Sarah-Jane Thomas, PhD is a Regional Technology Coordinator and founder of the EduMatch project, which promotes connection and collaboration among educators around the world. Sarah is also on the leadership team of the ISTE Digital Equity PLN, and Affiliate Faculty at Loyola University in Maryland. In this episode, Sarah provides advice on how to implement technology in the classroom from a leadership perspective and also shares her passion for EdCamps. You can find Sarah on Twitter @sarahdateechur.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Welcome to the Deeper Learning with WeVideo podcast. My name is Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad, and I am very excited to have my friend, Sarah Thomas, Dr. Sarah Thomas on today. Sarah is a regional technology coordinator. She’s also a Google Certified Innovator, a Google education trainer, and she’s the founder of EduMatch, which promotes connection and collaboration among educators around the world. Through EduMatch, Sarah has published several collaborative and individual books, and serves as president of the board of directors for EduMatch Foundation, Inc. Sarah’s also on the leadership team of the ST Digital Equity PLN and Affiliate Faculty at Loyola University in Maryland. She’s also the co-author of the ST Publication series, Closing the Gap, focusing on digital equity. Sarah, you’ve done so much. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
Dr. Sarah Thomas: Oh, thank you so much for having me. I’m really, really honored to be here.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: You know, I had been a fan of yours for a while and have followed you on Twitter and have just seen the phenomenal work that you’re involved in. For our listeners who are just meeting you for the first time, can you talk a little bit about EduMatch? Because I find it so interesting the work you’ve done here.
Dr. Sarah Thomas: Well, thank you so much and EduMatch, it’s an organic community of learners around the world. So educators learning collaboratively grassroots style, and we’re on several different forms of social media. In addition to that, then we’ve started doing podcasts, Twitter chats, EdCamps, and we’ve also started publishing, as well as a nonprofit, and there’s a lot more down the pike. So really it’s all about learning from, and with one another.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: That sounds fantastic. I think, especially in the world we’re in today and with educators always striving to learn from each other, I think more and more we need those opportunities to connect and collaborate together. So the mission of EduMatch really resonates with me.
Dr. Sarah Thomas: Oh, thank you.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. So I’d love to hear, and I know our listeners would love to hear, about what the work you’re doing now. I know you’re a technology coordinator, and obviously, technology coordinators around the nation all have very different roles. We’d love to hear more about what your role is specifically to learners and how students are able to build on their strengths of creativity and critical thinking and using technology to really foster deeper learning.
Dr. Sarah Thomas: Oh, absolutely. So I’m a regional technology coordinator in a large district, meaning that I work with 20 schools, as well as I’m one of, I believe, 18 people on my team to support all 208, I believe, schools in our district. So we definitely our hands full, but working together then, we’re able to kind of promote the effective use of technology integration. And so I get the privilege of working with educators, with students, with all stakeholders in the process, with parents. And just really, I love seeing how technology can transform a lesson, transform an experience, and also students have their own goals, their own visions. So seeing how technology can be used as a tool to help amplify their voices, as well as to, as well as how they’re using it to organize and gain community. We’re seeing that a lot more often with students around the nation, so, and internationally. So this is a great time to be an educator for that reason.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Definitely. I also worked in a large district and we would, at the district level, we would have ideas about maybe initiatives, especially around technology. And we wanted technology to augment the classroom. But on the other side, we have teachers who are so busy, and the job is such an important, impactful job. And there’s so many things going on in the lives of the teacher. As a district leader, how do you frame these technology … We’ll call them initiatives. How do you frame these technology initiatives in a way that inspires them to use it? How do you support the teachers? Because again, they had to have a lot going on and there’s standards. There’s assessments. There’s paperwork. There’s meetings. There’s just so much going on. As a leader, how do you make that palpable for teachers?
Dr. Sarah Thomas: Well, that is very true. And there’s a lot of layers to that, but I would say that definitely knowing the purpose of using and integrating technology is a big, big, big part of what we do. Helping people identify that reason and seeing just the relevance and the importance. And I feel like on a surface level then people know, but when they’re actually exposed to it, they get to experience it for themselves, then they really see how much of a game changer it is for them, for their own instruction, as well as for their students. So definitely the hands-on approach has been very useful. I’ve learned so much from my teammates who are big believers in experiential learning. So having that opportunity to experience it and go through it as learners ourselves, then that definitely does help.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Excellent. I know that teachers definitely appreciate having leaders like you who can show them the practical and the hands-on side because so many times, we go to development and we may hear about theories and ideas, but to be able to see learning happen and see evidence that this is a great idea is always helpful and provides the support necessary to try new things. So when we were talking earlier, you’re sharing with me some upcoming things you had going on. And one of those things you had told me about was the EdCamp Voice. And I’d love to hear more about that. I know our listeners would love to hear more about EdCamp Voice.
