Monday, May 29, 2017

A Muggle’s (non-teacher) Journey into Ed Tech and a desire to make a difference

It all started with a tweet:
Yes please!  I would love to share my unique perspective with my superheroes;  TEACHERS!  Thank you!

My involvement with technology began in 1986 with an Apple IIe that included two 5/14” floppy drives. The first program I ever used?   Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  It was a text adventure gaming software program that required imagination and some sleuthing.  Six months later I was upgraded to an XT Personal Computer with a Hayes 1200 baud modem. That modem opened up doors for me, because at the time I was a single parent with a newborn son, trying to make ends meet. The modem allowed me to log into Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) which was pre World Wide Web.  You would dial a number that would connect you to a computer. One of the first BBS’s I logged into was Sharky’s MAChine. The Sysop (System Operator) used his personal MacIntosh computer to host the board. The BBS was like our present day Facebook experience but without the pictures, it was all text.  However, if you were super creative there was ASCII (graphics made up of characters).   I remember one time after logging into Sharky’s MAChine reading through the boards and then all of a sudden words appeared scrolling across the screen as they were being typed:

“Hi!  This is Sharky, thanks for connecting to my BBS”
I tentatively type:  “Hello?”  

I don’t remember the exact details of that conversation, but it was my first experience with chatting online, 30 years ago.   I do remember that I was hooked from that moment as I discovered there were other folks out there with similar interests, a whole community of people that I regarded as my tribe that dialed into BBS’s.  I was so inspired, I even instituted my own BBS and at the time I was the only female Sysop in San Diego County. I met a lot of folks through weekly meet ups at the Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour in Escondido and then later on at the Dairy Queen.  This group of folks are who led me on my path to become as involved in technology as I am today.  Thanks to this new found network of friends I was offered my first job in technology selling Tandy Computers at Radio Shack during the holiday season in 1987.  

It wasn’t until eleven years later that my mind was blown with what could be accomplished with technology in the classroom. That was outside of software programs such as  “Oregon Trail” and “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”   In 1998, I was called out to our corporate pick-up desk at CompUSA where I was working at the time.  This was my first time meeting Dr. Jeffrey Felix, then a superintendent at San Pasqual Union School District. He shared with me that he had just returned from an “Anytime, Anywhere” Learning Summit and that he wanted to establish a 1:1 program for his 6th graders.

What is that? This was a new term for me.

Dr. Felix  explained to me that each student (1 student) would be issued a laptop (1 laptop) that would be used throughout the day ( and even at home!) for school work.  

That’s awesome!

I remember thinking that this is exactly the kind of classroom I wanted my then 11 year old son to be in.  I wanted my son to have a teacher and an administration that supported innovative learning environments and have an engaging learning experience. I will never forget that day when my eyes were opened up to a whole new world. I really started to love my work even more as I knew that I along with others could make a difference in a child’s life through the use of technology in the classroom.  I now had a purpose and that purpose was fueled by the knowledge that we could “think outside of the box” when it is linked to students and their learning.  

Fast forward to today, 1:1 is common and we have an extensive and overwhelming selection of tools and programs for educators to choose from. Technology is replacing textbooks and is producing rich interactive learning experiences.  It aids teachers by producing data allowing them to teach more effectively which in turn yields personalized learning experiences with positive learning outcomes for each and every student.  There is so much to choose from and so many exciting opportunities for not only teachers to teach but most importantly for students to learn.  I anticipate that we will see more students falling in love with learning as it will become more engaging thanks to their teachers using technology effectively as a tool to support their practice.  

What can we do to better support the adoption of technology being used productively in the classroom?  As I see it, technology is now completely woven into our lives, workplaces have evolved and so must our schools.  So how can we use technology effectively to better prepare our students and provide them with the necessary instruction to ensure success?  With so many choices available for teachers, how do they choose what is best for their students? I love and appreciate the Twitter chats that allow for educators to exchange and share ideas.  But what about teachers not actively engaged in social media?  As we continue to embark on this journey together, I would invite you to reach out to me to share your ideas, thoughts and how I can support you from the San Diego County Office of Education. I am one of your biggest cheerleaders and I adore creativity and innovation. It truly has been a journey for me for the past 30 years and I’m sure you can relate with your own personal journeys.  I can’t wait to see what you, as our leaders in the classroom will come up with next to share with each other and our students.   

paulette pink glassess.jpg

Paulette Donnellon

In June of 2016 Paulette Donnellon was elected to the San Diego County Board of Education representing District 4 which includes a large portion of the county, stretching from Vista to the eastern county line and from Lakeside to the northern boundary.
Paulette has over 25 years of experience working with technology in education. Currently she is the Director of Partnerships for Gooru, a technology non-profit organization, whose mission is to honor the human right to education. Paulette served on the Escondido Union School District Board of Education from 2012-2016.  She also served 9 years in the U.S. Army and was deployed during Desert Storm.  She is an active community member and enjoys spending time with her family and friends in the desert.  


  1. Thanks for sharing your story. Having board members that are engaged in meaningful conversations about education, and technology's role in it, are critical to successful learning opportunities for students.

  2. Hi Paullette, I loved my apple 11e with the dual floppy drives and I love the fact that my personal email account is with's got a vintage flair to it. I enjoyed reading your post. I get to work with teachers in classrooms everyday integrating technology. I think the best uses of technology are content driven and help keep the student focus on their learning goals, not the tool itself...whether it's enhancement, engagement, or enrichment, when student outcomes are the focus it's hard to go wrong.

  3. Hi Paulette! I loved reading your blog. I agree that the opportunities for connected learning are growing at an exponential rate. I'm curious, do you see the same 'wonder' in your students today as your teachers might have seen on your face as you traveled the Oregon Trail? And to you and the readers at large, what Apps or digital experiences create the sense of magic for your students that Paulette describes above?