FETC keynote: This is how Eric Curts empowers educators to master edtech
Now heading into his 30th year as an educator, technology integrationist Eric Curts is every bit as passionate about education today as when he started out teaching middle school math for North Canton City Schools. He might still be spending his days before a classroom full of students had the Ohio K-12 Network not been created in 1999, which helped the state’s school districts obtain internet access and get computers into schools. As a result of that funding, Curts says, “A job needed to be created for someone who could help teachers learn what to do with this tech,’” he recalls. “I was always the resident nerd in the building and already doing professional development for the teachers, so it was a natural fit for me.”
That’s when Curts made the switch from teaching kids to teaching teachers, which he continued to do for the next 14 years. “During that time, one of the most important things that happened was the launch of the Google suite of tools. I discovered them very early on,” he says. “They were free and we could do amazing things with them. And the best part was coming up with creative ways to use them.”
Curts is now a master at just that, and for the past eight years he has been sharing those creative methods with 35 school districts as well as the one he originally served. Here, ahead of his appearance at the Future of Education Technology Conference in Orlando January 25-28, 2022, Curts gives his take on how the past year has affected edtech, as well as his thoughts on what’s to come.
How have your methods of training changed over the past year?
“One of the big focuses was, How do we stay connected and engaged? With in-person instruction, it’s a bit easier to tell if students are plugged in—you see their faces—but in a remote situation, it’s a challenge. The other thing we had to address was the focus of the content. At first, it was basic—we just gave you the things you need to know to survive, because some people never had to use Zoom or Meet before. But then we took it further. I created a whole bunch of very short videos—three or four minutes long, because teachers don’t have a lot of time right now—covering everything one needs to know about Google Classroom or Google Meet. Today I have this giant collection of instructional videos up on my blog, so if they need to know one thing right this minute, they can get in, watch it and get out. Everyone can access them, and folks across the country and around the world now use them to get up to speed.”
What were the silver linings of the pandemic, if any?
“Being able to reach more people, more easily than I ever thought I could have otherwise. Also, now we know remote training can work, whereas before, the predominant way of thinking was that we must be face to face. Now we have so many more options.”
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What’s one of the most important things to realize about the ever-increasing significance of edtech to curricula?
“Tech is not an end in itself, but rather it’s a tool that helps us in everything we do. The wheel was once tech. The pencil was tech. They’re things that helped us be more effective and efficient. People ask me, ‘Will teachers eventually be out of a job because of AI?’ I say, no; the idea is not for there to be one or the other. We want to become bionic educators, combining tech with the human connection.”
What’s your forecast for edtech in 2021-22?
“A couple of things: Hopefully, people achieve a greater comfort level with their use of tech, so that we can have conversations about the next steps and figure out how to go deeper, encourage creativity, make things, work together. I also hope that we continue to use what we’ve learned. It’s been amazing to record instructional videos for students, so even if we’re back face-to-face this year, why let those go? Why not record our instruction so students can listen to it again later if they need to? Why not normalize evening office hours? Hopefully, we’ll realize and accept that not all students learn the same way. It’s important to offer virtual options to those for whom they work better.”
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