Corin Richards, an Administrator for Instructional Technology in the Beaverton school district, describes herself as “an educator-mom-cyclist promoting 21st century skills, knowledge and tools in today’s educational system.” Richards’s influence in the world of technology integration branches out across the web, promoting and discussing the use of technology in Oregon classrooms; but whether in the classroom, the discussion board, or the office, she has always made students her priority. Here, she talks about her experience, her philosophy, and her mission in the world of educational technology.
“The choices I had when I was coding made
me feel powerful at the ripe old age of 11.”
You’re an Administrator for Instructional Technology at Beaverton, but your expertise expands well beyond the world of administration. Where did the journey start for you?
I learned to code in sixth grade when Apple donated a computer to my classroom and a family matched that donation. The choices I had when I was coding made me feel powerful at the ripe old age of 11. I loved the trial and error and figuring out where I’d gone wrong when things didn’t work. Years later when I trained teachers to use desktop applications, I had a basic understanding of what was behind those applications, all because I learned programming. I couldn’t possibly predict how this skill was going to contribute to my life, but that first foray in curiosity and the support I received to learn something new has helped shaped my attitude about technology and my career.
Before you worked in administration, you were a classroom teacher, and before that you worked in a school tech lab. How have your experiences in these departments interacted?
I started out as an educational technology consultant. I thought I’d work myself out of that job and into classroom teaching. Little did I know that we were on the very cusp of great change in technology and that education’s transition into using it would take a very, very long time.
“Fighting with the tech department about access wasn’t something I was willing to do. I knew enough to be dangerous.”
It was important to me to be treated like a professional when I was a classroom teacher. I knew what my students needed based on my education and experience. A whole team of specialists backed me up. I advocated for the needs of each and every kid in my class. Fighting with the tech department about access wasn’t something I was willing to do. When I made a polite request to IT, sometimes the response wasn’t positive. My work-arounds likely put networks and even personal data at risk. I knew enough to be dangerous. Directors and systems administrators learned to work with me and provide safe ways to get students and teachers the access they needed. My belief is that these conversations and creative solutions between schools and technology departments helped me provide the resources my students needed to gain skills for life.
How have these overlapping experiences informed your current views on education in technology?
I know that our bottom line in IT departments across the state should be kids. If we aren’t making a difference for teachers and students on the front lines, in classrooms, we aren’t doing our jobs. I want people in technology departments to simply be about accessibility.
“Technology in education today isn’t really about devices and the other tangible stuff. If we only teach that, we’re doing kids a grave disservice.”
What is your personal definition of technology?
Technology, not just in education but in society, is any advancement making things efficient or effective. Throughout college, my computer (first a typewriter that held up to ten files! TEN!) was an imperative part of my efficiency and my effectiveness.
Today and into the future, technology will continue to give us access to boundless quantities of information and new networks of people easily. The educational implications of this kind of access are vast and varied. Technology in education today isn’t really about devices and the other tangible stuff. If we only teach that, we’re doing kids a grave disservice; hardware and software are changing too rapidly. We must teach them what to do with the information and people to which they now have access. We must prepare them culturally, in terms of content, and get them to critically think now more than ever. I’d like to strike the term “instructional technology” not just from my title, but from education. The term implies that technology instruction occurs outside of core content.
What do you think the future holds for technology in education?
I wish I could predict the future of technology, but the surprise is nice too. Certainly, it will become even more important for learners to be information literate, to efficiently curate content, and to articulate their thoughts in comprehensive and meaningful ways. To do this in today’s world, students must be proficient in the use of technology. It doesn’t matter how the devices change; schools need to be focusing on robust connections to the Internet and data security. Supplemental devices provided by districts for students who can’t afford them will be imperative. We are facing a future where every student has access. I hope we use all that access has to offer.
“As I look at our system today, I wonder how long the transition is going to take. We are all moving at different rates and we need different things.”
You have been to our IntegratED conference in past years. What has the experience been like for you as a professional educator in technology?
This February conference has been a spectacular experience right from the very start. The ability to dig deeply into concepts and truly process with peers is imperative. In years past, I took teams of teachers with a specific goal. We would divide for sessions and during our regrouping, we worked to integrate technology into our science kits or document ideas for authentic writing experiences through technology.
IntegratED stands out. The presenters alone are an asset I haven’t gotten anywhere else. The purposeful planning of longer sessions and the expectation that participants bring a device and presenters provide time for collaboration and practice creates an environment of camaraderie. The connections I make here each year sustain me throughout the spring.
Do you plan to attend IntegratED again this year?
I will be there. I have a lot of learning to do.
As I look at our system today, I wonder how long the transition is going to take. I’m excited to see the pockets of innovation happening around our state. I want to highlight those examples and continue to help teachers progress along the continuum. That’s why I attend IntegratED (February 25–27, 2015 in Portland), because it offers an opportunity for the kind of connection and collaboration we need in order to accomplish our common goal: to foster the integration of technology into the classroom.
We are all moving at different rates and we need different things. The gateway to technology integration varies depending on the needs of teachers and their students—maybe technology becomes important because a teacher wants to give his or her students authentic problems to solve or challenge their cultural norms by connecting them with people in a foreign place.
This is an exciting time to be alive and an extraordinary time to be an educator. I like to think I’m investing in this next generation, making them more aware, making them feel more empowered, helping them to become whole people. I’m devoting my career to kids—technology just fits nicely into that picture.