In this DJLN Educator Spotlight, you’ll meet Liz Ebersole and get an inside look at what it means to be both a teacher and an EdTech coordinator.
Liz Ebersole teaches middle school Language Arts and Social Studies and is also the Educational Technology Coordinator at Seattle Hebrew Academy in Seattle, WA. She has been a teacher for 10 years and has experience with grades 6-12. Liz has been a change agent in all of the schools where she has worked, bringing innovative ideas to curriculum planning, including integration of educational technology. She is passionate about student-driven classrooms and enjoys sharing strategies for increasing student involvement through project-based learning and feedback-based assessment. As the Educational Technology Coordinator at her school, her goal is to help all members of the school community investigate, learn, and implement best practices in educational technology. Follow Liz on Twitter @liztekkie.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a teacher?
A: I used to work in publishing, and they were grooming me for management, but I wasn’t excited about it. You can’t be an editor for your whole life, and I knew that advancement would mean moving, but I didn’t want to move to New York City. So I did some reflecting and realized my love was language and literature. I was an English major in college. I also had this strong inclination towards helping people. So I combined all these things and became a teacher! I first taught in Philadelphia and now in Seattle.
Q: How did you come to be the EdTech coordinator for your school?
A: A couple years ago my school was faced with the need to upgrade its technology infrastructure, and so we put together a task force to figure out what to do next. A lot of things were happening in the educational technology world and we were especially intrigued by mobile laptop carts and 1:1 laptop programs in middle schools. So this task force of administrators, teachers, parents, and an outside expert met to discuss what the next steps would be. Three years later the school had grown in the use of technology, but there was a need for someone to organize and document everything for institutional knowledge and plan for the future. Also, someone was needed to be the “go-to” person for tech for both the teachers and the staff. The SAMIS Foundation put together a technology initiative and two faculty members were invited from each school in the Seattle area to be in the cohort. I was chosen because of my EdTech experience at the school.
Q: How has being part of the DigitalJLearning Network helped you?
A: I’m not Jewish and I’m a General Studies teacher, so DJLN helps me to frame the educational technology for the Judaic Studies teachers in the school. DJLN also provides the base for a professional learning network and creates a nationwide classroom for Judaics teachers. It’s a place where Jewish educators can go and work together, which is especially important for us in the Pacific Northwest. Gary Hartstein has also been an incredible support for me in my work. There was one time I called Gary for advice about blended learning in math. The moment I started talking to him, it was like he knew me, was invested in me, and understood what I needed. He suggested some contacts who could help me, and they got back to me right away. Gary is superb at making those connections with people and between people, and anything he does is always high quality and high energy. So DJLN is this hub, this professional learning network bringing like-minded educators all together, and that’s really powerful.
Q: In addition to being EdTech coordinator, you also teach! How do you integrate technology into your own classroom and use blended learning?
A: I have a Sharp board, it’s like a giant touchscreen computer, and all of my students have laptops. I use a class blog to share lesson plans and links with the students, and so they can access those lessons anytime on their laptops. Through my involvement with the SAMIS Tech Initiative, I started using TechSmith Relay, which allows you to capture your computer screen and create a presentation with voiceover. You can insert quiz questions at any point during the presentation. I’ve been using it for writing instruction. We used to spend the entire class period on one topic, such as sentence fluency or organization, but now with TechSmith Relay I create a presentation on the topic. The students watch it at home and complete the quiz questions, and then the next day in the morning I’ll look at the analytics. I can see who watched the video, who answered the questions, what the answers were - it gives me an overview of how much they understand the concept. Then during class time I’ll do “triage” based on the analytics. Before all the direct instruction was in class and the writing was done at home, so the one-on-one time was limited. This blended learning model gives me much more one-on-one time with my students, and class can be devoted to working on assignments and incorporating the skills they’ve learned. I really get to talk with them about their writing, and their understanding and application of skills has grown exponentially as a result. I can see the application to Judaic Studies too, because it’s similar to Language Arts. There’s work to be done on comprehension, questioning, forming an opinion, and synthesizing ideas.
Q: What kinds of EdTech practices are used at your school?
