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October 19, 2016 - Comments Off on Reflections on DML 2016

Reflections on DML 2016

From October 6-7, I attended the 2016 Digital Media and Learning Conference at UC Irvine. I had heard of the DML Research Hub while in grad school at the University of Michigan, so it was exciting to finally engage in person and virtually with this community to see what ideas, passions, and processes provoke them. I also gave another Ignite Talk (my first was at ISTE 2016) on my journey towards inclusive design. This post is both a reflection on events and sessions I attended at the conference and on my own Ignite Talk.

First, the events and sessions...

Open Education Resources and Open Annotation

I was inspired by the notion of open web annotation. In his Ignite Talk, Remi Kalir spoke about the history of annotation and shared a tool that was all the rage during DML 2016: This open source tool was created to empower learners to engage in open web annotation. After the conference, I registered for an account and installed the app on my Chrome browser. I am excited about tools that have an immediate impact and actively engage learners in collaborative processes. I plan to share this tool with the K-12 teachers I work with!

Second, I love that the culture of DML embraced open education resources (OERs) and remixing. Robin DeRosa gave a passionate Ignite Talk about OERs in public education. I later read a short post after the conference where she was quoted discussing how OER creation enables students to reflect on their learning.

I don't see enough teachers in my immediate circle in K-12 education embracing, sharing, and remixing OERs. I've used OERs in various capacities in my work with CAST, VSA Massachusetts, and the Boston Public Schools, but I will admit that I wish I had the opportunity to curate more with fellow teachers and support them in assigning their students the task of curating their own! I also love the idea of collaborating on remixes with teachers and students - in video creation, web design, and coding. Who wants to collaborate?

Equity in STEAM

There were several talks by members of Chicago's Digital Youth Network (DYN) on engaging more non-dominant youth in STEAM and computer science (CS) activities. Some sessions I attended discussed how DYN facilitated fashion and design camps, mobile makerspaces, and comic book activities. I'm looking forward to further exploring their website and resources for inspiration for short and long term projects that engage Boston's youth. It's no secret that I am particularly interested in engaging more students with disabilities in the processes of creation and curation - in STEM spaces, design and film production, and makerspace and coding activities.

I also attended a half hour session moderated by Mica Pollock, a researcher from UC San Diego and several teachers of English Language Learners (ELL). This session focused on smart tech use for equity and each teacher spoke about an equity goal that they had and the impact that technology had in that goal. I loved this session because teachers were transparent about what did and didn't work with technology integration. The tweet below defines their vision of smart tech use:

Making Learning Visible

Stephanie of MakerEd shared how her organization engaged educators and students in creating open portfolios. This session was immediately intriguing because portfolios are getting a lot of buzz in K-12 education. As a trained filmmaker, I am familiar with the process of creating and sharing portfolios and documenting your work. It is nice to see how an arts practice is gaining attention as an interdisciplinary model for assessing understanding, progress, and engagement.

On that note, some of the best professional learning sessions I have attended have been ones when teachers reflect on their learning process. Stephanie showed a time-lapse video of a group of teachers who were assembling a goblet out of recycled materials. Upon completion of the goblet, these teachers used the time-lapse video to reflect on the choices they made. This is a powerful practice. I often document my professional learning sessions - both the ones that I facilitate and the ones where I am a learner. I do this to reflect during the session or after the session on my own progress and provide evidence of my learning and those of my peers/colleagues. I tend to share this evidence on Twitter and Instagram, but have considered alternate ways of reflecting that don't require long blog posts!

Ignites that Inspire

I highlighted two Ignite Talks already, but there are more that have lingered: Kim Jaxon's on creating epic learning experiences for classrooms of all sizes, Laurel Felt's on improvisation, and Kate Green's on privacy and social media awareness around an invisible illness. I find myself drawn to talks that are about an idea or call to action and to speakers who are vulnerable and passionate in their delivery. Watching others live helps me improve my own delivery and inspire my future presentations.

Finally, my Ignite Talk...

