On the surface, adopting technology to support teacher needs or student challenges isn’t terribly complex: define the problem you’re trying to solve, identify the right tools for the job, and implement the tools effectively and with fidelity.
In practice, these areas are fraught with challenges. End users are too often removed from the decision-making process during procurement. Educators argue that too many products don’t actually meet the needs of teachers or students. Still others worry that it is too easy to implement new and popular technology without considering whether it is research-based and effective.
The challenge of implementing technology well isn’t lost on parents, either: Only 33 percent of parents surveyed by the Learning Assembly said their child’s school did an excellent job using technology to tailor instruction.
These parents aren’t unsupportive of education technology. In fact, those who said their schools were doing a “good job” using technology were 2.5 times more likely to say their child had learned more because of these tools. Rather, their skepticism underscores just how hard it is to implement education technology initiatives well.
So why do these efforts fall short? Why have we failed to harness technology in the service of improving learning experiences for students? Below are lessons, from our own experiences, to help you overcome common challenges in tech implementation.
It’s energizing to see the enthusiasm around the potential of technology in the classroom. But in that excitement, schools must take a step back and think strategically about why they are introducing a specific technology. What problem are schools trying to solve? What needs are they trying to address? How does an edtech product help do that?
Technology is just a tool, not a means in and of itself. Any school or teacher that sets out to use technology for its sake alone, and not in the service of personalizing learning or addressing specific needs, is on a mission to fail.
Insufficient Modeling of Best Practices
Teachers do not currently feel confident in their ability to integrate technology effectively. A survey from Samsung found that 37 percent of teachers say they would love to use technology but don’t know how, and 76 percent say they would like a professional development day dedicated to technology.
Again, implementations should start with the “why” and then address the “how.” Trainings should first model the best pedagogical approach, and how technology fits into this approach to support a learning objective. How to effectively use and troubleshoot the tool itself is also important, but it’s not the only factor.
How teachers integrate technology into their own teaching practices can have a dramatic impact on the results, even when they’re all using the same edtech tool. Videos that focus on scaling and modeling best practices (produced by places like the Teaching Channel and The Learning Accelerator) can help teachers and schools do this.
Bad First Impressions
Teachers face initiative fatigue: They are constantly being asked to implement new programs, integrate new technologies, and add on layers of responsibility. In one Wisconsin district, nearly half of teachers felt ongoing district initiatives were a “significant area of concern.”
At the same time, teachers are tireless about creating the best possible learning experiences. Forward-thinking schools take the time to learn from the challenges of other schools, and recruit a coalition of the willing. Some of the most successful implementations we have observed have created a pilot cohort with interested teachers. If a practice that utilizes the piloted tool proves successful with that pilot cohort, then broader implementation comes with the weight of those teachers’ experiences and recommendations.
Real-World Usability Challenges
Occasionally, even teachers who are excited about implementing new technology find that in practice, the tool is unwieldy or needs to be modified. This is okay and shouldn’t be seen as a failure, but rather an opportunity to learn and improve both product and practice.
Relying on multiple devices (remote, clicker, iPad, computer mouse) to launch or navigate technology can be difficult. Additionally, teachers may start to use a tool, only to realize it is not flexible enough to meet their original needs, fit into the constraints of their particular school or classroom, or allow them to integrate their own content or supplemental resources.
The Right Data to Track Progress
One of the more significant benefits of using technology is better visibility into student progress: How fast are they grasping a concept? Where are they getting stuck? Are there particular aspects of an individual lesson where they might need more attention and help? What method of learning is best for them as an individual learner?
Sometimes tech implementations fail because the products themselves don’t have the right depth of data for teachers or a workable interface. And sometimes they fail when eager IT directors lock down hardware and networks for security purposes in a way that makes the tool far less valuable for instructors.
Lack of useful data, problem definition, weak teacher buy-in, first impressions, and usability challenges all have the potential to torpedo smart technology products. As educators who work directly on tech implementations every day, it is our hope that these lessons about why tech implementations fail can better inform tech companies’ thinking when creating new products. Similarly, educators should heed these lessons as they implement new tools.