Scott McLeod pushes boundaries, makes others uncomfortable with different ideas and keeps moving forward to build up education technology leaders.
As he transitions from his role as director of learning, teaching and innovation for Iowa's Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency to associate professor of educational leadership at the University of Colorado Denver this fall, he will continue to work toward his personal mission of creating relevant learning environments.
"That's the charge: How do we move beyond isolated pockets of innovation and start changing things at a systemic level so that most students and most staff start to experience different kinds of learning and teaching?" McLeod asked.
McLeod received the ISTE Award for Outstanding Leadership this summer for his work on K-12 school technology leadership issues at Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency. He founded the University Council for Educational Administration's Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE) and has taken it with him to three host research universities. CASTLE serves as a resource for K-12 administrators, offers graduate degrees and shares research on school technology leadership, most recently at the University of Kentucky.
In 2011, McLeod earned the Center for Digital Education's Top 30 award, and became the University of Kentucky's first remote professor after the president recruited him from Iowa State University and agreed to his idea to work from a distance. He spent some time in Kentucky each month, but did most of his work online in Iowa. While businesses and some online-first universities have figured out how to accommodate remote workers, big research universities including the University of Kentucky struggle to fit remote employees into their traditional model, which often includes researching, serving on faculty governance committees and teaching a full set of courses on campus.
"In some ways, my remote professor arrangement was one of those weird things that someone had an idea about that made other folks uncomfortable," McLeod said.
After nearly two years there, he left the university to take a job at Prairie Lakes Education Agency, one of nine agencies in the state that provide special education support, media and technology services, instructional services, professional development, and school improvement leadership services to 40 school districts and 11 accredited schools across 8,000 square miles. At the time, he didn't want to have to move his family out of Iowa before his oldest daughter went through high school, so he took some time away from higher ed. Between his work at CASTLE and the education agency over the years, McLeod helped lead Iowa's grass-roots effort to provide computers for each student in school districts with the help of School Administrators of Iowa, a professional association for school leaders. He estimates that Iowa has the second-largest presence of computing initiatives for individual students in the country after Maine.
While at the education agency, he saw firsthand the effect superintendents have on school districts' abilities to move forward with technology. Particularly in Iowa's rural areas, technology changes swept through districts where superintendents were willing to think differently about how teaching and learning happened. But they didn't happen when superintendents didn't want to move their districts forward in this area. These districts didn't always take advantage of the free technology-related services their education agency provided, McLeod said, because they were uncomfortable with change or didn't have the internal capacity to take advantage of the resources.
"Just watching that play out in a very real-time basis over the last four years in all these small districts was very fascinating to me," he said, "and also frustrating, because I knew there were opportunities for kids and teachers that weren't made available because of the superintendent's reluctance."
While he was at the education agency, he and instructional technology consultant Julie Graber worked together to create trudacot (Technology-Rich Unit Design And Classroom Observation Template), a planning tool designed to help educators think about why they incorporate technology into lessons and units and what they want to accomplish. This template addresses some of the limitations they see with other models, including Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition (SAMR), which McLeod said tells teachers what category they fall into, but doesn't tell them what to change to improve their lessons.
As McLeod moves into his role as associate professor of educational leadership at the University of Colorado Denver, his first two goals are figuring out his job and who's who in the state. Then, he'll get connected with schools, leaders and the state Education Department. But he's starting his new job with the same challenge he always gives himself: How to create learning environments for students and staff that are relevant to 2016 and beyond.