instructional technology specialist interview

We enjoyed interviewing Evan Houdieshell to learn about how was using Edulastic as a teacher, and now as an Instructional Technology Specialist.

In this 4th Edulastic live event, we will be talking to Evan from Ohio. Formerly a 5th grade teacher, Evan just transitioned to becoming an instructional technology specialist in his school. He will be telling us about his experience with Edulastic as a teacher, and how he is working to help other teachers use it more in his current role.

Note: This interview has been edited from the original transcript for concision. We’ve included the original video interview at the bottom of the page.

Edulastic: Welcome to this week’s event! We are here today with Evan Houdieshell. Evan is the Instructional Technology Specialist at Northmont City Schools in Ohio, and he is going to be talking a bit about how he uses digital assessment there. Hi Evan, we are happy to have you here today. Please tell us a little bit about your Edulastic story.

Evan: I was a fifth grade teacher prior to taking in the role I’m in now. Several years ago, we had a high school teacher attend a conference out in Colorado, where she found out about Edulastic and brought it back to our district. I jumped on board really quickly, as I was looking for something I could use as a quick assessment tool for math, something that would speed up the process and that would be able to provide feedback much quicker to my students. Luckily, my fifth grade math team through our district did the same.

I have to give a shout out to our curriculum specialist, Kristy Geiger, who was able to support us. So we started to develop some common assessments through Edulastic, and it took off from there. I ended up using it for pre-testing, post-testing… I would throw in as little as entrance exit slips at end the day… So it just kind of took off naturally, and I absolutely loved it. Now my goal is to translate that to the other teachers and into the role I’m in now (instructional technology specialist ).

Edulastic: So what was the process like, discovering and deciding that it was something that would work for you?

Evan: It definitely took some trial and error in my part. The first time I tried to build an assessment, it was a little difficult in my mind. But at the same time, the more I did the more I felt comfortable with it. But the first time I was able to give a test and get feedback for my kids almost immediately, it showed me where I could help them.

Edulastic: You mentioned your colleague who went to Denver for the conference; so what are you and your colleagues looking for when it comes to technology, when you attend those types of events?

Evan: I would say we’re looking for things that would improve our day-to-day instruction, something that would give us a better view of where our students really are. So Edulastic was something that we immediately knew we could bring back. It would save us time, and yet still prepare our kids because we do take all of our state testing online. We knew that was going to be another step for us to provide better prep for our kids.

Edulastic: After your colleague brought it back, were you working with other people when you were using it, or alone?

Evan: At first it started with just myself, and when I felt like it was really something that we wanted to use, I got in touch with our curriculum specialist. She was the one who really brought it to me at first and said I should probably try it, because she knew I was big into bringing tech in my curriculum. So when we started to go back and forth with conversations, she said ‘I think you should speak up and talk to our whole team about this.’ So it branched out to our fifth grade team, and then it branched out across several other subjects, and a co-teacher of mine started using it for language arts. She then continued to use it for science, and then it took on a groundswell throughout our district. And I would say a good chunk of least the elementary school that I was in—a good chunk of probably third grade through sixth, were using it pretty frequently.

We have five elementary schools now, and I would say it was very commonly used throughout the district. And I know our high school kids really want to learn more about it. Some of them with who we got started are now in high school and they’re used to it. So they speak up about it to their teachers, and the teachers are starting to catch on as well.

Edulastic: You’re originally a fifth grade math teacher and now you’re the instructional technology specialist. And now that you’re working with a whole bunch of teachers, or seeing teachers from other subjects joining Edulastic, what would you say is their experience compared to yours?

Evan: I would say at first they were kind of overwhelmed. There’s a lot that is available, it’s overwhelming. But then we sat down and talked. We said let’s pick out one standard, let’s start small let’s start with a five question assessment, or a quick ten question assessment that you could use as a pretest or post-test. Once they saw the use of it, that it really wasn’t that hard and that the question banks were there for them to pick and choose whatever question they wanted… that’s when we got more and more people on board. That was the big shift for us, realizing that it can be a little overwhelming at first because there’s a lot of stuff on it, but at the same time this can be used to your advantage.

Edulastic: How did you get the other members on your team to give it a try?  Maybe you can speak more specifically to that?

