to a more future-oriented curriculum is going to be more teacher support and time for training - preferably hands-on work sessions and hybrid online/face to face courses. Gone are the days when we can go and sit in a large room and take notes about a new approach (and good riddance to those days), and then go back to our classrooms and stick the notebook on a shelf, just relieved to have the CEUs.

One other consideration is the focus on data-driven decision-making and purchasing. By the time evidence exists that a given approach (using technology, or simply an approach to teaching and learning) works for students, that approach, if it involves technology, will more than likely be out of date.

Speaking of out of date, I'm also thinking that we need to move to a less top-down approach when it comes to curricula. I mentioned in one of the sessions at World View that the computer skills curriculum I use is 6 years old. Six. Years. Old. That might be ok for a history curriculum, where the facts don't change, but for a technology curriculum, that's ridiculous. The supporting materials are so general, disorganized, and out of date they're pretty much useless. We can no longer function as teachers with this kind of length of time between curriculum reviews and adoption, unless we choose to make our own course of study. Why not develop a more collaborative approach through the use of wikis? There could be standard review dates (how about 1 or 2 years instead of 6+) and it could have certain educational leaders (the same as would be chosen to develop a curriculum in the traditional way) set as writers/editors, but all other teachers would be able to comment, upload lessons etc., rather than just a few people at DPI that have too much else to do anyways.

One more thing - we have to stop teaching raw facts out of context. I can see problem-based learning becoming a more popular approach to learning, but then you run into the problem of objective, easily reportable evaluation techniques. The public wants numbers, percentages, and easily digestible graphs of what school is better. That's hard to provide when you are evaluating students on creative thinking and cooperation. But if we want *every* child prepared for the 21st century, that's the approach we need to take.

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3. What challenges do you face in your school (or in your school system) that prohubiti you from using and integrating technology in learning? How can these challenges be overcome?

In my school, it's mostly lack of experience, lack of access, and lack of support. Experience will come with time now that the support is there, so the remaining challenge is access. The computers in my lab are 7 years old, and none of the computers that teachers have access to are newer than 2 years old. Document cameras and projectors, which to me are the first step towards technology integration for most teachers, have only been available on a limited basis, and student response systems are not available. The biggest challenge now is finding the funding to increase access and decrease frustraton with technology integration. We also need more time to work together and figure out best practices (or review experiences of those who've already been through this process). Obtaining grants is the obvious solution, but unfortunately grant writing is a process that I have no experience with yet.

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4. The 21st Century student requires a "global" media center. What steps can you take to internationalize your media center?

The most obvious answer to this question would be to provide more ethnically diverse and globally-authored books. But in addition, we could put up displays representing particular countries or continents. I love the idea that was given by Sue Elder in one of the World View sessions of having a world map laid over the checkout desk. Having computers available with Google Earth would be a simple way to provide students with access to explore. Maybe instead of showing the Bogen time/announcements on both tv's, we could show CNN world news or something equivalent on the other tv. I really need to talk more with my media coordinator about this.
Just random thoughts, poorly written because I'm in a meeting at the moment and multitasking. I may elaborate another time.

Last week, I had the privilege of having a group conversation with Adam Garry when he presented at the World View: Creating a Global Media Center workshop (side note: I was introduced to backchanneling - the workshop's backchannel is at todaysmeet/worldview. One of the things he shared with us was a video that his son made that had to do with a social media site associated with Lego. The video was really excellent - speaking clearly, organized presentation, and his son was obviously aware of his intended audience. Adam made some comments that he didn't know how his son learned to do this kind of high-quality presentation, that maybe it was instinctual. I feel that it's not instinctual. In my opinion, he learned from watching other user-made videos. For him, he's watched high-quality videos and probably had feedback or at least guidance in what videos he was allowed to watch, so he had those appropriate role models.

What concerns me are those kids whose families aren't monitoring them and who learn from not just inappropriate content but poorly produced content (be that text, video, or audio). They will then reproduce that unless they are taught differently in school. One of the more effective way of teaching appropriate content & presentation is to present non-examples - have to be careful with that, though. And who is teaching these kinds of skills? So far, not many teachers - but for that matter, relatively few teachers are requiring technology-based projects, so for now I guess it's more of a concern that students are personally producing materials for their own use or to share with friends/family without having that guidance. And then of course there are those kids with such limited 'net access that they don't have any examples to go by either way, so when they go to create their own (maybe brought into it by a friend with access or whatever), they only have what their friends show them and maybe a little exploring on their own. Thus the inappropriate YouTube videos, blog posts, etc., that so many people kick and scream about.

