FETC 2013 | Feature

Finding the Right Tech Tools Is Easy, If You Know Where to Look

Kathy Schrock guides educators through the process of building a personal learning network and organizing a constant flow of information.

Kathy Schrock has been a district tech director; an instructional tech specialist; and a school, academic, museum, and public librarian. She currently teaches online graduate courses for two universities and is an Adobe Education Leader, a Google Certified Teacher, and a Discovery Education Guru.

The common thread that runs through all of her work is her mission to help teachers keep up with the latest technology. Whether she is writing, speaking, blogging, or tweeting, her goal is to show educators where and how to find tech tools that will engage their students.

Building a Personal Learning Network
The first step to staying on top of tech trends is building a network of trusted sources. These days, Schrock says, "Twitter is the basis of everybody's personal learning network. Often the way Twitter is used by educators is to give a link, because in 140 characters you can't explain exactly what you mean. My Twitter feed is pretty much full of URLs from people that I trust and like to learn from. "

Schrock herself has some 20,000 Twitter followers, but she advises educators to be selective in who they follow. She says, "I follow experts in the field and people who constantly provide information, so they're not Twitter lurkers."

She adds that Twitter is the easiest way to build a network that includes "people in different walks of the education life," from professors to administrators, superintendents, and educational technologists.

Educator and teacher trainer Kathy Schrock is presenting two sessions at FETC 2013: iPads for Teaching: Tools for You to Use and Following Change: Ways to Keep Up with Educational Technology. She will also present three workshops:

  • Following Change: Ways to Keep Up with Educational Technology;           
  • iPads for Teaching: Tools for You to Use; and
  • Creating Instructional Materials Using the iPad

During the last workshop, participants will create a number of instructional materials using different iPad apps. The list of apps for attendees to download before the workshop is online.

Twitter is just the beginning, though. Schrock also gets a steady stream of information and contacts from education-specific networks including EdWeb and certain Nings communities, such as Classroom 2.0. For any educator willing to spend some time looking, there are sites for a wide range of specific interests. "If you are a school librarian, if you are a high school social studies teacher," Schrock says, "both in EdWeb and in Ning there are communities where you share with like-minded people."

While a certain social network with a blue logo may have its own movie and an elevated profile in the world at large, Schrock says many educators are moving to Google+ as their professional social network. "I join very few groups in Facebook," Schrock says. "It's blocked in so many places that I would hesitate to use it as a site where I would create a community." Google+, she adds, makes it easy to share projects, embed documents, and move your groups around.

The final piece of Schrock's network puzzle is LinkedIn, which she sees as "a true professional promotion network. I don't see very many posts about content in LinkedIn." She considers it "my resource directory of people that I can easily find and ask questions."

Finding What Really Matters
Locating sources of educational technology information is the relatively easy part. Organizing all of that input, on the other hand, can feel overwhelming. Schrock offers a few Twitter tips. First, she suggests creating lists of people you follow by topic or by their job description. And if you're having a hard time putting together a list, she says, steal one. "To get my 'Administrators' list, I found a very Twitter-savvy high school principal, and I just grabbed his list. That's what social networking is all about: You're allowed to borrow somebody's information."

For those who would prefer not to Tweet, Schrock points out, "You don't even need to have a Twitter account to use Twitter. You can use Twitter Search and search for topics, then aggregate that feed," using a news aggregator.

When it comes to aggregation tools, Schrock is a big fan of Google Reader, which she uses to organize her social networks other than Twitter. "If there is person who has a really interesting blog or puts up pictures on Flickr that you like, anything that has that orange RSS button, you can aggregate that right into Google Reader," she says, "It's easy to have information sent to you automatically."

Although she learns an enormous amount online, Schrock also takes great pleasure in turning online acquaintances into real-life relationships. "If you know someone virtually first, meeting them in person is always a joy, because you already know what their interests are, and you have this topic of conversation that you can continue."

Despite the enormous amount of information available online, there is no substitute for meeting people who share your interests face-to-face. Schrock counsels FETC attendees, "Whether you are waiting in line for the bathroom or for lunch or to get into a session, never hesitate to talk to the people around you. All you need is an e-mail address or a web site address to find out the great things they are doing with their students."

Kathy Schrock's Top Five Apps for Teachers

Socrative is an online quiz maker with multiple choice and short-answer questions. Teachers can create a quiz and then open it to students. They can control when the students take the quiz, but if they open it to students in class, Socrative presents the questions in a different order for different students, so there's no way to copy. Students can get feedback right away when they're answering questions, and then the teacher can get all the data.

Nearpod lets teachers share and control content (including slideshows, videos, and web pages) with students in real time. Users simply create a presentation from scratch or using PowerPoint, and they can see students marking up an image or answering a question in real time.

GroupBoard turns the iPad into a collaborative whiteboard. Students can draw together and chat together in real time. If a student doesn't have an iPad, he or she can join in through a web page.

Reflector allows teachers to reflect any iOS device to their desktop. At the same time, they can record on the desktop. Everyone in class who has an iOS device can reflect to the desktop.

Mover lets users "flick" documents and images to each other. Users can put a PDF document, photo, or video on the "table" and then flick it to someone else with an iPad. Mac users can also flick files from an iPad to a desktop.

About the Author

Christopher Piehler is the former editor-in-chief of THE Journal.