Kirsten Wilson - Digital Learning Unit

SMACtalk for Teachers Podcast

Read this episode's transcript

November 1, 2021 · Season 2, Episode 2


Cassandra Barnett:

Welcome to the SMACtalk for Educators Podcast. This is part of the division for elementary, and secondary education SMACtalk initiative. It is a monthly podcast now in its second season, featuring interviews with prominent educators, working with education and technology SMACtalk for educators has a different theme for each episode, but it centers around promoting online safety, security, and digital learning. My name is Cassandra Barnett. I am the program advisor for school libraries at the Arkansas Department of Education, division of elementary and secondary education. Today, I'm very happy to introduce Kirsten Wilson, who is the state coordinator of digital learning. So, Kirsten, welcome today. I'm seeing this as a real opportunity for you to let educators know what is going on in the world of digital learning here at Dese, and so, first of all, just tell me a little bit about yourself, and how you came to be in this position and what is the digital learning unit?

Kirsten Wilson:

Okay. That's a lot, and I hope I can keep it brief. My husband always is telling me land the plane. But really, digital learning wasn't something that I knew that I was good at. I kind of fell into it, if you would say, and it really happened, I call it my two lives in education. I went into education, became an administrator, and then I started a family, and I took time off. So that was my first life in education. And then my second life, I went back into education when my first born started kindergarten. And I left education there wasn't a computer in the classroom. And when I came back into education, it was the year of the Apple iPhone. It was the first year came out. So you can understand in the transition from no computers to computers.

Kirsten:

We weren't doing a lot of high stakes testing yet to high stakes testing. And so that was a big transition leaving from my first life in education to my second life in education, because I was the mother of two small children. And I was going back into the classroom and things had changed so drastically. I quickly learned that technology could help me be a more efficient mother and a more efficient teacher. And so I started utilizing the tools just to get my job done, because I couldn't get it all done. And I have very high standards for myself. And so that's kind of how it started. And then I started attending different professional development during the summer. And I got to know the instructional technology coaches that would help you embed instruction and got to develop relationships with them and really liked how it was transforming learning in the classroom.

Kirsten:

So, I would jump in and try things. And then I discovered Twitter. And it got to the point that I was doing a Twitter chat once a night, seven days a week. And that got the attention of the instructional technology team at this large district that I worked at in Texas. And they asked me to join their team. And then I started leading the Twitter chat for our district. What it did for me is it found... I was able to find relevant PD that I could walk right into my classroom the next day, after being in a Twitter chat in the evening and integrating that into whatever we did. And if you remember, I was talking about, I was a mom too, well, my kids were using devices in their hands and I didn't want them to be passive learners or just being entertained by technology. I wanted them to be using it purposefully. So just like a good teacher mom, I wouldn't let them just watch something. I made them do something with it.

Kirsten:

And a lot of times when I wanted to do something like classroom I'd first have my kids do it so that they could show me, what do I need to break it down so that kids could do it easily? What are the hiccups? What can't you understand? So, they were, I would say my beta testers for whatever I wanted to do in the classroom. And so that's kind of how I fell in love with instructional technology and digital learning. And then I stepped into an instructional technology coach, like I said, which walked me into a curriculum coach in a middle school. And my biggest thing was to win over my hardest my most reluctant teacher when it came to that. And I was able to do that several times and it was through relationships, just building those relationships and let me change one thing that they're doing from their analog approach. And I call it analog when it's paper pencil, to that digital approach and then see how it would reap the benefits, for them as educators and with their students.

Kirsten:

The other piece that came into it is that I realized with digital learning, you could maximize student voice in a way that traditional instructional teaching didn't really highlight that, and it gave a lot of versatility that we didn't have when we just did the one or the face to face approach without the technology, technology allowed me to provide choice so they could have voice. I then went into that curriculum job and then became an administrator because I wanted to have other ways to impact teachers to impact students. So, I was an assistant principal in an elementary school for two years, and then my husband had a job transfer to Arkansas, and we came back to Arkansas, and I got the opportunity to be a state, excuse me, the director of curriculum instruction with virtual Arkansas. And I felt very, very strongly that what can happen face to face can happen virtually. And I worked very hard with those teachers for three years through the lens of relationships. Everything I believe happens through relationships.

