Monday, August 30, 2010

Reflection on Creating a Personal Digital Story

NOTE: This reflection is part of an assignment requirement for Lamar University course EDLD 5363 Multimedia & Video Technology

Creating a personal digital story was a rewarding experience for me. I have used Microsoft Photo Story before and even taught teachers how to use it in workshops, but I have never used it to create a product that was truly individual to me.

The most difficult part was finding a topic. I think I lead a rather unadventurous life; what story could I possibly have to tell? The Digital Storytelling Cookbook (Lambert, 2010) from the Center for Digital Storytelling was a wonderful read, and it helped me discover that I do have stories because everyone does. In fact, after reading the cookbook, I had an opposite problem – I had trouble deciding which story I wanted to tell! Finally, I decided to share a bit of my journey toward becoming an instructional technology specialist.

The process of putting the story script together had many layers and multiple occasions for editing. To get started, I used a modified version of Lambert's (2010) "Robert Frost" suggestion and wrote down everything I could think of about my story for ten minutes. This exercise served me well in providing the meat of the content. I then reworked my ten-minute writing into an initial script and story board.

When I compare the initial script/story board I shared with my team mates to the final story, it is similar in its content, but different in the theme I wound up portraying. All of that change happened during the natural reflective process that took place during the creation and revision of the story. After going through this process, the former language arts teacher in me is now full of ideas for using digital storytelling to teach students about narrative elements including story mapping and original story creation.

Next challenges to surmount: Finding photos that would represent my journey since I don’t have many photos of my years in the classroom, and keeping the story succinct and to the point. Fortunately, there's a whole world of Creative Commons licensed photos out there, so the graphics took some time only because there were so many to choose from! The two minute time limit on the length of the story was just what a wordy person like me needed. My Achilles heel in writing or talking is wordiness, so I actually enjoy word or time limits because they force me to focus on the most important details of what I need to communicate.

Overall, I am pleased with my first effort at a personal digital story and what I learned throughout the process. After seeing the finished product, there are a few things I’d like to tweak, but there are always a few things I’d like to tweak in a project. Due dates are a good limiting factor for me, too!

This blog post would not be complete without my story, so here it is below. Constructive feedback is appreciated!


Lambert, J. (2010). Digital storytelling cookbook. Berkeley, CA: Center for Digital Storytelling. Retrieved from

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Career Risks You Take When You Share Your Life Online

What you post online can have serious ramifications for your career. I've said it before, I'm saying it again, and I'm pretty sure this won't be the last time I write about it. My hope is that people will listen and consider what they post on their social/professional networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

I read and think a lot about this topic, so the CNN clip below caught my attention. Maybe it will catch yours too. It ranges in topics from Germany which is considering a restriction on the use of social network searches as part of their hiring practices, to percentages on how many employers use social networking sites to screen potential hires, to a Georgia teacher who was fired for photos she posted privately but which someone else copied and shared. It's worth four minutes of your time to watch it.

The moral of these stories? Nothing you post online, even to your super-locked-down-only-people-I-trust-with-my-life-can-see-it (and are you sure it's that locked down?) online profile/blog/etc. is ever truly private. So if you wouldn't want your current or future employer to see it, don't post it. It really is that simple.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Teachers' Hierarchy of Needs

If you’ve been around education for very long or ever taken an educational psychology course, you’ve probably heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. His theory, in a nutshell, contends that human beings have levels of basic needs, and until the needs at the lower levels are met, we don’t even feel the needs at the next level.

Teachers in my school district report back to duty for the new school year on Monday morning. As we have been making preparations for their return, I’ve been struck by the thought that educators also have a hierarchy of needs, and meeting the needs at certain levels is important if we want to set up teachers, and ultimately their students, for a successful school year. Certain basic needs must be met before teachers are even “aware of” or ready to move to the next level of planning for student learning.

Class Schedules, Rosters, and Gradebooks

Take, for example, class schedules, rosters, and gradebooks. Now, this might seem pretty obvious as a basic need. But you might not have a real idea of how having access to those lists is truly, truly essential for teachers to be able to mentally “move on” in preparing for the upcoming school year. You’ll catch an idea of that if you're ever involved in a new student information system implementation as we are now. The number one questions in my school district at the moment are “When will I get access to my gradebook?” and “Is the new gradebook/attendance/student information system easy to use?” Teachers need to know their schedules, the number of students they are going to have, and they just want to see the names of the young people who are going to be in their charge for the next year. Having those basic facts in front of them, and knowing they are going to be able to easily access data on their students, provides a sense of grounding. Once they have access to the information, they can focus more effectively on their next stage of planning.


When I was a classroom teacher you probably could not have given me enough time in the world to really get ready for the school year. And because I knew I wouldn’t have enough time, I spent “my own” time in the week prior to the official report-back date as well as late into the evenings during that first inservice week getting my classroom ready for my kids. It got even more complicated when Open House was moved to before the start of school. My classroom had to be ready for learning (or at least look ready for learning) before parents and students came to see it for the first time. So my focus in any unscheduled time I had was on the physical classroom with no brain cells free to think about the quality learning experiences I wanted to have with my students in those critical first days and weeks.

