Dr. Chris Hamilton, Technology Director at Athens City Schools in Alabama, won the Making It Happen Award at this year's Alabama Educational Technology Association (AETA) conference. We chatted with Chris about her career, her motivations, and what she sees on the horizon for education technology. Congratulations on your recognition, Chris -- we're proud to work with you!
Tell us about your career path.
I hold a Bachelor of Science of Business Administration from Athens State University, a Master of Business Administration from The University of North Alabama, and a Doctor of Educational Administration from The University of Alabama. (Both graduate degrees received while working full time and attending school on weekends and during the evenings.)
I worked at Calhoun Community College from 1983 – 1997, serving in various administrative positions from Director of Community Education to Associate Dean of Instruction. While at Calhoun, I led the development of the first Distance Education Program and various grant initiatives. I changed career paths in 1997, assuming the role of Coordinator of Technology for the Athens City School District. During my tenure here, I have overseen tremendous growth in the use of technology. When I started, the district had one desktop in every classroom; now we're officially to a one-to-one district! Students in grades K-6 have iPads and students in grades 7-12 have MacBook Airs. Every teacher has an ipad or a MacBook. With the implementation of one-to-one, I am also expanding the staff in order to provide ongoing professional development and instructional support to teachers as they learn to implement technology into their curricula.
During my tenure I have worked to place “enterprise level” network hardware in the schools and have overseen the implementation of a virtual server infrastructure in the district. I constantly work to keep the LAN/WAN infrastructure up to date and to provide the needed bandwidth. During the past two years I have led the installation of robust wireless networks within each of the schools to support future growth.
I am grateful for the support given to me by my Superintendent and Board of Education, and I am most proud of helping to bridge the gap between instruction and technology. Technology is not a tool to be used in isolation but rather a tool to be integrated into instruction to help students and teachers. We are only here to support instruction. When making a decision I always try to ask myself what is in the best interest of our students and faculty.
Why do you think education technology is so important?
Three reasons stand out to me as the most important: equity, improved workforce skills, and deepened learning.
The resources provided are so vast and can provide access to a world of content students may otherwise never see or even know about, especially for economically underrepresented and geographically isolated students. As a public educator, I feel it our responsibility to help ensure these students are afforded the same opportunities to learn as all of their peers. Given access to the tools, students can learn well beyond the boundaries of the school doors.
I also believe education technology helps improve college and workforce skills. Collaboration is a vital skill in today’s world with a great deal done electronically using tools like Google Apps and social networking. Students that begin using these tools in school and interacting with students from all over the world will be better equipped for college and the workforce.
Because the use of technology is changing the landscape of the classroom, students are taking more responsibility for their own learning, resulting in deepened learning. The vast resources online include images, text and sound to jazz up learning. For many students, seeing the concepts visually depicted brings it to life in a way that could never be done through lecture.
What do you think is the future of ed tech? Where will we be in 5 years?
I think the future of education is even brighter due to the impact ed tech is having across the world. Although the “gadgets” are important, they change with the wind. The real systemic and exciting change is how technology is changing the role of the teacher student relationship in the classroom. Education technology allows teachers to more easily personalize instruction; therefore, they can now monitor progress and adjust instruction based on the needs of the individual student. Rather than preparing daily lectures, the teacher has more time to individualize instruction while simultaneously giving students responsible for a large part of their leaning. Advanced students can keep moving ahead while others may need to move more slowly. The beauty rests in the fact that ed tech solutions make this possible. During the next five years, the classroom and the role of the teacher will be completely redefined.
I believe the future is also about access via the cloud– anywhere, anytime. The most exciting feature about the cloud is that it supports independent learning. Teachers can put assignments and resources online for students to review anytime – not just during school hours. Shared applications and documents in the cloud, such as Google Apps will allow for more collaborative teaching and learning. But for this to happen, increasing bandwidth is imperative. The future requires schools to have reliable infrastructures to carry out increasing demands. The days of “making do” with infrastructure design are long gone. Enterprise systems that are accessible 24/7 are now a necessity. Ed tech leaders need to be at the forefront of that movement.
During the next five years, I believe school leaders will have to address how they can help make our schools remain relevant and support learning with minimal barriers. Although educational systems have historically been extremely resistant to change, especially at the level where students and teachers interact, I am optimistic that the next five years will design a classroom that is more collaborative, putting students at the center so they can learn at their own pace and create, collaborate and communicate, in ways we couldn't have imagined a generation ago.