Husena Jadliwala: MagicBox: Welcome to Educator Insights, everyone. Today, we will be discussing the intersection of technology and education, including the benefits and challenges of virtual and hybrid learning, the use of technology tools in the classroom, and best practices for integrating technology into teaching. I’m Husena Jadliwala from MagicBox, and I’m thrilled to have Michele Lee, a K-12 educator, and a high school CTE teacher at North Carolina Virtual Academy as our guest today. Michele, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show.
Michele Lee: Thank you so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here.
Husena: Yeah, thank you. So, I think a good place to get started really is to understand what motivated you to become a high school CTE teacher and how you see CTE evolving in the age of technology.
Michele: Sure. Um, in the beginning of my career, I was actually working in private corporate sales and marketing in the semiconductor industry. So, my background is in business, sales, and marketing and technology. The point in my career, I was traveling quite a bit, and when I got married and settled down, started having children, I decided to move into teaching to share a lot of my passion for business, my passion for technology. Technology has always been a big part of my life, even from when I was a child, and it’s something I’m very passionate about. So, it was the perfect segue for me to go into CTE, Career and Technical Education.…
Husena: That’s amazing, and I’m really thrilled to hear that, you know, it kind of came from somewhere else first, not directly from teaching, which is still really amazing, and I’m sure that took a degree of adapting. So, yeah, so.
Michele: Yes, definitely.
Husena: Speaking of adaptation, your experience teaching in both traditional brick-and-mortar schools and virtual public schools must have required a degree of adaptation as well. So, can you tell us more about that, what the main differences are in terms of teaching style and student engagement?
Michele: Sure. I spent my first twelve years in brick-and-mortar schools, in middle school mostly, teaching CTE courses, and a lot of what we focus on in CTE and middle schools, at least in the state of North Carolina where I teach, is exploring careers and exploration. Middle school here is all about exploration. So, it’s a very exciting time for students to be able to explore different possibilities, different career pathways. So that was really my focus in person when I was teaching in person in brick-and-mortar schools, and so really, I mean, the great thing about that is with middle school, you have a lot of flexibility. You have a lot of, it’s very hands-on, and so I really enjoyed that aspect of it. Now I’m teaching in a high school, in a virtual high school, in North Carolina public schools, so it’s a very big transition, even for me, it’s been a big transition, different skill set and very, very different, and using a lot more technology than ever before, for sure all technology.
Husena: One will.
Husena: Yeah, I can totally imagine.
Michele: And I think that’s one of the reasons that motivated me to go to a virtual school. I love technology and after 12 years of teaching in brick and mortar, I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone, challenge myself to take on new technologies, to learn new systems, new software, everything.
Husena: A home.
Michele: I’m very much a growth mindset type of educator, and I like to learn new things. So, this was a big leap in terms of taking on new systems, learning everything from the ground up. It’s very different.
Husena: Yeah, it’s great that you took that leap. I think not very many people might have the confidence to do that. But I’m so glad to hear that you did, and it’s also interesting to hear the difference in teaching style or strategy that we’re using in the two educational settings that you’ve had the chance to experience. So, with the prevalence of virtual and hybrid learning which, at the moment, how do you see technology changing the way we approach education in the future?
Michele: Yeah, I think that’s happening already. Just being on social media and being aware of what’s going on in the world, there are a lot of changes happening. A lot of technology, advanced technology, AI-based technology, generative technology that we’re seeing now, and it’s impacting every industry. Not just business, not just corporate, not just tech companies, but also education. And so, it is going to have a big impact on education in the future, and I do think that we’re going to see more and more different options out there in terms of virtual options, hybrid options. And I really do think in the long term, it’s going to take a while before brick-and-mortar schools change, slowly. But in some states, they’re doing some pilot programs with some different flexibility, some hybrid flexibility. We are seeing some changes, and it’s going to take a while in that area to happen. But everybody wants more flexibility, more options, more choices, and that’s what it’s all about. And technology allows us to bring those options and that flexibility to students. And I think that’s what it’s all about: meeting students where they’re at, finding where they are. One of the main reasons I switched to virtual was to expand my ability to impact students across the state, not just in my local neighbourhood schools where I used to teach.
