An Interview with L. Robert Furman: Instructional Technology Tools

Jul 25, 2012 by

Dr. L. Robert Furman is the elementary school principal at South Park Elementary School in South Park, Pennsylvania.

by Michael F. Shaughnessy and Cynthia Kleyn Kennedy
Texas Tech University –

  1. First of all, how long have you been an administrator and how long have you actually been involved with technology in learning?

I began my career as a high school band director for 10 years. I was then an assistant principal for 3 years, followed by 6 years as a building principal. My fascination with technology started early in my career in the field of music and marching band. I very quickly realized that computers made our music program so much stronger. I taught music theory using the simple computers of the time. I even designed our marching band half time shows using drill designer software. When I moved into administration I started looking for the technology that would enhance or ease the administrative job. That became a clear path to finding ways to helping my teachers integrate technology in the classroom. My original fascination with technology has become my passion.

  1. What do YOU see as the main instructional technology tools?

There are so many wonderful tools out there that it would be almost impossible to narrow it down to one or two. It would also be difficult because each technology tool has the potential to enhance a different part of instruction. For example, if a teacher had an assignment to create an action plan to solve a specific problem, www.solvr.com would be perfect for that task. However, if that same teacher had student projects where they had to do a presentation on the outcome of that same problem a presentation tool such as www.prezi.com would be a better fit. On a personal note, my son used www.goanimate.com for his book talk this year. Goanimate is a site where you create a complete animated movie. He created a single cartoon character from his book and then interviewed that character live in front of the class. The timing was perfect, and the kids seemed to really enjoyed the presentation. You can see his presentation on my web site.

  1. Now, in your estimation, how much time should an average teacher have to spend getting up to speed in terms of being current with technology?

Educators always want to create a student who is a lifelong learner, someone who craves to learn something new. Teachers should be models of that lifelong learning. With that in mind, teachers should be already using technology and learning the new technology as it becomes available. If a teacher is staying current with today’s technology, then there should really not be a concern for how much time is spent. Learning new technology becomes a constant part of the teacher’s whole experience as a lifelong learner. The teacher that may not have embraced technology and now feels behind may be experiencing some frustration. To some extent that is why I wrote the book. Those that feel behind in the world of technology could use the book to get many great E-tool ideas. There are so many E-tools in the book and with about an hour of dedicated time and the book in front of them they could have that E-tool learned enough to use in instruction.

  1. I have been to some of these webinars that try to bring me ( MS) up to speed and I echo some of the words that my highs school students used to say to me ( BORING!). Your thoughts?

It is all in the presentation. When I go and present at conferences I do what I can to keep the experience light and enjoyable. I use lots of examples of the E-tools, and I also use the E-tools as they are intended to be used to engage the group. For example, there is one tool called www.polleverywhere.com I first explained the E-Tool, then later in the presentation I used the E-tool to poll the audience and gather data on a research question. Practicing what you preach and relevant learning goes a long way.

  1. Let’s take specific skills- for example writing- what are some technology tools that would help kids become better, more scholarly writers?

Writing has become quite important with the advent of the Internet. Someone has to fill all these web pages with content…right? The best way to help kids become better writers is to get them writing. Have them start a blog on www.kidblog.org. Have them create dialogue for cartoons created on www.goanimate.com. Scholarly writing comes with scholarly reading. My first thought is to expose the students to scholarly writing and peer-reviewed materials. The easiest way to get to that content would be through Google scholar. It is a search engine that will only give you peer-reviewed results.

  1. What has been the reaction to your book so far?Product Details

Favorable! I have noticed that the more veteran educational community has taken notice of the book. They have mentioned to me that this is the type of book they were hoping for–a book that is simple, clear and exact. They praise the book for not “talking over their heads” and not assuming that they know anything about the Internet or its advanced functions. They appreciate the book for the clear tutorials and they felt they got a wealth of information in a hurry.

  1. Let’s talk about professional development plans. How important are they, and how much time should the AVERAGE elementary school, middle school and then high school teacher spend? (and how much should they get reimbursed?

Professional Development is built into our school district’s school calendar. In Pennsylvania I would guess that the average amount of professional days available to teachers would be around 5-7 days. I am suggesting that schools use their professional development days throughout the year to develop the theme of Instructional Technology. To have a plan for the year is not only important, I would have to say that it is expected. The book lays out a variety of professional development plan options. I cannot stress enough the importance of effective professional development. Again, lifelong learners are what we hope for our students and we must be the model of that lifelong learner. Reimbursement would vary by schools. My school district has built-in days as part of the teacher contract so no reimbursement is necessary. The state of Pennsylvania also has course offerings that are free or inexpensive. A teacher needs to keep up with their craft just as any other professional.

  1. Let’s talk cost- there are free apps and then programs that cost a lot. How much should teachers be expected to spend on average a year?

