Category Archives: News Updates

TSIP Refresh: Feedback Requested

The Virginia Society for Technology in Education (VSTE) has drafted new Technology Standards for Instructional Personnel (TSIP).

These standards update the original 1998 standards ( and represent base level skills that every educator must meet in order to be considered proficient in the use of technology for teaching and learning.

We welcome your feedback on these standards. You can review the standards here and then complete a short survey.

What Is Instructional Technology?

Members of the VSTE Board of Directors will be taking time to periodically share their ideas and passions with the VSTE membership. In this post, Board Member Tim Stahmer muses on the meaning of instructional technology. 

A primary mission of VSTE is, of course, to help empower educators to make great use of technology for teaching and learning. Many of our members even have “instructional technology”, or some variation on the phrase, in their job title.

But what exactly is “instructional” technology? As opposed to another variety of tech, like the 1977 Ford Pinto.

Ask around and you'll probably get many different answers to that question, but, since this is my post, here is my twitter-length definition:


That would exclude the student information system many teachers use every day. Certainly the online grade book, attendance system, and other tools in most SIS packages is an essential part of classroom management. But it’s not used by students in any part of their learning.

We also drop the learning management system (LMS) many districts provide for their teachers. Think Blackboard, Edmodo, or Google Classroom. Also not “instructional” technology.

I suppose you could make the case that students might use parts of some LMS directly for their learning (a blogging tool, for example). But that’s not how they are commonly used. Most LMS function as organizational and distribution systems for content pushed to students, again to improve classroom management.

Also not “instructional”: response tools (Kahoot, Socrative), interactive whiteboards, video tutorials (Khan Academy), and a long, long list of curriculum games. Although I’ve seen a few (very few) special cases, student interaction with these resources is almost always as consumers, responding to material provided by publishers and teachers, not using them as creators.

And for me, that is the fundamental component for any technology to be considered instructional: control. When I say “directly by students”, I expect them to have some meaningful control as to how the technology - device, software, website, whatever - is used in the learning process.

So, what would I consider some examples of “instructional” technology?

That word processing program most students use would count, but only if they have some decision about what they will write. It would be even better if their writing was connected to the web, allowing them to present their ideas to a larger, more meaningful audience. One without a red pen.

We could include one of those slide show presentation programs, but only if the student has some control over the content. And again, let’s extend that control and let them determine the tools that will allow them to best explain their ideas to an audience beyond the walls of their classroom.

Then there are the devices that many students bring to school everyday, the ones that too many of their teachers still consider as the antithesis of “instructional”. Beyond providing access to vast amounts of information, those so-called phones are also powerful creative tools that can be used to record, edit, and distribute still images, audio, and video. Tools students can use in many, many ways to communicate their thoughts, ideas, and learning.

Of course, all of the above is only my opinion. But what do you think? How would you define "instructional technology" (or it’s shorter, equally vague sibling “edtech”)? Tweet your ideas to @timstahmer and @vste and let’s have that conversation. Or post a longer comment to this post on my blog.

Because in the end, the terminology we use when discussing these issues - with our colleagues, the community, legislators - does matter. We must be very clear when advocating for the use of technology in our schools and why it makes a difference for students.

Smiling man with glasses

Tim has been helping educators make better use of technology for teaching and learning at his website AssortedStuff since the turn of the century. He also loves to connect with interesting people on Twitter and is a member of the VSTE Board of Directors and serves on the conference committee. 

April is ISTE Advocacy Month

April is ISTE Advocacy Month and this year your support in advancing our advocacy efforts is more important than ever.

ISTE’s advocacy work over the last several years is under attack. Our work on E-Rate, the Lifeline program and educational technology funding via the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is at stake with the new Congress and Presidential Administration.

Despite the challenges ahead, there’s also good news. ISTE has an outstanding set of tools to help you develop your ownadvocacy efforts at the state level.

Sign up for the ISTE Advocacy Network, a one-stop source for information about edtech policy.

Participate in the ISTE advocacy campaign by following #Act4Edtech on Twitter and retweeting @isteconnects updates.

Watch and share this video from ISTE Board President Mila Fuller to learn more about ISTE’s advocacy priorities and how you can help advance our efforts.

Your support and participation is critical! Speak up. Share out. Help us protect edtech funding and advance smart policy.

The Word Change (Quick, Find the Exit!)

Members of the VSTE Board of Directors will be taking time to periodically share their ideas and passions with the VSTE membership. In this edition, Board Member Josh Long  provides ideas for implementing personalized learning. 