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Another thought is that teachers have been so well-trained to sit and wait for tech training that this is what they are doing. They don't go out and explore; they want to wait for the workshop. That has to change, and I believe it will. I wonder if there's a way for leaders to facilitate that change by providing scaffolded-style training - more hybrid face-to-face/online trainings, more ability to receive credit for exploration time and work sessions, that sort of thing.
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During my interview for my current position, I was asked what I felt the essentials for a 21st century classroom were, in my opinion. As best I remember, I answered the following:


  • a laptop for the teacher

  • a data projector

  • and an interactive whiteboard, but ONLY if a student response system was also put into use



My reasoning for the last part of my answer (which may raise some eyebrows, given the current trends) is that without a student response system, all the interactive whiteboard provides is "wow" factor, and that quickly wears off for students. Even worse, most teachers don't even use all of the power and features available with the IW software, making the device nothing more than a very expensive projection screen. Sure, you can bring students up to the board to write with the pen or move digital objects around with their fingers, but that is one at a time - what are all the other kids focusing on? The content, or their jealousy and frustration that their classmate gets to "play" while they don't? And what is the difference, fundamentally, between that and coming up to a chalkboard or plain old dry erase board?

On the other hand, student response systems can make every student be involved, and that is the point of today's education.

I was paging through the September issue of Technology and Learning online, and came across an ad for the InterwriteMobi (it's on page 61, if you're interested), which seems to be a combination of wireless tablet paired with a separate SRS device (or is it a tablet + SRS combined? I can't quite tell). The ad's tagline is that it "makes the idea of expensive interactive whiteboards obsolete".

Exactly.

(Well done, unknown advertiser.)

I've started using a wireless tablet this week in my classes for the first time ever, and I love it. It allows me to manage student behavior much more effectively by being able to move around the room, and within the next week or so I intend to let my 5th graders start handling it and using it as an input device. That's still only one student at a time, though. I don't have access to a classroom response system yet, but as soon as I can get my hands on one, I will be using it.

I think I'll head out to Panera today. Searching for grants is much more enjoyable when one has a neverending supply of hot tea and pastries available.

P.S. If you have an InterwriteMobi system and are currently using it, please comment with your thoughts/opinions/experiences.
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I can't even describe all the joy I have felt this week, my first at North Hills. I will have to try another time. But for now, I wanted you to know:

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I look at the kids at this school, some of whom I haven't even gotten to work with yet, and I see their faces... their eyes... I have car duty every morning, I see the very smallest ones getting out of vehicles, smiling hugely, so excited to be coming to school. I see the expressions on the faces of the first, second, and third graders, starting to get a little more serious. And in the eyes of some of the fourth graders and most of the fifth graders, the hard-eyed look of jadedness and people who have had enough already of being told what to do and being told that what they are doing is wrong. Part of it's the area where they are, and part of it is, I believe (based on what I know of the work of Dr. Ruby Payne) the mismatch of the school culture and what they consider to be their world.

I thought I saw where these kids were going - I've worked in high schools and I see the looks and attitude and trouble that the change from excited, joyous little ones to jaded fifth graders leads to. And I know, just from working with our students for three days, that it's not too late for them. They have come into my computer lab, sometimes with teachers saying negative things about them to me in front of them (am I allowed to admit that outside of the workroom or conversations in lowered voices with gossiping colleauges?), and the kids have that scrunched up angry look on their little faces, and they are young enough that they haven't started disguising it with indifference. And I've seen that change as I have engaged them, encouraged them, got them support from their classmates. They are smiling, bright-eyed, excited again by the time they leave me.

Has it been perfect? Absolutely not. I've almost lost control of a couple of classes because I got them a little too excited. And I know it's not my job to make sure the kids have a good time. But they *are* learning. I've had kids - even fifth graders - come in who didn't know the parts of the computer - called the monitor a TV, thought a computer could work if it didn't the CPU with it - and don't know where letters on the keyboard are because all they've been permitted to do before was click answers in a CAI program, leave and be able to tell me all about the concepts we'd had call-and-response group conversations. Is every child getting it? I don't know. Will they retain it til I see them next week? I don't know. Will they want to come back and try again? Yes.

