Interview | Kathy Schrock’s Guidance for Educators

Kathy Schrock is one of the most well-known names in education and technology. She’s been teaching, writing, blogging, speaking, presenting, connecting, de-jargonizing, helping, instructing, informing, guiding, and (more recently) tweeting in the area since before most schools were even connected to the Internet. Just now retiring as the Director of Technology of the Nauset Public Schools in Orleans, Mass., Kathy isn’t about to slow down—in fact, she’s about to speed things up, expanding into her existing role as a sought-after instructional technologist, writer, trainer and speaker. Her job at Nauset included maintenance of all the technology and networking for seven schools, technology curriculum infusion planning, and teacher training and professional development in both technology and information literacy, so she readily relates to thousands of others out there who need help in the area. Many have already benefitted from her analytical skill: you’ve likely already heard her name as the creator of Kathy Schrock’s Guide for EducatorsThrough this extensive site started in June of 1995, Kathy has helped fellow educators identify curriculum-related resources to enhance their study units. In early 1999, Kathy partnered with Discovery Channel School to provide a well-rounded, robust site. She has authored articles and reviews in Creative Classroom, Classroom Connect, Multimedia Schools, Technology Pathfinder for Teachers and Administrators, and Technology Connection among others, and numerous technology-infusion books for educators. Extremely interested in information literacy, search strategies, copyright issues, the role of emerging technologies to support teaching and learning, and critical web site evaluation, Kathy received her BS in elementary/special education from Rutgers College in 1979 and her MLS from Rutgers Graduate School of Library and Information Studies in 1981. A national and international speaker at dozens of technology and library conferences, Kathy has also received numerous technology-related accolades including the Making IT Happen award from both ISTE and the Massachusetts CUE; she was named as a Top Five Innovator in Education (along with Papert, Gates, Wozniak, and Jobs) by Technology & Learning magazine, and honored as the Rutgers University School of Communication, Information, and Library Studies Alumna of the Year.  

Victor: Why did you initially create Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators? 

Kathy: I had been using the text-based Internet sites (called Gopher sites) for two years and had a file box full of subject-categorized Gopher server menus with resources to help the classroom teachers in my middle school. Once there was a graphical browser and dial-up access to the Internet and the Web from Cape Cod, the Internet service provider told me that he would host my site if I learned HTML and created Web pages with my resource links. He felt I would become the “Martha Stewart” of the educational Internet!

Victor: What does it do? 

Kathy: The site provides over 2000 links to expert-created portal sites to help teachers begin their search for Internet resources to support teaching and learning. I am a subject generalist, but I try to find the very best experts (both educators and non-educators) who have compiled resources to support their subject.

Victor: What are the benefits?

Kathy: The benefits to teachers are, first, they can confidence in my guidance and expertise in critical evaluation to lead them to good portals of information as well as provide them with tons of online tools to use, too.

Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?  

Kathy: A list of links is a list of links. Many teachers have them and they are good. And companies do, too. However, I think my years of finding sites, writing short explanations that are meaningful to teachers, and my experience as both a library media specialist and a school district technology director makes me able to really understand what teachers need. Another cool thing is that I know about trends before they become mainstream, because I get many email messages from teachers looking for resources on something I know nothing about, and I learn from them and then help them find information! Using the “wisdom of the crowd” helps to keep the site current!

In addition, I have much more than just lists of links on the site now. I included links to my presentations and online support sites, have a site of the day/school week, a theme of the month page with a resource from Discovery Education Streaming, a list of good blogs to follow, my critical evaluation tools, lists to all types of rubrics and assessments, and much more!

Victor: You have more awards than perhaps any other product, service or person in edtech—why do you think this is so? Is it because you strongly resonate with the needs and wants of educators everywhere? Your thoughts on this?

