This is a real treat for me. I’ve been a follower and a fan of Tom D’Amico for a long time. I have a real appreciation for those who scour the web, find, and then share the best of the resources. Tom is a daily source for inspiration through sharing with his Twitter account @TDOttawa. The best part is that his finds are archived in his Scoop.it! resource iGeneration – 21st Century Education.
Thank you for agreeing to the interview, Tom. I’m really looking forward to your thoughts and insights.
Doug: I always start with this for people that I’ve met in person – do you recall when we first met?
Tom: I’m not certain but likely in the early 90’s at the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario conference (ECOO). In the early 1990s I created a pilot Multimedia course and shared the resources at ECOO.
Doug: What inspired you to get involved with Twitter?
Tom: In January 2009 I changed from being a high school Principal, to Superintendent of Information Technologies. I wanted to model professional learning and I also wanted to expand my own professional learning network. Twitter was a natural location at the time to connect with others interested in leveraging technology for increased student achievement. I had no idea what I was doing, but I’ve always gone with the philosophy “Just Do It”, and I started my global professional learning network at that time.
Doug: Of all the archive utilities that are available, what attracted you to Scoop.IT?
Tom: This was really trial and error. I had tried many edTools for archiving and curating. I was using Delicious and Diigo for social bookmarking and a variety of other tools including Twitter. Scoop.IT turned out to be my favourite tool since it automated my work flow. It allowed me to quickly view other Scoop.IT postings, curate ones I found interesting, and I could also then share and schedule Tweets all on the same screen. These features worked well for me and I’ve been an avid user of ScoopIT ever since.
Doug: With all of the things that you could be doing, what intrigues you about finding and curating educational technology resources?
Tom: As a teacher I saw first hand the impact of technology on both my students and on my teaching practice. When I was teaching in the early 90s technology was a scarcity as was connectivity. I was fortunate to have access to a computer lab and to multimedia computers so I was able to see how students were engaged when using technology and how the classroom discipline issues that took up so much of my time as a young teacher, were non-existent when students were using computers. I’ve kept that passion and insight with me over my 25 years with the Ottawa Catholic School Board.
I spend time locating and sharing resources as one of my ways of staying connected to the classroom. As an administrator I looked for resources that could help teachers and other administrators save time by automating work flows, and as a result they would have more time to develop professional relationships with their students.
Although I advocate the use of technology in the classroom, the greatest impact a teacher or administrator can have on their students is by getting to know them and focusing on positive relationships that leave all students with a feeling of hope and knowing that the teacher or administrator really cares about them as a person, not just as a student taking a particular subject.
Doug: Before you became the Associate Director with the Ottawa Catholic School Board, you were a superintendent in charge of Learning Technologies. How did you get the inspiration for innovation in that role?
Tom: In 2009 when I became the superintendent of information technologies I worked collectively with many talented educators to come up with a vision of how we would integrate technology with pedagogy to innovate teaching practices in our Board.
One of the first things we did was change the title of the department from Information Technology, to Learning Technologies. I changed my title from Superintendent of Information Technology to Superintendent of Student Success – Learning Technologies. This subtle change, set the focus on Learning.
We moved from a Board that was focused on a culture of caution and fear of technology, to one that focused on curiosity and innovation. We shared a white paper “A BluePrint for Change – Towards 2020 Connecting with our Students” and this set the direction for the many changes that we implemented in the last 5 years including adding the 4Cs to our Board Priorities and embracing social media and Google Apps for Education as tools to lead the change.
Doug: What initiatives are you particularly proud of from that portfolio?
Tom: I’m proud of many changes that took place as part of the vision for our District. We moved to enterprise wireless, we added LCD/SmartBoards to every classroom so that teachers could access digital resources, we provided all teachers with laptops, we created a social media policy and encouraged teachers to be online where their students were, we converted our libraries to learning commons, we moved to blended learning, we promoted BYOD, and we had extensive PD opportunities and focused on the proper pedagogy to ensure that the technology was being used to do more than just digitize static learning activities. We also began investing strategically in devices for students, from iPads to Chromebooks, and we began to address the digital divide that existed for some of our families and their access to technology.