Michele: But now I’m impacting students from coast to coast, from the coast of North Carolina all the way to the mountains and everywhere in between. So, it’s a way for me to expand my impact, and technology allows us to do that. I mean, it’s all based on the technology. Without the technology, we couldn’t have virtual schools. So, for us, it’s very important to have this cutting-edge technology that we have, and I feel very fortunate to have it.
Husena: No 100%, and you know what? Technology is now the future as well. We were not in this state a decade or two ago. I don’t think it would have been possible to have an entirely virtual school this way.
Michele: No, definitely not, and one thing I wanted to make very clear is virtual schools have been around for a long time. This is not something a lot of people think they just came up out of the pandemic. But that’s not true. Our school has been around for almost ten years.
Michele: So, it’s been around for a long time, and there are just a lot of different reasons. It gives students with different lifestyle options that they never had before. We have a lot of military families in our state. We have a lot of students for whatever reason they need this option, whether they’re training for the Olympics or whether they’re moving around a lot. It doesn’t really matter what the reason is, but we give students that needed this option, and it’s very important.
Husena: That is a very fresh perspective to bring into this. Not every student has the opportunity to experience education in the most traditional way, which is like going into school into your classroom with your teacher. Some students have different skills, different abilities that you want to also explore at a younger age.
Michele: I wanted to mention, the rural population as well. I mean, we have a large rural population in our state, and so we’re able to reach students in the most remote areas that live on farms in the middle of nowhere. We can still teach them every single day, give them access to education. This is all about giving students access to education. That’s what I’m all about, and I believe that technology is the answer to unlocking this accessibility. That’s why I follow accessibility, as you all know, accessibility is one of my big hot topics and hot points that I’m very interested in. How do we make education more accessible to students wherever they are? It doesn’t matter where they’re physically located. We have the technology now to bring it to every single student.
Michele: Not just in the state. But in the country and on the planet. That’s really what I’m all about.
Husena: Yeah, and I definitely wanted to touch a little bit more on accessibility in this podcast as well. But before we go into that, I actually wanted to ask you a question about integrating technology into your teaching practice. So, I know, right now you’re in a virtual school. Earlier you were working in Brick and mortar. But I’m sure you did integrate technology into your classroom teaching. So can you give us some examples of technology tools you used in the classroom and how they impacted student learning.
Michele: Yes, absolutely. I’m gonna talk about since I spent the last twelve years in person in brick-and-mortar schools teaching at the middle school level. You know I had the opportunity, the tremendous opportunity, to use some amazing tools, technology tools and bring some really interesting activities, projects to the middle school classroom. Just a couple of different examples, I mean there’s so many, but just to give you a little bit of an example. I was teaching the last three years, I was teaching middle school, I was teaching mostly coding and I was doing coding in Minecraft, which was a lot of fun. Any kind of tool that you can use with students where they have creativity, where they can build things, where they can explore, and especially in an immersive environment like a 3D environment, where you’re going immersive into an environment, is very engaging, at least I found at the middle school level. I used CodeSpaces Edu, which is another one that I used that I loved, and the kids loved it. Anything where you can, because especially in CodeSpaces Edu, you can build anything. Basically, you can do the same thing in Minecraft. You can build anything, you can do storytelling, you can use it in any subject, basically. I mean, you can build a lot, so I like to use the type of tools that are very immersive, where a student can go in, and especially in a 3D environment, and create something. It’s all about creativity, at least that’s where I like to focus my efforts on because, you know, when we look at Bloom’s Taxonomy, that’s the very top of Bloom’s Taxonomy, so I tried to focus mostly on creative tools, and I still do. That’s where I like to put my focus on, so those are just 2 examples. But I always use, I mean obviously we use a lot of different things. I mean, I’m the kind of teacher I’ll try anything to get students engaged. I will try just about anything, and I use a lot of fun tools over the years. I’m trying to think now besides those two, those two were big for me, based on what I was teaching at the time because I was teaching a lot of coding and computer science, and so those 2 have coding options built into them, which is very nice. It’s a tool they can be creative with but can also they can do their coding. Also, robotics, I was doing some virtual robotics with VexVr. It was another one that’s very immersive and a lot of fun. The kids loved it.
