Reflections from IL-ED Tech Conference

What a busy two days it has been. My first professional development conference as a Tech Staff Developer has invigorated me even more as I come back with new ideas, visions for the future, and key contacts to reach out to in times of need. A daily summary of the trip:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

After making the rounds through the Exhibit Hall, I went to a small meeting room for my first presentation. The topic was SharePoint, and I was excited to see and hear what other districts were doing for their Intranet sites. Since Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS 2007) is relatively new , my timing is good in that I'm entering during the beginning phases of the technology. I was immediately at home when I saw the familiar SharePoint look of D230's sites. It was refreshing to see some design elements that I can mimic at ETHS, but most of all, I was relieved to learn that they were using the same features that our teachers use, so my work with the ETHS faculty thus far remains well guided.

Next, I met and listened to members of D219 (which includes my alma mater, Niles West) discuss their 1:1 initiative. It was quite amazing to hear about the 2 year planning process and all of the possible scenarios that they have already thought of, yet even more daunting to think of all of the challenges and problems that lie ahead. It is hard for me to imagine ETHS embarking on such an ambitious plan for a variety of reasons, but I know that we are planning a smaller scale rollout of netbooks. This will provide a nice opportunity for us to review and construct policies that could lead to future larger scale rollouts.

I ended the day with a presentation on discussion boards, but because they were using BlackBoard, it did not apply to what we are currently doing through SharePoint. I'm still looking for a simple alternative to the clunky SP discussion board interface, but until we find it, there are enough benefits (permission control, tied to Active Directory, and simple setup) to outweigh the disadvantages (poor aesthetics, difficult to archive, and displaying ID's).

Quick observation: Although my hotel (Drury Inn - which was quite a nice surprise for the amenities and service) was only a short walk away, I had to traverse a moderate speed highway and through patches of grass to get to the Crowne Plaza. I will try not to take sidewalks for granted upon return to the big city.

Friday, November 20, 2009

After a rather uneventful first presentation on Google Apps (basic review), I attended a nice hands-on workshop on clicker use in the math classroom. Just as students benefit from using individual response systems and stay engaged and motivated, the attendees of this workshop experienced a similar experience after receiving and interacting with the presentation with a set of clickers. It was during this workshop that I set a goal of training our test prep teachers on how to use clickers so they can embed questions during pre-assessment, ongoing instruction, and review activities. I really liked to idea of having the team competitions, and I feel that we can make the often stale process of reviewing for the high stakes test a bit more enjoyable for the student, and at the same time improve their scores.

Perhaps, the highlight of the entire conference was witnessing Spiro Bolos' presentation on Google Apps. Unlike the first presenter that I saw on the same subject, Spiro delivered a very slick (ah...Keynote), very refined, and well organized presentation that focused on teacher outcomes and how the Google tool helped achieve these outcomes. This is exactly what I was imagining doing for my first foray into the professional conference arena come February (I made the decision to apply for a poster session at the next ICE conference). I want to showcase the 10 pilot teachers that I'll be working with and how they used Google Apps to make some component of their curriculum either easier, more innovative, or more engaging. Coming back to Spiro, I feel that he is the closest to a peer that I have in that he is a Technology Staff Developer (at our rival New Trier) and he freely admits that he is not a tech expert but excels in the knowledge arena that he is responsible for. We may not know the specs on the best server setup, but we both know how to work with teachers and students, and what are some of the best ways to train and tutor these groups respectively. Some take away tasks include setting up a Google Earth project and using Google Forms as a quick way to collect contact information from a class of students.

The first afternoon workshop featured the professional development setup that the Maine Township schools are using. They have Technology Coordinators and Department Coaches who all take a role in developing technology lessons and then work with training teachers. I was very intrigued by the structure and it is very appealing to have so many potential trainers in the school. I asked about the incentives that Maine has for these trainers since no release time is given. The potential for a stipend is possible at Evanston, but I imagine that we would have to dangle a different carrot to entice teachers to serve in these positions. There has been talk of potentially rewarding future coaches with early adoption incentives. Perhaps, these technology leaders would receive the newest products, the initial software tests, and be allowed to attend technology conferences. I believe that we could develop a solid program and having worked with many teachers passionate about technology, this could open the gates to a nice staff development model.

Overall, the conference was a great experience for me. I learned a great deal, connected with leaders in area schools (New Trier, Maine, and Niles), and have established several attainable goals for both the short term and the distant future. Furthermore, I feel that I too can be a major player in this field, as I have a lot to share about our teachers' experiences with technology at ETHS. Coming soon to a conference near you...


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