Evan: The first thing that really got them on board was seeing that they didn’t necessarily have to create anything. When they saw really quickly it was all computer-graded, they realized they would cut down their grading time. That was a huge sell for them. Because even if you use questions that have to be manually graded, the cut down time is still gigantic. I may be more tech savvy than other people when it comes to that, but you can learn as long as you’re willing to learn about it. So for me it started with the quickness of the grading, and then it just transitioned into the quality of questions available. There are some really good questions on there that will make my kids think deeper, but I can still add my own questions if there’s nothing that’s available for what I specifically want…

Edulastic: So as you’re helping your teachers get ready for school, how are you getting the content that you’re using so far?

Evan: I would say that at first, we’ve tried to narrow it down by standards. We tried to pick out that one or two standards you really want to assess, and then build from there. That’s where I try to start with everybody: keep it simple, keep it where you have that guideline. That’s where I’ve tried to influence our staff and say ‘let’s go, let’s build up from there.’ Some have taken it to a whole block of standards, some have taken it to a year-long level standard and tested multiple standards at the time… but I would highly recommend to start with one or two standards, and move up there.

Edulastic: Is that with creating content from scratch, or working from the library?

Evan: Starting with using the library definitely seemed easier. It took a little while for me to get to the point where I wanted to try my own. But then, once you have enough practice with it, it’s really pretty easy, pretty straightforward. It does take some time; I’ve talked with some middle school teachers who are really concerned that. Yes, it’s a lot of work in the front part, but then it saves so much of your time later on. Once you do it once or twice, the cut down in time really tends to do well.

Edulastic: Are you using the free version of Edulastic, the teacher premium, or the school version?

Evan: We have the school version that we purchased last year, I believe. So I have access to the district report and could compare with the date from other fifth grade teachers.

Edulastic: What was the transition like, going from being a 5th grade math teacher to an instructional technology specialist? What was something you really wanted to make sure you brought with you to the new position?

Evan: I’m only about 17 or18 days into it–I started August 1st! The biggest thing I wanted to bring into my classroom was technology pieces. That’s what really engaged the kids, in my opinion. It engaged them a lot more than anything that is of the sit down, paper and pencil types…  The tech is what they wanted to do. Even when it came to testing, it seemed they had a preference of doing it that way.

This year we went one-to-one throughout the entire district with iPads. So my biggest thing right now is trying to get our teachers comfortable with those, and trying to give them resources, tips and tricks, and talk about what can be useful in their class. It’s really starting to build, and now conversations are about what we can do for online testing, what we do for this and that… So the biggest shift was getting everything in their hands, making sure teachers were starting to feel comfortable with it. And now it’s transitioning to what we can do to enhance our curriculum.

Edulastic: Now that it’s back-to-school season, what was your process of gearing up when it came to digital assessment? Did you have trainings?

Evan: If I go back to when I was a teacher, we would always try to meet up a couple weeks prior to school starting. I remember sitting through trainings with Edulastic, and then it would start to gear up towards where our team wanted to take our students experience, what we need to adjust, where did we do well in the state tests, where did our kids have a gap… So trying to gear our instruction and gear our assessments towards the deficiencies, but also to their strengths. That was a big thing for us. I would say my transition this year has really been towards the resources I can provide the teachers to take their instruction to the next level.

I’ve had a lot of teachers reach out to me about Edulastic, I’ve had some other teachers reach out about other resources available, so it’s just been a total change of pace. I’ve loved it so far but gearing up for a classroom compared to gearing up to support our staff is totally different.

Edulastic: Going back to using digital assessment for exit tickets: how frequently was that? What is the typical week or month with it?

Evan: For me, a typical week would be to give roughly two or three actually tickets a week, using Edulastic. I tried to keep them short and sweet. It was normally somewhere in the range of two to three questions, with a maximum of five. I wanted a quick five or ten-minute check-in just to see where everybody was, where I would need to lead off the next day. I tried to limit homework, so I would use this as a guide for the next day. And then we would build up: first starting with that pretest, than extra little exit tickets along the way to check-in, and then we build it up to our first test. It made it really nice that our post-test were also a common assessment around our district.

We came together as a fifth grade group to build those final assessments together and give the same ones for each kid in our district. That way we could have a really clear picture of where our 5th graders were throughout the district.