I've been working 10 - 11 hour days for almost the past 2 weeks, getting my lab ready, prepping lessons, and setting up or fixing (or both) an array of hardware. That kind of schedule has not been unusual for me in the past. The difference is that instead of being ok with it, or liking the work (or hating it, for that matter), I am incredibly happy at this job. I know I can make a huge difference here, both among the students and the staff. I can reach these kids, whose faces have not yet been set in anger, who have not yet failed so many times or been put down so many times that failure and not-good-enough are part of their character. I can reach the staff and help them extend themselves to lead these children positively into places that they might not have otherwise been able to go. I am so happy to have this opportunity.

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Ron Clark is one of the most famous teachers out there, I guess, along with Harry Wong and other folks like them. Though Ron Clark was a Teaching Fellow like me, I somehow never felt particularly connected to him, or with any of the other educators who have written books or had movies made about them. They have been just kind of abstract inspirations.

I've just seen some videos, though, that have really connected with me, and in fact are leaving me in tears. Kudos to Mr. Gregg Breinberg, of PS 22 in Staten Island, NY, and well-done to his students. I look at the kids in these videos and see what our kids could become if they just had the right influence, had something to get excited about. I want to show our 5th graders these videos and let them see what I believe they could be. That's part of what *I* am so excited about - these videos are not some Hollywood funded overdramatized unrealistic portrayal of these kids and this teacher, this is home-made, lumps-in-the-gravy, real results of teaching and mentoring in action. And technology - YouTube specifically - has made it possible for these kids to be known and to spread their positive message worldwide. *That* idea is something I can bring into my own classroom.

More than that, though, I know I have it in me to be one of the teachers that takes a lead role the way "Mr. B" has. I'm ready to be there now... I just need to settle in a little more, get my feet under me. But now I've got some contemporary inspiration. Thanks, Mr. B, for reminding me that I am on the right track - and for showing me that I can still stretch further.

One of my favorite tracks is PS 22's rendition of Lady Gaga's "Let's Dance:"



It seems to be rather popular with a lot of people.

Their performance of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida:"



aFriCaN LiOn, written by Mr. B:




Here is Agreggofsociety's YouTube Channel, featuring many more videos of the chorus's performances.

And here is the PS 22 5th grade Chorus's blog: http://ps22chorus.blogspot.com/

Current Mood: enthralled

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I am so very excited about my new job. I got knocked kind of off-guard when I found out on Thursday I'd be teaching K-5 computer skills as well as serving as Technology Facilitator, but I've absorbed it, and the computer skills ideas are starting to come in (naturally the flood started right as I was trying to fall asleep last night). I had a very exciting meeting with our principal on Thursday. She is incredibly invigorated about bringing technology to the classroom, and listed idea after idea. This is the first time I've ever worked with someone who had *more* ideas than I did about using technology in a school environment, and it's taken me a little while to absorb that, also, but I have, and just... wow. To be able to sit with an educator and just explore the "do you think we could?" aspects of things is ... exciting really isn't the right word but I can't think of another right now. Wait, let me go check a thesaurus ... ah, the word I think I want is electrifying. I can't remember the last time I was this challenged, even in graduate school.

But that isn't what I sat down to write about.

I've been doing teacher training with technology for 7 years now, and the general progression in how skilled and comfortable educators are with hardware and software has been very pleasing to watch. Over the past year or so, I've been sensing a kind of pressure building as the word gets around (finally) about web 2.0 tools. There's a shift in the conversations away from "oh noes! We can't let the kids on there! It could be too [insert phrase here such as unreliable or dangerous or taxing to network resources or unrelated to the curriculum or... well, you get it]." Now I'm hearing people wondering at the possible power of these tools, and more importantly, having a positive attitude towards them. I hope I don't offend too many people here but... I have a feeling that a lot of the change in attitude has to do with older, veteran, "I've done fine without technology my whole career" educators retiring and a new crop of young teachers finishing their first few harrowing years in the classroom and being ready to take the next steps. It feels to me like a wave cresting - an immense energy right at the top, ready to crash down and wash over and through the educational system, bringing changes in expectations in all areas. There have been, and will continue to be for some time I think, folks on both sides of the wave - either standing clueless or in denial (and who the wave simply washes over or around, and continues), and those who are slightly behind the wave but who are carried along with it. That's ok; most people are in the wave and lending their energy to it. I think over the next two years we are going to see these massive changes happen, and I couldn't be more thrilled.
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/. 's RSS feed (warning: comments NSFW) sent me to a blog entry by Will Knight about stuff going on at SIGGRAPH. The following videos (and one more I wasn't really interested in) were included in the blog entry:

Touchtable holography (using Wii Motes, no less!):



Hyper-Realistic Virtual Reality

This is a little crazy for me because a couple of years ago when I went to the Virtual Reality Center @ UNC-CH, it was nowhere near as realistic as that, and when I had the HMD on, I felt fully immersed. I can't even imagine how it would be in the environments here:



Now imagine the ultrasonic force-feedback featured in the first video coupled with the VR system in the above. Wow!

