As a teacher, Erika Murray knew how hard it was working in a classroom. As a student, she’s doing something about it.
“Teachers need help,” Murray said. “Teaching is extremely rewarding, but it is also exhausting.”
Murray, who taught for seven years in kindergarten, and first- and fifth-grade classrooms, is now a student in the School of Education’s Master of Educational Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship program. She’s part of a four-student team of Khayrallah Fellows that is working to help educators incorporate technology instruction standards into their teaching.
The help is needed after the state of North Carolina in 2019 adopted teaching standards that require educators at every K-12 grade level to incorporate learning objectives about technology, digital literacy, communication, critical-thinking skills and other learning needs that will help students be successful in college and in careers in a technology-infused world.
The standards — established by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) — have been adopted or endorsed by 22 states.
However, there are few resources for helping teachers incorporate the standards into their teaching, said Todd Cherner, director of the MEITE program. He launched an effort two years ago to fill that need, empowering students in the MEITE program to bring it to life.
“Teachers are going to need examples of the new standards and how they can be blended into instruction at every grade level along with the instructional materials that they can use in their classrooms,” Cherner said. “Our project, conducted by a team of students, aims to help teachers get started using the ISTE standards in their classrooms.”
The result of that student team’s work is “Ed Tech Connect NC,” a website that launches this month.
Built with teachers’ needs in mind
The students who built out Ed Tech Connect NC — Murray, Marvin Espinoza-Leiva, Savannah Windham and Devon Young — are this year’s cohort of Khayrallah Fellows, students whose participation in the MEITE program is supported by the Moise A. Khayrallah Innovation Fund. Three of the four students on the team have worked as teachers.
The group was given the task of creating a site that teachers can go to for information about the ISTE standards, suggestions for how to incorporate the standards at each grade level, and resources they can use in their classrooms.
Savannah Windham, who taught English for five years at Northern High School in Durham before joining the MEITE program, said many teachers are unaware that they are being required to implement the standards. She said technology standards are important in an era when learning online has suddenly become widely accepted, but that teachers, students, and parents may be struggling with questions around technology.
“We designed this site with teachers in mind, stemming from some of our own experiences as former North Carolina teachers and what we would want, as well as input from current teachers around the state,” she said.
Rich set of resources
The group involved teachers in the development of the site, seeking their input regarding what teachers needed, the design of the site, and its contents.
The group used “design thinking” methods to come with ideas for how the site should be organized, test those ideas as prototypes, test and gather feedback, then to use the feedback to improve the site. Young brought to the team prior experience using design thinking processes.
Young brought to the team extensive experience with design thinking. Before joining the MEITE program, she worked for six years at Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design as its learning experience designer and program manager for an initiative focused on bringing equity awareness and design thinking to K-12 education. In those roles, she designed and taught design thinking professional development to K-12 educators, developed tools and resources for use in schools, and taught various classes to Stanford students and community members.
“There are lots of great resources to support teachers, but many times it’s not clear how teachers can find and utilize the resources,” Young said. “Using design thinking to develop our plan of action helped us root the entire project in empathy for teachers, which helped us eliminate prototypes and ideas that weren’t necessary.”
Current teachers were involved in each of the steps along the way, said Espinoza-Leiva.
“We observed teachers navigate and use our website,” he said. “We interviewed them to understand how they currently looked for, found, and adopted instructional content. We then synthesized our learnings, created quick digital prototypes, tested them with our teachers again, so we could iterate and ensure that our site actually met the needs of teachers here in North Carolina.”
The Ed Tech Connect NC site includes detailed descriptions of ISTE’s seven standards, with embedded videos that explain each standard, along with examples of instructional ideas for many of the sub-standards. Many of the instructional ideas are broken into different grade levels.
The site also features a search page, allowing teachers to find instructional ideas by grade level, subject area, or by each standard. The EdTech Glossary page, which is still under development, features a collection of descriptions of and links to software applications, online tools and websites that teachers and students can use.
Espinoza-Leiva said that among the project’s objectives is to help enable students to become technologically literate and to develop digital literacy skills they will need for college and careers.
Young said she enjoyed the experience of working on this project with this team.
“I feel so lucky to be working on this team of passionate, funny, and engaging educators,” she said. “Each person had a skillset that helped deepen our work, and we led with a completely collaborative mindset — there was no ego, just a deep focus on the “why” behind our work.”
Murray said the project is an example of the sort of “real-world” work that students in the MEITE program typically tackle, gave her new appreciation for the work done by developers of educational resources and the need for those resources.
“Our world and society is ever changing,” Murray said. “With the constant advancement in technology and innovation, individuals require unique skills and abilities to survive in this economy.
“The ISTE Student Standards are one attempt at helping identify and develop these skills in our students,” she said. “In order for these skills to be developed, teachers must learn how to adapt their teaching and implement this type of learning into their classroom environments.
“That is where Ed Tech Connect NC comes in.”