Edulastic: Here is a question from the audience: as a former math teacher and now as tech specialist, do you plan on attending department meetings, staff meetings… or do you wait for them to approach you?

Evan: It is my intention to it to join every staff meeting. Luckily we haven’t started those yet, we start them in September. We kind of go grade by grade and do some small check-ins. We have those two or three a year, where we sit down and get a chance to talk with them. So it is my intention to be there, especially because I think most of our district is going towards that online assessment piece. And also to sit down and say ‘here’s what you’re doing, what resources can I provide you technology-wise?’ I tried to build a steady communication stream with our staff.

It’s hard to say what my schedule is going to be like this year. I want to be visible in the buildings, I don’t want to sit behind a desk and just say ‘hey, here’s another good thing for you.’ No, I want to be out there, hands-on with them. It seems like we’ve kind of found the sweet spot where I spend a half-day in every building, every week. Because of that flexibility, if somebody’s giving their first digital test and having trouble with it, I can pop in and give them 35-40 minutes, maybe even an hour, to work on it together, troubleshoot with them so they feel more comfortable the next time you’re trying to give this yourself.

Edulastic: Let’s dig a bit more into your background. Why did you become a teacher in the first place?

Evan: I had some fantastic teachers growing up! The ones that really stick out to me were my second and fourth-grade teachers. I still have contact with both of them. I was actually in one of their classrooms the other day! I said ‘this is really weird,’ and she even said the same thing when I was going in to help her set some stuff. It was a fun little experience and we talked about it in front of her third graders. By the time I reached seventh or eighth grade, I kind of knew I wanted to become a teacher. It was either that or meteorologist, one of the two. But I had great influences.

I also had a great district, and even ended up going back and teaching in the same district I grew up in. And I feel like we have a great staff right now. We have people who are passionate about educating our kids, their main objective is to produce good citizens, who can hopefully be competitive once they leave our district.

Edulastic: What do you love about teaching, now?

Evan: It’s a different thing every day. There are no two days that are the same; it keeps you on your toes. It was the case in my classroom, but also right now. To me it is what makes it fun. I don’t really do well with monotony, so I always try to change it up. And I always try to keep my kids on their toes. I tell them that I might just walk in one day and say ‘hey, we’re going to completely change something, let’s see how it goes!’ So I just love to have fun with it and I love the challenge of not knowing what to expect when the kids walk in the door. I want to just go with it and see where it takes us.

Edulastic: What would you say to new teachers, and to those who are considering teaching?

Evan: Be ready for a challenge! To me there is no job that’s more rewarding. You have an impact that you don’t even know about. This year, coming out of the classroom, I had so many kids come up to me and ask ‘why are you not teaching anymore?’ and I said ‘I transitioned into this job, I’m working with our staff,’ and they were like ‘oh, we can’t believe that, you seemed to love teaching!’ And I’m like ‘I did love it! I still do and I’d loved to get back into it at some point, but I just had to take this opportunity because I loved the tech side so much.’ Hopefully I can pass that love to our staff as well, but hearing those kids say that to me made me realize I made an impact. No matter what you do, you make an impact—so hopefully it’s a positive one! And that to me is the big challenge. They may not remember you, know what you taught exactly, but they’re going to remember how you made them feel, what they experienced in your class.

Edulastic: And now tell us, what do you like to do in your free time?

Evan: Well, I’ve got a two-and-a-half-year-old here now… Luckily she’s up with Grandma and Grandpa tonight; otherwise she’d probably be running around here, chasing the cat. So I love spending time with her and my wife. We actually have our second daughter on the way so we’re trying to get everything ready for her arrival. I also love anything to do with sports. I coached basketball for a few years, but I’m taking this year off for the baby. I also love to play golf, and just really anything sports related.

Edulastic: What are you looking forward to, this year?

Evan: For me it’s going to be the challenge of transitioning from being in the classroom to supporting our educators. It’s definitely a total mindset change!

Edulastic: Any last thing you would like to pass on?

Evan: Yes, if you are thinking about trying digital assessment, give Edulastic a shot! It provided my class with a ton of immediate feedback. And my kids were ready to go with it as soon as we started to rollout. It was definitely a piece I loved in my classroom, and hopefully I can start passing it on to other people in our district.

Edulastic: Thank you Evan!