Think Before You Buy Edtech

Opinion |

Think Before You Buy Edtech

Start by asking what--and how--you expect your student will learn

By Lucy Gray     Mar 12, 2014

Think Before You Buy Edtech

News alert! Here's some breaking edtech news:

  1. There is no magic piece of technology or other silver bullet that will transform education;
  2. There is no laundry list of technologies that you should have in your school if you are trying to create new learning environments;
  3. Buying technology first and planning later will likely ensure a struggle--if not a flop.

A principal recently approached me about what should be on her school’s "edtech wish list." Her teachers were already using interactive whiteboards and document cameras and eager to expand their work. A new building was under construction. The school’s architectural team was pushing the principal to make decisions about tech implementation, even though the building would not finished for almost a year.

What do to? It as bad as trying to pick out a living room rug for a house still under construction. Worse actually. There was no technology plan in place. No one had talked about how to tie technology to the school's missions and goals. The principal was running out of time. A "wish list" of techie toys would amount to little more than bolting some gadgets and software onto the learning process and hoping for the best. My prediction: a whole lot of unhappy teachers and students.

Sadly that principal is no exception. More recently, an educator in another country reached out to me via Twitter. He wanted to know how to use educational technology in his country’s schools--in bursts of 140 characters, no less!

“How can teachers in my country use Apple technology to teach in classrooms in comparison a Promethean Interactive Board and Classflow?” he tweeted.

Talk about a (seriously) apples to oranges comparison. Even via email, I couldn’t begin to answer his question. I wanted to take him back a few steps: Where was the planning process--the focus on teaching and learning? Only then can we legitimately ask how the technology can support learning goals.

These well-intentioned questions also demonstrate to me that as education professionals, we have a long way to go in providing resources to schools that are just beginning to think about edtech. Schools and teachers throughout the US are all over the place when it comes to being prepared to teach today’s students, much less students of the future.

Planning for education and edtech initiatives

First things first: our schools need to implement a systematic process to modernize teaching and learning in their schools.

My advice? Start with what you want to achieve with the learning process and let everything else follow from there.

Yes, this process takes time. Ideally it should happen as organically as possible, giving all community stakeholders a chance to buy in.

Take a look at the steps outlined last year in the Consortium on School Networking’s Leadership for Mobile Learning initiative and the Guide for Administrators. Here's more on mobile learning programs: This framework could be applied to any edtech initiative in your district.

Mike Muir of the Auburn School District in Maine recently keynoted the annual Illinois Computing Educators Conference, and shared some of his resources that can help in planning and implementing education initiatives.

Among them: this post on creating a shared vision, a foundational element to the implementation of educational technology. He also made a great case for teacher empowerment and including various stakeholders. (If this interests you, make sure to check out his work with the Maine Center for Meaningful Engaged Learning and on Distributed PD as well.)

I can’t stuff recommendations for schools looking to innovate into a tweet, email or even shortlist. But, here are the steps that need to happen for a school to become a place of innovation. And yes, all the steps really matter!

  1. Find a way to truly listen to all stakeholders in your district. Run focus groups, hold meet and greets, conduct surveys in order to gauge the needs and concerns of teachers, students, administrators, parents and community members.
  2. Based on this data, invite a select group of stakeholders to serve on a committee tasked with conducting a deep dive into educational innovation.
  3. This group should analyze data collected in step 1, participate in group readings of relevant books and articles, and go on site visits to see the programs of exemplary schools that match your school’s culture.
  4. Once this innovation committee has had time to digest the aforementioned information, then the process for designing a thorough plan can begin. Starting with the creation a mission statement that reflects your district’s goals for teaching and learning and create a related vision statement specific to ed tech.
  5. With a working understanding of educational innovation, mission statement, and goals in place, proceed to develop a timeline for implementation over the course of three to five years. Review this plan continually and iterate on this plan as needed. The plans should change and improve based on your school’s experiences.
  6. Determine mechanisms for evaluating your teaching and learning plan, both qualitative and quantitative. Don’t wait for outside researchers to produce evidence that technology improves teaching and learning. Figure out how to measure the progress of goals as determined in step 4, reporting regularly to community stakeholders. If you’re expecting test scores to rise because of technology, you are barking up the wrong tree: it’s the teaching and learning that will improve test scores. Think about evaluating the impact of technology on other areas such as attendance, reduction of student discipline issues, and student engagement.
  7. Consider making your school improvement efforts transparent by blogging about your district’s work so that others can learn from you. Use this blog to showcase student work as well.
  8. Host site visits for other schools and even a mini-conference in which to highlight the work of your colleagues and to establish your school or district as a local leader in education.

Looking to an exemplar

One school that I've seen that really gets this process is Mercy High School, an Apple Distinguished School in Farmington Hills, MI. Last year, I worked with their school leaders to enhance plans to transition to iPads and to upgrade their use of technology in general. Entitled Mercy 2.0, this was a dream project to advise because the school leadership team shared a deep understanding of the issues at hand and had a united vision for what this project could do for their school. And they came together to listen to each other (and yes, to counsel from others including me.)

The Mercy leadership team made its thinking and efforts transparent through a blog, starting a student leadership team around tech, and held a local conference to showcase their work and to invite collaboration with other local schools. Read more about the work via various publications and courses that they’ve published in iTunes U.

It's fascinating to see such projects come together. I'll be looking for (and working on) other examples in the future along with as my fellow innovation coach, Don Buckley. Let us know other schools that have followed some sort of process focused on teaching and learning that has resulted in exemplary education below! Where else would you direct people to look for examples of innovation done right?

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