Name: Patrick Higgins
Title: Supervisor of Instructional Services District: Caldwell-West Caldwell (NJ) Public Schools
Tell us some of your edtech goals.
I am just starting in this position, and I’m walking into a lot of things already happening. The district is completing a virtualization of the network; we’ll be going with thin client terminals at all buildings. We’ll save a lot of money by not replacing machines. In fact, the district presented a zeropercent budget increase to the town.
I approach my job from the educational side. I pushed for a BYOD program. We’ll be opening up a wireless network that’s just for students and isn’t connected to the internal network. They can bring in laptops, tablets, iPads, smartphones, etc.
How do your teachers use social media for professional development and in their classes?
I introduce teachers to Twitter (www.twitter.com) to show teachers how they can access the work other teachers are doing. Teachers post great stuff and you can follow the hashtags that are education-related.
In the classroom, teachers have used Facebook for outside events. For instance, AP teachers use it to post resources and to form study groups outside of school. One of the biggest bangs they can get with social media is using it to crowdsource information.
Last year, we found Edmodo (www.edmodo.com). It’s unbelieveable! It looks and acts like Facebook but it’s completely safe. My former school has a domain and the middle and high school teachers use it all the time.
I’m trying to get more teachers to use an aggregator tool called Scoop.it (www.scoop.it). Our students need to read more nonfiction than before, because of Common Core requirements. We have to provide high-quality, engaging choices. We can use Scoop.it to curate on topics and build up a repository of high-end nonfiction articles for kids to read. It’s these kinds of things that social media lets us do.
What do you say to the teachers who think social media is a waste of time?
When I’m working with these tools, I try and imagine what I’ll say to the teacher who asks why this is valuable? I design from that question backward. That’s how I approach technology in general and, especially, social media. You have to find the value in it.
I’m starting to really wonder about that law in Missouri banning social media with students. It’s like blaming the pencil for writing the note. You ban the tool because of the behavior. A key role we’ll have to play, whether we like it or not, is to teach others to behave appropriately. We miss the boat if we ban those interactions.
There are so many great social media resources. How do you personally keep up with your network?
Keeping up with the network is an ongoing process, one that—due to the changes that happen in social technology— I revise all the time. I use three tools to keep me in the loop: Google Reader, Twitter, and Diigo Groups. Google Reader for the stalwarts—the people I’ve been reading for years now that really are clued into changes in education and educational technology. Twitter never stops astounding me with the amount of information being shared in the form of links and redirects to outstanding information. Diigo Groups I like to think of as the gateway drug for a lot of the teachers I work with, as email is something we can all handle at this point. Joining a Diigo Group is a painless process, and depending on the activity level of the group, the resources you find on a daily basis are tremendous.
What tips would you offer to teachers in best managing their social media time?
The ease with which you can be sucked down the proverbial rabbit hole while on social media is unprecedented. A five-minute foray into Twitter can turn quickly into a lost hour. I’m a big believer in setting time limits on your social media time in order to maximize your use. There are groups like #ntchat, #edchat, and #sschat that have sprung up around various topics on Twitter. They meet at regular times and you can plan your time around those events.