Q&A with EdTech Coordinator JR Renna

"I think once I got to know my way around it, it’s a really nice piece of equipment. I never realized what an iPad could turn into. You can film anything and it’s so easy! It felt great to be able to put out high quality video for the world to view on Twitter. I’m proud that my school is using such great equipment. I know if I’m signed up to film something, I’m excited and motivated to get my work done so I can get to tech team and tell our story with the Padcaster”

- Kayden S., 7th Grade

The Ed Tech Coordinator at Parkland School District, JR Renna, tells us how they have used technology to share their school’s story. 

Can you start by telling us a little bit about your district and your goals as a district? 

The Parkland School District is located in the semi-metropolitan region known as the Lehigh Valley in eastern Pennsylvania. We serve almost 9,400 students over 11 buildings, where we focus our attention on academics, arts, and athletics; educating the whole child.

What is one of your primary goals as a Coordinator of Ed Tech? 

One of my primary goals this year has been to support student voice and creativity with authentic projects. Students take ownership and become not just engaged, but invested in learning when they can have a say in what they’re learning, how they’re learning it, and how they express it. 

When you give them the opportunity to share their work on the internet, the quality of their work goes through the roof. Dr. Howard Pitler said, “If students are sharing their work with their teacher, they want it to be good enough. If they are sharing it with the world they want it to be GREAT.” We find that to be true as well. 

What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most challenging? 

My role is focused on connecting amazing students and teachers with the latest and greatest technology and pedagogy to facilitate learner-centric classrooms. I help teachers use technology to transform their lessons to provide experiences that weren’t possible before. Every day my work is directly impacting the way our classrooms look and feel, ultimately preparing our students to navigate the digital workplace they’ll enter into after school. That’s incredibly rewarding.

This is my first year at Parkland, and the most challenging aspect has been to try and build meaningful connections with as many faculty as possible - a challenge with over 1,300 staff!

Why do you think it’s important to use video in schools? 

We see social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, & Snapchat making a huge push into video, including live video. As social becomes a primary way our community stays informed, it’s important for us to move along with them at the forefront of content delivery. Which we’re happy to do by the way, because it’s a wonderfully engaging and creative medium. Video pushed via social media is a much better way to connect with parents than asking them to visit the district website.

How did you first find out about Padcaster? 

I saw Padcaster at the ISTE conference a while back. I have kept it in mind as a resource, and used it in both my previous districts, and when I arrived at Parkland, and would be working with our Trojan Tech Teams, I knew it would be a perfect fit!

How is Padcaster helping you to achieve your goals as a district? 

Our goal this year centered around telling our school’s story. There’s a conversation going on about your school and it’s your choice whether or not you’d like to participate. After a visit last summer from Dr. Tony Sinanis, co-author of the book Hacking Leadership, our school principals made it a goal to actively participate, never missing an opportunity to share something positive going on in our schools. 

Our student-led “Trojan Tech Teams” have used Padcasters (one per building) to help tell that story. Students have captured photos and videos with the Padcaster, sometimes editing using the Memories feature in Apple Photos or iMovie, and then AirDropping content to the principal for posting to the school’s Twitter account. 

They have also told their story through live broadcasting on Periscope, capturing concerts, sporting events, assemblies, festivals and classroom activities LIVE (they work with adults to ensure guidelines for posting to social media are followed). Parents and relatives from out of the area loved being able to tune in and participate. 

What do you find to be the biggest benefit of using Padcaster over traditional cameras? 

The ability to capture, edit, and publish from one lightweight and portable device helps us capture our schools’ stories in many contexts where we previously wouldn’t have considered it. 

How have the students responded to using Padcaster?

Our students’ interest has been intense! They’re excited. They picked it up quickly, and now are thinking about what outside the box applications they could use it in. 

What is the most exciting use of Padcaster you’ve seen?

Our tech teams brought their Padcasters to the Apple Store for a field trip where they learned how to use them to do stop motion animation! I found that the process of creating stop motion was super simple, and brought a level of creativity and expression out of even my more reserved team members. The Apple Store staff found our Padcasters to be pretty impressive as well. 

All students got a certificate and a sweet T-shirt from Apple too! It was a great experience. 

Specifically with regards to video, what are some of your plans for the future?  

We’d like to add mini mixer boards and multiple mics for capturing some live events with better fidelity and wireless lavaliere microphones for flexibility. We’re also interested in exploring 360 video. 

You can check out the story of how we’ve told our school’s story here.

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