3D Teleconferencing: HeadSPIN

Ok, I have to admit that what immediately came to mind when this video started was Holly from Red Dwarf... but it's still pretty cool.

HeadSPIN: A One-to-Many 3D Video Teleconferencing System from MxR on Vimeo.



Scratchable Input:

Why hasn't anybody else thought of this before? This could replace chalkboards in classrooms and situations where interactive whiteboards aren't feasible but a digital recording of notes or drawings is desired. And apparently "the interface is small enough to be fit into a mobile device," says Will Knight, the blog post author. In addition, this has major positive implications for assistive devices.

Current Mood: excited excited

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While I was in graduate school, I worked at Starmount High School as a Technology Assistant - fulfilling many of the same duties as a Technology Facilitator, but with half the pay. I enjoyed the job, loved the school, but had bills to pay, so when an opportunity came up for me to take a long-term sub position as an EC Teacher at Mt. Tabor High School, I did. At first, I hated it. The stress was absolutely horrible for me, and there were situations that I, as a new staff person and LTS, really should not have had to deal with. At first I was resentful, but finally sucked it up, realized I was not the special snowflake in the situation, and really tried to do the best I could. Fortunately, the other EC teachers and the English teachers were really supportive, the kids were, overall, a good group and once I got settled in I began to really enjoy teaching again. For a while, I expected to be asked to continue in the position on a permanent basis come this fall. And I was actually very ok with that, MAEd - Instructional Technology or not. Over the course of a few weeks, though, the idea was introduced to me that there would probably be surplus teachers from other schools, and district policy was to offer them jobs currently held by LTS. And, by and by, that's exactly what happened to me.

At first, after my own personal style, I was devastated, partially because of the "omg no paycheck" thing, but also because I had really come to enjoy working at Tabor and working with the teachers there. Over time, again in my usual trend, I mellowed. I began to see this as a fantastic opportunity, really. I had saved enough money to get me through part of the summer without worrying, and my husband and I should be able to limp by on his income plus, if I could get at least a part-time job, mine, despite me continuing to have to pay Cobra (from leaving Starmount) and my student loan about to have to start repayment. I was going to be relatively free to think about what I really wanted to do with my life. I still had in my head the idea of being a tech facilitator, but the jobs are really a lot more rare than I expected. I also thought of becoming a technology consultant, but was concerned about two things: the initial outlay of capital in terms of getting myself certified to train on various products (like Smart's) and the fact that I, frankly, am not so good with people. You know, the small talk, chit-chat, whatever you want to call it, the little amusing stories that people can tell to bond with each other. I just ain't got it, and you need it to market yourself as a consultant. Still, it was an option.

In the meantime I took a couple of weeks to recenter. Got re-interested in researching my family history. Reveled in not having to do lesson plans or grade papers in the evenings on weekends. Caught up on sleep. Got reacquainted with my husband, and spent some time with my mom, sister, and nephew. I figured I would just let things go for a while.

And then, there it was. A posting for a Technology Facilitator position at North Hills Elementary School in Winston-Salem. Of course I applied! And eventually, I got The Call that I was going to be recommended for the position!

North Hills is a small elementary school with an enrollment of about 400 students, mostly minority and mostly low socioeconomic status. This is the kind of environment I excel in. I want to be in a place where I can make a difference, not just cruise along, drowning in resources and cheerful, eager students. I wanted this job so badly... and I got it!

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning off an old hard drive and found the very first resume I'd ever posted online. This would have been the year after I graduated college, so roughly 1999. Somewhere in the objectives, I stated that I intended to go back and get my 077 licensure and become a Technology Facilitator. And then I forgot about it while I struggled through the first few years of being an EC teacher. I thought for years that I had decided on my MAEd in Instructional Technology because I'd developed that love of using technology in the classroom over the years, but I guess I knew from the beginning. And now I've achieved that long-term goal.