Doug: How big is online learning through eLearningOntario within the OCSB?
Tom: Traditional eLearning has not been a focus for the majority of our students, but rather blended learning has been the priority. We do have a small number of students who benefit from online courses, and we have about 18 online courses offered every year to students across our 15 high schools.
When we had focus groups with students one of the key messages they shared was that they did not want to lose the social aspect of going to school everyday, they liked to use technology, but the majority were not looking to complete courses online. We did introduce a game based blended learning grade 10 course in Careers/Civics to ensure that all of our graduates will have taken at least one course delivered via a platform such as BlackBoard or Desire2Learn.
Doug: According to Twitter, you’re approaching 10,000 followers. Obviously, I’m not the only one who appreciates your efforts! How many of these followers would you estimate are from OCSB?
Tom: I’ve never tracked the number directly from our Board. The majority of our 83 schools have Twitter accounts and we have many staff who actively share and learn via twitter. We hired a full time social media community engagement specialist in our communications department to help develop this skill set in our employees and to engage with our community.
I do know from analytics that approximately 50% of my network is from the U.S.A., 30% from Canada, and 20% from other regions of the world.
Doug: Does it matter to you where they come from? Why or why not?
Tom: One of best features of social media is that it breaks down barriers so we can all learn from one another in a global context. Gone are the days that learning only happened in the school or at the district.
Doug: Do you ever find that ideas you’ve shared end up in your district’s classrooms?
Tom: Yes, I often hear from administrators or from other staff that they are using an edTool that I had recommended, or they signed up for a free service or are connecting with other educators around the world. This is rewarding feedback that helps me to validate the time that I put into reading and sharing resources.
Doug: From my perspective, you’re “leading by leading” in this field and I really admire that. Do you ever get questioned by colleagues for being so open about your learning and sharing?
Tom: No, I’ve never been questioned about being open with sharing. I have had questions about the level of online engagement and how to manage the large number of interactions when you move beyond your Board. Time management is always a key for all educators and setting limits and recognizing that you can’t be on all social learning networks an important framework.
Doug: I know the resources that I use for my daily inspiration and your readings do seem to cross at times but you always seem to find even more interesting things. Care to share your work flow?
Tom: I subscribe to over 1000 different sites/blogs/newsletters. I use Unroll.me to package the newsletters into a single email that I receive each day with about 75-100 posts. I quickly scan this single email to determine which articles are relevant and that I may wish to review. I also use Feedly.com as my RSS feeder to review articles with a basis on EdTech. I use Scoop.IT as a source of recommended articles based on topics I have setup including: EdTech, Leadership, and Pedagogy.
I spend about 10 hours per week, usually first thing in the morning and then about an hour every evening reading articles online and then curating the most interesting ones via Scoop.It and scheduling tweets within Scoop.IT to go out the next day. Using ScoopIT I am able to schedule by the hour and also include a photo in the tweet and relevant hashtags. I make sure that I also use appropriate keyword tags in Scoop.IT so that I can find resources later when I need them.
I use TweetDeck to review and respond to mentions on Twitter. I try to do this at least every two days.
Some people enjoy watching T.V., I enjoy reading and learning via the Internet. Substitute 1-2 hours of evening T.V. watching, and there is time to curate resources on topics of interest.
Where possible, I filter what I’m reading by following others who curate great content such as: Edutopia, Edudemic, MakeUseof.com, Free Technology for Teachers, Education Technology and Mobile Learning, and several Paper.li accounts including yours – The Best of Ontario Education Daily.
There are many other favourites that would be wrapped up in my Unroll.me each day such as: Nine Connections, Diigo weekly summaries on various topics, SmartBrief on EdTech, ASCD Express, EdWeb.net, TechCrunch, eWeek, Daily Genius Edtech updates, Education Dive:K12, Brook Top 5 tweets, and summaries from TCEA and ISTE… to name a few.
Doug: How often do you go back and use the resources that you’ve tucked away?
Tom: I use my Scoop.IT archive on a regular basis. If someone asks if I can recommend a good tool for a particular need (such as a BackChannel), I can do a keyword search in my Scoop.IT account and quickly provide them with current resources on the topic. Whenever I deliver a presentation I always update the content by reviewing resources that I’ve “scooped” on that topic over the last year.