Kirsten:

And so if you can connect with a kid, then you can do anything with that kiddo, when it comes to their learning. And then this opportunity to become state coordinator learning opened up. And I fell into things. I threw my name in the hat. I didn't even think I would be in this position. I kind of pinched myself every once in a while because I'm like, how did I end up here? And why did they pick me? So, that's kind of the long story short.

Kirsten:

Well, that's interesting because there are a lot of parallels to what I see happening to you as to how I, as a school librarian kind of fell into technology as well. Now, I've been around a little longer than you. When I first started using technology, the library was the first place where we put Commodore 64. So, that tells you how long I've been around. And the first computer class that I took was programming, not what we would typically consider what teachers need now. It was programming. And so a lot of times the school librarian has fallen into much of that same kind of technology instructional position, where we've worked with teachers to help them integrate different aspects of technology into their teaching. So, I think there's a lot of parallels there, and I see lots of opportunities for school librarians in Arkansas to really connect with what you're doing in the digital learning unit. So why don't you tell us a little bit about what's going on in the digital learning unit?

Kirsten:

Well, I could tell you for a long time, so I try to keep the shorts. I am super, super passionate about our team. They're amazing. They come with a really broad skillset and we have people that have amazing capacities in different areas, but most of all, at the center of what we do is we want to build confidence and capacity in our teachers, our librarians, our administrators, our districts, our education service cooperative, and through the lens of digital learning, helping them build those skills so that they can help build in students, what I call that that third literacy, which is the functional ability to use digital devices in the capacity to make their lives better. And also just to be able to live life, at this point, in the best way possible most jobs. Now you have to do a digital application, most tests that you have to take for entry level certifications are digital, and our students need to be able to navigate that.

Kirsten:

And so that's really, really important there, but the other aspect of it is we get most of our information at this point online. And it is the way that we consume that information and comprehend that information is different from reading it straight from a book or a piece of paper, there's a different approach to that. And so helping our teachers understand how that happens, and helping our students understand how that happens, and that we can't be passive learners. We have to be active learners in that. So that's part of what the digital learning unit is, my hope, is doing. But what my biggest thing is, is can we build relationships with you all so that you can tell us what your first and most important step is and what is your biggest need, and your biggest need may be I just want to figure out how to do digital bell ringers. Okay, then we will help you with that. Or my thing is, is the that I want for my students to have their own classroom podcast, and I don't even know how to set that up.

Kirsten:

Okay, we can help you with that. Or my goal is, is that I have all this data. I don't know how to read it. I don't know how to put it in a spreadsheet, or it's in a spreadsheet, but I can't figure out what it all means. Okay, we can help with that. Or I want to do things in a blended environment. I understand the lesson cycle. I know what needs to be done there, but I don't know how to do it. Well, we can help with that. And so that's a real broad brush, but we can help with all of those things. And so really what my hope is, is that just like I talked about, the reason that I kind of fell into digital learning is I wanted to make my life more efficient. I want for teachers to be able to do all the things that they want to do to feel like they've done their job well, and let us help you have some tools so that you can do it. And at the same time, build that capacity to provide opportunity for student voice.

Cassandra:

That sounds great. So can you tell me about some specific projects your team is working on?

Kirsten:

Yeah. Well, one of the things that we're working on this is kind of behind the scenes. We are moving away from the learning management system Moodle that has had all of our training in the past into Canvas, a learning management system behind Google Classroom, Canvas is the most utilized learning management system by schools across the state. And so we wanted to be in the same platform as the majority of our schools are. It's also very user friendly. And so that's one of the things we're working through that migration right now. So that's behind the scenes. Some big in front of your face, things that we're doing right now is that we have been approached by some of our education service cooperatives to help novice teachers and also experience teachers to design effective online lessons. One of the things that we probably all realize through emergency remote teaching is what you do face to face. You can't just stick it in a learning management system, or a Google Classroom, and it's going to work the same way.

