Turning Schools

A seasoned edtech expert provides perspective on transformative technologies.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Tina Rooks SVP and Chief Instructional Officer at Turning TechnologiesCrafting product development strategy, research initiatives and thought leadership across all markets globally are among the tasks of Dr. Tina Rooks, Senior Vice President and Chief Instructional Officer at Turning Technologies, an Ohio-based audience response solutions provider for education. Tina oversees the product development teams, including software engineers, hardware engineers and product managers, to assist in designing solutions that meet user needs. With over 16 years of experience in education, she was instrumental in developing the educational consulting team and building the Turning Technologies school improvement initiative specifically for the K-12 market. She has previously served as a classroom teacher, middle school principal, technology administrator and Vice President of a professional development division for an educational technology company. She completed her Doctorate in Instructional Technology at Pepperdine University. Additionally, she has a B.S. in Secondary Social Sciences and a M.Ed. in Administration and Leadership. Her insight in this exclusive EdTech Digest interview is rich with experience that we hope you’ll find insightful in your own work in and around education and technology.

Products that contain a teacher-friendly user interface, with the ability to access more advanced features as teachers learn the product — are easier to integrate.

Victor: I was just noticing your LinkedIn profile — 2008 is somewhat recent — did you specifically study Education Technology at Pepperdine? How has that experience helped you to arrive at your current approach? 

Tina: Yes, I did complete my doctorate at Pepperdine. It was an amazing experience which significantly impacted my view on instructional technology. The program was very hands-on, as well as grounded in modern theories. Rather than focusing on specific technologies, the program led with learning theories with the belief that technology should be purpose-driven to enhance the ways we learn most effectively. Additionally, my teaching and school leadership positions have also been incorporated into my current role. There really is no substitution for real-world experience.

Victor: You’ve worked in tech integration in K-12 for a variety of technology products – are one or more easier than others to integrate? What are some of the issues and challenges there? 

Tina: I have worked with a broad spectrum of technologies ranging from sound systems to robotics. I have found the products that contain a teacher-friendly user interface, with the ability to access more advanced features as teachers learn the product — are easier to integrate. Additionally, I believe that our approach to professional development needs to be ongoing rather than a single day event. I am also a strong believer in peer mentoring where early adopters teach others what they find to be effective. If we view instructional technology simply as the tools teachers need to be effective, then integration becomes very natural. In education we often view technology as something that happens in a “lab,” or that every classroom must be outfitted with the same equipment. In reality, different teachers have different needs depending on many variables such as grade level, subject area and teaching styles. Integration should be driven by overall instructional goals.

Victor: You’ve been recognized for your leadership qualities — what makes for a great leader when it comes to EdTech?

Tina: I believe great leaders in EdTech are those that are able to help educators and learners leverage technology to create a better learning environment. I have had the pleasure of working with many of the truly great thought leaders in EdTech who have taught me to think outside the box, to view technology not as a goal but as a means to reach goals.

Victor: From where does your passion come in training teachers to not only use technology in the classroom but to love to use it? What makes you say that?

Tina: I spent several years as a VP of a training division that helped educators use tools that were incorporated into the “21st-century classroom.” At the start of sessions, I would often hear how frustrated teachers were that they had to attend training for technology they never asked for or wanted. I leveraged these moments to listen to what they believed to be important in the classroom. One common theme was reiterated – the student is the most important focus of the classroom, not the technology.

As a teacher myself, I understood their viewpoint. This changed my approach to technology PD, which became much more customized around helping educators learn to use technologies in ways that helped them connect to their students, engage their students and often times learn from their students. It was also the point in time that I became a strong advocate of student response technology. Unlike many of the technologies in the “21st century classroom,” the clicker was one that was in the hands of every student, giving each student an equal voice. Teachers loved to learn how to leverage the technology to become better connected to every one of their students on a daily basis.

Victor: What are some trends and news going on in the audience response industry right now? How does technology factor into that?

CREDIT Turning Technologies K-12 solutionsTina: As the recognized industry leader, Turning Technologies is at the forefront of the audience response industry with our Triton and Insight 360 solutions, both which connect the entire spectrum of data collection, from formative to summative. Triton has reinvented clickers as another option for high-stakes testing. It is the first solution in the industry to offer completely secure, cloud-based management of testing files with reliable, no bandwidth testing in the classroom. This approach to securely transfer of data from clicker to receiver to web is the future of our industry. Triton is the only digital assessment alternative to paper or computer-based testing that is affordable and efficient, without requiring an Internet connection.