Doug: How important is a social media presence in the OCSB? Are schools encouraged to have Twitter / Facebook / Google + / etc. accounts?
Tom: Yes – we are an extremely active Board when it comes to social media. Just about all of our schools have Twitter accounts and we have hundreds of staff sharing via their personal or their class Twitter accounts. Many of our schools have Facebook accounts. We have very active Google + communities based on shared interests, such as French teachers, Kindergarten teachers, etc.
Social media has opened up the sharing of resources between educators and schools across our district.
Doug: What advice do you provide the learners/leaders within your system about the use of social media? Do you have a routine to be followed if something goes wrong?
Tom: I would suggest that they begin by working with a trusted colleague who is on social media. We will send our social media community staff member to work with them or one of our education technology integrators to help them out. We have staff resource booklets available online to take them step by step on how to create accounts using tools such as Twitter and how to effectively use the tools.
If something goes wrong, staff contact our learning technologies department and they work with the provider such as Facebook, Twitter, or Google, to work out a solution. We ensure that all of our staff are aware of our social media policy that was created to encourage staff use of social media in a responsible manner.
Doug: Speaking of leaders, there are very few superintendents/directors that have significant contributions to the collective learning like you do. What can be done to encourage more to jump in and start sharing their learning?
Tom: Across the province we are sharing with one another how we are using social media in our administrator roles. Within our Board we have many administrators who are very active and they present on a regular basis and share with their associations how social learning and social networking is having an impact on student achievement.
Staff can easily become overwhelmed with the number of edTools available and the amount of time that can be invested in online professional learning networks. My advice is to not try to do it all, find one or two tools that meet the goals that they are trying to achieve and work with those. There is no need to be on every possible social network or to know every latest social media tool.
Doug: How is digital citizenship and responsibility addressed with students in the OCSB?
Tom: As we opened up our schools to BYOD and to online resources and we encouraged the use of social media, we also wanted to ensure that digital citizenship became part of the yearly curriculum. In the early years of our plan we had many guest speakers and presentations. Although we still have presentations for students and for parents, we created curriculum that is taught to all students every year to focus on the responsible use of social media and technology.
We now have bilingual resources linked to the curriculum covering all grades from kindergarten to grade 12. We call our resource, “Samaritans on the Digital Road” and it is instructed and sequenced on a yearly basis to help students participate in a digital world in a proactive, responsible, and compassionate manner. Our resources are freely shared via this Google site.
Doug: Are there any specific initiatives for the upcoming school year from Ottawa Catholic that we should keep an eye on?
Tom: We continue to look at transitioning away from traditional textbooks to more paperless resources. We have recently licensed Hapara for our teacher’s use and we are focusing on automated workflows for teachers/students so that both rely less on traditional print based workflows and move more into ePortfolios.
We are part of the global New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning initiative that focuses heavily on leveraging technology for improved student achievement. We will continue to expand our involvement in this global initiative.
More and more of our schools and learning commons are initiating MakerSpaces and have embraced the Maker movement. I’m looking forward to seeing how our talented staff help our students become more creative through the use of these transformed spaces.
Doug: The upcoming school year could be a challenge. Do you see any way that a collective agreement could be in place with teachers and school districts before September?
Tom: The negotiations currently are at the central provincial table and I’m not directly involved with the provincial negotiations. I’m hopeful that a resolution can be found to ensure that all students across Ontario continue to benefit from Ontario’s strong educational system.
If agreements are not reached prior to the start of the year, it will likely be a challenging time for staff and students. The important thing to remember is that work to rule or strike or lockouts eventually do end, so everyone needs to keep positive relations through the challenging time so that we can continue to progress and innovate as a system when agreements are reached.
Doug: Tom, I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with us. I know that I look forward to your daily shares and now I know even more about the person behind the Twitter handle. Thank you so much.
You can follow Tom on Twitter at @TDOttawa and his Scoop.it! page is located at: http://www.scoop.it/t/igeneration-21st-century-education.