Dr. Sarah Thomas: Absolutely. Thank you so much. So EdCamp Voice is, it’s a very special, unique kind of EdCamp. We hold it on the Voxer platform. And what that is is kind of like a walkie-talkie type app for anyone who might not be familiar, where you can have groups of up to 500 people and you can have these asynchronous conversations. So pretty much people sign up for, to talk about whatever topic they want to share or learn more about. We have it all on our website, edcampvoice.com and people go, they sign up and these conversations, they’re held over the course of 24 hours. However, many of the rooms keep on going. There are some rooms that were started back at our very first one in 2015 that are still going on. And some of the more active groups, have kind of spurred from EdCamp Voice.
Dr. Sarah Thomas: So this is really just … I’m really excited about our second round. So I just wanted to shout out all of the organizers. We’ve recently grown a team, but I’m also wanted to specifically shout out Regina Schafer and Carrie Hennessy Wilson. For the last couple of EdCamps, and it was the three of us putting it on. And we’ve also had several people commit to joining this upcoming round. So definitely stay tuned as we reveal our team in all its glory in just a few months.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: That’s fantastic. EdCamps have really taken off over the past couple of years. I’ve been involved in a few myself. What would you say for those of us who may be unfamiliar with EdCamps, or maybe we’ve heard of EdCamps. We’ve never had the opportunity to attend. How are these different than kind of the traditional professional development? And then additionally, how do you think EdCamps might support teachers better than a traditional PD model?
Dr. Sarah Thomas: Yeah. EdCamps are a game changer. I just … They have really changed the way that I have viewed professional learning because they are participant driven. There’s no presenter. Everyone in the room is equal. And this is really cool to see EdCamps with students involved, learning right alongside their teachers, or maybe even facilitating a session where teachers are involved, and also with among educators, you might be sitting next to the superintendent. You never know who’s in the room. You might have some parents there. And just having that, those conversations, those open conversations with no script, no presentation, no slides per se. It’s just been an amazing experience. So over here in my district, and my team is just in love with the idea of EdCamps. So I know that there’s a couple coming up from our district as well. And I’m also, as you said, involved in EdCamps outside of that too. So yeah, so EdCamp Voice, I’m looking forward to that in December. So December 23rd and registration’s currently open.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Awesome. I know our listeners will be checking that out. Is there a website that they can go to to find more information?
Dr. Sarah Thomas: Yeah, absolutely. Edcampvoice.com is where everything is, including the session board. Yeah.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Are these EdCamps … You said session board. So these are planned because there has been some EdCamps I’ve been a part of that the actual agenda of the day is not set until the morning of when people have ideas that they want to present. Is this different where the agenda is set earlier?
Dr. Sarah Thomas: No, that’s a great question. We have the session board up so that people can start proposing sessions as soon as they register, because it’s an unlimited amount of space. You can have an unlimited number of rooms. And as we tell folks, the conversation can start from the second you sign up. You don’t have to wait for us to say, “Go” on the 23rd and they can continue as long as you want them to. So some people might just, as they wrapped up EdCamp, EdCamp Voice Six, and some people just sign right back on up for EdCamp Voice number seven. So conversations to keep on going.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: That’s wonderful. Well, speaking of conversations, keep happening, keep on going, I definitely want our listeners to continue to connect with you and follow you. How can we do that? Or what is your Twitter handle? Do you have a website? How can we stay connected with you?
Dr. Sarah Thomas: Yeah, totally. I would love to connect with anyone out there who wants to chat. So I’m on most forms of social media @SarahDaTeechur. And I’ll spell that out. That’s S-A-R-A-H-D-A-T-E-E-C-H-U-R. So you can find me there on Twitter, Instagram. Voxer is probably the best place to reach me quite honestly. So if anybody is out there in Voxerland, then feel free to just send me a hello. And you can also find EduMatch at edumatch.org, edumatchpublishing.com. So there’s many ways to get in touch and I look forward to chatting with folks.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Fantastic. Well, I have looked forward, and I’ve looked forward to it for a while, to talking to you. I know we had met for the first time face-to-face couple of years ago in California. So it has been just an honor and pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you so much, Sarah, for joining us today and sharing your great wisdom with all of us.
Dr. Sarah Thomas: Oh, thank you so much, Nathan. And the feeling is definitely mutual, and I can’t wait to connect with you face-to-face again, hopefully, in the near future.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Awesome. Thanks. Have a great day.
Dr. Sarah Thomas: All right. Thanks so much. You too.