Faculty Profile: Ted Parker, Director of Digital Literacy and Innovation

Will Nellis, Writer

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






A look into the future of digital innovation and digital education at King “These are really cool tools that can bust down the walls of our classroom and connect us with the outside world.”
Q: I understand that you did have some time off from working at King, a couple years — can you tell me what was going on over those years that you were not here?Q
A: Just one year, just last year. I was technically still part time here. But I was doing a Masters Program in Private School Leadership at Columbia.
Q: Did that influence anything that you are doing this year?
A: Oh yeah. You know I was looking at leadership opportunities and so I figured that I would go and do an education program. It was really, really neat to have the opportunity to study private school leadership specifically. There are not a lot of programs like that around — so instead of talking about “common core” and standardized testing and a lot of the stuff that any other leadership program would be talking about, I was talking very much about the kinds of things we do here in private schools. And so as I was in that program, I was having conversations with King about how I might be able to step into a leadership role coming out of that program and I had already been doing some work as… I guess my title was… “Technology Integrator” [laughs]. I don’t know. But so I was basically only doing that in the high school and now I’m kind of Pre-K through 12.
Q: With your new position that is?
A: With my new position, yeah. So my job basically consists of defining “digital literacy.” By the time a King student graduates, what do we consider or what do we want them to be able to do? I’ve been working on sort of defining it as sort of a vision for where we want to end up. So that we can look at existing curriculum and existing instruction and say “Okay, where do we feel like we are already doing a really great job?” and “Where do we feel like we have to grow in order to achieve this vision?” And then next year we will be working on developing new curriculum, Pre-K through 12, to kind of make sure we have curriculum in place to achieve something sort of along those lines. So thats the digital literacy side of things. And you know it’s broad — these are terms, “digital literacy” and “digital citizenship” and “information literacy” and “media literacy” and they get thrown around a whole lot without people defining them. So I am trying to define it with King’s specific language as much as possible. Including “digital Citizenship, the kinds of conversations we had about Internet safety and social media. All of that is kind of in this umbrella of digital literacy. Everything from how to be an effective digital student to how to act constructively for the sake of our society.
Q: Students today are growing up in a growing society for technology and I think that it is good that schools can adapt to things like that; to teach students about those things and how they change. It is very interesting to see how our school is adapting to those things.
A: It’s a really interesting thing and can be an especially tough subject for teachers because, in many ways, students are ahead of teachers on some of these things. Now, that gets taken to an extreme. There was this language that we used to use in work like mine like 10 years ago. We would talk about “digital natives,” people like you and frankly like me who have grown up with technology our entire lives. And we talk about “digital immigrants,” who are kind of slightly old and have not always had this technology. But we’ve actually kind of come to decide that that is not helpful language. Like just because we have grown up with it doesn’t necessarily mean that we use it effectively and that we use it safely. It can be an unhelpful assumption to say just because it’s ubiquitous and it’s everywhere doesn’t mean that it is playing a healthy and productive role in our lives.
Q: With the start of digital literacy and the start of this new position and things like that, the school has also changed the Life Skills program around a lot, with the addition of Mr. Munroe. But they have also added the three classes that you teach in that course, which they refer to as the digital literacy courses. Since junior and seniors have already either taken them or are taking them now, what are those classes for those underclassmen who haven’t taken them? What are they going to entail? What are those students going to
learn? They’re going to learn stuff like this but, more hands on, whats going to happen when those students go in?
A: So you know, admittedly, this year I felt very much that I was plugging the gaps. You know what I mean? Show up — lets make sure we give you guys something. And so the three classes this year were “Being a Digital Student” and kind of concerns around what digital tools can make it easier for us to be a student. And in what ways can digital tools make it harder for us to be a student? And then we had one class around certain issues of gender online which just happened to be a pretty hot topic this fall in the news. So it made for a really good discussion. Did we do “trolling” as a separate conversation from that or was that the same conversation?
Q: I think they were separate. There was one day where we did gender. And then we did trolling as a whole new study. I actually learned a lot because I always thought trolling meant “troll” as in the gross, humanoid troll but then I learned it’s not, it’s the fishing reference.
A: There was recently this podcast online from this woman, she’s a comic, she’s a feminist and she gets a lot of hate online. The story is actually about her getting to know one of her trolls, like actually getting to known the guy who then ended up apologizing for his behavior. Examining the psychology was super cool.
Q: It is very interesting. All the studies of psychology get tested with technology. It’s just a whole new way to do a lot of studies and see certain implications.
A: It’s a whole new important way for us to understand our own psychology. I can’t tell you exactly what those life skills classes will look like next year. Hopefully, they will be informed very much by this framework. But I do feel like the biggest part is really understanding the sometimes, somewhat subconscious ways in which digital tools and digital environments cause us to act differently.
Q: So this is the first time the course has been at the school. What had the response been like from students? It is a tough topic. It is hard.
A: Yeah. I think in some those classes, I think we had some really great conversations. And sometime it was sort of like crickets. And that is going to depend on a lot of things: the student’s comfort level talking about that stuff, what else is going on in your life that day, what is the proximity to lunch?
Q: Did you not have a free… did you not have a free…
