Published March 22, 2022
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, most educators had to find new methods for teaching their students. But Graduate School of Education alumna Alie Kuitems, EdM ’09, faced a different challenge. As the lead technology integration specialist at the Charter School for Applied Technologies, she was responsible for ensuring that students had the technology to learn remotely and that teachers possessed the technical skills needed to teach.
She knew she had a lot to do and not much time. And yet, she successfully supported 2300 students and trained 250 teachers on remote learning technology within a matter of weeks.
To do so, she leaned on the lessons she learned while studying early childhood and childhood education at GSE. Dynamic discussions with classmates, supportive faculty and practical coursework laid the foundation for developing innovative learning experiences.
While student teaching at Forest Elementary School, Kuitems’ eyes opened to the possibilities of using technology in the K-12 setting when her mentor teacher incorporated blogging in math lessons. Blogs allowed students to share their answers, explain their problem-solving process and respond to other students’ work.
“They were taught how to appropriately interact with one another on the internet by responding to at least two of their classmates. They could respond to someone who had the correct answer, or someone who didn’t, and reply, ‘I disagree, and this is why,’ which I think is a lifelong skill,” she said.
This experience sparked her interest in educational technology. Still, she did not realize she could make it the focus of her career—until she interviewed for a fourth-grade teaching position at Aloma D. Johnson Charter School in Buffalo. “During my interview, the principal noticed I’d written my Reflective Inquiry Project for my master’s program on technology in the classroom, and I was offered a position as the school’s technology teacher,” she said. She taught students how to type, research on the internet and create presentations. When the school moved to a new location in 2013, Kuitems even had the opportunity to design a brand-new computer lab.
In 2014, Kutiems accepted a position as a technology teacher at the Charter School for Applied Technologies. After two years, a colleague encouraged her to pursue another role: “There was an internal job posting for a technology integration specialist. The IT person for my building actually approached me and said, ‘this job is part of our team. We think you’d be a really good fit because when I explain something to you over the phone, you understand how to fix it in your lab,’” she said.
The catch? She would no longer teach students and, instead, work with teachers.
It turned out to be a perfect fit. “We joke all the time in my department that I’m the translator. I speak the tech jargon and the teacher jargon. I can translate what tech is trying to tell the teachers, but I also translate the other way when I go back to our IT team and say, ‘hey, listen, this is really important for this reason,’” she said.
Understanding and communicating the needs of both groups proved to be invaluable at the onset of the pandemic. First, Kuitems worked with the IT team to ensure that every student in the district obtained the technology necessary to learn remotely. “We needed to get devices out to our kids. We had to order more devices to be able to do that. We had to provide Wi-Fi hotspots to families who didn’t have at-home Wi-Fi,” she explained.
Next on Kuitems’ to-do list: Helping the teachers in her district learn how to teach their students in a remote environment. She held daily online office hours to troubleshoot challenges. She sent newsletters with best practices. She designed a resource website with YouTube videos, articles and how-to documentation. Wherever teachers looked for help, Kuitems was there.
Seeing teachers master and celebrate new tools was rewarding. When one teacher began succeeding with new classroom technologies, it inspired other teachers to try the same tactics. “I can say things until I’m blue in the face, but until you see your colleague do something and succeed with it, you’re probably not going to try it,” she said. “I identified those innovative teachers and tried to amplify their work through my newsletters. And I found that a lot of our late adopters saw their colleagues doing these things and then reached out to me for some training.”
The pandemic also provided an unexpected opportunity to develop new relationships with teachers. “When COVID began, I saw teachers that I had never seen before and got to connect with them,” she said. Now, she knows every teacher in the district by name.
COVID-19 has reinforced the need for incorporating technology in K-12 education, and Kuitems’ dedication has allowed teachers to use new tools to transform learning and instruction. While Kuitems hopes to continue discovering and sharing technologies, she recognizes that tools can only take education so far.
“It’s important for everybody to remember that technology itself will never replace an educator. Face-to-face instruction is the best thing for students. But there are a lot of tools that teachers can use in their classrooms to amplify what they’re teaching and connect kids to people outside of their classroom.”