Why Every School’s Edtech Department Should Make Themselves Obsolete

Professional Development

Why Every School’s Edtech Department Should Make Themselves Obsolete

By Nate Green     Dec 11, 2017

Why Every School’s Edtech Department Should Make Themselves Obsolete

In the last decade, schools have put significant resources into academic technology in an effort to improve instruction and prepare students for a rapidly changing workforce. Many have created new staff positions or entirely new departments, such as Technology Integration, to act as liaisons between teachers and traditional IT departments, and to help teachers use edtech in the classroom.

Created to serve a specific need, the real mission of these new departments should be to integrate technology fully, which includes training a technologically savvy faculty capable of picking up new skills on their own and able to work directly with IT departments. In other words, these departments don’t need to be a permanent fixture. Their ultimate goal should be to make themselves obsolete.

The Ability Gap

The biggest problem with the Technology Integration Specialist (TIS) is that as soon as a school hires one, it sends a message to other faculty that they no longer have to strive to be proficient in this area since it’s someone else’s job. A teachers may miss opportunities for sharing and collaboration with colleagues around using technology in the classroom—that to do so would be to encroach upon or duplicate the TIS’s work.

A devoted position or department also creates an ability gap between faculty who integrate technology and those who don’t, a gap that is compounded by the fact that TISs tend work with those who are already striving to integrate technology, rather than those who are stuck (and mostly need help troubleshooting). Finally, a devoted position or department makes teachers feel they have to impress the TIS by using technology, forcing it into lessons rather than allowing best practices to dictate its use.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Here are three suggestions to get teachers excited about technology and collaborating with each other directly.

1. Ambassador Programs

It makes sense for schools to provide a resource to help faculty use technology, but instead of identifying one person or department to do so, schools should build networks of tech-savvy teachers.

Every teacher has a colleague he consults for tech help. At my school, we created an ambassador program that identified technologically savvy faculty in each department to support colleagues and integrate technology. These individuals (dubbed Tech Deputies), field questions, troubleshoot and help plan lessons. The result is a decrease in helpdesk tickets, fewer problems with our LMS and GAFE platforms and deeper conversations about pedagogical strategies. This same success can be duplicated at the student level by creating a student-led leadership program, where trained students support both peers and faculty with technologically demanding projects and activities.

Ambassador programs successfully decentralize the job of supporting faculty members with technology, while at the same time making faculty feel more supported and thus more likely to seek help. More importantly, they build technological knowledge at an institutional level. If one ambassador can’t help with an issue, he will know who can, and the entire network benefits from every problem solved or lesson planned.

2. Professional Development by Teachers for Teachers

Peer-to-peer technological integration also requires personalized PD by teachers for teachers. Currently, schools charge TISs with professional development. But when TISs propose new tools and lesson plans, teachers roll their eyes. TISs don’t teach a full load, they’re given time and space and they’re getting paid to integrate technology and try new things. Their advice doesn’t resonate with teachers.

At my school, we organized a mini-conference by teachers for teachers, where teachers share successful lessons and projects that others can emulate with support. We have also added demo-slams to our bimonthly faculty meetings where one teacher gets to talk about a success in his or her classroom and encourage others to apply that success.

Schools can empower all teachers to try new things by creating the time and space for peer-to-peer conversation, by highlighting success and by acknowledging the ongoing nature of technologically based professional development.

Decentralized ambassador programs and reimagining professional development solves the problems listed at the outset. Teachers will take ownership over their use of technology, they will collaborate more frequently, and this will help close the gap in ability.

3. Evolving Technological Specialists to Instructional Coaches

Schools still need talented educators to implement the changes above and to create a school culture of exploration and collaboration. That’s why Tech Integration Specialists should evolve into Instructional Coaches. They should visit classes, meet with teachers, mentor new faculty, facilitate professional development and push interdisciplinary and co-curricular initiatives.

Coaches will have better success improving teaching if they connect with faculty on pedagogical rather than technological basis. Many teachers are intimidated by a technological specialist; it’s just as likely to deter their use of technology as it is to enhance it. Teachers balk at specialists pushing change upon them, but they do genuinely want to improve their craft. And coaches teach in classrooms; they don’t hide in offices.

Schools need to incorporate technology because of the nature of the changing workforce, but they should not do so at the expense of quality instruction and sound pedagogy. Coaches, who are pedagogical experts who happen to be technologically savvy, will give our schools the best chance to do both.

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