A: Exactly. So, one of my big goals with this vision is not to say that those life skills classes will go away, but this is something that I really see giving us a vision for getting those conversations and getting that kind of work and practice in that kind of work into all of our core academic classes. So that its not the sort of standalone “Lets talk about digital literacy right now” where it all lives in the abstract and kind of just say “Do this, don’t do that.” But we are so fully immersed in digital tools and digital environments in our classes that these issues are arising and giving us the occasion for exploring them and practicing them and getting better at them. So, you know, I would love for someday for those standalone classes to be able to go away. And we may never get there.
Q: You had me thinking of this year, and I guess at the end of last year, we implemented the four virtues. They remind me of how we are implementing [digital literacy]. So how does [digital literacy] connect to the four main virtues?
A: There is some really exciting work happening, I think, at King right now from a leadership perspective. That synthesis between digital literacies and virtues and the work that Mr. Berros is doing defining competencies in sustainability. In the work that Dr. Chosson is doing to define competencies in Global Education. The work that Dr. Castonguay is doing as we are thinking about the future of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). With what Mrs. Leist is doing to define competencies in multiculturalism. We have these program directors outside of our traditional academic disciplines that have department chairs, and we’ve always had core competencies in the traditional academic departments but what we’re beginning to do is to find those other interdisciplinary competencies. Its a fun moment thinking about the connections between those. We are basically working on finding the overlap between our competencies so that we can really define the unique aspects of a King Education.
Q: We have talked about digital literacy, but what about innovation? The title “innovation,” you read it and you think, “There’s a lot of things innovation could be.” Hey, innovation is great. I’m trying to figure out what innovation at King looks like now and what it’s going to look like in the future.
A: Man that’s such a fun part of my title. I’ve got like an excuse built into my title, you know? People can’t get mad at me for asking them to change. It’s like, it’s innovation. I’m just doing my job. We are in a really interesting spot right now in innovation. Where, for a long time, education has been — not entirely, but largely — about what you know. And now that we have cellphones in our pockets with connections to Google, content knowledge doesn’t have the same kind of premium value that it used to have. You’ve got to have content knowledge; but really it’s a little bit more about access to content knowledge. Its about what you can do with what you know. Rather than just what you know. That has big time implications for education — not just at King — but for a lot of places. We’re not just filling up students with facts. You’ve got to have core level competency facts and understandings in order to be able to do anything, certainly. But I imagine that what innovation is going to look like is a lot more project based work, a lot more service learning. Getting out into the community, solving problems. Using our knowledge. In what ways can we sort of bust through the walls of our building here and then engage with a broader world and get going in these complex interconnected smaller worlds because we have technology, rather than just kind of living in our individual classes. I hope that the digital literacy definitions give me some pretext for the innovation part of the title. I think they’re connected in that way. I do a lot of work with the directors of assessment and instruction, Mrs. Moriarty and Mrs. Parker, and that whole team keeping a close eye on research about how people learn and effective teaching methods. Also thinking, in particular, about how technology might help us out with that. So I am also in addition to defining digital literacy and building curricula, directing Pre-K through 12 the integration of technology into our classrooms. Helping getting us going with FinalSite for instance, which was a transition that we made two years ago.
Q: Can I say, for one, as a student, I think FinalSite has drastically improved my organization and education. I think that it is definitely a good thing. That was one of my questions. FinalSite, and even Google Docs. How have those two, and I’m sure there are more that I don’t even know about that I haven’t utilized through the King Portal, how have those things been affecting student education? Have you seen it? Has faculty seen it? Has it been good/bad?
A: Yeah, yeah. I agree that I think FinalSite has been really great for the school. You know I think that it’s really amazing that what you’re teachers expect of you, assignment wise, is so transparent on FinalSite. “Here’s what I need to do this week.” You know, it doesn’t take the pressure off of you to kind of organize yourself to get that work done. But, it does take away some of the uncertainties over what exactly am I up to right now. There’s also a lot within FinalSite. Some teachers are using them. Some teachers are not. The blog feature. The discussions feature. Some neat little opportunities for having conversations outside of the classroom. For instance: we had a snow day last week and I put up a discussion board in my class. And so, rather than being behind in the curriculum — I’m not going to say that the online discussion board achieves exactly what the in-class discussion does, but it gets a lot of the same thinking going. It also sort of takes the pressure off. In class, its sort of like, “Hey, what are you thinking now, tell me.” And if it’s a written discussion prompt you, as a student, have time to reflect and be your best self, pull together you most coherent thought. So the level of dialogue in those kinds of online discussions can be a lot better. For as far as Google Docs goes, I am so excited about it. I sent out that email at the beginning of the year about getting rid of the separate usernames and passwords. Little things like that, they seem like tiny improvements. But I get a dashboard of how much people are using Google applications from King. It has doubled, maybe tripled, since we did that. Because you get rid of barriers. You get of little things that are pains in people’s butts. And all of a sudden it’s “Hey, I can get into do this thing,” and “Oh, I can
collaborate with my peers.” Group projects. Group essays. My grad school program was a lot of group essays, which sounds like a weird thing, but it is a real-world exercise. That’s what work
looks like in the real world. Moving forward, were going to be looking for a lot of ways to remove barriers. Making things feel a lot more interconnected so that we can continue to take