Kathy: I think the reason I have garnered such attention over the years is that I was one of the first to try to tame the Web for educators. And, in addition, I was there very early-on, and many teachers came first to my site since it was a comfortable place for them to start their foray into the online world. Over the years, people often comment when they meet me, “You are a real person? We thought you were like Betty Crocker—just a figurehead with a company behind you!”

Victor: When was it developed? 

Kathy: The actual Web site went live on June 1, 1995. You can see a “retro version” here if you are interested. http://kathyschrock.net/retro/

Victor: What is something interesting or relevant about its development history? 

Kathy: The provider that gave me server space and challenged me to learn HTML first told me to just put links to the resources I created. He then told me I should probably annotate each link. And then he told me I should create an alphabetic index to the links. Now, this was in the very early days and I was coding by hand, so you can imagine how reticent I was to keep changing things. But he was so right!

Victor: Where did it originate? 

Kathy: When the site was first created, it lived in a directory named for my school on Cape Internet’s servers. http://www.capecod.net/Wixon/wixon.htm

I did not work on it at school, but gave it this URL anyhow, not knowing anything about URLs.

Victor: Where can you get it now?

Kathy: In 1999, Discovery Education, who was just developing their Discovery School and resources for educators, asked me if I would partner with them so they could have a really good list of links. I have been with them ever since. I have full editorial control and am the only one that works on my content.

The URL is http://school.discoveryeducation.com/schrockguide/

Victor: How much does it cost? 

Kathy: The resources on the Discovery School site are no-cost!

Victor: What are some examples of it in action? 

Kathy: Since the advent of the read-write Web, I see my sites of the week, my suggestions of resources, and links to pages within the Schrockguide tweeted out a lot. In this way, I can tell that teachers still find the resource valuable!

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? 

Kathy: The site is tailored for the PreK-12 educator, the university professor in the education department, and the pre-service teacher education student. The Schrockguide is a place to start their search for content-support resources, online utilities and Web 2.0 tools, classroom bulletin boards, lesson plans, and teacher professional development resources.

Victor: Who is it not for?

Kathy: The site is not intended for students. I get notes all the time from students who tell me their teacher told them to use my site and they cannot figure out what to do. The site is intended for teachers to peruse, identify, and share items of interest with their students. I cannot begin to help students figure out what their classroom teacher wants them to look for!

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?

Kathy: I am so excited to be an educator in this exciting time! With technology as my passion, the ability to help teachers created project-based (challenge-based, inquiry-based) learning experiences is so rewarding! The combination of the information literacy, visual literacy, and computer literacy skills to create a real-life experience for students will help our students acquire the 21st-century skillset they need.

However, the number of things teachers need to address in their job has grown so much lately—from data analysis, to differentiated instruction, to RTI, to anti-bullying, to literacy instruction in all content areas, to changes in standards and benchmarks and re-tooling curriculum to meet the needs of students—and they are all valuable. What I see is missing, at times, is professional reflection and the resources and time to help teachers work in teams to include all these components in their lessons and units.

Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating the guide, and in creating your current approach to tech-enhanced classrooms and tech-enhanced education?

Kathy: Of course, as a terminally left-brained learner who became a library media specialist, it was only natural that I would feel I should organize the Web. I even petitioned the group that accepted RFC’s for the Internet to require Web page creators to use either Sears Subject Headings or the Library of Congress Classification System to catalog their sites so everyone could find them more easily! (Of course, since in the early days there were no librarians in the group, they did not even understand why I would want such a thing!)

My real claim to fame is my focus on search strategies and my critical evaluation guides. In library school (pre-personal computers) we would practice what was called the “reference interview”. In pairs, one person would ask a really open-ended question (e.g. “I need something about dogs.”) and the other, acting as the reference librarian, would come back with multiple questions to help the questioner narrow down their need to something more specific. (e.g. “I need to know what dog breeds are not recognized by the AKC.”) Helping students with the process of creating a good question before they search on the Web is something that came out of my experiences in library school.