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And now, it's time to get serious. I've realized that, even with intense focus on EdTech as a grad student, I've been a dabbler in educational technology up to this point. The kind of teacher that other teachers came to and said, "hey, I've heard about X [website, tool, etc.], do you know anything about it and would you be willing to work with me on getting it into my lessons?" Now, though I want to keep that role, it's time for me to become more of a leader and trailblazer. All the ideas that I've had over the years, all of the little blips of inspiration I get from reading others' work or musings - it's time for me to act on those, and to become much more consistent in sharing my own so that others can build on them in a similar fashion. It's time for me to become immersed in technology, both educational and not, and really see what I can do with my skills, intuition, and enthusiasm for the plethora of new media out there that, if brought into formal classrooms, will make such an incredible difference for learners.

It's so incredibly exciting to be in this mental space right now, but also terrifying, kind of akin to the first time I took on a mentee when I was teaching. Who, me? *I'm* the leader now? People are going to be asking *me* questions, and I'm supposed to definitively know the answers? Ack!

What if I'm wrong?

But what if I'm right?

I'm set in the starting blocks; the gun officially goes off August 17, but I'll definitely be running a few warm-up laps before then.
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Wow... I've been so busy. I was working 2 jobs, now just 1, though I'm hoping for a new one soon. Also, I moved. Also, grad school.

All that equals lots of stress.

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I'm about to crosspost this to teaching and techineducation...

At the beginning of each semester I do several Gaggle.net orientation sessions. Last year the kids weren't all that interested in blogging but for some reason this year they are really latching onto it. I want them to learn that blogging doesn't have to just be about "omg did you see what she was wearing?" and posting silly pictures; that it can lead to deeper self-understanding, a sense of community, and even a vehicle for change. Does anybody have suggestions for "safe" (read "not likely to contain profanity or offensive images"), well-written blogs for high schoolers to use as models?
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I'm finally sitting down to go through some training from iSafe. I'm to a section in the first part of the iLEARN modules which discusses chat rooms. The presenter is discussing how in some chat rooms, people can enter and remain unseen, just watching and reading what's going on, but no one knows they are there. The presenter indicates that these types of people are called "lurkers."

I have been using chat rooms since way back when IRC was popular and I have *never* heard of a chat room that doesn't show all participants. Can someone give me an example either of one from the past, or one such that's in current use?

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In this same section, they indicate that MySpace and blogs are synonymous... ??

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So far, aside from these confusions, I'm very pleased with this training. It's very clear and not overwhelming, even for people who don't know much about the Internet. I am not pleased with how, so far, they haven't indicated that these tools aren't just toys for kids - that they are used constantly by people in higher education and business. Maybe they'll get to that, though.

Current Mood: confused confused

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The interview the other day also got me thinking about how Instructional Technology personnel in schools are classified. Here are the organizational structures I've run into so far:

In my current county, there are media and technology coordinators. For the longest time, they were the first people who got called when something broke. Then, two years ago, more staff were hired. The ones at the elementary schools are called Technology Facilitators, and the ones at the high schools are called Technology Assistants. Then we have our Technology Technicians, and our District Technology Coordinator (not her official title, but close enough). The "Technology Facilitators" are misnamed, because their duties do not match that of state-defined technology facilitators (can't get to the link right now due to site downtime, will add link later) - they basically monitor the Successmaker program and some do a little bit of tech support, passing any issues they can't resolve to the media/technology coordinators, who pass them on to the technicians. As far as training, our tech coordinator calls on volunteers to provide summer training - these people are usually media/technology coordinators, but are sometimes computer skills teachers and sometimes me (a tech assistant).

In the system where I interviewed most recently, each school has one or two people they tend to call technology coordinators, who may or may not be computer teachers (for example, one of the ones in the school where I worked was a PE teacher). These are the first point of contact for any tech issues. If they can't resolve the problem, they pass it up to a veritable army of technology technicians. The media coordinator at the school where I worked had little, if anything, to do with technology. These technology coordinators are referred to on the district's technology department website as technology facilitators. I've even seen a job posting for an instructional technologist at the school level. The actual instructional technologists are based at the central office, and from what I was told, have nothing to do with tech support; their entire focus seems to be on training. And there is a "program manager," rather than a director.

It's all rather confusing, and the reason I always ask at interviews exactly what the duties of the position are.
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