Michele: You know with middle schoolers. The great thing about middle schoolers is they’re very enthusiastic and they love all these tools. They’ll dive in and they’ll just go headfirst into it so I was very blessed in that sense to teach middle school for so long because the kids are just you know and even elementaries like that too. Kids are at the high school level. It’s more of a challenge.
Husena: Yeah, I can see that I have spent some years working with students of different education ranges – middle school, high school and I think just as we are adults in high school students start to overthink a little bit more, they don’t just dive into it as much. On the other hand, in elementary school middle school, I can see that you know, and I think I mentioned to you previously. But for our listeners I also taught robotics to students in schools in Singapore and you know it was such an amazing experience to see how hands-on students are and how creative they are coming up with solutions. So kudos to you for always choosing tools that will help students unlock their creative part. I really appreciate that insight.
Husena: And so going back to accessibility. The core of it is yeah yes, go ahead.
Michele: I don’t mean to interrupt but I just thought of something I have to say this more tools. You asked me about virtual. Now that we’re in, you know now that I’m teaching in virtual. Obviously hands-on stuff is a little bit more challenging. But there are a lot of creative tools. I try to focus on creative tools. There are a lot of creative tools out there. There’s Canva. My students love Canva. By the way, that’s a big one that they love. They love to create in Canva. There’s Figma. And we try to use, you know, I try to recommend free tools because it’s all about accessibility like we talked about in equity, and this is very important. So, like, you know, Unreal Engine. For example, that’s another one. Twin motion is another one. These are great building tools, creativity tools where you can just go in and start creating stuff right out of the gate, and there’s no cost involved. So that’s very important.
Husena: Yes, and that also speaks to accessibility because having no cost means that more students can have access to these technology tools that they need to succeed. How would you support students who perhaps do not have this type of access to resources like these at home?
Michele: Yeah, that’s a huge challenge for a lot of schools and a lot of districts. I mean, I’m very blessed in a virtual school setting that we have that I’m in now. You know we support 100% our students. So, if there’s any issues of if they need a laptop if they need a hotspot, you know we give that to them, and that’s no cost to them. So, I’m very, you know, I’m very happy to be in a place where we can support our students, but that is not the case all around our country. There are other districts that struggle with this quite a bit, and we still struggle with Wi-fi, you know, especially our students are in remote areas. Wi-fi is always an issue. Even if you’re using hotspot, if you don’t have coverage in your area, it can be problematic and it can be challenging. So that’s the Wi-fi issue and the hotspot issue. You know, I would love to see, you know, my dream for the future is, you know, if we have 5G technology, why can’t we have everybody, even students in the most remote parts, we need to make sure that they have access to high-speed Wi-fi. I think that’s a key to unlocking a lot of our technology. I would love to see, you know, my dream for the future is, you know, if we have 5G technology, why can’t we have everybody, even students in the most remote parts, we need to make sure that they have access to high-speed Wi-fi. I think that’s a key to unlocking a lot of our technology.
Husena: I can totally see that and ensuring that students have access to this technology is crucial, but it’s obviously also a very challenging task. But yeah, alongside this, what are some of the other bigger challenges you might have faced in implementing digital learning?
Michele: Yes, it’s challenging.
Husena: In your classroom, and if you can share any examples of how you might have overcome these challenges, I think both in a way, in-person, of course, I can see that there might be bigger challenges there, but also virtually.
Michele: You are talking about in-person or in virtual. Yeah, I can touch base on both. Since I have experience in both, and I was in brick-and-mortar schools for 12 years, some of the biggest, you know, we talk about Wi-fi, well, some of the biggest challenges that we face in brick and mortar schools is high-speed Wi-fi access to high-speed Wi-fi in every single classroom. Every single classroom in the building that is challenging and then also hardware access, you know.
