Bill Selak remembers the day he set aside his normal lesson plan and invited 36 fifth-grade students to compose and record together using GarageBand on a single laptop.
“They were super-engaged,” Prof. Selak says. “It was one of those moments like in the movie The Matrix where Neo starts seeing in code and realizes that he can do it. The big pivot was being willing to take that risk and try something where I didn’t know what the outcome would be.”
Selak, an adjunct professor in Concordia University Irvine's MAEd in Educational Technology degree program, is on the cutting edge of educational technology as a practitioner, popular speaker, podcast creator and blogger. At his “day job” — as director of technology at a school in the Bay Area — Selak and fellow teachers are revolutionizing how and what kids are taught as early as first grade. For example, their first-graders write and publish their own songs and videos, then publish them to YouTube, sometimes for audiences of thousands.
“You can storyboard a video, shoot it, edit it collaboratively, publish it, market it and sell it — all from your phone,” Selak says. “That changes everything about what school is. That’s so incredibly exciting.”
Selak speaks at leading conferences such as the CUE Conference, is an International Society for Technology in Education certified presenter, and is Google Certified, Apple Certified and is a CUE Presenter. For CUI, he has taught nearly every course in the Educational Technology program, and is a subject matter expert who shapes the content of many of them.
“The field moves so fast with technology that we constantly need to update the books and resources to make sure that what our students experience is really the best and most recent thinking in trends in schools,” Selak says.
Selak started out as a working musician in Los Angeles, playing guitar and bass in studio sessions. Then his mom, who came from a family of educators, asked him to try substitute teaching.
“I substituted one day and was immediately hooked,” Selak says. “Education became my life.”
He earned his master’s degree in educational technology. In 2005, he started his first podcast, “Bill Selak Talks,” back when the technology was still cumbersome. Soon, he began experimenting with using technology in the classroom to “give students the choice, give them the voice and enable them to create in a way that used to take a whole career,” he says.
At the school where he works, students as early as first grade use iPad apps to take photos of their work, hit audio record and explain their thinking about school assignments.
“It’s so simple, not flashy,” Selak says. “But the student and the teacher have a record of the student’s learning. It makes formative assessment a pretty interesting thing.”
Second grade students create a visual autobiography using Apple’s Keynote application, describing who they are with images and music. Recently, the school handed middle school students the keys to the digital signage which appears on four displays around campus. In creating content, students learned visual literacy, graphic design, giving and receiving thoughtful criticism, writing for an audience, and style guide norms.
“All the things you do as a communication department, we ran with fifth, sixth and seventh graders,” Selak says.
Selak sometimes leads conference attendees through the process of writing and recording an original song in one hour.
At Concordia Irvine he likes to enable future teachers to “find who their people are and build those professional relationships so you feel like you’re in it together, supporting students and trying new things,” he says. “When you find those wacky, zany people who are trying new things, that very quickly feels normal, not scary as if you were on your own.”
Selak also churns out a remarkable amount of original material, much of it in the form of podcasts. In addition to his flagship show, he has co-created three other education-related podcasts, one of which examines how classroom education is presented in popular movies.
“Podcasts have been a cool way to work with amazing colleagues to have conversations and share those conversations and thoughts,” he says.
His work at Concordia and at his school in the Bay Area is about “putting student voices at the center of the learning experience,” he says. “We need to be willing to try new things with students, and give them more choice.”