I remember as a child playing a game made of wooden pieces, stacked perfectly together in the shape of a tower. We took turns removing one piece at a time, and the object of the game was to keep the tower from tumbling to the ground. The way that instructional and information technology leaders are constantly adding and removing pieces in an ever-changing puzzle, in their efforts to provide school communities access to innovative resources and tools to support instruction, reminds me of this game.
Educators everywhere today are receiving promotional materials filled with information and testimonials regarding the latest technology tools released by publishers or software developers. As a result, school technology teams have seen a drastic increase in the number of requests from staff members and grade-level teams for new tools to engage their students and enhance instruction. Here are seven essential steps every school and technology leader—from building-to district-level—should consider prior to adopting new technology in their school:
1. PREVENT “TECHNOLUST” ADOPTIONS
To ensure that each technology adoption is grounded in student learning goals and/or outcomes, and not in a desire to try the next new thing, each request must be based on specific goals or initiatives that have been established. New adoptions also need to be consistent with existing standards for the school, such as an ability to automate user account provisioning and compatibility with adopted end-user device platforms.
2. PERFORM A 360-DEGREE TRIAL
Sales demonstrations and word-of-mouth testimonials from peers help to provide a basic understanding of how technology products can support educational activities. Prior to adoption, however, teachers and students (and sometimes parents) should thoroughly evaluate the product to ensure that the user experience is appropriate and that the product will meet the needs and goals set forth in step 1, above. Consider how students will log into the system, how their user credentials will be provisioned, and what training teachers will need in order to provide first-level technical support to their students.
3. DOCUMENT COMPLIANCE WITH STUDENT INFORMATION AND PRIVACY LAWS
Find and document answers to the following questions: Who owns the information stored within the system? How is the information that’s stored in the system used, and who has access to the system? Can the school download and transfer the data to another system? What steps must be taken to legally create student accounts in the system?
4. DETERMINE THE SCHOOL INVESTMENT
When you acquire a new service or add-on to an existing agreement, there are often onetime as well as ongoing costs associated with the service. Determine the overall cost of each new technology adoption and the commitment terms that will need to be fulfilled. Whenever possible and financially responsible, consider pilot adoptions for new technology to ensure that the results justify the investment of both money and personnel.
5. DEVELOP A PLAN PRIOR TO ADOPTION
Do not acquire any new technology tool or resource without a plan. For every adoption you will need a detailed plan identifying how the product will be funded and who will be responsible to complete portions of the implementation process and when. You should also have a roadmap specifying how this new product will be used in student learning environments.
6. EVALUATE, EVALUATE, EVALUATE
Each adoption should be evaluated during its first year and in each subsequent year of implementation as well. We need to ask the two hard questions each year for all of our technology adoptions: “Is [insert tool name] supporting the educational goals of our school?” and “Are the financial and personnel investments we allocate to [insert tool name] the best use of our school’s limited resources?”
7. MAKE DATA-DRIVEN DECISIONS
School leaders will be responsible for reporting on the effectiveness of each new and ongoing educational initiative. Technology services are beginning to transition their pricing models to a per-student annual cost, and license fees quickly add up. Prior to adopting any new technology that requires an annual financial investment or a professional development investment of time, make sure that there are ways to determine the return on investment (ROI). These might include reports on student achievement gains or improved student behavior.
While new technology tools and resources in the classroom make for great pictures in the newspaper, it is essential that school leaders implement a consistent process for adopting these new technologies. Taking the time to consider how each new piece of the puzzle will impact both a student’s overall educational experience and the larger structure of information and instructional technology resources managed by a school will ensure a smooth implementation for students, teachers, and parents. These seven steps will also help to make sure that the tower does not topple over.
Dr. R.J. Gravel is the director of instructional technology for Johnsburg School District 12.