Michele: Top of the line. We need high speed. We need hardware that’s gonna run all of these amazing tools. But if we don’t hold the hardware to run them, it can be challenging. That’s another big challenge in-person and also downloads. Downloads become very challenging because once you try to download a program, now luckily with cloud computing, a lot of these downloads, the problem with downloads is slowly going away. And I think in the next few years, the problem with downloads is going to go away for good because everybody’s moving to the cloud. But in the olden days, and I’m talking like ten years ago, that was a huge issue. But hardware is still an issue. Some of these programs require high-end hardware to run. That’s a challenge. It comes down to dollars, it comes down to funding for brick-and-mortar districts. And that’s gonna be a challenge, that’s a challenge for them, for us virtually. I would say, I’m trying to think, I mean, I think for me personally, it’s been a benefit for virtual because we have a little bit more ability to have flexibility within the classroom as far as breakout rooms go and being able to meet with students. I have more time to meet with students one-on-one now and have one-on-one conferences than ever before. That’s because of the technology in virtual. It’s not easy to have 30 kids in a room and you need to have private conversations with 30 students. That’s challenging.
Husena : Right.
Michele: So, for me, virtual has given me the opportunity to get to know my students better, to go deeper with the relationships, to build those relationships in a way that allows the technology to do that because the breakout rooms provide a quiet private space where we can talk, and we can get to know our students better.
Husena: That’s really amazing to hear but do you sometimes find that you have trouble teaching completely virtually? Have there been any times when you felt like maybe this would have been easier in person?
Michele: I mean honestly, I think I’m going to be honest with you. For me personally, having a background in sales and marketing, it’s not a problem because I love to talk. And here I am talking to you. In fact, I talk too much. That’s probably my number one problem. I talk too much. But you know, I just love to talk, and I love working with students. So, for me, it’s not a problem at all. But I can imagine if somebody was more of an introvert, they might have issues with virtual teaching because you do need to engage with your students virtually. You know, we still engage. We have live classes every single day. So, our program is not asynchronous at all. It’s synchronous. We have live classes.
Husena: Got it.
Michele: And I love that. That’s my favorite part. I love interacting with my students.
Husena: A hundred percent. I can see how that one makes a world of difference if they know who’s teaching them on a personal level, right?
Michele: Yeah, building those relationships. You know, we’re talking about technology today. But the fact is, and this is important, relationships have become so important with all the technology we have. The relationships that we build with students, to me, is the most important part of it all because that’s what matters. And it’s so important. I think it’s more important than ever. Our students are exposed – I mean, these are digital natives. Our students are digital natives, Gen Alpha, and this is what I’m teaching right now. So, these digital natives have been exposed to technology since birth.
Michele: They’re not impressed by the technology. They need to have a relationship with their teacher. That’s why, you know, I’m not worried that AI is going to come and take our positions away. I’m not worried about that at all. AI is definitely going to disrupt education on a lot of levels, but students, I think more than ever.
Husena: Yes, yes.
Michele: They really enjoy and are looking for building those relationships with their teachers, coaches, instructors, whoever they may be, so I think that’s so important to put that out there. That relationships have become so important with all this technology.
Husena: I completely agree, and you know, alongside building that relationship with your students, even though you are virtual, I wanted to also understand how you would evaluate the effectiveness of your teaching online, and what metrics might you use to measure student success.
Michele: It’s a great question. Well, we have very powerful… That’s one of the reasons I was very drawn to this switch to this transition with all of our technology, and it’s all proprietary. So, I can’t really speak about details of it. But let me just say this is that we have very powerful… I’m very big on data analytics and analysing the data. We do a lot of data analysing, and with the powerful analytics platforms that we have, we’re able to really get to look at a very broad picture of our students, their activities, what they’re doing online, how they’re interacting. There are so many different metrics that we look at and so many different data points that we look at, and that’s all powered by technology. So again, we’re back to, you know, technology. It’s not the answer for everything, but it’s going to give us insights. I’m a big believer that the more information we have to make decisions, to change, to improve our teaching practice, the better that we are. So I’m all about data, and I’m very big on data analytics and looking at data, and we do a lot of that in our school. So, yeah, it’s a very big part of what we do.
Husena: Yeah, and I can imagine that using that data can help you not just evaluate the students’ success but also evaluate your own strategy, right?
Michele: Oh yes, we use this as a reflective practice to be reflective and to reflect on our practice and to reflect on what we’re doing to change our activities. It changes everything based on the data. You know, we change our lessons, we change everything and even teachers in Brick-and-mortar schools do that based on when they teach a lesson, they see how it goes, and they reflect. But it’s very nice to have all of this data. It really amplifies what a teacher is doing.
