A CTO for Educators Everywhere

ASCD’s first-ever Chief Technology Officer says hello and offers guidance.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Gregory Smith CTO ASCDHaving spent 26 years honing his technology skills and more than 15 years as an adjunct professor at one of America’s top universities, Gregory Smith is both an educator and an IT executive. ASCD is known globally as a leader in professional development for educators. Their offerings include programs, products and services to empower educators to support successful student learning. Gregory recently joined the association as their new and first-ever Chief Technology Officer, a position created to enable ASCD to expand to meet the needs of educators everywhere. Gregory will lead and direct their technological planning and development; here, he offers his thoughts on a host of key issues facing schools, school leaders and educators grappling with what’s now and what’s next.    

Victor: How are you planning on staying up to date with technology integration both in the classroom for students — and out of the classroom for teachers and education leaders?

Gregory: Well, one of the reasons that I was drawn to this position at ASCD is because I’m an educator and an author myself. In addition to my role at ASCD, I have taught as an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University in their graduate programs for more than a decade. I know what it’s like to be in the classroom working with students and merging technology with learning. I believe educators have a moral imperative to their students to stay current and relevant. We must properly equip them to take on the jobs of the future, which means it’s our duty to stay up-to-date. I’m constantly challenging myself to stay on top of the latest trends and learn more, which is a trait that I believe educators must have. You must always remain curious about the next new thing without losing track of what already works and why. It’s also important to balance cutting edge technologies with risk mitigation to ensure that you’re still learning about new technologies, but not adding risk to your school system and classroom.

Victor: What do you think the future of technology-based professional development will be?

Gregory: ASCD has an impressive range of professional development opportunities that are already online with our PD In Focus® and PD Online® courses. We also provide webinars and  access to the ASCD EDge® online community and are constantly engaging educators on our social media accounts, such as our Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest pages. But beyond that, I believe that blended learning and capacity building are where we should invest our time and money. Capacity building is a no-brainer to me. You have teachers already on the ground who know technology, who live it daily, and are experts. It’s only logical to grow those professionals and use their expertise to scale up. In addition, blended learning provides plenty of options to busy educators. The ability to watch a video on your own time and come together to discuss it as a team is the perfect balance of taking advantage of technology and not losing intrapersonal learning. I’m going to focus on ensuring that ASCD meets the growing demand of online and mobile distribution of our current and future products so that educators can learn on the platforms and places they like, whether in the classroom or at home.

Victor: What new technologies really excite you right now? What are you looking forward to working more with?

Gregory: I’m really excited about the cloud and mobile computing, and I can’t stop thinking of the possibilities they provide. Connecting and storing data that is universally accessible has a multitude of prospects, especially when it comes to data about learning. Delivering information and learning to the myriad of mobile devices is where educators want to be—disconnected from their computers.

Victor: What do you think are some of the pitfalls school leaders fall into with technology? How can they be avoided?

Gregory: Our first instinct is to reject anything we’re unsure of, and I believe that some leaders can be too quick to shut the door on something new. Remember when Twitter first launched? Companies were scrambling to block social media sites at work, and now we can’t imagine sales or customer service without them. Don’t rush to a conclusion, especially when people within your district are advocating to use something new. Listen and consider how something may help you achieve your goals in a new or innovative way. While evaluating a new technology, think like an educator first—what will this allow me to do in the classroom that I can’t do now? That thought process should be followed by thinking the way an attorney or risk-management professional would think—what are the risks to my school system and students? The evaluation must have balance.

Victor: What’s on the horizon for ASCD and education technology?

Gregory: It is my task to ensure that ASCD remains a world-class provider of professional development for educators, and to remain in the space where we operate means we’ll need to constantly evolve our solutions. I want to make sure that ASCD has the right technology in the right place, both internally and externally, to achieve the goals we set for ourselves. I promise you’ll see some new, technology-supported impactful products from us soon.

Victor: Got any quirky story or interesting anecdote from your travels, people you’ve talked to, or even around the office?

Gregory: My first week on the job, I was lucky enough to attend ASCD’s Conference on Teaching Excellence in National Harbor, Maryland. I was able to meet ASCD members and attend a few sessions. One particular session stood out to me where a teacher was showing the audience how to leverage different mobile apps for the classroom. Watching an educator share her best practices with her peers and have them all dig in and grow their practices really reinforced why I chose to come to ASCD. It’s all about leveraging the right solutions to further your mission.

Victor: Any message you’d like to give to educators grappling with issues of technology in the classroom?

Gregory: I know many educators struggle with how to get started with technology in the classroom. There are so many options and not enough hours in the day to figure it out. That’s where ASCD can help—we have PD Online courses specifically about using technology in the classroom and many books on education technology. Finally, turn to fellow practitioners for support. There is an educator online right now who has already figured out how to use the tool you’re grappling with. You can extend your professional learning network with ASCD EDge by joining groups such as the Mobile Technology group or the Web 2.0 in Education group.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. The 2014 EdTech Digest Awards Recognition Program nomination period opens August 19, 2013 and closes September 30, 2013. For further information, write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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