Power is gained by sharing knowledge, not hoarding it© Justin Haney 2016 (CC BY-NC 4.0)

“Work smarter, not harder.”

There are few combinations of words that will raise hackles more quickly among teachers than the command to “work smarter”, as if we had never considered the idea. The problem is there’s more than a sliver of truth in that infamous business credo.  We as educators are working harder than ever before to overcome ever greater obstacles.  A mindshift is needed.  “Work smarter” is a loaded phrase that should be put to pasture for a bit.  Instead of “smarter”, though, the word we should focus on is “sharing”.  

Many teachers, myself included, are reluctant to share the work that we do. The easiest way to work “smarter” is to share our work.  When a quality resource is found, it makes no sense to hoard it.  If a system or structure is in place to share resources, teachers will use it.  The difficulties begin to arise quickly, though.  Who controls the sharing process?  Who approves the electronic resources?  What’s the best way to share?  And, as with any processes that are put in place, is it sustainable?

ISTE Coaching Standard 3: Digital age learning environments

Technology coaches create and support effective digital age learning environments to maximize the learning of all students.

B – Maintain and manage a variety of digital tools and resources for teacher and student use in technology-rich learning environments

F – Collaborate with teachers and administrators to select and evaluate digital tools and resources that enhance teaching and learning and are compatible with the school technology infrastructure

Guiding Question

What effective systems and structures do school districts have in place to manage recommendations for websites, apps, technology tools?  

Historically my school has had no solid plan for dealing with apps and digital resources.  When it comes time to find e-resources to use, teachers are on their own.  Different curricular areas have sporadically created lists of recommended websites, with little sharing of said lists.  The lists become less effective over time as links become dead or because more effective sites and resources are not added.  With that said, what I’m really concerned with is the process and not specific products and sites: how to share resources within the district and beyond, what processes are in place to recommend and share, are FERPA/COPPA/etc. taken into consideration, and what recommendations to make to our district technology administrators?  

share© Justin Haney 2016 (CC BY-NC 4.0)

So How Hard Can It Be?

School District of Osceola County, FL: Software or Web Tools Selection  I’m beginning with this site as an example of what I fear these processes can lead to.  There is a lengthy multiple-step process involved, with several pages of notes required at each step.  Committee meetings to approve/deny resources are monthly, so timeliness could often be an issue.  Approved sites and resources are shared alphabetically in a .pdf file, with no search functionality.  Teachers are concerned about losing autonomy of their classroom instruction and this district’s process seems like exactly what many educators fear.  Also, it’s astounding to think of the amount of time and effort invested into this process when there are only 13 sites/resources on the “Denied” list.  More astounding is the fact that this oldest items on the “Approved” list were reviewed more than ten years ago, meaning little more than 1 resource is denied each year, on average.  My gut tells me that many sites and resources are being used without approval, with staff choosing to bypass the cumbersome process, though I could certainly be incorrect in my assumption.  If the process becomes too much work, staff will find an easier way.

On the other end of the spectrum is Denver Public Schools’ amazingly polished and extensive Academic Technology Menu.  My primary fear is how sustainable would a resource like Denver’s be? I can’t even imagine how much work it was to create this elegant site.  And if it’s primarily the work of one or two gifted individuals, would it fall into disrepair when those individuals inevitably move on?  

Is There a Happy Medium?

Michael Gorman wrote two interesting blog posts in November 2015 on the topic of vetting Internet resources: 10 Ideas to Consider Before Using an Internet Resource and Vetting Web 2.0 Educational Tools.  I appreciate Gorman’s approach as I feel it would be a great place to start this conversation with my staff.  He doesn’t provide forms to mindlessly check boxes and fill-in dots, but rather, he first encourages us to pause and focus.  His list of ten ideas in the first post covers a wide range of topics that are often overlooked in the process of finding the right electronic resources.  For example: 1) Read and understand your school district’s AUP or RUP;  4) Check to see if there is already a district approved tool that does the same thing; and 7) Incorporate good digital citizenship at all levels.

Guilford County Schools of Greensboro, NC have an interesting process in place for approving apps for use in their district. Guilford County Schools: Elementary App Approval Process  Of particular note in this district’s process, I appreciated the first step which requires that educators self-evaluate a resource using a rubric. Crowdsourcing work like this saves time and resources, and it also requires that educators self-reflect on their instruction.  I was unable to find a shared list of approved resources, though.

Englewood High School in Englewood, CO, does a nice job of explaining the reasoning behind having an approval process in place.  Technology Resources / App Approval Process The approval process begins with a one page document, with simple questions to consider and respond to.  The language is clear and the process encourages conversation with the building principal.  Approved apps are listed in an accessible Google Doc with informative summaries.

Concerns/Questions/Next Steps

Student privacy issues are seldom mentioned in the policies I’ve found (though it is on Gorman’s list:  9) Become familiar with CIPA, COPPA, and FERPA).  Education on the issue could be an effective first step towards bringing it more to the forefront of educators’ thinking.  Valerie Strauss’s The Washington Post article “The Astonishing Amount of Data Being Collected About Your Children” provides some interested fodder for conversation with staff and parents alike.

The toughest question may be, where do we start?  I don’t think the answer is a complicated form or a fancy website, as they would never be fully utilized without a deeper understanding of the “why”.  Instead, a conversation framed around Gorman’s 10 ideas could lay the groundwork for a strong foundation of sharing knowledge and resources.  We’re already working hard.  Now it’s time to share our work with those around us.  I’m committing to more intentionality in my sharing with colleagues this year. When we as educators find a high quality resource that meets a curricular need, it would be foolish to keep it to ourselves.  Power is gained by sharing knowledge, not hoarding it.  

What you create; What the world sees; where they intersect is Your impact© Justin Haney 2016 (CC BY-NC 4.0)    inspired by James Clear’s illustration on http://jamesclear.com/vivian-maier


Denver Public Schools. (n.d.). Academic technology solutions menu. Retrieved August 6, 2016, from https://atm.dpsk12.org/

Englewood High School. (n.d.). Technology resources – App approval process. Retrieved August 6, 2016, from http://www.englewoodschools.net/Page/4142

Gorman, M. (2015, November 4). 10 ideas to consider before using an internet resource: the web in the classroom, part 1 [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.techlearning.com/blogentry/9948

Gorman, M. (2015, November 17). Vetting web 2.0 educational tools: the web in the classroom, part 2 [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.techlearning.com/blogentry/10002

Guilford County Schools. (n.d.). Elementary app approval process. Retrieved August 6, 2016, from www.gcsnc.com/pages/gcsnc/Departments/804180865931116562/Resourcfes_Page_Documents/Elementary_App_Approval_Proces

International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). ISTE standards for coaches. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Johnson, K. (2016, March 15). Resources to help you choose the digital tools your classroom needs. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-03-15-resources-to-help-you-choose-the-digital-tools-your-classroom-needs

School District of Osceola County. (n.d.). Software or web tools selection. Retrieved August 7, 2016, from http://www.osceolaschools.net/departments/media_and_instructional_technology_/software_or_web_tools_selection/

Strauss, V. (2015, November 12). The astonishing amount of data being collected about your children – The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/11/12/the-astonishing-amount-of-data-being-collected-about-your-children/