From the Principal's Office: 3 Steps to Leveraging the Power of Technology to Disrupt Your School or District

From the Principal's Office: 3 Steps to Leveraging the Power of Technology to Disrupt Your School or District

“When people adopt technology, they do old things in new ways. When people internalize technology, they find new things to do.” James McQuivey, Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation

James McQuivey’s book, Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation, makes very clear the difference between businesses who adopt technology versus those who internalize it. He states, “When companies adopt new technology, they do old things in new ways. When companies internalize technology, they find entirely new---disruptive---things to do.” In other words, adopting technology means using technology to do the same old things we've always done. Internalizing it means using technology to do the new and novel. It means disrupting how we currently do things.

Reflecting on McQuivey’s distinctions between technology adoption and technology internalization, I could think of countless examples of technology-adopting in our schools.

  • A teacher using presentation software to illustrate a class lesson or lecture.
  • A student using word-processing software to type a paper rather than hand-write it.
  • A teacher having students use the web to research the definitions for important terms in a unit of study.
  • A student using a tablet to read a novel using e-reader software.
  • A teacher using a interactive board to illustrate the main points in a lesson.
  • A teacher showing students a YouTube video to illustrate a main point in content.
  • A principal using Twitter or Facebook to make announcements.
  • A teacher recording a podcast or vodcast of a lecture, and posting it on the web and assigning it to students to review as homework.

Each of these activities are considered technology adoption because the students and educators are engaged in a behavior or activity that is not fundamentally changed by the use of technology. The technology simply helps them do what they have always done.

These examples of technology adoption are certainly acceptable if all we want to do maintain the same kinds of learning and teaching we've always had, but we are not leveraging the power of technology in these cases to totally “disrupt the teaching and learning” in our schools, and if we want to move to 21st century models of teaching and learning, we must do just that.

Then the next question is, what steps can we take to leverage the disruptive power of technology in our schools? McQuivey’s offers some suggestions for businesses that can be modified to guide us in developing steps focused on the needs of schools,so we can leverage technology's disruptive power.

  • Change the mindset about technology and education. As McQuivey points out, “We need to adopt a ‘digital disruptor’ mindset.” What that means in practical terms is we fundamentally change how we view opportunity and technology. Instead of viewing technology as means to help us do teaching and learning as we have done, we ask the question: How can technology help us engage in new kinds of teaching and learning? The answer to that question will lead us to new ways of doing school.
  • Behave like a digital disruptor. As McQuivey points out, you start this process by “innovating the adjacent possible” not by totally reinventing the whole. To innovate the adjacent possible in education we can begin by identifying what our students needs are. Then, we generate and choose the one or two things we can do using the technologies and resources we have or can obtain to meet those needs. To modify a phrase McQuivey uses: “We need to innovate in the direction of our students’ needs.” Innovation for innovation sake is never a good idea. We need to innovate by always looking to the needs of our students.
  • Disrupt your school or district now. Begin by revising policies and practices that inhibit disruption, hence innovation. For example, if requesting and obtaining technologies and resources are hampered by cumbersome requisition processes, simplify. If school district practices prevents teachers from experimentation and risk-taking, change them. If there are barriers that keep people isolated and unable to share practice and ideas, tear them down. Begin disruption by establishing a team of disruptors who are willing to push to the edges of innovation. All of these measures will go a long way in disrupting your school or district.

If technology has had little or no impact on teaching and learning in your school or district, then perhaps the issue is your school or district has only adopted technology not internalized it. We need to leverage the power of technology to disrupt what happens in our schools’ classrooms. We, as 21st century school leaders, need to become leaders of digital disruption to fundamentally change how we do school.

Note: While James McQuivey's book offers a fascinating look at practice things business can do leverage the power of technology and the disruptor mindset, it has a lot to say that is directly applicable to our schools too. His examples of disruption in business and the steps he provides can inform our efforts to make technology internalization happen.

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J. Robinson has decades of experience as a K12 Principal, Teacher, and Technology Advocate. Read more at The 21st Century Principal.