Husena: Okay, yeah, I can totally see that. To expand on that a little bit, would you be able to share about perhaps a time you might have seen an improvement in student achievement, you know, as a result of implementing a new tool or strategy?
Michele: Yes, there’s one area that I do want to talk about that is so huge. I think one of the biggest groups of students that are benefiting from this technology are English language learners. When I was teaching in middle school, for example, I was teaching coding and I was very fortunate at the time. We were using the code.org platform, and they had even before we had AI translation, they had already translated their program into like 27 different languages, which was fantastic because I had a few students, I had every school has a few students who don’t speak any English. It just happens, you know, they just move here, they just arrived and here they are in your classroom, and you need to make these adjustments. So that was a real benefit to have these very powerful platforms in different languages. It is really helpful for students who don’t have the English acquisition that they need at the time. It helps to scaffold what they’re doing and to give them access to the curriculum, give them access to learning, right? From day one without having them to learn basic English before they even get started, I think that’s huge. I think that’s just huge, and now we’re seeing with generative AI how much more powerful this is going to be in the future. So that’s one area, one big area that I think we’re going to see a lot of gains. And I was just very fortunate that code.org had done all the work, and they had already translated it into like 27 different languages.
Husena:That’s really amazing and I can see that just because English may not be their first language, it doesn’t mean they are not able to understand the concept that they’re learning in any of the other subjects. So, it’s important to give them that access to learning.
Michele: Yeah, exactly.
Husena: It’s back to access to learning and I actually just want to share a quick story here as well. I mentioned previously that I’ve taught math to students here in North America and I did work with a few students where English was not their first language. I was teaching them math word problems. It’s amazing because it’s not that you don’t know the math. It’s just that they didn’t understand the word problem, what the word problem was asking for because it’s in English.
Husena: Now, if I explain it to them in a few different ways, they know how to solve it. But just reading it on its own didn’t give them a full understanding of what they needed to do. It makes a world of difference to have that translation that you were speaking about as well to give the student confidence that they know what they’re doing. Language doesn’t necessarily need to be a barrier to their learning. I love that so much and it’s always great to hear about success stories.
Michele: Yeah, and also there’s one more case that’s very big and I think it’s important to talk about how technology now allows us to differentiate at a much bigger scale and much faster than before.
Husena: That’s right. Let’s discuss how technology might impact student learning. Thank you for sharing.
Michele: Many of the LMS platforms we use today allow us to send differentiated lessons to individual students, which I think is really important. Every teacher does this, and it’s easier than ever before. In the past, we had to make separate copies, but now with technology, we can differentiate with the push of a button. It’s a huge benefit.
Husena: Yes, it’s a game-changer.
Michele: In some cases, our students need a differentiated lesson, especially if they’re in a special ed program or have special needs. It’s easier to do now than ever before. With technology, we can differentiate all day long, which is huge.
Husena: Absolutely, with so many students in the classroom, it can be challenging for a teacher to personalize learning for each student. Everyone has a different learning curve, and keeping track of all that can be taxing for one teacher versus thirty students.
Michele: If you teach six classes a day like I did, that’s one hundred and eighty students a day. That’s where technology comes in. One of the benefits of technology for teachers is that it’s going to make our jobs a lot easier and faster. We’re not there yet 100%, but with all these new generative tools, this is going to lighten our load in the long term. This is the most exciting time to be an educator in my opinion. All these generative tools are going to help teachers be more efficient and ultimately lighten their load, so we can focus on what really matters, which is our students. That’s what’s at the core of all this- our relationship with our students and families.
Husena: And I love your positive outlook towards this because there has been a lot of, you know, hesitation. Yeah, you mentioned it earlier that AI is not taking over jobs.
Michele: Yes, the news and the media have gone crazy, but I’m very excited.
Husena: You’ve had so much experience, both in brick-and-mortar and now in your virtual teaching as well, working with technology. What advice might you have for educators who are new to virtual or hybrid teaching and are trying to navigate the use of technology in the classroom?