That would really depend on the complexity of their classroom needs. Honestly, for the first year of implementation there should be zero cost. Most, if not all, of the E-tools in my book are free or at the very least free to try. Use them for a year until you decide on the ones you or your students like or do not like. Then decide to what advanced level you expect your students to use these programs then purchase accordingly. I wrote an entire book on E-tools and their benefits, including tutorials on each E-tool, and I have yet to purchase one. The free settings on these E-tools are typically enough for basic to mid-level usage.

  1. Let’s discuss a few of the examples you provided in your book- Prezi- who should have this app and why?

Prezi is a presentation tool. It is a more creative version of a Power Point. It is a good tool for students to use as an alternative to using power points. You can easily add video, graphs, charts, images and Power Point slides to your Prezi presentation. The neatest thing about Prezi is its ability to create paths that your presentation will follow. If you want your “camera” to spin in a circle before landing on your next slide, Prezi can easily make that happen. Prezi is user friendly for both teacher and student.

  1. How do teachers know which of these apps will be available at the end of the school year?

As of the time of print for the book, all of these applications were working. Most of these apps/sites are very well established sites in the world of education. Most of the sites have quite an educational following even to the point that some of the apps (glogster, GoAnimate) have created special educational subsections to their sites just for educational usage.

  1. Some of these companies lure you in with free trials, then want the big bucks later on- what is a teacher to do? How can they know which app will be available free later on?

There is certainly no way to guess the future of web sites and their respective companies. If there is a concern about pay sites, I would suggest to use the sites that are completely free from the start and avoid the free trial sites. There was one site on which I created a tutorial that had to be pulled from the book at the last minute because it became a pay site almost overnight. So, yes, it can happen.

  1. Let’s pick on one of your app suggestions- Web Quest- what are the positives and negatives of this particular application?

Web Quest is a very cool site, and I will be hard pressed to come up with negatives. You can think of a web quest as a fact-finding scavenger hunt across the Internet. You create the quest using a variety of web sites that your students will be traveling. You then ask guiding questions to which they can locate the answer on that site. It is a lot of fun for the students and can be quite challenging if you choose to develop it as such. Many of my teachers have taken these a step further by having the students create their own web quests and share them with a friend.

  1. How can you really predict what skills are going to be needed 10 years from now?

You can’t. What you can do is make your best educated guess. I belong to an organization that does their best guessing all the time. It is called the World Future Society. As a part of my book, I have shared 21st century skills that have been detailed from a site of the same name.

  1. Let’s face it- the learning curve for some teachers is going to be different than others. What can a principal do in this regard?

We are constantly demanding that teachers differentiate instruction. As instructional leaders, we must once again model that teaching concept. A teacher pre-test can be used to help differentiate technological skill levels, and then instruction should be planned accordingly.

  1. What are the greatest challenges that you have faced in terms of effectively integrating technology into your district?

Not just my district, but all districts have a real “time” problem. With all of the testing/accountability time-demands, it is quite difficult to squeeze new learning into the already crammed schedule. That is why I suggest that districts make the commitment to technology when the original school calendar is designed using the professional development days as opportunities to develop new technological learning.

  1. In your next edition of this book, what are you going to integrate or include?

I really haven’t thought that far ahead yet, but technology changes every day so it would be reasonable to think that my next edition would include new “hot off the press” E-tools for teachers and students.

  1. What concerns might you have with the “ novelty effect” in education?

The “novelty effect” is a real phenomenon—also known as the “this too shall pass” theory. I would have to say that that ship has sailed. All educators agree that technology is here to stay, and it has become the greatest challenge for all educators to integrate technology into the classroom. If teachers fall behind in the area of technology, they soon discover that their students demand its use.

  1. Do you have a web site or e-mail where readers can find out more about your book and your ideas or get some assistance?

Contact Information:

L. Robert Furman ED.D.
South Park Elementary Center Principal
South Park, PA
(W) 412-655-8510
(C) 412-999-0449

Rob@FurmanR.com

Furmanr@sparksd.org

http://www.furmanr.com

Social Media Connections

Twitter @DrFurman

Facebook: www.facebook.com/furmaneducationalresources

LinkedIn: RobFurman http://www.linkedin.com/pub/rob-furman/26/143/375

Current Publications:

Dr. Furman’s current book Instructional Technology Tools: A professional Development Plan is available in stores now.

www.amazon.com Kindle and print editions

www.barnesandnoble.com Nook and print editions

You can also read Dr. Furman’s blog on the Huffington Post www.huffingtonpost.com

  1. What advice would you offer to other administrators for increasing teacher “ buy in “ in terms of including technology ?

I would share that technology must be integrated into the classroom on the teachers’ TERMs.

T: Give them the necessary Time

E: Encourage technology use in the classroom and reinforce often.

R: Make certain you assure the teachers that they will have all the necessary Resources.

M: Model the use of technology both as an administrator and as an instructional leader

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