advantage of unique possibilities that Internet-based services present to us.
Q: Cool. Now what about teacher responses when it comes to those Internet-based qualities we have like FinalSite and Google Docs. Everybody’s on board?
A: Yeah. I don’t think we would have jumped so much in usage if they weren’t. It’s not the same in every classroom. And nor should it be the same in every classroom. My job is most definitely not to tell our teachers how to teach. I am an English teacher by trade. I can’t tell a math teacher how to do what they’re doing. I cant tell a science teacher how to do what they’re doing. And, even amongst us English teachers, there is a lot of really great, really different ways of achieving out goals. Our teachers are hired to be the experts in what they do. My job is to trust that expertise. My job is also to show our teachers these new things that are possible and have conversations with them about how these new things can help them achieve the things they’ve always been trying to achieve. Those conversations are different from teacher to teacher. FinalSite, for instance, I expected that to be a much more difficult transition than it ended up being. I think people did realize that this, from a student perspective or a parent perspective, really is a game-changer.
Q: Yeah. Even as a student, I remember my sophomore year — beginning of sophomore year — when we first got FinalSite. The first few weeks, it was strange. It was strange that we had this new software that we had to sign in to. We didn’t know how it all looked. We didn’t know where to get what. But nowadays, I am signing into FinalSite every five minutes just to see if anything changed. It feels like something that has been there for a very long time, and I couldn’t really imagine my education without it. Which, to me, is a good thing. Its a good thing that it has improved how I am learning. I hope it has improved how other student are learning. I can’t even comment upon that because a lot of students just know it is there. I am assuming that subconsciously that it has overall improved a lot of things we’re doing.
A: Ideally, that is what effective technology does. Effective technology isn’t obvious. It connects into your workflow and recedes into the background. It’s not about the technology, it’s about
everything else that you’re supposed to be paying attention to. Which is the homework assignments. Technology has cut through a lot of the nonsense that could otherwise be in the way of that stuff.
Q: So, lastly. I know you answered a lot of this. But if you could streamline into a couple things. Where do you see both digital literacy and innovation going in the next five years? Or even in this year. What can students, parents or faculty see?
A: So from the innovation piece, I am really excited about taking our first steps into online learning. What I mean there is fully online classes. We’re exploring partnerships with some online providers that are out there. If you are a junior or senior and have a special interest in something like biochemistry. And suppose we only have one or two students who are really interested in taking it and so it doesn’t make sense to hire a full-time teacher for it. We could find an online class with real students and a real teacher. You could take that class at the real pace. Just never actually meeting in person. That is unbelievably exciting in terms of really blowing up our curricular offerings. And also introducing students to a dynamic of learning that is going to be surely a lot more common in even your own college experiences and certainly in your ongoing profession or personal events after college. I think it is going to be a digital literacy piece. That is one piece. Another piece. I am really interested — I have a lot of conversations with Mr. Waldman, the technology manager, about our MacBooks. That is a model we have had for a long time. There are a lot of other devices out there. Chromebooks.
Q: Is it true the middle school gets Chromebooks?
A: In the middle school we have 72 Chromebooks. There are 200 middle school students. So it is not 1:1 right now. It is really interesting that Chromebooks can do about 95% of what we ask our
MacBooks to do and at about 1/6th of the cost. iPads are another really interesting option out there. Also things like the Microsoft Surface. I hear a lot of people ask about e-books for instance.
“When can we get rid of our textbooks and go onto e-books?” The publishing industry is going to need to get their act together a little bit before that is a practical reality for all schools. But, the e-
book-reading experience is never going to be as good on a computer as it is on a tablet. So that is one of those questions we will be asking. Other things coming in the next few years: maybe
examining the filters on our Internet content.
Q: As in, reducing from them?
A: As in reducing them. I am very comfortable saying I would like to drastically reduce the extent to which we filter the Internet here on campus. I think that Mr. Waldman would agree with me on that. I think we need to have these digital literacies pieces a little bit more firmly in place so that we are more regularly having conversations about internet safety and about appropriate behaviors online. Giving students more practice in those kinds of behaviors. Actually doing things in our classes with social media rather than just kind of relinquishing that space to when you guys are at home. And when we reach that point I think we will be ready to say, “Look, these are really cool tools that can bust down the walls of our classroom and connect us with the outside world.” Which we totally ought to be doing. I am totally interested in that. Like for YouTube. Frankly, it’s like more than anything else. It is bandwidth. If we have a lot of students streaming educational video or not, and we’ve got a teacher who needs to stream video in her classroom, then it may not stream. Some day hopefully [Google] Fiber will comes to Stamford (laughs).
Q: That’s a dream. Who knows if that will ever happen?
A: There are, you know, outside of behavioral concerns, there is just straight up practical things that we have to consider as well.
Q: Well, thank you very much for the interview. Final question would be: how is Squash going?
A: Squash… (laughing), you know, Squash is… I, uh, am really, really proud of our squash team. We go out there and we play day after day. There are a lot of teams that have many nationally ranked players who squash is their thing that they specialize in since they were in diapers. On a team of 17 boys I only have two that play year-round. Or really two that play at all outside of the season. So we go out there and get our butt kicked a lot. But, to look at the level of improvement over the course of the season is outrageous. I mean we are hitting the ball around one way in the beginning and then we are really, really playing squash towards the end. So that is fun.