Sitting through meetings under those circumstances was torture. I tried my best to focus on the important information that was being communicated to me usually by my principal or department chair. Hard as I tried, I’m fairly certain I discovered the backchannel before I even knew there was a name for it. I had a “backchannel” conversation going on in my own head with myself for much of the time I was in those meetings, thinking of all the things I still needed to get done in the little precious time I had before the kids came. Later, when I became a campus technology facilitator and was given an hour each year of the teacher’s time to update them on technology resources on our campus, I tried really hard to keep things simple and to the point, giving them only the most important information – and handouts which covered in detail everything I was saying. I was fully aware that everyone in that room had a backchannel going on in their heads as well, even if they were making eye contact and nodding. The handout could be referenced later when they had settled into the year a bit. And I gave my best effort to not get frustrated when they came back later and asked me about something I knew I had covered in that meeting.

Those of us who are charged with sharing back-to-school information with teachers should keep all of this in mind. Yes we have agendas and important information, but does all of it have to be communicated NOW? Or in two solid days of meetings? Could we give teachers work time in the morning and meet in the afternoon? (They might listen better if they can knock some things off of their lists first.) Can some of it wait for the first few faculty meetings? Can some of it be communicated through email or a website or blog? If you think about it, you are wasting your own precious time as well if 50% of what you are covering isn’t making an impact because your audience is distracted. Be mindful of your teacher’s needs, focus only on what is of critical importance for getting school started, and then give them the valuable time they need to plan for quality instruction.

Being Valued and Encouraged as Professionals

“I am a professional educator and I am good at what I do.” I do not think we can reinforce this for teachers often enough. Teachers who are confident in themselves as professionals are going to approach teaching with more enthusiasm and be more open to new ideas that will help them grow in their practices. Teachers have plenty of opportunities to hear that they are not good enough – “The test scores were not where they needed to be at the end of last year.” “Here’s a new program/lesson delivery method/planning system and if you aren’t using it you are short-changing your students.” Implied in both of those types of messages is “You aren’t good enough because you aren’t doing ____________.”

I’m going to point the finger a bit at my own educational technology community and say that we can be very guilty of this whether we mean to or not in our excitement over the latest new technology tool or research. When sharing this information with teachers, we can easily come across as “If you aren’t using this tool/method/etc you are not giving students a quality education.” Do we honestly think they are not educating their students at all? I don’t think that. I know teachers who are behind the curve when it comes to technology but who are still giving their students excellent skills in their subject areas. Teachers whom those students love despite the reports that kids are turned off by having to “unplug” at school. I am, of course, an educational technology advocate. I recognize, however, that quality teaching existed before technology hit the classroom and as a result quality teachers from “BC” (before computers) still exist in our schools. And I’ll venture to say that just because you are using computers doesn’t mean you are teaching in a quality manner.

The bottom line is this: If you want to take those quality teachers, or even those ones who aren’t so “quality”, and help them develop into better teachers, you should to give them some strokes for the things they are doing well. And you should present your new idea/strategy/program as an opportunity to add a tool to their pedagogical tool belt to increase the learning that is already going on in their classrooms. Couching it this way helps increase the receptivity of the teachers to new approaches. The old saying “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” should be applied far more often in teacher professional development.

New Possibilities

In education we are fortunate to be able to make a new beginning every year. The start of school is the best time of the year in my opinion, because the possibilities are wide open. As administrators, department or grade level chairs, technology specialists, providers of professional development, or anyone who has anything to do with helping teachers launch a school year, I hope these thoughts on basic needs will help us frame the first experiences we are planning for our educators. Let's set them and their students up for success! Here’s to the possibilities that are before us…

All photos used with permission under Creative Commons License Agreements:
Teacher & Gradebook
Teacher & Student

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) Degrees - What Do You Know About Them?

I have been working on a Master's Degree (M.Ed.) and will finish it before the end of this year, Lord willing. My yearning to learn won't stop there, though, and I've been informally contemplating what the next step might be. Continue learning on my own as I already do or pursue another formal degree? I don't have a deep desire to pursue a doctorate, although that may change with time. So maybe another masters?

In looking at some possibilities I came across a degree I had not heard of before - the Educational Specialist or Ed.S. degree. According to this article on Wikipedia which isn't very detailed the Ed.S. is a degree which is post-master's but pre-doctorate.

In a brief search on Google for Ed.S. I found two colleges which seem to be advertising this degree: The University of Alabama and Walden University. In Walden's case, credits in the Ed.S. degree can also be counted toward a doctorate if you decide to pursue one.

Have you looked into or are you pursuing or do you hold an Ed.S. degree? Do you know someone who holds an Ed.S. degree or who is somehow involved in an Ed.S. degree program as a student or professor? I'm very interested in more information from people who have been or are involved in such programs.

I would appreciate any information you can share or point me to. Please leave a comment or invite someone you know with more knowledge to comment here. Thanks!

Photo used with permission from