Why I Design for Human Variability

I gave an Ignite Talk on inclusive design. The transcript of my talk can be found at, as the current YouTube video has only machine-generated auto-captions.

A table with various supplies

Engaging in design thinking. CC-BY-NC-SA R.E. Gutierrez.

In my talk, I wanted to begin with an experience and end with a call to action. I spoke about my work as a teaching artist with high school students with cognitive disabilities and how this work helped inform and challenge my vision of inclusive design. Using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as a framework, I had the confidence to explore design thinking with my students. I had only 12 weeks with these students and met with them 1-2 hours a week. In order to better understand them, I had to ask them what they needed. I used the first two stages of design thinking to help with this: Empathize and Define. I asked students to write on stickies about how they felt about a copy machine and what they needed in order to learn how to best use it. We visualized these feelings on a four-quadrant empathy map.

Their teacher remarked: “No one ever asks these kids how they learn or what would make things more friendly to them.” I was floored.

Stickies under a "Feel" label.

Stickies under the "Feel" label. CC-BY-NC-SA R.E. Gutierrez.

In my talk, I asked: "What voices are we really listening to?" People with disabilities, especially cognitive disabilities, are not asked about how they feel or learn. Often, others speak for them. This has to change.

We have to apply a new lens to design. We should be intentional in involving non-dominant voices. They bring insight into things as simple as the text placement on a screen, the layout of a room, and the structure of an activity.

Students and teacher sit around a round table.

Students engage in the Empathize process. CC-BY-NC-SA R.E. Gutierrez.

I ended with the definition of inclusive design and three components to begin working towards it. Inclusive design is defined as design that is accessible to as many people as possible from the start. The components of it that I believe are essential are: 1. plan for learner variability, 2. cultivate opportunities for non-dominant youth, namely those with disabilities, and 3. collaborate with multidisciplinary teams to inform, challenge, and innovate.

We owe it to ourselves and our students to design inclusive learning experiences.

August 22, 2016 - Comments Off on Learning About Assistive Technology

Learning About Assistive Technology

I’ve spent most of my adult life as a disability rights advocate. I have worked in spaces where disability was a prominent part of the conversation and in other spaces where it wasn’t even considered until I said something. I’ve never taken a formal class in special education, disability rights, or assistive technology...until now.

Sketch note of five people with text below

Sketchnote CC-BY-NC @RhianonElan.

I’m excited to embark on a new journey in the field of assistive technology (AT) while continuing my work as a Digital Learning Specialist in the Boston Public Schools. Over the years, I have worked with people with disabilities who use AT and I even use it myself. In my current professional role, I support teachers with technology integration through a combination of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles and design thinking. I’m part of a team that provides blended professional learning through webinars, videos, in person trainings, and web resources. AT plays a vital role in my professional participation, and I’ve gotten the support that I need by being consistent and vocal about my needs. I am also intentional about the big picture, which is what drove me to want to pursue graduate studies in AT at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In my program, I want to enhance my understanding of the ways that technology can be used for teaching and learning for all learners. Too often, those in the margins get ignored or are not given opportunities to participate fully, meaningfully, and with their chosen voice - in activities, academic conversations, employment, and social spaces. I profoundly understand what this means, and this is what drives me to learn more and to innovate.    

This drive was solidified a few weeks ago when I attended Camp CreATe organized by Therese Willkomm and Stacy Driscoll of ATinNH, New Hampshire’s State Program on Assistive Technology. The organization focuses on training, education, and outreach on assistive technology and provides assistive technology services. I spent two days learning about both low and high tech tools for assistive technology and had the opportunity to fabricate low tech solutions with Therese's guidance. I later found out that one of the Boston Public Schools’ occupational therapists attended the program. We spoke about the highlights of the program for us and are excited to continue the conversation this year on making the connections between AT and IT more visible. I expect that there will be shared resources, videos, and webinars that will emerge from this.