A: The school faculty are at different points in their educational technology learning. We are starting to investigate blended learning and online learning. Everything is still very new - the 1:1 laptops, having the right tools, engaging in professional development around the tech. That’s the reality of having new staff and having to bring people on board. The EdTech is primarily used for project-based learning. The students create projects that they just couldn’t have made before. All of our middle schools students have blogs and each of them creates a digital portfolio of his or her learning. They posted their science fair projects online and all the teachers and students in the school could access and see them. The blogs also enable students to tap into what is happening in other classes, because all of the teachers have blogs. The teacher blogs have been great because even though we’re all in the same building, we have so little time to talk to one another and the blogs are a great way to see what everyone else is doing. When I see a colleague in the hallway instead of saying, “Hi! What’s going on this week?” it’s now, “Wow! I saw what you’re doing and it’s so cool!” It promotes teacher collaboration because the reality is that face-to-face conversation can’t always happen.
Q: What kind of support is most helpful for the teachers?
A: We actually just surveyed all the teachers. We thought they would like group learning but many said they preferred online professional development as well as one-on-one learning. They also prefer having professional development at our school run by a fellow teacher rather than having someone brought in from the outside.
Q: Can you tell us about a particular blended learning lesson that was really cool?
A: Yes! My 7th graders participated in the Global Read Aloud. We read the printed book aloud in class, but then they would go online and interact with students all around the world who were reading the same book. There were 3,000 people all participating! As the teacher, I joined an Edmodo so I could connect with the other teachers. I created a Padlet and posted it to the Edmodo page, and then other teachers and students could access it and write on it. We also used Skype to talk with a class in British Columbia. We watched an interview with the author, submitted questions, and then she answered them in a later video. We commented on the blog of students at the American School in Saudi Arabia. We were all talking and learning together, and all going at the same pace in reading the book each week. The students were so excited. Using the educational technology definitely made them more interested and engaged, and they were thinking harder and challenging themselves more because they had this global audience. It would be great to have a Global Read Aloud for Judaic studies - everyone all studying the weekly parasha together or talking via Skype with a famous rabbi!
Q: What are your favorite online resources for blended learning?
A: For Judaica, definitely DJLN. I’ve also found resources at DJLN for my language arts students. NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) has great assignments and interactives on their ReadWriteThink website. I also like Common Sense Media (for digital citizenship and technology roll-out), Edudemic, and Twitter. You can get great ideas from so many different people on Twitter - I follow Rabbi Michael Cohen (@TheTechRabbi) at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy. He has a lot of great ideas for Jewish education and tech. He’s very ahead of the curve and thinks about things in ways you aren’t thinking yet.
Q: What kinds of assessment tools do the teachers use? Which do you like most for data collection?
A: Right now we mostly gather data using paper-based assessments or anecdotal observations. We’re also investigating an online testing service in which we would own the data and we’re conducting teacher focus group meetings to determine how to move forward in student data collection.
Q: What advice do you have for educators who want to try out EdTech and blended learning?
A: Be brave. It really does require you to take a deep breath and let go of the traditional idea of a teacher's role and control in the classroom. It involves giving more control to the students, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results. Students sometimes make things harder for themselves and their expectations can be higher than your own! Also, it’s important to have a strong professional network. Get yourself out there on social media, especially Twitter. It doesn’t have to be every day and you don’t need to post constantly, but it’s a great place to get ideas. Having a professional learning network is important so you can engage in online learning and find the best resources and practices. Attend a conference! Especially if you’re someone who’s new to digital, you should go to a conference where you can test the waters out and not put pressure on yourself to come back with things to implement right away. Just go and sit and listen - that’s what I did! I arrived at the infancy of all this EdTech and grew into the role slowly. Go at your own pace - moving forward is the most important thing. Also, make friends with whomever the EdTech professional is at your school and be willing to test anything and try anything out - you’ll get the devices! The people in charge of EdTech want to know who will actually use the devices they’re buying, so be the tester and learn from your students. Lower school students may need more instruction in how to use technologies. This means the teacher will need to spend more time learning before introducing a technology. In middle school and above, be okay with students using technologies in which you might not be completely proficient. Whenever someone needs help, I send them to particular students, who are more than happy to help!
Q: What is the most rewarding experience you’ve had in connection to EdTech?
A: Just this morning I had a conversation with my students about TechSmith Relay and I asked them about their experience and what they thought about it. They gave very sophisticated answers, after all, they know a lot about learning! As educators we don’t get to do that very often - ask students what they think. It’s important to get their input. This shows that you value their experience and opinion and are ready to roll up your sleeves and learn with them. I’ve learned the technology right alongside my students, and this has enabled me to build strong relationships with them and has made me one of their favorite teachers. When we’re down there “in the trenches” together, learning together, that’s really powerful.
Want to learn more about the online resources mentioned? See the links below!
TechSmith Relay: https://www.techsmith.com/techsmith-relay.html
Global Read Aloud: http://www.globalreadaloud.com