By Mike Marsee
#KYGoDigital would be valuable if it was simply a series of videos that exposes educators to digital tools that can help them improve their teaching.
It also would be valuable as a collection of regional learning events at which educators can share something that is working for them and how it can work for their colleagues.
It even would have merit simply as a hashtag that educators could use to ask and answer questions about educational technology on Twitter.
#KYGoDigital has become all of those things and more. The hashtag has become the brand that binds together an ever-growing network of educators who are invested in digital learning.
Heather Warrell, a digital learning coach at the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) who is one of the facilitators for the live online and regional events, said #KYGoDigital is a movement that has been driven by the educators themselves.
“It’s a three-pronged mission, and none of the initiative is controlled or owned by KDE,” Warrell said. “It is led by ed tech leaders and enthusiasts across the state who are very passionate about leveraging digital tools to revolutionize the ways we are leading and learning in Kentucky schools.”
The initiative has grown as teachers have taken ownership of a hashtag that KDE was using in relation to digital innovation. Teachers have taken the lead in the webcasts and regional meetings after an initial push from Warrell, who calls herself “a connector” of their efforts.
“It’s not a KDE-led thing; it’s really more of an organic thing,” said Chase Goff, the principal at Caverna High School (Caverna Independent). “Heather provides a spark for that, and she’s done a tremendous job of that.”
The mantra of #KYGoDigital is “Create, Connect, Share,” which means creating innovative learning and leading experiences, connecting through social media and live events and sharing ways in which educators are innovating and investing in digital learning that will benefit Kentucky students.
Courtney DeRossett, the chief information officer and technology innovation coordinator in the Floyd County schools, said that mantra is a model for teachers and other educators.
“This model of learning from one another shows that we are no longer in competition with each other, but we are in this profession working together,” DeRossett said. “It is empowering to know that as leaders we can share and support one another for the common good of our students and community.”
One of the foundations of #KYGoDigital is the YouTube channel that has been home to almost 50 webcasts focusing on digital learning tools and related topics since its launch last fall.
Google tools are a popular topic, from setting up Google Classroom to using Google Forms, Google Sheets, Google documents and Google hangouts for purposes such as creating living calendars, leading meetings and even developing a car rider system. Other ed tech tools have been spotlighted as well, and there also have been webcasts on broader topics such as using digital tools to build and unite a school community.
The target audience isn’t limited to teachers. A series of episodes this month is targeted to superintendents, while others have focused on principals and athletic directors.
The videos can be watched live or on demand. The next episode, “Walking the Talk – Superintendent as a Digital Leader,” will be live at 9 a.m. ET April 25. Live viewers can participate in the discussion, while those who watch later can use email or Twitter with the hashtag to ask questions.
One of the most popular webcasts to date was led by Brooke Whitlow, the instructional technology coordinator with Hardin County schools, on a snowy January day when many schools were closed. Whitlow brought together 13 educators with 13 different tech tools for a “snow day” special, and more than 400 people watched it live.
“The live events and learning from incredible leaders across the state has been my favorite professional development of this school year,” Whitlow said. “I have learned something new during every single episode and shared most of them with leaders within in my own school district. Watching the collaboration spark, ideas spread and silos shatter across Kentucky has motivated and inspired me more than I could ever articulate. We are all better together.”
Digital leaders and those who would like to learn from them can get together at five regional events scheduled for this summer – dubbed the #KYGoDigital Summer Tour. This year’s events will be led by educators from within each region, usually through a partnership with an educational cooperative or postsecondary institution.
Goff presented at two regional meetings last year and is one of the leaders for this year’s event in Bowling Green.
“It’s been really great,” he said. “Last year several of our teachers went to the event in Bowling Green. This year all of our teachers will go, and we’ve got guidance counselors going as well.”
Registration is ongoing for the events.
“This is really the future of professional development,” said Melody Stacy, the principal at Taylor Mill Elementary School (Kenton County), who is leading a northern Kentucky-based regional event that will take place online. “It’s personalized and it gives participants the opportunity to connect with the content that they need.”
Regional events will have specific tracks for primary, elementary, middle and high school teachers, with tracks for teachers in specific content areas and for administrators.
The hashtag itself also ties the work of Kentucky’s digital leaders together.
“We really want to streamline all of the digital innovations across the state together to the #KYGoDigital hashtag,” Warrell said. “We really encourage districts to shine a bright light on their principals who are serving as digital leaders, their teachers who are digitally innovating and, of course, their students. Ultimately we want Kentucky students to have more opportunities to create and innovate with technology in classrooms around the state.”
Marty Park, KDE’s chief digital officer, said the hashtag was born four or five years ago and used during events by KDE and partner organizations. In recent months, however, it has become the identifier for educators wishing to share digital innovations or to learn about them.
“On a day-to-day basis, it’s a way to share and celebrate something that you see students doing. On one day, it’s an event. On another day, it’s a news article that’s been published and is being shared,” Park said.
According to Elaine Abanatha, a technology integration specialist in the McCracken County schools who tracks participation in #KYGoDigital events and use of the hashtag, more than 1,300 people have contributed to #KYGoDigital by using the hashtag on Twitter to share information or ask questions. She said there are 1,230 subscribers to the YouTube channel and about 850 people registered for the regional events this summer.
“KYGoDigital allows me to connect across the state and country with fellow educators who also are utilizing digital tools to make efficient changes in their day-to-day tasks,” Abanatha said. “I love the fact that I can collaborate with educators across the state within a few clicks of a button and gain knowledge and grow as an educator, too.”
Stacy said it’s important for educators to hear directly from their colleagues about their successes – and failures – with technology.
“We’re the ones that really are in the work,” she said. “When I present and talk to school leaders, it’s not, ‘Theoretically this might work;’ it’s, ‘This is working for me,’” she said.
Park said the high level of connectivity in Kentucky’s schools and districts helps make that possible. In August 2015, Kentucky became the first state in the country to provide high-speed internet access to all districts and schools.
“Not many states can scale as fast as we can because of the way we’re connected digitally,” he said. “Our rate of acceleration is much steeper.”
Goff said it’s imperative that teachers make the most of technology that can benefit their students.
“It’s important that our students understand technology and understand how to use it, because that’s the world we’re living in,” he said. “When you have really cool tools and you get them in the hands of really great teachers, and those great teachers put them in the hands of really great kids, you see a lot of things happen that otherwise wouldn’t.”
MORE INFO …
Elaine Abanatha firstname.lastname@example.org
Courtney DeRossett email@example.com
Chase Goff firstname.lastname@example.org
Marty Park email@example.com
Melody Stacy firstname.lastname@example.org
Heather Warrell email@example.com
Brooke Whitlow firstname.lastname@example.org