Kirsten:

And so there is a really important way that that happens. It is different just like I was talking before. The way that you consume information online is different from where you would consume it from a book or a newspaper, like an actual paper. It's the same idea. It's just a different way of thinking, and helping teachers navigate how that is so that they can have effective online lessons where students are engaged, and active participants in they're learning. So, that's another aspect that we're doing. We also are working with some of our specialists with different lessons that we're designing. One specific project that I can think of right now is between Dawson, and Southwest co-op they're a science specialist. They have approached us because the, I don't know if you know this, the science standards are a little hard to understand.

Kirsten:

And then our teachers are asked to unpack them and then use backwards design to help develop their instruction. And then we have a ton of teachers, and we're really blessed that we have the Alternative Licensure Program, but we have a ton of teachers that have gone through this ALP and they don't and really understand how to unpack a standard and create learning targets or learning outcomes for students. And so we've created this one hour training for science standards, and then we're going to turn around and do it a more general course for any teacher to help them unpack standards, to help them be more targeted with their instruction, and have it rooted, their instruction rooted in our state standards. So, that's another project that we're working on. And then we have just some other little things going on, on the side. We have relationship with office of innovation and we're working with them as we have schools that are applying to be schools of innovation, or they're reapplying to be re-certified.

Kirsten:

So, we're supporting in that direction. We've also had some conversations with Innovation Hub, with the Winthrop Rockefeller organization. And so we're connecting that. And I would say a lot of what we do on a daily basis is just connecting people to resources and finding ways we can support. And if we can't support telling them not us, but we know where we can find that information or giving me a second, let me put an email out and I'll get back to you. Really, we just want to connect people, unite people, and make sure that everybody knows that there's someone, maybe two degrees of separation that we can get them in contact with, so,

Cassandra:

Yeah. I love the idea of the video on helping teachers unpack stay standards, because that's pretty much an issue across the board. Unpacking standards is really hard. And building curriculum based on standards is really hard. And we don't necessarily get that when we go to school to learn how to be teachers, they don't really talk to us a lot about that. And so I think that would be something that I would encourage my school librarians to participate in because unpacking our state standards is a little tricky.

Kirsten:

I would love to do that. One of the things that we're also working on is making those connections and figure out how to get to those connections. And sometimes it's not as at your fingertips as people might think. And so I've been resourceful and put some feelers out and things like that. But I guess part of the reason that we're talking right now is that I want to make more connections and I'm coming kind of to the end of my rope as who I can reach out to and who I know in my circle of influence. And so I'm widening that circle by having a conversation with you today, hoping that somebody's listening to this and that they're like, "Oh, we need to connect. Because I have some things that I want to get out there as well."

Cassandra:

Well, I would love to work on a tutorial, or a video that unpacks our library media standards because they connect very directly with digital learning, digital citizenship. They connect very much with just that information, and media literacy. So, I'd love for us to be able to do that because since we teach a process, it can be connected with any content. So, I think it would be valuable in not only helping our school librarians to unpack our standards, but also helping them to see where they could connect with content and those content teachers unpack their standards as they work to co-teach. So I love that opportunity. So we'll be talking more about that.

Kirsten:

Oh, yeah. Consider it done. 100%. One of my things that, I had a three year plan when I applied for this position, and one of my things was to find an avenue to connect with library media specialists, because there are only 11 of us on the digital learning unit specialist team. And some of my specialists are assigned to two education service cooperatives, and there is no way that we can best serve every single school in the state of Arkansas to the capacity that I'd like to serve. So I know one of the ways that we serve is by getting in connection with those library media specialists, supporting them, because when we support them, then they can support those teachers in the way that I envision it happening. And we can create a whole network of support with all of us. So, I'm very interested in being able to do that and partnering with you and other people that have that same vision as you and I do for digital learning in the state of Arkansas.

Cassandra:

Well, I know that during the last couple of years, when we had had to transition to so much online learning that our school librarians were really fundamental in helping that happen. I saw so many library websites that became so much more interactive as they worked really hard to provide those resources that their teachers needed, and the support that they needed. They spent a lot of hours every day supporting the technology aspects of helping those teachers as they transitioned to online learning. So I know there's a lot of interest out there and we can certainly work on getting that word out and coming up with, I mean, I can envision us having some all day conference days where we pull school librarians in and we work with them on developing some of that expertise for online learning. So I'm real excited about the possibilities of what we might be able to do.