Michele: That’s a great question. It’s very overwhelming. I remember when I first started out, it was very overwhelming. Now, it’s even more overwhelming because of the rapid pace of technology and how many tools are available. In the last month alone, there were dozens and dozens of new tools released, including generative tools. It’s everywhere, and it can feel very overwhelming. My advice is to just pick one. Start with one thing that you feel could benefit your classroom. Don’t do technology just to do technology. Pick something that you feel might be a real benefit for your students and your classroom, and just focus on that one thing. That’s what I did for a long time. Even to this day, I don’t use 25 tools at once. It’s just too much. It gets to be too much after a while. When I started, I just focused on one thing. You set your mind to it, focus on it, and just do that for a while.
Husena: Great advice.
Michele: And that builds up your confidence level, too. Once you get one thing under your belt, you feel more confident to try something different and new.
Husena: I really like that. I like how you said, “Don’t just use technology because it’s technology. Actually think through why and how this will help your students.” And I think that’s super important. And these are some great tips for new teachers. For virtual or hybrid teachers, how do you collaborate with other teachers and educators to continue to share these types of best practices for using technology in the classroom?
Michele: Well, there are a couple of different ways. One is in your own school and among your teammates. I’m all virtual right now, so we do everything virtually. We have virtual meetings, we collaborate virtually. But if you’re in brick and mortar, you can talk to people in the hallway. That’s always great. Talk to people in your school. But also, social media. The way that I really learned, I mean every single tool that I use and have used all in the past, I learned about through social media. I spend, you know, not a lot of time, but I do try to keep up with what’s going on and follow different education groups. If you want to get involved in some groups on social media, pick whatever social media you like. There’s not one that’s better than the other. I spent over 10 years on Twitter, now I’m primarily on LinkedIn. I was on both for a long time, but I had to consolidate my efforts, so I decided to consolidate on LinkedIn. But I have friends who are on Instagram. There are teachers everywhere. There are great teachers everywhere. There are great educators all over. They’re on different platforms, so pick whatever social media outlets you like. I have friends who are on Pinterest a lot. It depends on what you’re into, you know, but just find the groups and find the educators that inspire you. And I follow a lot of them that inspire me that are doing amazing things. And that’s what inspires me. We all try to inspire each other. But there are some amazing educators out there, and you’ve got to find them. And most of them are on social media. I don’t think I can’t think of any that are not, but they’re out there. Twitter is a good place to find them. They’re also on LinkedIn. A lot of them are on LinkedIn, but most of them, I would say, are probably on Twitter.
Husena: This is great information, especially for teachers who didn’t know this before. So, I just want to mention that. I can see how that would work. I also follow a few educators on my end. Using social media to share ideas and experiences is a great way to build a community of educators because you can share these ideas that you have thought of in your classroom. And if you share it on social media with others, they too will do the same. It actually just helps everybody’s workload in a way as well.
Michele: Yeah, and also, you need to follow. It’s very important if you want to get into technology education technology specifically, you need to follow all these companies. You know, online, which I do follow very closely. The ones that I’m very interested in, I follow very closely. See, and the new ones that are coming out, they’re hard. It’s hard to keep up because there are so many, but I try to follow the ones that have a lot of promise and that might be of interest in the future to use. I do follow them too. So, you do kind of need to have your pulse on what’s going on in the education technology field a little bit if you want to really get into it.
Husena: Yeah, I can see that, and you know, this is a great point for me to speak to our listeners, and that if you’re tuning in, we encourage you to share your experiences and ideas for using technology in the classroom on social media using the hashtag of Magic Educator Insights. You know, Michele, I just want to say it was great to have you on our educator insights podcast today. Thank you so much for sharing your valuable insights. We’re excited to have you.
Michele: Thank you so much. It’s great to be here. I’m excited. I’m so excited about the future and everything that’s happening in tech education technology and generative technology. We’re seeing some big, amazing improvements already. I mean, Microsoft has already announced their co-pilot. I mean, there are great things happening. So, the future is bright, and I think this is going to really benefit both students and educators in the long term.
Husena: I can totally see that. Again, thank you so much, Michele. Listeners, we value your feedback, please take a moment to give us a review and share which edtech topics you’d be interested to listen to next. Have a fantastic day ahead.
Michele: Thank you! It’s been great talking to you.