In addition to applying what I learned at Camp CreATe, I will be taking online classes at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). I’m excited to take the classes, share and apply what I have learned, and gain a new perspective as a student of online learning. With the latter, I will admit that it has been a challenge to be an online learner because so many online classes are inaccessible to deaf and hard of hearing learners. I am fortunate to have support from UIC’s Disability Resource Center to help ensure that my online journey will be accessible with captioned videos and webinars. I expect that in addition to sharing what I have learned about AT that I will also share what to do and not do in online learning - because learning does go beyond K-12 education.

Here’s to lifelong learning!

August 1, 2016 - Comments Off on Reflections on BLC 16

Reflections on BLC 16

From July 19-22, 2016, I was able to attend and volunteer at the annual Building Learning Communities Conference (BLC 16) hosted by Alan November. I heard many positive things about this conference and was encouraged to volunteer by fellow Boston Public Schools educators. It was exciting to attend a local conference that was educator-driven. The program included talks by programmers, students, edtech leaders, artists, and early childhood educators. Themes at the conference included mindfulness, creative computing, and early childhood education. After taking a week to reflect on my conference experience, there are five areas that I would like to explore in-depth in the coming months.

1. Curation

I attended a session run by Joyce Valenza (@joycevalenza) on curating digital resources. She shared a lot! It really made me think about being purposeful with the tools that I use for curating personal and professional work, including those I recommend to others. Curation is one of the skills that we should be teaching both students and teachers. As more media is created globally, how can we be purposeful with our own curation - for our own learning and for the learners that we work with? And, how might we encourage these learners to curate resources on topics of interest to them that they may also share and build upon with others? A key part of this conversation is the why, which includes the open sharing of free resources, the responsibility of attribution, and the potential of remixing.

2. Visual Notetaking

As a visual thinker, I often visualize my notes as I write or type them. After seeing great sketchnotes from educators like Sylvia Duckworth (@SylviaDuckworth) and Silvia Tolisano, I knew I wanted to be one of those educators. To move to this next level, I read book chapters, presentations, and blog posts on sketchnoting, privately experimented with sketching on various apps and programs, and studied the visual language and structure of sketchnotes. What I was missing was a purpose. Thanks to Silvia Tolisano (@langwitches) for her workshop on sketchnoting and my volunteer role as a session scribe at BLC16, I used Microsoft's OneNote to sketch several sessions and Linda Liukas' keynote. I have since created several more sketchnotes and found the two programs that I like best: Notability and OneNote. Silvia emphasized that you don't have to be a fine artist to produce an effective sketchnote. Sketchnoting gives you the freedom to present ideas, thoughts, and points in visually interesting ways. These ways can be linear or organic, colorful or monochromatic, and have minimal to no text present. Try sketch noting a quote, a short talk, or an idea that you've been mulling over, and then share it with the world. You may be surprised - I know I was when Linda Liukas tweeted me back after seeing my sketchnote!

3. Makerspaces

Assorted makerspace items on a table.

The little bits table at BLC 16.

I had the opportunity to participate in my first makerspace with my friends from the Lesley University STEAM Team (@LesleySTEAM). It was great fun to see participants create with little bits, produce a stop motion film, and code using Scratch and MakeyMakey. I found myself at the little bits table since I had not created anything with them before. Twenty minutes of play was enough to spark my interest in playing with them more. Makerspaces aren't new in education, but they are new to me as a participant, so I hope to participate in more in the near future - particularly those that focus on including learners in the margins, such as students with disabilities. I'm interested in seeing makerspaces that demonstrate inclusive design - that is, taking universal design principles and assistive technology into consideration.

4. Scavenger Hunts

I participated in my first scavenger hunt at BLC 16 with Amy Burvall (@amyburvall), and it was a blast. While some people chose to work in teams, I worked by myself because I had a clear vision for what I wanted to capture around Boston. I quickly set off to photograph the Boston Duck Tour bus, street textures, the Os Gemeos mural on Stuart Street, spots in the Boston Public Garden (including the Good Will Hunting bench) and a bike rack where many bikes are stolen. Our purpose was to photograph items that connected to a challenge that Amy presented. I loved how she used Google Plus in a creative way to present challenges and encourage us to use various apps that called for drawing, creating collages and word poems, hashtagging, and creating ThingLinks. I would love to lead one of these in the near future for our teachers - or at least share how they could create one for their students! If you are interested in seeing the results of this scavenger hunt, check out the #MobileSapiens hashtag on Twitter and Google Plus!