Once I started identifying sites to add to the Schrockguide, I realized that, in my head, I had a series of questions I was asking myself before I added the site to the guide. These questions had to do with validity, reliability, bias, currency, etc. I quickly turned this mental questioning into formal critical evaluation guides to help students learn the process of validating the information they fine. This process has to be formally practiced for a bit, but then becomes second nature for students.

So, as much as technology provides us with access to information whenever and wherever we want it, I still feel mastering of the information literacy skills are critical for our students.

Victor: How does the guide address some of your concerns about education?

Kathy: I am hoping the Schrockguide provides teachers with a range of resources to explore when developing curriculum. I know I sat in our high school curriculum revision meetings, and, as the group was discussing content areas, I was frantically searching the Schrockguide links and adding online resources for those high school teachers to evaluate on their own. I am not the subject expert—but I know enough about curriculum and assessment to at least help start teachers on their way with good resources and access to subject experts.

Victor: You’re a director of tech for Nauset, and a university instructor, you go to conferences, write books, articles, you present nationally and internationally – among other roles. Who do you listen to, who motivates and inspires you? Why?

Kathy: I can listen to anyone at a conference and glean something from it. I always attend teacher-offered successful practice sessions and, of course, I can never keep my mouth quiet and I ask lots of questions. I go into classrooms in my district, see what is going on, and then meet with my teachers later with some ideas I have for them.

The classroom teacher is who really inspires me. They are so creative and can make anything work. If they have old technology, they make it work. If they have the newest whiz-bang tech, they make that work, too. Teachers always have their eyes on the prize—the mastery of content by students– and their unwavering attention to making sure all kids “get it” through multiple modes of instruction is a wonder to watch!

Victor: What is a current influential book, website, resource, e-book, or whatever medium—that is currently informing your approach to technology in education?  

Kathy: I am a huge Twitter user. I have over 9000 followers and just about all of them are educators. I have honed the group that I follow to about 160, but I have access to all of my personal learning network when I need information or want something validated. I present about Twitter and the great tool that it is, and I am so happy when, after the presentation, teachers tell me that they finally understand the power of the tweet!

Victor: What are some hot issue areas in edtech, a few that are on the near horizon that you see as vital for educators to watch—and why? 

Kathy: I have been a proponent of one-to-one (it seems like) forever! I wanted every student to have Palm/WinCE handheld with them all of the time (24×7) in the early days. I then ran some one-to-one AlphaSmart pilots. I skipped the idea of one-to-one laptops since I could not envision any district having the resources to take care of that many laptops. I moved on to support netbooks, since the form factor was right for student desks, and, of course, have now moved to the tablet form factor as my device of choice for students. I feel that students need to have access to information when they need it—during a lecture, at the coffee shop, home in bed. I do not recommend any practice without trying it out, and I know that I can do about 90% of what I need to do on my iPad. I want to spend the money on getting every student a device, and then providing “blinged-out” pods of computers for their final creation of content.

Victor: Is there something obvious to you but missing from a successful approach to education that you think others ought to consider? 

Kathy: I often feel, with the number of standards that need to be addressed at each grade level, that the multidisciplinary approach to curriculum design should be employed. With four or five major units each school year, units could be developed that include all of the content areas in a meaningful way. I know some districts develop curriculum in this way, but I do not see it regularly.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Kathy: My outlook on my role in the future of education is changing. I am retiring from my district in June, and hope to be able to go out and help teachers and administrators across the country really move the technology initiatives in their districts. It is not about an interactive whiteboard in each room. It is about embedding technology meaningfully, and in a pedagogically sound way, into the curriculum in order to impact student learning.

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of the guide? 

Kathy: It is a great place to get an overview of what Web-based resources are available across the content areas. But it is only a list of links.

Victor: What makes you say that?

Kathy: What makes real teaching and learning occur is the creative way teachers utilize the resources they locate to support instruction in their classroom!

——-

Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com

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