I’ve been working on our school’s technology budget for next year, so I’m looking at our “needs” and “wants” closely, knowing items in both categories will be cut due to dwindling budgets that I’m sure most districts are well acquainted with.
Introducing new technologies into learning is not an easy process. Decision makers want to examine data, other districts’ successes/struggles, and they want to make sure money is being well spent. There are many approaches to adopting new technologies (or any educational tools, for that matter). Thinking about these approaches inspired me to create a possible plan for investing in and integrating new technologies. My plan laid out here is a “work in progress.” Please visit techlearning.com/may12 to add your comments and suggestions (and don’t hesitate to trash the entire thing and offer up your own plan!).
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had educators approach me with something similar to the following quote: “Okay, we just bought 500 iPod Touches (or other technology) for our teachers/school/district. Now what do we do?”
This has always concerned me, as this is the “cart before the horse” scenario. A lot of money is often spent as schools or districts try to climb aboard the Technology/21st Century Skill wagon without first identifying Purpose.
Without thinking about Technology at all, the process must start with identifying the need. It could be something such as: “I want my students to create work that is meaningful” or “We want our teachers to communicate more with parents and the community.” It might be helpful to identify how these goals are going to be accomplished with or without new technology. This forces the question: are these goals really imperative? In other words, do the interested parties believe so strongly in these goals that they will make sure they happen with or without the purchase of new technologies?
Schools fortunate enough to have Technology Integrators or “tech-savvy” colleagues are then able to go and ask those folks what tools already exist to help achieve the goals identified. There is a very real possibility that in this part of the assessment phase, the conclusion may be that new technologies may not be necessary at all.
If new technologies are in fact identified, another assessment that must take place is to find out if the staff/teachers who will be using the technology have “buy in.” It is important to take a pulse on reactions, perceptions, and feelings from those who will be using the new tools. Are they excited about the possibilities that the tools offer, or do they feel that the new tools are being forced upon them? This latter finding doesn’t necessarily stop the process, but it will be important to identify resistance early on in order to later address possible barriers of adoption during the Professional Development phase.
Beta Test Group (with Small amount of the Identified Technology acquired)
Find those teachers who are most enthusiastic (or at least willing) to try out the new technology. Also, start small with the purchase of the technology. There’s no sense buying Interactive White Boards or iPads (for instance) for an entire school before testing it out with a small group of teachers first. Administrators/decision makers might be inclined to supply everyone with the technology in order to have equity. I believe that using a Beta Test group first is the best route because problems and struggles that may arise with the implementation of the tool(s) can be worked out more easily with a smaller group. Not everyone has to tackle these struggles together. Once all the kinks have been worked out, the Beta group can alleviate much of the anxiety and frustration for the larger group if the technology is adopted. This allows for a much more positive experience for the new users.
Alternatively, the findings from the Beta Test Group may be that the technology does not meet the desired needs, or is not worth the costs, or is too cumbersome or complicated to expect widespread adoption.
Beta Group Assesses and Reports Out
The Beta Group defines the pros and cons of adopting the technology and reports back to the decision makers/administrators. If the technology is adopted, the Beta Group identifies hurdles and struggles that may need to be overcome before adoption as well as begins putting together a clearly identified process for Professional Development for other staff.
It is possible that the group decides that this technology is not a tool that would benefit all teachers/students in the school. Technology Integration may actually come in many different forms. For instance, one set of students may benefit more from a tablet-like tool, and another set of students may do better with laptops. Or different technologies may be offered according to different activities and needs throughout the students’ day.
New People/Small Groups are Trained by Beta Group
This part may seem redundant but I think it’s beneficial. In essence, you are creating a second Beta Test Group of new teachers in order to beta test the Professional Development plan that will ultimately be deployed to the rest of the staff. This time, the group may include teachers who didn’t show an interest in the adoption of the technology (bribe those teachers with lots of chocolate to join this new group). When the original Beta Test Group trains this new group of people, it is likely that additional technology may need to be purchased to support the training and additional needs, struggles, and issues will be further identified, requiring revisions to the original Professional Development plan.
Technology is Purchased for the Larger Group and Professional Development is Delivered
Finally, it’s time to “take the plunge.” The original Beta Test Group, as well as members from the second group, are the best choices for leading the Professional Development for the larger group and should serve as mentors and support for teachers as they begin using the tools. New technology is rarely mastered in one or two sessions of identified Professional Development time. Teachers will need to know whom they are able to go to for support throughout the year in order to become proficient with the tools.
Assess Outcomes (Identified in Purpose Stage)
This really should be happening throughout the entire process, but I believe that there should be some type of formal assessment (examples: survey, data examination of student improvement, observation, and even anecdotal feedback) to see if the technology is actually meeting the needs identified. This could take place at an identified time, such as the end of the school year. It is likely that the assessment may reveal other uses for the technology that hadn’t originally been anticipated. It is also likely that the assessment may reveal problems in the adoption of the technology: perhaps teachers aren’t utilizing the tool (due to struggles with the tool, possibly requiring more professional development, or their own assessment that it is not a tool that “fits in” with the rest of their instruction). It is important to find out if the tools are actually being used, or if they are tucked away in a closet. Decisions may be made by administrators that the technology should be distributed elsewhere, that retraining is required, or that expectations should be readdressed or reevaluated.
Technology adoption does not happen overnight. There are many things to consider, test out, assess, and learn before large amounts of funds are spent. What struggles have you witnessed with new Technology Integration?
Making a Tech Plan
Comments from SchoolCIO advisors:
The plan looks great and would be a nice fit in any district’s I T governance plan, except making it work in a large school district is almost impossible. C onsider how many people would need to be at the decision table: technology, professional development, teacher, principal, curriculum, federal program director, etc. That is a tough crowd to gather in a room and have agreement.
—John M. Williams, executive director/CIO, Metropolitan Nashville (TN) Public Schools
The key to good tech planning more than ever is that it needs to start with curricular and teaching/learning goals, not the devices themselves. I ’ve also been insisting in our district that we stop thinking about how technology improves student performance, but how technology can help support best practices that improve student performance. To me, that is a significant change in perspective of how we select, use, and evaluate technology efforts.
—Doug Johnson, director of media and technology, Mankato Area (MN) Public Schools
Bob’s point that I think is really overlooked in education today is that most educational technology people don’t really have a technology background. They were teachers who were tech savvy and now are technology coordinators, but they have no foundation for how networks really work or how all those devices interact, so there are a lot of issues that will become apparent during the prototyping that someone with a technology background would see before one brings the device in.
—George J. Weeks, director of technology, Glassboro (NJ) Public Schools
This story does a great job in laying out the plan. You have to have a purpose. W e can purchase all types of technology, but until the curriculum and professional development people see the purpose, it will not get used. Starting in small groups is always easier, but also don’t start with just any small group. The comment about finding the teachers that are willing to take the risk is very important. I t is also important that the campus and district administration is a part of the small group.
—Karen D . Fuller, chief technology officer, Klein (TX) I SD