Changing the way we teach is a difficult task. Asking anyone to change something they have been doing for a long period of time creates tension and stress. I think of a quote I saw from Woodrow Wilson; "If you want to make enemies, try to change something." Nothing can be truer than the changing environments of our classroom. I am currently in a district that is going through this change as we speak. It's a great change as we shift and dive our focus onto a focus of student learning. It is a philosophy that I embrace, it's good teaching, and it hits on everything that one of our previous bloggers touched on, which is personalized learning and personal learning. It is difficult trying not to be that person on the stage anymore giving all of the answers and all of the clues out to scholars. So how do you begin to let your scholars begin their journey on personalized learning and personal learning?

Here are my thoughts, take them with a grain of salt, as I am not an Orator… I am just a teacher of 16 years who believes that if you change the way you teach, it will benefit the scholars and practitioners around you.

  1. Know that personalized learning when it comes down to it is just good teaching practice…it is not something new; it is a change from the norm.
  2. Trust yourself to take on this change. You are good at what you do or you would not be in this position.
  3. Go in knowing that it is going to take time to change, it isn't something that is going to happen overnight, just like we can't expect scholars to change their way of learning overnight
  4. It is no secret that we are no longer teaching students for factory-based jobs. We are in the time of tailoring scholars for jobs that require global communication and understanding of different cultures. In most classrooms I observe, students are in rows, talking is done by the leader in the front, and time for discussion is held to a minimum... (If it's not broke don't fix it right?) The problem with that I believe is that we don't see the problems yet, but we will in the future.
  5. Understand that personalized learning isn't chaos in the is just another way of students learning, in the manner that is best suited for them. This gives the practitioner a great vantage point of seeing and knowing how all of our scholars use to learn. In fact it most likely will be less chaotic in the room as students will be doing something that is meaningful to them which means they will be engaged in their own learning and not their neighbors.
  6. Personalized learning to me also doesn’t mean putting them in front of a device and expecting them to learn everything from the computer or a piece of software. Communication is the key, I believe, to good personalized learning. That may occur with a Skype call to an expert in the field, or seeing a scientist working with animals in their respective field.
  7. Lean on your peers for help. Working together to come up with lessons that will inspire your scholars to dive deeper into their learning will make it shine on how much they have actually gained and learned through their unit of inquiry.
  8. Lesson plans are a one way street sometimes. Through personalized learning there are many ways to get to the end of the road, with frequent stops along the way to help gain further and deeper understanding of a topic or thought (Understand though that I’m not saying a lesson plan can’t do that…many times in my class we would wander off the beaten path to discuss something related to the topic at hand.)

I hope that you too can find the way to change the way you reach out to your scholars, and know that yes, it really does look a lot different now than when we were sitting in those chairs those many years ago.

Josh Long is the Supervisor of Technology for Fredericksburg City Schools.

Board of Directors’ Candidates for 2017

Seven candidates are running for five open seats on the Board of Directors for the 2017 - 2020 term. The VSTE Board of Directors provides leadership and direction to the organization.

Click on the links below to review each candidate's information.

The ballot can be accessed in the Members' area of the VSTE website. VSTE members of good standing since March 31, 2017, are eligible to vote for up to five candidates. When you click the ballot link, you will be prompted to login to the site. Use the Lost Your Password? link to reset your password.

Elections close on May 11, 2017, at 5 PM.

Smiling man with red tie and beardDavid French
Principal and Digital Learning Leader
Virginia Beach City Public Schools

Learn More


Photo of smiling woman with curly hair and a flowered dressAnita Harris
Instructional Technology Specialist
Cumberland County Public Schools

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Heather Hurley
Personalized Learning Supervisor
Arlington Public Schools

Learn More


Terry Partlow Lowry
Director of Technology & Curriculum
Wakefield School

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Dr. Kelly S. Rippard
Instructional Technology Lecturer
Old Dominion University

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Ira Socol
Director of Educational Technology and Innovation
Albemarle County Public Schools

Learn More


Michael Speidel, M.Ed.
Instructional Designer
Loudoun County Public Schools

Learn More

Spring 2017 CETL Study Groups Scheduled

The VSTE CoSN Council has scheduled two sets of CETL® study groups in Northern Virginia. It will be led by Dr. Barbara Gruber from Loudoun County, a CETL certified educator.

Northern Virginia:
This study group will be held at the Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center, 14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway, Chantilly, VA 20151 and led by Barbara Gruber.

April 29, 2017, 10 AM - 1 PM
May 13, 2017, 10 AM - 1 PM
June 10, 2017, 10 AM - 1 PM
July 15, 2017, 10 AM  - 1 PM

Central Virginia:
Update: We have had to cancel this face to face study group. We are working to find an alternative, possibly online.

April 22, 2017, 10 AM - 1 PM
May 20, 2017, 10 AM - 1 PM
June 17, 2017, 10 AM - 1 PM
July 8, 2017, 10 AM - 1 PM

If you wish to attend the Northern Virginia study group, you must register by April 14, 2017.

Register now. 

The exam will be administered on Friday, July 28, from 8 AM to 12 PM, in Colonial Heights, Virginia.

