Talking to a Tech Integration Specialist

Even in this innovative age, a technology integrated specialist can still be seen as an unorthodox job to have. Yvonne Chan is the first of her kind in the Revere Public School District and everyday, her position is still being defined.

Chan works with every stakeholder, including administrators, teachers, and students. “It’s kind of where the job takes me, so I like to talk to as many people as I can.” She found that it’s not the technology that is challenging, it’s communicating the technology to another person. “I’m trying to figure out what their pain points are and what they’re open to.”

A human approach to education technology

Chan has both an engineering and a publishing degree, which is a recipe that she believes will lead to the greatest success for a technology specialist in education. “It’s right brain and left brain stuff,” said Chan. She thinks it’s important for an technology specialist to have a handle on the social side of technology. “Some of the biggest problems I have are human, communication, and social,” she said.

In addition to her academic background, Chan also has a background in edtech startups; these include EdTech Times, and Gradeable. After seeing how edtech tools are current utilized in classes, she says time is the largest factor to a successful classroom implementation.

Technology often takes a back seat in the busy day of a teacher. Teachers don’t always have time to work with her. “I kind of let teachers come to me with stuff they want to try,” she said. When they do come to her, she said it’s more about trying to understand a teacher’s workflow and how to explain the technology and the benefits of it.

A teacher’s biggest fear with technology is changing from one system to another. The process can be lengthy and Chan will agree, “With anything, new there is going to be a learning curve and it’s going to be awkward at first, but usually, it’s worth it.”

Teachers lack time to try new technology

Chan believes that edtech startups are actually creating viable things for the classroom. “They were created for a reason. However the disconnect comes when they think teachers have all this time to try new things, and that’s not the case at all.”

Listening to the teachers talk about the time crunch and their other problems has helped Chan tremendously. She said she found that listening is key. “Most of the problems that I have been able to solve are from listening to people just talk about what they do,” said Chan. She can fix technology problems as they come to her, but the most interesting problems are the simple daily classroom workarounds that could use the help of technology.

“One teacher was having all of his students come up to his desk to check off their homework, and they were a rambunctious class. He said ‘I really want to be able to have my iPad go around checking off their stuff so they could remain seated’, but the program doesn’t work on the iPad. So, what I did was create a Google spreadsheet out of the gradebook so that he could check off or put in points for each student [on his iPad].” The teacher never clearly identified that he needed a portable gradebook, but The teacher may have never said he needed the gradebook in a travel-friendly way, but listening, Chan found out she could solve his problem.

One thing she doesn’t do is tell teachers what technology they should use. “In fact, I feel uncomfortable doing that. I’m here to help them,” she said. “I know it’s their classroom. It’s not my classroom and it’s not anyone else’s classroom but theirs.”

Building technology through relationships

Realizing her role within the teacher’s classroom is key in creating connections with the teachers, she said. She’s found that the position pivots on these relationships. “I’ll go to math class and just walk around, even though it’s not specifically technology related. I’ll walk around and pop in with math problems, just kind of building the relationship.”

She keeps relationships with teachers because the position is mostly classroom-based, but her work also spans to the larger school-wide use. She is currently working with the principal to figure out a way to communicate with the faculty and staff more efficiently. One of the first things she did was to create a Twitter account for the principal, which has already gained an audience.

An online presence, including Twitter, is something that Chan said teachers do find value in and look to her for guidance. Teachers are interested in getting help setting up Twitter accounts, their own websites, and other social media sites in order to stay more connected with their students.

Being an integrated technology specialist, Chan finds having a strong social media presence herself makes sense. She manages her blog, and is getting the school’s Twitter pages in order. She said it helps when teachers see tools online, it makes it more tangible for them. Her blog and Twitter can also be used whether or not she is in the classroom.

As the newest position in her school, Chan’s work is just beginning. With many new initiatives, she is currently working on a Wikispace and they are trying to run a student blog.

Keep up with Chan at her blog: The Official Blog of Yvonne Chan

Michelle Harven

Michelle Harven

Michelle is a current graduate student at Emerson College and an intern at Boston's public radio station. She enjoys exploring the world of educational technology and writing about the ever-changing sector and its potential.