Kirsten:

Well, I am so down with that and I just want to give a shout out to all the library media specialists that might be listening to this right now. I see you. And I actually know the work that you've done because I had a very important library media specialist in my life when I was going through this journey of falling in love with digital learning, her name is Sue Fitzgerald, and I just have to put that name in there. And she was a huge proponent in building capacity in me and understanding how important it's to build the capacity in people. And so those library meeting specialists that helped us get through this shutdown and then afterwards, and continue to be that resource for teachers and your students. We love you. And we really appreciate you. So, I just had to say that and get that out.

Cassandra:

Well, I appreciate that. It's always nice to when the hard work that you do, which usually is behind the scenes gets acknowledged.

Kirsten:

Absolutely.

Cassandra:

So I was on the website and there are a couple of things that I noticed. One is that you have this online teaching assessment. So tell me about that and why is that something that you all are putting out there? So

Kirsten:

Online teaching assessment, we actually are working with the higher ed. And I don't know if you remember this past summer, there was a huge push for several different graduate certificate programs that teachers could do, and they could apply and they might be selected and I'm afraid I'm going to miss somebody. I was just in a meeting with higher ed talking about the assessment this spring, but it includes Henderson State, Arkansas State, John Brown University, University of Arkansas, UCA, Arkansas Tech. I'm probably leaving someone out, and if I am, please know that it's just because I'm forgetful, but I will just have to tell you, it was such an amazing meeting that we had. We're working on the assessment with them. They were giving us feedback. They've designed a wonderful program to help teachers get a certificate in online teaching, and learning.

Kirsten:

And it's rooted in universal design for learning which the framework, which is so important, but it also helps them to understand how to design online, learning the importance of accessibility, the importance of copyright, the importance of interactives and active learning versus passive learning in an online environment, engagement, design, and how you design what it looks like to engage your learner as well. Utilizing different media to de design that online learning, and then what makes for an effective synchronous online learning experience through Zoom, what makes an effective a asynchronous and the reason I can say this with so much confidence, I don't know just about the assessment from our end, but I put myself through the program itself, and I'm actually finishing it in December. So I have had the experience and I would helped with the committee that appealed to the state to create this endorsement that goes on the teacher certificate. So I've seen it from that respect as well.

Kirsten:

And so I've been able to be a part of this from nearly the beginning through the pilot assessment and now finishing my graduate part of my program with this and working with the schools. And it's super exciting because I think that is an excellent program that well prepares teachers to be able to teach either in a blended or an online environment, and really give students a quality online experience. So, we are the assessors and once the students get to that part in their program, I'm not assessing right now because I'm in the program. And I have recused myself from that for ethical reasons. But in the spring, I will be part of the assessor team.

Kirsten:

And we will be assessing those that complete the program, this coming spring, which will be the first round of that cohort through that program, the state put out. So, it'll been through a couple of iterations, the assessment piece, before we have our first round from this cohort that we'll be going through in the spring. And to me it's extremely exciting. It's performance based, which I think is amazing because that's what we want to move to in education across the board. So that experience of a performance based assessment, we really get insight, do the teachers really understand how to deliver online learning as well, so.

Cassandra:

That sounds really, really awesome because we know that that's coming. I mean, all of our kids have to take an online course. Let's make them the best they can be. Now this is a part of SMACtalk, which is that social media awareness campaign. So I'm wondering how you see us as the SMACtalk campaign, connecting with the digital learning team. Do you see any opportunities there?

Kirsten:

Oh, absolutely. So I'm going to kind of talk from a parent perspective for a minute because that's where I operate from a lot of times for what I do. And it's not just a parent for my own children, but t's for the parents out there with other children. One of the reasons I'm so passionate about the position I'm in currently is that I worked in a district in Texas that our students were one to one from kindergarten through 12th grade. And they were actively using devices from the day they walked into kindergarten to the day they walked out in 12th grade, and there was a very intentional use of technology. It wasn't to sit down and watch videos and be consumers, but it was to utilize technology, and create learning. And part of that also incorporated safe practices and teaching students about digital literacy, but the digital literacy can pull was embedded in citizenship, or that digital citizenship, but it wasn't just, here's digital citizenship, and here's the other citizenship.