Change Is Hard: Tips for a New Tech Coach

Image of post it note with the word change written on it.Change is hard. Resistance to change is hard. Staffing changes at schools are hard. Being a new teacher, or a new student at a school is hard. Being a new ITC (Instructional Technology Coordinator in Arlington Public Schools, similar to ITRTs. ) at a new school is equally hard, but recognizing some of the challenges, expectations, and possible limitations that may await you at your new school can help ease your transition.

Every school has its own climate and culture that has been built and modified based on the current administration. It’s always a good rule of thumb to have open communication with your administration, understand the climate, culture, and goals of the school prior to jumping in. This will help you navigate the landscape to figure out if you should you dive head first into the deep end or slowly roll out different processes and procedures. Whenever you take over someone else’s role, or come in behind someone you typically hear, “Well this is how it was done before”, or “This is how so and so did it.” That type of talk is not always helpful. It’s helpful to know what was done in the past but you are now the new person navigating the tech course for your building and you have to remain steady and stand your ground. Recognize this will not always be easy for you or your new co-workers.

Simultaneous to learning about the culture of the school, learning about the people in the school and building relationships is critical. Relationships have the biggest impact on the success of starting over at a new school. Who are the tech leaders? Who is willing to help? Who is good to avoid? Who are the reluctant learners? How best to interact with individuals and the various school groups? What does the Administrative team expect of the ITC? The list is long with items a new ITC needs to figure out and the connections that need to be made. Spending time just walking the halls, stopping in and talking to teachers during Back to School week is important. Being available to answer questions, provide guidance, and support any time is critical. Being open and willing to just listen is essential.

Job purpose misconception ---- Often the misconception is that if tech is in the job title then the person only deals with the cables and cords. The reality is that an ITC is a teacher at heart whose job is to help other teachers learn how to better support instruction and learning with technology. The learning has to come first, not the technology. This mind-set can be a hurdle to quality conversations and support. It’s important that you sell yourself as an educator, and that you are all on the same team.

As a new ITC in an elementary school, here a few tips to help you navigate change:

Observe: Do a lot of observing for the first few months. Sit in on grade level PLC meetings, observe student/teacher interactions. See how the school operates and how the humans in the building function.

Be open minded: Be open minded to change. It may be tempting to jump right in and put into practice the procedures, or PD established at your former school, but every staff and school is unique. Stay open minded to try new things.

Patience is a virtue: You won’t be able to get every single thing on your To-Do list checked off as fast as you always want to. Getting to know the staff and understanding how the school runs takes time.

Get to know everyone: The front office staff and the custodians run the school so get to know them. They will be your biggest allies. Having a candy jar in your office space is a great way to get people to stop by and chat.

Have good sense of humor: Smile, laugh, and have fun with staff and students.

Photo of woman with reddish hair, smiling
Meredith Allen
Photo of woman with short brown hair and glasses, smiling
Marie Hone

Meredith Allen and Marie Hone  are Instructional Technology  Coordinators from Arlington County Schools. They are also members of the VSTE Conference Committee. 

Federal Budget Threatens to Starve Education

From the ISTE Advocacy Network:

On March 16, 2017, The White House released the President's proposed "Skinny Budget" for FY18, a streamlined blueprint for next year's budget that does not contain much detail about specific changes. What is clear from this Skinny Budget is that the President is attempting to make good on his previously announced plans to shift $54 billion in domestic discretionary funding to defense spending and that the Department of Education would be one of the federal agencies that would suffer significant funding losses as a result. For education, the Skinny Budget proposes to cut $9 billion in funding, which it represents as a 13.5 percent decrease, below the current FY 17 levels.  While the Skinny Budget is silent on the ISTE-supported Title IV, Part A flexible block grant program, which would provide districts with funding for educational technology, it remains possible that the Administration will seek low or no funding for this program as the funding process plays out. While it is ultimately up to Congress to dispose of the President's proposals through the appropriations process and some Republican members have expressed skepticism about the President's proposals already, some significant education cuts are likely in the end.

If the Department of Education's overall funding level of $59 billion becomes law, it will take federal education support back to approximately FY08 levels. In his budget proposal,the President attains the majority of his cuts through eliminating: the $2.25 billion Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants Program, a block grant that school districts use to hire and train teachers and administrators; the $1.2 billion 21stCentury Community Learning Centers program, which provides funding for after school and summer programs; the $732 million Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity program, a higher education need-based aid program; and the $3.9 billion Pell Grant surplus. The Skinny Budget also indicates that more than 20 other programs would be eliminated, including the Striving Readers, Teacher Quality Partnership, Impact Aid Support Payments for Federal Property, and International Education programs. The budget would protect IDEA, funding it at the same level as last year, and increase Title I funding but with a school choice twist.

