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Technology meets the humanities in this tech specialist

By Nicole Krueger
December 19, 2018
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Step into a school makerspace, and you might expect to see science students programming robots, tinkering with circuits or accomplishing miniature feats of engineering.

While there’s plenty of that going on in Harpeth Hall’s Design Den, you’re just as likely to see English students emblazoning meaningful literary quotes onto bookmarks or geography students recreating ancient Egyptian artifacts using upcycled materials.

Finding ways to authentically explore the humanities in a high-tech makerspace can be challenging, but connecting technology to the curriculum is what Caitlin McLemore does best. As the academic technology specialist for the allgirls school in Nashville, Tennessee, she has helped teachers and students alike try out innovative approaches to traditional content.

“I truly believe that technology shouldn’t be used for technology’s sake. It should be used to help the learner and the teacher do something different – do something more,” says the 2018 winner of the ISTE Outstanding Young Educator award.

“The idea behind the makerspace is not, ‘Look, we have this cool tool.’ It’s about how we can use hands-on learning to make a difference.”

For McLemore and the 700 girls in grades 5-12 who show up each morning with their 1:1 laptops, technology isn’t a standalone phenomenon but rather a common thread running through their daily lives. With no separate tech classes to speak of, the school has chosen instead to embed technology into the fabric of its curriculum.

Working in a place where STEM and the humanities peacefully co-exist has been a natural fit for McLemore, whose love of reading matches her passion for technology.

“I love that I get to walk through stacks of books every day to get to my office,” says the Harry Potter fan and doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins University, where she conducts research on information and media literacy.

Her dual passions also inspired her to co-author an ISTE book, Stretch Yourself: A Personalized Journey to Deepen Your Teaching Practice, with edtech coach Fanny Passeport. Located on opposite sides of the world, the two educators relied on a smattering of tools, such as Skype and Google Docs, to collaborate on the book, which uses yoga as a motif to encourage teachers to deepen their teaching practice through technology integration.

The experience served as a reminder that the tool itself isn’t as important as what it can do.

“Sometimes we met on Google Hangouts, sometimes on Skype. Really it didn’t matter so much which tools we used, as long as we had some sort of tool that allowed us to occasionally talk to each other,” she says.

Growing up in Florida, McLemore had a natural interest in technology, fueled by the fact that her family always had a compu ter in their home. She never intended to make it the focus of her career, however. After completing the University of Florida’s teacher prep program, intending to become a public elementary school teacher, she moved to Nashville with her husband and got a job at a child development center, where she started a monthly electronic newsletter. That led to her first position as a technology integrationist at Currey Ingram Academy, where she developed a schoolwide digital citizenship curriculum as well as a popular game-based professional learning program.

McLemore credits her teacher prep program with giving her the pedagogical understanding to unite technology with learning goals in a way even reluctant teachers can get excited about.

“I think when they work with me, they see that technology isn’t scary, and they get excited about the possibilities,” she says. “That’s why it’s so important to connect what we’re doing in the classroom to student learning outcomes. When they see the value technology can add to the learning experience, that’s when teachers say, ‘This is a really good thing. We should be using technology.’ ”

Now that teachers at Harpeth Hall have embraced technology’s possibilities, McLemore is ready to move on to the next chapter of her career. After having a baby in August, she accepted a similar position at a school closer to home, in Tampa, at the end of the calendar year. Despite the hailstorm of recent life changes – buying a house, moving states, becoming a mom – she doesn’t see herself veering from her course as a technology specialist anytime soon.

“I get to be in lot of spaces and make an impact in a lot of classrooms,” she says. “Because I work with all classes and teachers, I get to have broader perspective. I’m pretty happy doing what I do.”

Nicole Krueger is a freelance writer and journalist with a passion for finding out what makes learners tick.