Harnessing the Power of Tech
“Choice plays a role in motivation; this paired with technology freed my students in a sense. They were not restricted to their written disability. To see that unlocked within the student was really powerful for me as an educator.” Stephanie Howell discovered first-hand the transformative power that technology possesses through its empowerment of her students with disabilities.
Stephanie is a busy mother, wife, and educator; she seems to balance all of this with relative ease as we discuss the complexities of technology and education while she is on her way to coach and co-teach tech in the classroom. Stephanie began her career teaching students with disabilities in a blended classroom. She felt her students were lacking confidence, so she decided to try and spice things up in order to ignite her student’s creativity.
“I was quite frustrated that my students weren’t engaged or having confidence behind their writing. I came to a crossroads and decided to step out on a limb and try something new.” By sheer coincidence, Stephanie discovered Google Classroom relatively near its inception; so, on Friday’s she decided to utilize this new technology on writing assignments. Her students would write in a Google Document and they were able to type while she simultaneously was able to pop-in and leave comments in real time. One of the beautiful and inspiring things that came from this was the confidence that this technology gave to her students.
Special education students almost always have a teacher sitting directly next to them while completing assignments. The physical separation that technology gave them was incredibly transformative for the students. “I could see their confidence growing before my eyes. It wasn’t just the mere physical separation, but also allowing them to use tools like, spellcheck, voice dictation, or even a simple dictionary allowed them to grow their writing exponentially.” They were using more descriptive words and inputting their own personality into their work, simply because they were given more freedom and tools that allowed this growth to take place. This technology created a place where her students with severe disabilities were able to learn alongside their typical peers.
Inclusion and Blended Classrooms
Stephanie has a passion for the Inclusion Model which is a special education type model where students with learning disabilities are in the regular education classroom learning alongside their peers. During this time, Stephanie co-taught with a regular education teacher all day. While she was teaching aimed to see how her students compared to typical peers when it came to technology. I worked with a teacher that allowed us to utilize a ton of technology. What she learned throughout the process was that “Every single student has the capacity to learn, we just have to differentiate the instruction, and truly meet the student where they are.”
One of the main ways that she believes this is achieved is through a blended learning model. Stephanie emphasizes that you must “always put the learning first and then imaginatively think about how the technology can support that process.” When students show their learning using technology, it doesn’t matter the platform that you use. It just matters that students are creating something on their own using technology. Blended classrooms create an environment that allows students to support their learning in a way that traditional classrooms do not.
Stephanie and her school district were searching for different tech to support their desire to create blended classrooms, and this is when they stumbled across OKIOCAM. This need occurred at the height of the pandemic, so teachers of all tech abilities needed to be able to use the document cameras. Stephanie and her team love the portability and overall functionality of OKIOCAM. “It’s incredibly easy to transport from school to home which is important for us to both make videos to assist students in their blended learning classrooms, as well as meeting students through google meet.” Stephanie also pointed out the many benefits that OKIOCAM has for students in a blended learning environment.
Students can easily plug them into their Chromebooks because they are light and portable; they are able to record themselves or their work for a “share and compare”, record stop-motion videos, or even time-lapse. The teachers could easily project their work or image on Google Meet or pull out a piece of paper and easily elucidate math processes or art techniques. The camera has such good quality that students were easily able to see things and there was never a loss of image quality.
An Ever-Expanding Technological Titan
After the success that she had with integrating technology into her classrooms, Stephanie knew that this was just the beginning of her integration with technology into education. She made it her mission to soak up as much technological knowledge as she could. As her knowledge and talent progressed, she applied for her current position as Instructional Technology Coordinator.
In this position, Stephanie transitioned into educating teachers on how to use tech as a tool to facilitate learning. She currently educates over 400 teachers in over 10 different academic buildings. “The first couple years was centered around building a culture within the schools where educators focused on incorporating technology into their classrooms.” It was trial and error those first couple years.
She was constantly reaching out to teachers to see if they would co-teach and collaborate on different ideas she discovered throughout a variety of platforms. Every single teacher is at a different level with their comfortability with technology. In her position, she is able to go into classrooms and co-plan, co-teach, and model these ideas alongside her teachers which gives them a sense of security. As the technological culture within her district began to flourish and increase in breadth, Stephanie noticed that she was having loads of educators outside of her district reach out for ideas. “I didn’t know a good way to share those resources with others, so I founded Gold EDU. It began as a group newsletter that I sent to teachers that had different resources that I compiled herself or found on Twitter or various other platforms.”
“I began to make videos so that teachers could access those resources at any time rather than just depending on me. With such a vast amount of teachers asking for assistance, the videos allowed me to assist them in a more distanced way and allowed them to also become more comfortable with introducing different technology into their classrooms.” Gold EDU is a sort of rolodex of tech tips that serves as an amazing resource for all teachers no matter their comfortability with technology in the classroom.
Integration and inclusion have obviously been an essential theme surrounding Stephanie’s career. The ways in which she has seamlessly integrated technology into her classrooms to allow her students of all abilities to flourish is truly inspiring. When asked about her future, Stephanie just shyly remarks that she hopes she can continue to do what she loves by sharing her immense amount of knowledge with educators around the world in hopes that technology can continue to impact students’ learning in the same way that she saw it affect her own students.
Stephanie Howell is an Instructional Tech Coach for Ohio’s Pickerton School District. Her passion for using technology in the classroom is utterly palpable. Stephanie fully believes in the power that technology can have as a tool to better integrate students of disparate abilities in order to facilitate a more equitable learning environment. If you would like to connect with Stephanie, you can follow her on Twitter at @mrshowell24 and @GoldEDULLC.
This story is a series where we honor extraordinary educators who are making a difference in their communities with OKIOCAM. This story is written by Ben Jones.