March 9, 2014
As director of Technology & Learning’s award-winning Web site, techLEARNING.com, Gwen Solomon works with educators, bloggers, clients, and staff to obtain and edit online content. She writes weekly newsletters and coordinates eBooks and Webinars and occasionally writes articles for the magazine — “If it’s online, it involves me,” she says. Her background is in education as an English teacher, school administration as founding Director of New York City’s School of the Future, and district administration as coordinator of instructional technology planning for NYC Public Schools. Upon leaving her position as a Senior Analyst in the U.S Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology in 1996, she had an idea to start a Web site for educators to write about how they integrate technology, train others, and support it. Her idea won a National Science Foundation grant, and in 1998, at the end of the grant, Technology & Learning hired her to merge Web sites and continue working on theirs. Ms. Solomon writes extensively about educational technology. Her most recent book, Web 2.0: New Tools, New Schools, co-written with Lynne Schrum, was published by the International Society for Technology in Education in October 2007. Gwen also consults with educational technology companies on Web and marketing strategies. Technos “spoke” with her via email at the end of February.
Technos: What are the mission and goals of techLEARNING? Who are your target audiences?
G.W.: The mission and goal of TechLearning is to make a difference in the working lives of technology coordinators, teachers, administrators, and others who want to use educational technology to improve student learning. To that end, we offer the best thinking and writing from professional authors in our magazine Technology & Learning, which is posted online. We offer the best thinking and writing from educators who share their success stories and lessons learned with their peers in our Educators’ eZine. Along with helping their peers to learn what to do and how to do it from first-hand experience, writing an article about classroom practice serves to help educators gain insights into their craft as reflective practice and gain a sense of self-worth as authors and successful practitioners. We also provide tips (educators’ contributions) on professional development, Web-site recommendations, technical advice, and leadership, among other things. In addition, we present a series of face-to-face events annually to provide the latest thinking on educational technology and a day of collegial networking to share ideas.
How do you determine what to provide for your audiences?
We gather information in several ways: We keep track of the site’s traffic (and newsletter click-thrus) so we know what topics readers are finding important. We ask our advisors to let us know when there’s a topic that seems to be key to educational technology that we should cover. We survey Tech Forum (our events) advisors and attendees to find out what their burning issues are. In addition, by publishing our readers’ articles, we’re providing their peers with the topics that are important in actual classrooms, schools, and districts. The resources available on TechLearning for our audiences are almost all audience contributions.
Can you speak to the topic of coordinating K–12 technology resources to curriculum and standards?
We provide articles about coordinating curriculum materials to standards, but we don’t provide lessons or curricular materials for educators to use in the classroom.
Have you found the immediacy of the Internet and other media to be a help or a hindrance to the effectiveness of techLEARNING’s efforts?
TechLearning is totally dependent on the Internet and was created to take advantage of its capabilities. For example, we have a group blog (which won the Edublog Award this year for best group blog) in which our bloggers post daily and readers comment, discuss, and ask questions immediately. In addition, we can provide new materials daily with the knowledge that our readers can use RSS or just come back often for all of the new items.
In addition to using new tools such as blogging, we provide podcasts of our IT Guy feature every week and our writers are able to include videos, slideshows, images, and audio in their articles and blogs. It’s amazing what they can do now that benefits our readers with the immediacy of the information they need when they need it.
We also make sure to keep our archives available for readers who are new to the field or who need specific information at their fingertips on demand. Articles and Tips are stored, and we even have eBooks and Webinars that are available when it’s convenient for readers to read or watch.
Frankly, I think it’s amazing to be able to be so responsive to readers’ information needs.
One of AIT’s Board members has said that one of the problems with American education is that it is equated more with “place” than it is with “process.” Do you find this to be true? If so, how do teachers deal with this problem? And, how does techLEARNING strive to assist?
That’s an interesting thought (and way of saying it). It’s true that schools are mostly brick-and-mortar buildings and education is decided and funded locally. However, because there are so many resources available to students, they (and their teachers) are not limited to local constraints in terms of resources, ideas, and people. Personally, I believe that education is indeed about process and having access to online resources can contribute to students collaborating with others near and far, communicating with students in many places and with experts online, and being able to get a vast assortment of perspectives on any issue and information on any topic. Of course, the process of using any of these should be in project-based learning with authentic assessments so that students learn in depth and acquire the skills for lifelong learning and thoughtful work. With that said, we’ve published articles that explain why certain types of learning make a difference and provide examples and models of how educators are engaging students this way.
What do you see as the future of online professional development for your audiences in general?
Using some of the new online Web 2.0 tools, educators are changing the way that they learn and prepare. They engage in new models of professional development that they determine. For example, they can gain the benefits of a community of practice and on-demand learning, approaches that are respectful of educators’ time and learning preferences. This phenomenon will continue to grow.
Do you have an opinion as to the effectiveness of NCLB legislation? Has it been a boon or a bust for American education—especially the use of technology in K–12 education?
I think assessment is important, but NCLB doesn’t focus on the issue the way it should. Using a system of performance measures and other strategies might show what students have learned and are able to do and understand as a result. Simply focusing on standardized test scores misses the point. In order to use assessments to determine student success, we have to assess the learning that matters. Educational technology has gotten short shrift in NCLB.
What is the greatest advantage to education of technology use by teachers (and media librarians) and students? Do you see any pitfalls? What role do parents play? Students’ peers?
In addition to having exceptional tools to learn curriculum, students can learn new things in new ways. The pitfalls are in adults not understanding enough about technology integration to use the tools appropriately with students. While students use tools and educators have to keep up, it is really up to adults (teachers, parents, and others) to find the best uses and make sure that students use the tools in ways that help them to learn.
It seems that everyone is “connected” by technological gadgets these days…do you think this is a good thing, or a bad thing?
I’m not sure you can categorize being connected by gadgets as either good or bad. It’s a fact of life that the world depends on technology for communication, connections, culture, work, and so many other things that it’s the way it is. Now we can connect and do things that were never possible before. (So in spite of my beginning, I really do think it’s a good thing.)
What do you think will be the greatest challenge to American education in the future?
As in the past, the greatest challenge is poverty and inequality. Technology (when there is universal access) can be a great equalizer. But all of the things that keep students from achieving—especially being poor and living in an area of poverty—will be more of a challenge in the future. As the world becomes more dependent on technology and becomes more globalized, our poor students will be at an increasing disadvantage and the result is that disadvantage continues throughout their lives.