Four Smart Tips for Instructional Tech Specialists


At the end of his recent EdSurge piece calling for more instructional technology specialists, Jin-Soo Huh of KIPP Chicago asks, “What advice would you give instructional technology specialists?”

I shared some thoughts on Jin-Soo’s piece as they relate to TeachBoost on our blog, but, nostalgic for my days as an instructional technology specialist, I thought I’d take the bait and answer his question directly here on EdSurge:

Theory before practice

When you begin working with a faculty, you will need to convince many teachers that technology is worth integrating in the first place. That may seem crazy. Many of us in edtech take for granted that technology enhances teaching and learning. But poorly integrated technology can distract from learning objectives rather than help teachers meet them. Many teachers are right to be skeptical of instructional technology; we all should be! We’re dealing with kids’ education. There’s a bit more at stake than there might be if you were introducing the latest infinite runner game. Educators need a good reason to do whatever they do, with or without technology.

So, you will have to convince your faculty that instructional technology can be beneficial, and that, as a result, their instructional practices should evolve to accommodate it. This is a big ask, so treat it with the care and caution that you should. Think hard about what instructional technology’s benefits are, and how they apply to your faculty specifically. Show examples of it working in similar schools with similar students. Make the case as best as you can.

Take it slow

As folks get on board, allow teachers to go at their own pace. Some may be early adopters, moving through a dozen iPad apps a week. Others may try one app out per semester. All that matters is that your teachers are trying. Support them like you would a student; give constructive feedback, positive reinforcement, and thoughtful coaching at every step. Whether you realize it or not, faculty members are trusting you to support them in what is a very vulnerable state: they feel like students again.

Play to teachers’ strengths

Good teachers who understand technology will discover masterful ways to integrate it. The best technology integration I saw was not from the tech-savvy youngsters, but from the seasoned veterans who overcame their fear and applied their brilliant pedagogical mind to new tools and instructional strategies. Help teachers overcome their fears by reminding them of their distinct expertise, and let them explain to you how a tool might be impactful. Your job as a tech integrator is to start the engine, but let the teacher drive. They’ll know where to go.

Cool does not equal effective

In the same way that master teachers will find effective uses of technology, new teachers may unduly rely on it. That’s a tricky scenario. As a technology integration specialist, you’re excited about every use of technology. It’s in the long-term interest of your tech integration program, though, to caution against bad uses of technology as much as you advocate for good ones. A significant percentage of neat instructional tools serve no meaningful academic end. It’s hard to not get caught up in the novelty of an interesting tool, but maintain your rigorous judgment.

These lessons were helpful in guiding me as an instructional technology specialist, even (and especially) when learned the hard way. I’d love to hear how other colleagues would answer Jin-Soo’s question, so I’ll end how I began: What advice would you give instructional technology specialists?

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