Kirsten:

We blended the two that your presence online is as important as your presence face to face. And if you are online, what you're are saying, is that something that you would say face to face and that those two entities are not separate. You're the same person. So, behave in such a way. We kind of taught that. We also talked about safety, about what information you share and that safety aspect we were teaching first and second graders like because don't... A lot of kiddos can get online and they'll sign up for things. If their parents aren't aware of it, they'll say, "Ooh, I want this", and they'll sign up for something and they'll give their information and no parent wants them to do that. And no parent... As parents, we get busy, or we don't realize they walked off with our phone while we're fixing dinner I mean, because it's that accessible to them at this point. So we had those conversations at the elementary level with our kids. We had them as part of our curriculum was embedded as part of our scope and sequence where I came from.

Kirsten:

And what I saw with that is how it had impacted my own kids. Like the other day, my son and I were having a conversation about one of the social media platforms he's on. And he told me what his name was, because I had just got on it and I was trying to learn it because I thought I need to know this. I need to know a little bit more about it. And I said, I'm looking for your name. I can't find your name. And he goes, "Why would I use my real name, mom? That's not safe." And I looked at him, and I was like, "How did you", and he's 16. And I said, "How did you know that?"

Kirsten:

And he goes, "Okay mom, we", and I'm not going to name the school district in Texas he goes, "But every year from the time I was in kindergarten, until I left fifth grade, it was beat into us not to use our real name. Do you think I was going to forget that now?" And that really hit home to me that like that was powerful and he'd had those conversations. And even though I had had those conversations with him, it hadn't been to the same level that it had been at school. And he didn't remember me having those conversations with him, but he remembered his school, having those conversations with him, and talking about safety and not using his real name. And for that moment, I was just like, I breathe a little prayer of thanks that, that struck home with him.

Kirsten:

And so then I started thinking about, we've had so much opportunity and privilege with my kids because people had that thinking ahead and they planned these things and that's what SMACtalk can do. We can start having those dialogues and conversations and bringing it to the forefront of different districts, and starting to talk about, it's not just important that we teach our kids reading, and we teach them about math, and social studies, and science, but they're in the world that digital world now that is very much a part of their world just as if they walk through the front doors of that school, they walk into the digital world and shouldn't we also be as passion and about teaching them about that as we are about all those other content areas, because it's the world in which they're going to live? And so that's why I'm so passionate because somebody did that for me. And I want to do that for someone else. And that's how I see digital learning, and what SMACtalk is doing, how they combine, you can't separate it. They're one and the same, in my opinion.

Cassandra:

I agree. So do you have any upcoming professional development that's going to be available that our people should know about?

Kirsten:

Well, I will tell you the professional development, we've kind of gone by education service cooperative, what they need. And I'm going to be really honest. We're in a really hard place right now with subs across the state. And so I know teachers want to come to professional development, but they can't find subs. And you talk to any TCC. You talk to any teacher, I just can't find a sub or I don't want to leave my other colleagues in a bind where they have to cover my class. So, that's kind of where that is right now. So what we have started thinking about is how can we meet a need? And so we're asking school districts and education service cooperatives if you have a need, let us create an hour long PD session or a 45 minute PD session that could plug into a planning period, or let us Zoom with you in that 45 minute period where they don't have to leave, but they can get a little bit of PD.

Kirsten:

So, we're kind of in that holding pattern. And so we'd love for people to reach out and say, we need this and would you be able to fit this need? And we absolutely could. The other thing that we're doing is we just started it in October, and we call it deal days, lunch and learn and deal is drop everything and learn. And it happens the third Thursday of every month. This last month, we cut a session on how you use the platform of ViON to create interactive video. And this next one that's going to happen. The third Thursday, which I believe is November 18th. We're going to have Amanda Perry, she's our assistant coordinator, or state coordinator of digital learning. And Gerard Newsom who is our expert in media, are going to be doing a 30 minute session on how you use your phone to take great pictures for either sharing out with something that may be on your school's website or on your school's social media.

