A Guiding Light for Technology in Education

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In the education field since 1981, Kathy Schrock remembers a time when student country reports couldn't be completed without a paper copy of the New York Times. "If someone forgot to bring in the paper," recalled Schrock, administrator for technology at Nauset Public Schools in Orleans, MA, "we didn't have the currency exchange rates, and the reports didn't get done that day."

Debacles like that pushed Schrock, a library media specialist by training, to pioneer the use of the Internet--long before it was a public utility--as an information tool. With an eye on enhancing school resources, Schrock said she started using the Internet to help teachers gain access to information and to "figure out if certain facts and pieces of information were true, biased and/or bogus."

Fast forward to 2009, and Schrock is on the same mission, but this time around she has highly-advanced technology tools to help her open those doors for teachers. "The information is the same, but the physical technology has expanded," said Schrock. "It's still about finding the information that you need, verifying its validity, reproducing it and communicating it to your audience."

Directly involved with technology education since 1994, Schrock took her mission of introducing teachers to the Internet a step further in 1995 by launching the Guide for Educators, a categorized list of sites useful for enhancing curriculum and professional growth.

"I started it with a local ISP when we first got graphical access on the Web," said Schrock, who taught herself HTML and designed the initial site using a collection of index cards marked up with useful links. "I started with 300 links, and it grew from there."

The site's popularity among educators didn't go unnoticed. When Discovery Education ramped up its support of education and technology, the company approached Schrock and asked her to incorporate (and continue to update and maintain) the Guide for Educators as part of a larger site. The switchover took place in 1999, with Schrock continuing to maintain the guide.

To keep the site as useful as possible for educators, Schrock said she avoids "specific links" (those linking to one teacher's lesson plan about the presidential inauguration, for example) and instead seeks out portals that focus on the bigger picture, such as one focusing on the subject of physics. "I'm a generalist, so I need educators to tell me why they're experts in their respective fields," said Schrock. "Then we'll point people to their stuff."

With 28 years of educational experience and 15 years of technology immersion under her belt, Schrock has seen her share of teachers struggling to integrate new tech tools and software into their lessons. Right now, she said, the fact that technology changes at the speed of light is especially challenging for educators who should "focus less on the applications," and more on how to work through the processes in the most efficient way possible.

"A lot of teachers are locked into using certain applications instead of the process itself," explained Schrock. "When you focus on the process, you'll be able to sit down with any piece of software, understand it and be able to use it. Once they understand technology's possibilities, it's easy to figure out how it can fit nicely into your curriculum."

To help educators get there, Schrock said, Nauset Public Schools has created unit-level rubrics, exemplars, and formative and summative assessments that are then used to create and evaluate individual lessons. "We know that technology doesn't mean anything unless it's taught within the context of a specific subject," said Schrock. "Using formative assessments, we're helping our teachers achieve that."

When asked about the future of technology in education, Schrock said she expects "everything to be in the cloud," soon. In other words, applications will reside not on desktop computers or servers, but rather on the Internet itself. Those applications will then be delivered in a manner known as software as a service (SaaS) or "on-demand" on a subscription basis.

To maximize cloud computing, Schrock said, educators will be carrying more portable, Internet-enabled devices with them on a 24/7 basis. "All of our documents, resources, and contacts will be in the cloud, with nothing sitting on the desktop," said Schrock, so expect that scenario to result in increased collaboration among educators, administrators and students in social networking-like environments, such as those found on Twitter or Facebook.

If educators aren't careful, the situation could result in even more information overload in the future than they've been dealing with over the last few years. "Teachers will have to learn to pick and choose where they want their personal learning networks to be," said Schrock. "Instead of grabbing at everything that comes down the pike, consider where you will find the most value for the time you spend online and educate yourself in a way that helps you succeed in your job."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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