5. Computational Thinking

This year, Massachusetts recently passed new standards in digital literacy and computer science. There are four strands, one of which is centered around Computational Thinking. I'm very interested in seeing how teachers locally and nationally are addressing computational thinking at all grade levels. I'm also interested in exploring what professional learning looks like around teaching computational thinking - in particular for those teachers who come from non-computer science backgrounds. For computational thinking to be pervasive, it has to be interdisciplinary. In her keynote, Linda Liukas shared her journey with using visual storytelling to teach about computational thinking. The below sketchnote is a summary of main points from her keynote that stood out to me. This is only the beginning, and I'm pretty excited to see how my own learning evolves on this topic in the coming months and years.

Sketch note of Linda Liukas keynote.

Sketchnote of Linda Liukas keynote. CC-BY-NC R. Gutierrez.

July 27, 2016 - Comments Off on Reflections on ISTE 2016

Reflections on ISTE 2016

Last month, I had the opportunity to give an Ignite Talk at the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Conference in Denver, Colorado. When attending a conference of this scale, it's important to have a strategy going in, especially as a first-time attendee and presenter. Since my talk was on the final day of the conference, I was able to go to sessions and learn about different tools and strategies and volunteer one day with the ISTE Inclusive Learning Network at their Accessible Media Playground.

To prepare for the conference, I downloaded the ISTE app for both my phone and my iPad. I bookmarked all the sessions that were of interest, namely sessions on Google Apps and accessibility. I was able to attend sessions on Google Cardboard, Google Cultural Institute, Google Accessibility, and Apple Watch accessibility. I also attended sessions that addressed professional development at district and school levels, which was particularly helpful for me in thinking about planning and working with Boston Public Schools teachers and school leaders for the coming school year. Of all the sessions I attended, I enjoyed the 20 minute Google Accessibility session run by Laura Palmaro of Google. I appreciated hearing about the different features, apps, and extensions including those that were recommended by teachers. The acoustics in the room were excellent and the presentation was straightforward and gave me ideas for how I want to show our teachers how to use the apps and extensions for their professional and instructional use.

A second way I prepared for ISTE was designing my Ignite Talk. When I found out that I was accepted, I had about a month to submit my slidedeck and a month and a half to rehearse my talk. Ignite Talks were a new concept for me - 5 minutes, 20 slides, 15 seconds each. To prepare, I watched Ignite Talks on YouTube that were accessible with captions (there weren't many) and read as many blog posts that I could find. Jenn Scheffer's blog post was particularly helpful because she shared the steps that she took to prepare. I referenced my original proposal to provide structure for my slidedeck. I dictated my speech using my Voice Memos app on my phone. The speech was left alone for weeks before I finally transcribed it. I then shared it with my partner, colleagues, and friends, then revised it according to the images I was using in my slidedeck. On the day of my talk, I was so nervous and drank so much water and chewed on gum so that I would not have a dry mouth! When it came time to present, I wasn't nervous anymore. I spoke from the heart and no point was left unsaid. I'm immensely grateful to ISTE and the Young Educators Network (YEN) for inviting me to give the talk.


Sketch note of Ignite Talk

A sketchnote of my Ignite Talk. CC-BY-NC R. Gutierrez.


Finally, I am grateful that this conference gave me the opportunity to deepen relationships with other educators that I met online. By volunteering with the ISTE Inclusive Learning Network, I learned more about the work that fellow educators were doing around inclusive design with websites, social media, and augmented reality. I participated in their Accessible Media Playground and taught conference attendees about PDF accessibility. This coming year, I am honored to be one of the Leadership Officers of the Inclusive Learning Network.

Thank you to ISTE for giving me this fantastic opportunity! I look forward to applying new knowledge, deepening existing relationships, and giving more Ignite Talks in the coming year(s)!