Kirsten:

And that's really the focus on that. And the following third Thursday, we're going to do a feature on social media, how you take and make your social media attractive, using images and pictures to do that. And then probably the third Thursday, which would be in January, we're going to focus on using Canva to create content for social media, as well as other features that Canva can create because now educators can get a free pro account with Canva, so...

Cassandra:

That's awesome.

Kirsten:

That's kind of what we're doing right now. And I love it because it's 30 minutes and we're going to record it so that if you can't, it's from 1130 to noon, if that's not a time that hits well for you, and I remember being a classroom teacher and oh my lunch is 30 minutes. No, it's not because it takes you at least five minutes to walk the kids down to the cafeteria. You you've got to take five minutes to take care of personal matters, and then you've got to warm up your lunch. And then by that time you have 10 minutes to eat before the five minutes that you have to go get kids from the lunchroom.

Kirsten:

So, I'm realistic in knowing that probably a lot of educators can't actually come at that time. So we're recording it so they can access it later. Maybe while they're fixing dinner in the evening, when we release the video, they can watch that 30 minutes and get something from it then. So, we're trying to make it where we have it at that time, if people can attend, but if they can't, we have it short enough that it doesn't interfere with life too much, but it adds value to what they're doing.

Cassandra:

So how are they going to re register for those sessions or how do they find where they are?

Kirsten:

Okay, that's a great point. If they have a Facebook account or a Twitter account or both, we are putting that information on Facebook and Twitter, where they can sign up for a form that will send them an email with the Zoom link for that session. Even if they can't sign up for that Zoom, they can send that they are. And then because they've signed up, we have their email, we can send them the recording later. We are also going to be posting our recordings on our digital learning unit, social media pages on Facebook, and Twitter as well. So they could come back and get it later. And we are in the process, and I don't know if I told you this we're in the process right now. We were Team Digital and we're transitioning into the name Digital Learning Unit. And along with that means we're changing our website, which will have a brand new website in January, and we will have a redirect page.

Kirsten:

So those of you that have bookmarked our page that we presently are on, it will redirect them to our new page when we release that in January. But, along with that, we're going to have a blog site. And on that blog site, we'll have a YouTube link to our YouTube account. We'll have blog posts. We're also going to have open educational resources that are related to professional development that are just maybe pieces that we pull out from our professional development that we have in our courses. We're really trying to find a great one shop for all type of place to just meet people where they are, and what their needs are with digital learning.

Cassandra:

That's sounds great. I'm already putting it on my list of things to do, to check out that Facebook page so that I can get that information. So, good. So, I'm real excited then about the new website, because I love the idea of providing lots of resources. You know me, I'm a school librarian. That's part of what I do. So I'm looking forward to that. It's about time for us to wrap up. Do you have any final thoughts or things that you want to make sure that, that our listeners know about before we sign off?

Kirsten:

There's one thing I want to tell them is that I know that digital learning can be kind of scary there, and it seems like there's a lot to learn and it's overwhelming. And the thing I want to assure them of is that when you work with our team, we have no expectation for your skillset. We just want to come in, build a relationship with you, build capacity in you, and we want to take you from your point A to your point B, whatever that goal is for you. So, if your goal is, I want to learn how to create a spreadsheet, then we're going to help you do that. If your goal, like I said before, is to digitize all of your bell ringers, we're here to help you do that. And baby steps, we're okay with that. We don't have any expectations other than we just want to build capacity so that it extends into your classroom, to your students. And so that they have access and opportunity to use digital learning as well.

Cassandra:

I love that. That's a great way for us to wrap up today's session. I really appreciate you coming on and talking with us Kirsten, and I'm sure that you're going to have people contacting you after this podcast.

Kirsten:

I really hope so. And I'm just going to leave my email really quickly.

Cassandra:

Sure.

Kirsten:

My email is K-I-R-S-T-E-N.Wilson@ade.arkansas.gov. And I spelled Kirsten out because a lot of people don't know how to spell it. So, again, my name is Kirsten and it's K-I-R-S-T-E-N, so that they got that piece.

Cassandra:

All right. Thank you so much for being with us today and thank you visitors for coming and listening to our podcast. We will see you again next month.