Our Insight 360 solution has brought the best of clickers, interactive whiteboards, mobile devices and ExamView content together under one platform. This digital version of the “21st century classroom” is highly customizable so teachers can use the tools as they determine the needs of learners. As mobile devices, particularly iPads and tablets, enter the K-12 space at a high rate of adoption, Insight 360 is a unique tool because of its ability to enable mixed environments of mobile and traditional hardware solutions. Schools can leverage what they have now, as well as what they might have in the future.

Victor: What issues and challenges is Turning Technologies facing and overcoming? 

Tina: The biggest challenge Turning Technologies faces today is our continued growth and finding the right balance between offerings for educators on the bleeding edge of technology and those just getting started. We also face the challenge of meeting the needs of very diverse environments, ranging from schools with little infrastructure to those that have networks prepared to handle nearly any technology. We have stayed committed to innovation, product reliability and relevant solutions, which guides our decisions in all directions.

Victor: What are some highlights in your current work? Successes? 

Tina: Turning Technologies has afforded me opportunities to work in a wide variety of roles that currently include both product-focused as well as sales-focused responsibilities. I believe the greatest highlight of my work is when you see products that truly meet the needs of educators, solves their problems and helps them become successful. I get up every day with a belief that we can collectively change education for the better when vendors are partners to education. Some of my favorite stories come from pilots we conduct with customers as we develop solutions. Watching the Turning Technologies product teams work with customers and then develop to their needs is a wonderful success. I am always reinvigorated when I go to customer sites and get to see our solutions being used. We recently used our Triton solution for the California Academic Decathlon competition. Our team onsite asked a room of students if they liked the solution better than using traditional bubble sheets, and took a picture of several hundred students all with their thumbs up, which was sent to me. That is the moment that makes the long hours all worth it.

Victor: At ISTE in San Diego not long ago, I saw an iPhone with an app that basically acted as a clicker, a few tables away from Turning Technologies. What’s your response to such an approach that may well render clicker type mechanisms obsolete? Why would school districts still pay for what appears to be an outmoded model? 

CREDIT Turning Technologies mobile learningTina: Actually, Turning Technologies was first to market with a solution that leveraged mobile devices for the purpose of polling. We have found that many educational institutions do not have the infrastructure to support this approach and have valued our ability to offer both traditional clickers and mobile polling solutions all in one environment. Turning Technologies believes that every response counts and in order to ensure that every response is captured, we must match the solution to the environment. Districts still pay for clickers because they are tools for digital data collection that simply work every time without concerns over power management or network bandwidth. Clickers also create a focused environment and prevent student distractions. I have been asked before if this is an outdated technology, and my response generally includes comparisons. For example, we know that 90 percent of testing is still conducted using paper bubble sheets. If we compare a clicker to a paper bubble sheet, it is cutting edge. If you compare it to an iPad, it might be considered outmoded. This brings us back to one of my original statements – technology is a means, not a goal. Districts have to educate, assess and develop college and career-ready students, requiring time, resources and technologies to find solutions in order to meet needs.

Victor: Any advice to education leaders out there these days? 

Tina: The best advice I can offer to education leaders is to embrace change and practice lifelong learning. One common success factor I have seen both as an educator and now on the corporate side of education is that those who invest in the success of others will find very rewarding careers. Measure your leadership on the basis of making education a better place and strive to make meaningful change. Keep in mind that technology should be purpose-driven and true leaders know they only lead effectively with a strong team who will follow.

Victor: Your thoughts on education in general these days?

Tina: I believe education is undergoing major changes that will reinvent how we think of education. Sometimes major change is difficult to see until decades later when the change has fully played out. Education has held on to many of our longtime practices that have lost some relevance. I believe technology is playing a role in breaking down a few of our dated practices. It is exciting to see so many educators willing to not only embrace change, but to act as change agents. There are many days I miss the classroom, but I have replaced my dedication to my students with a dedication to the teachers who need solutions for a rapidly changing world. The next decade will require more collaboration between educators, vendors, researchers, students and parents than has ever before to see the changes I believe needed to prepare our next generation of learners. This is no easy task, but I believe years in the future these times will be seen as monumental in the advancement of our educational system.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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