The central aim of the President's education funding proposals is to begin to shift a significant share of federal dollars towards supporting his goal of providing parents and students greater school choice. The Skinny Budget would accomplish this in three ways:

  • adding $168 million to the existing Charter Schools Grant program;
  • establishing a new private school choice program (no details provided) and funding it at $250 million; and
  • increasing Title I by $1 billion but allowing those funds to move with students to public schools of their choice.

This last move, known as Title I portability, was the subject of intense debate during the recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act but Congress did not incorporate the concept into the final Every Student Succeeds Act.

Now is the time to get involved and let your Congressional representative know that you support public education. Not sure who represents you? Start here.

To keep up to date with the budget and other issues, join the ISTE Advocacy Network.

No Longer the Sage on the Stage

Members of the VSTE Board of Directors will be taking time to periodically share their ideas and passions with the VSTE membership. For this edition, Board Vice Chairperson Michael Speidel discusses his own path to personalized learning. 

No Longer the Sage on the Stage.

I have long been an individual who believes that, if you would like your school to change its instructional practices, you must model and be the change that you wish to see.  A few years ago, while conducting a professional development session on how to use our learning management system, I came to the realization that the individuals in the class were all at very different points in their learning. That evening, I struggled with ways that I could meet the needs of all of the learners in the professional development session.

The next day, I developed a “choose your own adventure” professional development activity based on our learning management system. Teachers in the next session would take a pre-assessment that would determine where they would begin their training. Because this was during the “flipped” classroom craze, much of the choose your own adventure professional development was done via YouTube videos that I had created. Besides some of the odd looks that I got from participants as I explained how they were going to learn about our learning management system, the other interesting reaction was that of fellow presenters. Many other presenters looked at me with a “Okay… what do I do now?” face. The presenters were so used to being the sage on the stage that initially this new method of training was something that was uncomfortable to them. Slowly, they began to understand that they could be the coach on the side and help all of the learners meet their needs at one time. This was my initial introduction to personalized learning.

Why Personalized Learning?

This past summer I read a book by Todd Rose called The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World that Values Sameness. In the book, Rose details the history of how the concept of the average individual came to be. There is one example in the book that struck me which was the transition from propeller planes to jet engines. Prior to 1950, all Air Force cockpits were designed around the average pilot.  The US Air Force would measure pilots on 10 various body measurements and then design a cockpit around the average measurement of those 10 standards. As the US Air Force transitioned to jet airplanes, they found an increased number of pilot related crashes. Confused about what could be the cause of these crashes, the US Air Force commissioned a study to re-measure 5000 pilots to see if the average measurements had changed and were resulting in the pilot related crashes. The Air Force believed that, if they designed the cockpit around these average measurements, they would have designed a cockpit that would work for the majority of US pilots. When the study was completed, the US Air Force found that, of the 5000 pilots who were measured, not one pilot had the same body measurements as the “average” pilot would have, so they had developed a cockpit that works for no one!

When you think about today’s society, it is a society that is based on the average. Admissions offices, HR departments, banks and doctors make life-changing decisions based on averages. As a matter of fact our entire educational system is based on the systems of average.  When you think about all of the students that you had in your classroom as an educator, you know that all those students had strengths and weaknesses. There were no two students who were the same, and there is no such thing as the “average” student. In fact, there is no such thing as the average teacher, the average administrator, or even the average school. This simple yet flawed theory is the reason why personalized learning is so important.

Personalized Learning vs Personal Learning

The terms “personal” and “personalized” have become buzzwords in both technological and educational spheres, with “personal” learning environments and “personalized” search engine results making headlines. Often, the terms are used interchangeably. The difference between personalized learning and personal learning sometimes seems like a matter of semantics, but that could be that terms are used interchangeably when they’re actually not the same.

In a personalized learning environment, much of the content is served up through various platforms; many that are specific to content. Often, these are educational platforms that do not leave much room for personalization. Personalization of learning comes in with how the educator designs their lessons. Personalized learning is like being served at a restaurant. Someone else selects the food and prepares it. There is some customization – you can tell the waiter how you want your meat cooked – but essentially everyone at the restaurant gets the same experience.

On the other hand, in a personal learning environment the learner is the individual who gets to select what and how they wish to learn. Often, personal learning is an item that is equated to project-based learning. Personal learning is like shopping at a grocery store; You need to assemble the ingredients yourself and create your own meals. It’s harder but it’s a lot cheaper, and you can have an endless variety of meals. Sure, you might not get the best meals possible, but you control the experience, and you control the outcome.

Ultimately, if students are to become lifelong learners, they need to be able to learn though a method that works for them. Students need to understand how to forge their own processes, and we as educators, have the responsibility to ensure that they have the necessary skills and tools to meet their varied needs.

Michael Speidel is an instructional designer for Virtual Loudoun at Loudoun County Public Schools.