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Q+A with Jennie Magiera

Jennie Magiera did not always understand the importance of technology in the classroom – but she does now.

As a former Chicago Public School teacher, the Boston-area native was unsure of technology’s role in education until 2010, when her school received a 1:1 iPad technology grant to purchase iPads for students.

“I thought that technology was fine – I needed it for my personal life all the time, but I thought it was window dressing when it came to teaching in the classroom,” she said. “When I got the grant, I had to spend time learning how to use iPads, and I realized the power they can have and the transformative effect it had on my students. And I realized that it opened a lot of opportunities.”

Now the digital learning coordinator at the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a nonprofit dedicated to helping turn around failing Chicago public schools, Magiera, 30, works to determine effective ways to use technology in the classroom. She was asked to take on the role after helping to expand the iPad grant to more classrooms.

Magiera says that along with implementing the iPad project, her organization is seeking to place other tablets in the classroom and to coordinate coding instruction beginning in first grade. In 2012, Magiera was named the CPS’s Tech Innovator of the Year. More recently, she was designated a White House Champion of Change for her work using technology to enhance learning.

The Daily Whale spoke to Magiera, a Columbia University graduate, about her time as a teacher, school funding for technology and the AUSL’s upcoming projects. An edited version of that conversation is below.

DW: What does your position at AUSL entail?

JM: I work in primarily three different areas. One is working with students and teachers and finding ways to leverage technology or digital learning devices with teaching or learning – so how to use iPads or Chromebooks or Google Apps or Kindles and things like that in the classroom to increase teaching opportunities and learning opportunities. Another level is working with administrators and coaches. … The third tier is how we use technology as a network to train pre-service teachers – so teachers who are not yet in the classroom.

DW: How does your background as a teacher influence you in your current position?

JM: It helps me keep focus on the reason why the schools exist, which is to help students. I’m able to look at how everything we’re doing is affecting teacher practice, classroom experience and bring it back to the students. Obviously in coaching the teachers and helping them use the devices with their kids, it gives me the ability to think of lessons and understand classroom management and student relationships. Working with administrators and coaches, it helps me think about what I needed as a classroom teacher to be supported and how can we provide the support. As for the pre-service teachers, how can we think of what they’ll need to go into the classroom and be successful, as I needed in my first year of teaching?

DW: Why did you want to become a teacher?

JM: I had really, really good teachers growing up, but I also had some teachers that really were not the best fit for me – they kind of made me feel like I wasn’t able to do certain things or they didn’t really push me in the way that I could have been pushed. I wanted to become a teacher because I really saw a pretty stark difference in the way that I was educated. I went to public school until I was in 10th grade, and then in 11th and 12th grades I went to a private boarding school – I went to [Phillips Exeter Academy] – and so I got to see different types of schools and different types of teachers. I really thought that I wanted to make an impact.

DW: What’s the status of the 1:1 iPad grant awarded to CPS?

JM: Now it’s no longer grant funded. Schools are spending their own dollars to purchase devices to create one-to-one opportunities in their buildings.

DW: Obviously not all schools can afford the same devices. How does the fact that some schools have more funding for technology play a role in the achievement gap?

JM: I think it’s definitely hard that the divide is pretty wide. It’s hard to get access to devices depending on your school’s funding, and not all students have devices and Internet access at home, so that is definitely a concern that we have. But principals and other school leaders are definitely starting to realize that we can be creative with how we look at our school funds and realize that certain funds that are allocated for textbooks this year can be spent on devices. … So we’re starting to rethink the way that we’re using technology at school and also the way that we’re using our school budget without getting extra money, because that’s not an option.

DW: If money wasn’t an issue, what technology do you think all schools should be equipped with?

JM: I don’t think it’s a one-size-fits-all answer. I think it’s really more about the school itself, the culture and climate, what the teachers are ready for, what the students need and what they are ready for. We have to think about this on a case-by-case basis.

DW: What projects are on the horizon at AUSL?

JM: Nothing is set in stone. We’re doing a lot with video and coaching with teachers. We use a program called the Teaching Channel – it’s a platform that is part video, part social networking. … We’ve developed a portal for our network of schools with Teaching Channel to support our teachers and collaborate with one another, sharing teaching practice and coaching one another, and so we’re continuing to expand that as a network.

DW: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

JM: I like working with the teachers and students the best. I love seeing both the teachers and the students kind of get that “aha” moment where they realize that these devices are more than toys or a fad – that they can actually create a new opportunity. I love seeing the students share their own voices on the devices – hear their own thinking.

DW: How did it feel to be named a White House Champion for Change?

JM: It was a great affirmation that we’re on the right path and working pretty hard. I want to continue to collaborate and share with my colleagues so I can continue to learn and share what I’ve learned with others.