From the President: How We Began

by Tom Nieman

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Over the last few months, I often have been asked why we at Green Light started a professional development effort around technology in the classroom. This is the short version of that story.

Green Light Learning Tools develops educational products. As a result of the tech boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s, increasingly our products were digital. We started out with the basics, creating content for websites and CDs to accompany print products. By the end of 2009 we were making the first publisher-created content for interactive whiteboards. Later, we developed whole programs of IWB lessons, as well as mobile apps and ebooks (2012). As a result, we have a lot experience with curriculum and we know quite a bit about the platforms on which it’s delivered.

However, for nearly two years we had sales that barely scratched $500. As I spoke—commiserated, really—with colleagues in edtech, I began to see a pattern emerge. I call it the Bermuda Triangle of technology. Tech companies sell expensive devices (interactive whiteboards, tablets, software) that have huge potential but work only on their proprietary platform. Publishers publish tech products on numerous platforms and offer them to schools, but find the market unprepared and underfunded. Schools, for their part, are trying to forge a path through the multitude of technology options to find solutions that both work and are affordable—of which there are very few.

There had to be a way to navigate these problems.

Because I’m involved with charter schools in Chicago, we had an opportunity to partner with a school on the far South Side. What we found astonished us: teachers were barely using the new, fancy, and above all, expensive technology in their classrooms. They had little or no training on the technology and even less support. The IWBs were used as glorified projectors and the iPads mere teacher tools.

So, we suggested a professional development plan—to come into the school once a month to provide support for teachers. Despite having to scrounge for funding, the school system and teachers welcomed the help, and that was the beginning of Green Light Professional Development. Soon we found other schools and other teachers who welcomed the same kind of help and support.

Now we are trying to make good on our promises. We want to help schools build professional learning communities around technology, to help them find the best and most affordable technology tools that actually work in school settings, and to integrate technology into day-to-day learning.

Tom NiemanTom Nieman is president of Green Light Professional Development and Nieman Inc., a privately held company that specializes in developing curriculum materials for educational publishers.

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