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A TechCHAT With Educator Gayle Horsma About Shutterfly's App

The TechCHAT series invites teachers, media specialists and other educators from across the country and around the world to share how they’re using technology to enhance instruction and student learning. 

Gayle Horsma, a former fifth grade teacher from California, is an EdTech pioneer in her district. Currently, she acts as Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District’s educational technology specialist. Before that, she worked to introduce new forms of EdTech in her classroom and the broader school community as a teacher. Horsma recently discussed using Photo Story for Classrooms from Shutterfly with her students, issues within EdTech integration, and more in an exclusive interview with Education World. 

What benefits did you see when using Photo Story for Classrooms from Shutterfly at the fifth grade level? How did it enhance your learning objectives? Did it inspire new ones?

Introducing Shutterfly's Photo Story App into my classroom was an amazing experience filled with many benefits. My students were in the midst of finalizing their traditional personal narrative essays when I discovered Shutterfly’s new Photo Story App. I immediately changed my lesson plan. My students were going to take their finalized personal narrative essays and create a Photo Story book. Once I shared my plan with my students, they were so excited about becoming real authors of their very own book. In the past, I had always struggled to get my students to revise and edit their writing, however that was not an issue with this project. My students recalled and added more details and descriptions that they originally didn't include in their printed essays. They became aware of the visual effects, including the power fonts, size, colors and images have on their words. This process took way longer than I ever imagined, because my students were carefully and critically analyzing the layouts of each page as they designed their books. I believe their new found interest to these details was directly related to the task at hand, they were working as authentic authors and knew these details mattered.  

What visible cultural differences have you seen in EdTech adoption and implementation in California? 

I have noticed visible cultural differences in EdTech adoption between local districts in my area. I believe our school district has a strong vision for adoption and implementing technology in our classrooms, especially when compared with local districts. Many of our schools have 1:1 classrooms and we are continually expanding access to technology. However, I think even with a strong adoption and implementation at a district and/or school level, I feel the strongest impact comes from individual teachers. If teachers understand, and are a part of the adoption and implementation process, I feel the cultural shift and acceptance of EdTech is more successful. Even after the adoption and implementation of EdTech, teachers need access to trainings and coaching support in their classrooms with technology. I believe this piece is the most important for empowering teachers to redefine their teaching with EdTech.

What are the differences between being a teacher in the classroom and acting as an educator at another level as a tech integration specialist for the district?

After spending the past six years as a teacher inside my own classroom, I have ventured into the world of an educational technology specialist for my school district. I was excited, but nervous about this change. I enjoyed being a teacher. I knew my curriculum, loved designing lessons to make learning exciting for my students, and fostered a strong learning community within my classroom. Throughout the course of a year, I watched my students grow, discover and learn on a daily basis. Would I still find that same joy and excitement when supporting teachers, instead of children? That question scared me, and thankfully after just a few months in my new position, I can honestly answer and say yes, I still do. I love my new role as an Educational Technology Specialist. I now have the opportunity to support teachers at multiple schools use technology in their classrooms. Each day is still a new adventure. My daily interactions provide teachers and their students access and support to enrich their learning experiences with technology. I have noticed that teachers, like students, love to learn new things and find joy in overcoming challenges. In my short time as an EdTech [specialist], I have helped over 30 teachers begin using a set of mini iPads in their classrooms as educational tools. I can proudly say that many of their Kindergarten students are now using their iPads on a daily basis to practice important skills, learning to code with Kodable, and soon, I hope to see all our Kindergartners creating their own digital master pieces.  

How do you see Photo Story for Classrooms’ results differing from grade to grade and subject to subject? How is it most useful?

Students of all levels are encouraged to write on a daily basis. What is so great about Photo Story for the Classroom is that any writing assignment can be transformed into a Photo Story. This can work with all ages and subject areas. I imagine primary students creating ABC books, practicing their sight words, or documenting their learning throughout the year in a Photo Book. As students’ writing skills improve, the possibilities for Photo Story books expand. Advanced students could be creating their own mini-textbooks, retelling events from history or even creating their own fictional and nonfictional stories. The Photo Story project is most useful to inspire students to focus on their writing and provide them an authentic experience as an author.  

What have been the biggest obstacles in integrating EdTech at the district level? How are teachers responding to new methods of teaching? How are the students responding to evolving skill sets?

In my opinion, the biggest obstacles in integrating EdTech into the classroom are funding and training. It would be amazing to put technology into everyone's hand and seek all the benefits technology has to offer in a classroom. However, with any change, the transition takes time and there is a learning curve. Teachers are responding to new methods of teaching in a variety of ways. Within our district, we have some teachers doing amazing things, such as implementing online discussion boards, student blogs, digital storytelling, and utilizing technology to identify and support intervention programs. Honestly, I think students are responding to these evolving skills sets with less fear and hesitation. Students are excited to use and learn with technology. It is important we integrate EdTech into all classrooms to fully prepare our students to become college and career ready.  

What EdTech do you see as being essential to K-12 education over the next two to five years?

There are a lot of essential pieces of EdTech for K-12 education in the near future. As educators, we have to be willing to embrace technology into our classrooms. Access to technology is increasing, students’ knowledge of technology is increasing, and we need to provide tools and support to teachers to excel in the world of EdTech. The power of sharing through conferences, workshops, blogs, webinars and social media with other educators is very important, and I hope will become essential parts of EdTech and education world.

Write social[at] to share your classroom tech ideas and lessons.

Article by Jason Papallo, Education World Social Media Editor
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