No longer dying of dysentery, but maybe a little too connected?

pc, computer, desktop
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My love of technology began the first time I stepped into the computer lab in elementary school and played The Oregon Trail. I died of dysentery every single time, but it didn’t bother me one bit; I was hooked! Throughout my seventeen years of teaching, I have always been an avid user of technology and have sought to incorporate it into my teaching whenever and wherever I can. I have sought opportunities to try new tech in my classroom and volunteered to be a tech innovator in my school division. When teacher convention time comes, I always seek out presentations based on Ed Tech, and in recent years, I have begun to present some of these sessions myself. There is no doubt that when it comes to tech in education, I am an advocate. However, as I grow in my career, I am learning to ask important questions about the technology that my students and staff are utilizing and take a more critical look at how tech companies use student data.

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Three years ago, my teaching position changed to a vice principalship. Initially, I was a bit sad to be out of the general classroom where I could use technology in my day-to-day teaching, and it took me a little while to identify ways to integrate technology into my administrative practice meaningfully. When I reflect upon a typical school day and how technology is involved, I immediately think of my iPhone. During the school year, my phone is within arm’s reach every minute of every day, and I wear a Fitbit watch on my wrist that connects me to my phone, ensuring I never miss a notification. While I have my phone and watch on Do Not Disturb between 10 pm and 6 am, I respond the rest of the day.

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I am their first phone call if a staff member is sick in the morning and needs a replacement. With my phone in hand, I can easily access our school calendar and substitute contact information to start looking for a replacement immediately. Throughout the school day, I always keep my phone in my pocket as my principal, and I are rarely in one place for very long. The principal, office manager and I must communicate efficiently throughout the school day. In the event of a school drill or emergency, all staff use our cell phones to communicate updates and student counts in group messages efficiently. Having our cell phones on us also ensures that our superintendent can reach us anytime throughout the school day. This was particularly helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic when our superintendent would notify us of potential protests being staged near our school.

technology, keyboard, computing
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After ensuring we are fully staffed each day (Which has become an incredibly challenging problem worthy of its own blog post!), my next step is to ensure that our calendars and daily staff schedules are up to date. When I began my vice principalship, one of the first problems I was asked to help solve was ensuring all staff had access to timely information about student absences and school events while also ensuring that this information was being kept confidential. Before this, the information was available on a whiteboard in the school staffroom, a system that had worked flawlessly until a parent volunteer chose to share the information inappropriately in the community. To address this, I took our daily schedules digital and created a shared document for school staff to access, including the day’s events and daily student absences. Since creating the document, it has evolved to include the calendar for the entire year and hyperlinks to many documents that staff regularly use, including school division policies, spare bus driver lists, school supervision schedules, and staff contact information.

Digital Book of Knowledge - Digital Data in a Futuristic Book
Digital Book of Knowledge

The rest of my technological school day involves fixing student and staff devices when they aren’t working properly, collecting and sharing student data in spreadsheets, forms, and presentations, and checking out new websites and apps for my staff to use in their teaching. While some of my staff can be a bit tech-phobic in their teaching and prefer to keep things as low-tech as possible, I have a few teachers who enjoy tech as much as I do. I get excited when they ask for my help finding new and innovative ways to help students share their learning or connect in the classroom. My administrative position allows me to search and test new websites and apps and allows my staff to focus on their teaching rather than trying to find apps that work. Over the past few years, I have helped my staff to use Flip to connect student reading groups in different grades and schools, Google apps to help students collaborate, Google Meets to connect students with Olympic athletes, and Boom Cards and Kahoot! to help students practice the concepts they are learning. Most recently, through my master’s classes, I have taken apps such as Mentimeter, Genially, and Blooket back to my staff and shown them how they can use these sites in their classrooms.

While technology in my teaching practice and my daily life have changed significantly since I began my teaching career, my passion for exploring new technology and integrating it into my street girl privacy settingsteaching practice has remained constant. I am thankful to have had opportunities to learn more about how student data is being used. In a recent class, I found the article Disaster Capitalism, Rampant EdTech Opportunism, and the Advancement of Online Learning in the Era of COVID19 by Moore, Jayme, & Black (2021) to be especially enlightening when describing how large tech companies are profiting from and pushing the use of EdTech that may not be effective or particularly helpful in today’s classrooms. Technology and social media are integral parts of our daily lives, whether we want them to be or not. As we progress into the future with EdTech, it is incredibly important that we continue to scrutinize every aspect of how technology is using our data and affecting our mental health and relationships. One of my absolute favourite things to do on the last day of school each year is to take off my Fitbit, stuff it in my dresser drawer until the end of the summer, and declare my backyard a no-cell phone zone. It is one small way that I disconnect myself from the constant notifications streaming through my phone and strive to be present among nature and the people around me rather than focusing on the digital world.

4 Replies to “No longer dying of dysentery, but maybe a little too connected?”

  1. The Oregon Trail! That was the most sought after game in elementary school. I remember racing to be the first to the computer room during recess to play it. Maybe that was what started it all for me, too? I haven’t heard of Flip before. I would be interested to learn a bit more about how you use it at school.

    1. Hey!
      Flip (Also known as FlipGrid) is a video discussion app that allows students to create short videos and respond to the videos of others – if the teacher has turned this option on. In my teaching, I’ve used it to have students share their thinking about math concepts, do presentations, and with a partner teacher, we used Flip to have our classes do book talks. For the book talks, each student had to create a video advertising and discussing a book they were reading, and then a partner from the other classroom had to respond to their advertisement with questions and comments.
      Flip was recently purchased by Microsoft Teams and is being discontinued as its own platform, which is quite disappointing if you don’t have a Teams account! It’s been a really fun tool to use.

  2. Sarah Clarke says: Reply

    Great post Amy! I appreciate you sharing the apps that you are currently using and the ones you have brought back to your staff. I have never heard of Blooket and Genially before so I am interested in learning more about these two. I praise you and all the administrators who are constantly on their phones during the day to help put out fires and communicate with your entire staff/team. I can imagine it is an ongoing battle trying to connect with everyone when you need something and learning how to shut the phone off after your workday is done. That is difficult to do!

  3. Mariah Mazur says: Reply

    Great post Amy! I had to laugh at your comment on using your Fitbit to stay connected. A few years ago, I purchased an Apple Watch specifically to wear at work. At first, I found it helped keep me on track because it was attached to me whereas my phone was (and still is) in some random corner of my room. I could check my emails right away and even set an alarm to remember to take attendance.

    But over time I found that it became too distracting for me. I remember so vividly one day I was teaching about the French Revolution and the use of the guillotine as a form of execution. In the middle of a pretty intense part, I stopped mid-sentence to check a text that just came across my watch. It was at that moment that I realized that the watch had become something that was more of a burden than a help for me and I ended up selling it soon afterwards. I do miss the reminders to do attendance and I’m sure my admin curses me a bit more now, but it is what it is!

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