Print Friendly

Leave a Comment

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




Navigate Right
Navigate Left
  • Faculty Profile: Ted Parker, Director of Digital Literacy and Innovation

    News

    On the Road to College

  • Faculty Profile: Ted Parker, Director of Digital Literacy and Innovation

    News

    In Deep Blue Connecticut, King Bleeds Bright Red

  • Faculty Profile: Ted Parker, Director of Digital Literacy and Innovation

    Academics

    King Students Bound for Iceland

  • Faculty Profile: Ted Parker, Director of Digital Literacy and Innovation

    News

    Looking Back: Highlights of 2015

  • Faculty Profile: Ted Parker, Director of Digital Literacy and Innovation

    Athletics

    Committing Oneself to a Common Goal – Volleyball Champs

  • Faculty Profile: Ted Parker, Director of Digital Literacy and Innovation

    Arts & Entertainment

    Seniors dominate on and off the stage for ‘Twelfth Night’

  • Faculty Profile: Ted Parker, Director of Digital Literacy and Innovation

    Opinion

    A Leap of Faith Proves Successful

  • Faculty Profile: Ted Parker, Director of Digital Literacy and Innovation

    News

    Let the race begin – 2016 Presidential Election Overview

  • Faculty Profile: Ted Parker, Director of Digital Literacy and Innovation

    News

    Summer Trips Provided Exciting Opportunities

  • Faculty Profile: Ted Parker, Director of Digital Literacy and Innovation

    News

    On the Road to College

Faculty Profile: Ted Parker, Director of Digital Literacy and Innovation