Katrina Stevens was one of those hesitant teachers. She continued to use outdated technologies and tools in her classroom because she was unaware of the benefits newer innovations could bring. It wasn’t until she was trying to find resources for students in an overseas school that she began to learn how powerful and transformative the use of technology in instruction could be. She has been an advocate ever since.
Stevens, an English teacher and administrator for more than 20 years, was recruited to be a full-time writer for EdSurge after her own education blog was discovered. She has become a powerful voice in the ed tech world, a champion for women in the field, and an advocate for schools and children. Through her many endeavors, including founding #edtechchat, co-chairing #edtechmd, and running a monthly women’s founders group, Katrina encourages dialogue about schools and individuals making strides in the ed tech movement and why those opportunities should be equally available to everyone.
Most people would be surprised to know that I wasn't always a tech person. I could always program my VCR, but I was one of the last people to buy a cell phone. For years, I didn't use any technology in my classroom other than an old-school overhead projector. My journey into ed tech really started when I was living in Bermuda, designing a program for gifted and talented students. Because the island was small, I needed to access expertise and resources from around the world, so I began exploring resources and technology that would help my students connect safely to other students, resources, and experts. Essentially, I couldn't meet the needs of my students without tech resources. When I returned to the U.S. to work for the Baltimore County Public Schools, I gained knowledge of tools that allowed teachers to be more effective and resources that opened up the world for students.
It was when I co-founded an ed tech professional development company that I began to learn the creation side of ed tech. I listened to educators from across the U.S. to find out what they liked, what they didn't, and what tools they needed that weren't yet developed.
I left the Baltimore County position when my consulting and writing began to take more of my time than continuing with a full-time job could support. I still try to support both Baltimore County and Baltimore City's schools. I feel like my role as an educator has expanded from one classroom to a district to the larger ecosystem. I'm still teaching and learning in everything that I do.
As a writer with EdSurge and your own blog, Education Matters, how do you think social media is influencing the education landscape? How would you describe your readership (mostly educators, mostly techies, a mix, etc.)?
Social media has radically changed the ed tech landscape. For years, teachers often felt alone in their classrooms and in their schools, especially if they were the only ones experimenting with ed tech tools. Social media platforms like Twitter, blogs, and Facebook have allowed our community to share best practices and challenges with one another. We don't have to re-invent the wheel every day – we can build on the work of others. Lone teachers can now connect to the larger community and feel supported.
Depending on what media outlet I'm posting to, my audience varies. When I co-moderate #edtechchat, for example, our audience is mostly teachers, administrators, and instructional technologists who participate in our weekly chat. I post frequently to Maryland forums on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, where my audience includes educators, entrepreneurs, and community leaders invested in ed tech. When I write for EdSurge, my audience is broader. When my pieces appear in EdSurge's Instruct (the Thursday newsletter), the audience is primarily educators. Tuesday's EdSurge newsletter, Innovate, skews more toward entrepreneurs and investors. I see my role as providing bridges across different communities: educators, entrepreneurs, developers, investors, community leaders, parents, and students.
Throughout our society, there is often a generational gap in terms of comfort level, familiarity, and willingness to take risks with technology. From your perspective as an educator and professional development specialist, how does this variation in skills, confidence, and interest in technology affect our teaching force and the ability for new technologies to be implemented in classrooms?
Just as educators want to do for their students, professional development should be differentiated, job-embedded, and content-specific. We need to determine where teachers are and help them move to the next step. Attending a one-off PD workshop does little to help a busy teacher learn how to use technology in her classroom – it needs to be something immediately implementable. I've found that teachers become more invested when they discover that specific tech tools can help their students achieve their goals. They need to see that ed tech isn't just another new fad, but a set of tools that can help them add to and amplify their expertise.
What are some of your favorite ed tech trends right now? Are there any trends that you were happy to see become a thing of the past?
I'm really excited about all of the new ed tech that puts the power of creation in the hands of students. I love what's happening in the Maker Movement, where students can utilize 3D printers and robotics equipment to create and not simply consume. As we develop better ed tech that truly begins to personalize education, the role of both student and teacher will change. We'll still need teachers, but they'll be able to pinpoint more specifically what students need.
Given that the stereotype of a techie is typically male, I was intrigued by your piece about women in ed tech. Do you find a lot of women making strides in this field? How can we encourage more girls and young women to get involved in ed tech movements?
There are many amazing women in ed tech. I've been attending the EdTech Women Dine events, and each one has had to move to a larger venue with long waiting lists. Women are definitely in this field, but they do face different challenges than men. I'd like to think that we've made real strides, but I still hear stories all the time about young female entrepreneurs being asked outrageous questions not asked of men. (Betsy Corcoran wrote a great piece recently offering suggestions for what is and is not appropriate to ask women founders.) I'm part of several women's groups where we support each other to push further than we think we can go.
There are a number of groups popping up that are focused on getting girls interested in ed tech, especially coding: Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, Rails Girls, and others. We know that girls need exposure to computer science in middle school or earlier for them to pursue a career. Boys often come into coding by way of the gaming world. Some girls come to the field this way too, but many come because coding allows them to amplify their voice around a cause. Girls also cite the importance of one adult encouraging them to try it, as a key factor to their coding pursuits. I love the story of Gina Sipley, an English teacher who attended an Edtech Women Dine event: She said she recognized that she could also learn to code, so she spent the summer in a New York City development bootcamp and created a writing app.
Amanda Klein is a community school coordinator in Baltimore, and her Q&As with local education leaders are a regular Recess feature. Send her your suggestions for future interviews via email.