For long term success,
EdTech needs to be part of a school’s DNA
We know that Educational Technology (EdTech) offers the potential to enhance learning to meet the needs of contemporary students. It does what education is supposed to do: it provides skills, knowledge, and experiences that emulate the information rich world in which students live. And schools will often jump in with both feet to leverage this potential.
The Common Model for EdTech Implementation
In most schools, the adoption of EdTech is considered a special event. Often it will begin with a pilot program of devices, then a short term strategic plan (with heavy emphasis on costs) to implement technology more broadly, and finally celebration of accomplishment as amazing activities and projects stream out classrooms. Schools will then earmark funds for tools and personnel, bring in trainers to support technology tools, and they create departments and evaluation structures to ensure EdTech is monitored.
During this phase, schools will often highlight their strategies and accomplishments. They will publish a roadmap for EdTech in the school, emphasizing their purpose and plans for the program. They’ll show something cool the students have done using their devices. Many will hold parent sessions to discuss the implication of technology on the home-school bridge. Others will go further and include technology integration into their teacher evaluation processes. Many asking teachers to identify how they will increase their use of technology for learning.
Sadly, this is where the EdTech journey culminates for many schools.
The Absence of Authentic Change
This is not true and lasting change as it doesn’t fundamentally improve the learning experiences for students. In fact, it subjugates EdTech, and its potential, to a lesser position in the hierarchy of pedagogy and learning activities. EdTech becomes an add-on for a school that requires special care and feeding. It doesn’t become a core practice of the school.
Without an eye towards authentic change and sustainability, even the most exemplary EdTech programs will hit a wall. The initial excitement about technology for learning will fade and focus will shift from commitments to the future to returns on investment and eventually cost cutting.
Sustainability and the School’s DNA
To truly impact student learning with technology, schools need to look at the long game and insist that their programs become part of the school’s DNA.
First, during program inception, strong focus should be given towards sustainability. Most schools that embark on the EdTech journey will be able to manage logistics, professional development, budgeting for devices at the outset. Instead, they should look deeply at what happens in year 3 once the “honeymoon” period is over.
They should consider altering their expense and capital budgets to include expansion of technology tools and replacement of devices. They should fund depreciation on the devices and be prepared to replace a third of them every year in perpetuity. Clearly delineated funds should be reserved for annual training on new systems and the employment of education technology coaches. These funds should be reserved year over year to avoid either large unplanned expenditures or cancellation of elements of the program.
Second, EdTech should be included in all academic planning. As curriculum is developed and term plans are finalized, the EdTech personnel should be part of the discussions. Technology skills should be part of student evaluation with an eye towards application and independence rather than tool specific knowledge. The technology should move from being an add-on to learning to an accepted tool, similar to textbooks or resource specialists.
Importantly, there needs to be a balance. Many schools will err on the side of one time learning projects with heavy use of technology tools as a marker of EdTech success. This is not always the case. Technology can be used for amazing student work, but it must fit into the curriculum and pedagogic models of the school to be truly integrated into learning over the long term. It is very easy to a wonderful project in year one, then ditch it in year two because the time is needed for something else. Instead, technology projects should be seen to integrate and supplement other forms of learning activities. Large scale projects should use technology to create a holistic experience for students that focuses on several areas of learning.
Finally, schools need to change the way they call out their EdTech. The most sustainable EdTech programs will be found in schools that implant technology into their core learning documents and practices. You will find reference to it in the school’s mission and vision, hiring and appraisal procedures, and in school reports. However, this reference is always on par with other learning and operational approaches.
Technology goals should be removed as a highlighted element from teacher evaluation. If technology is highlighted, then it isn’t integrated in the learning DNA of the school. Instead include it as a line item as you would differentiation or formative assessment. Also, report cards should talk about creative and responsible uses of technology rather than specific skill development. And when a school highlights their EdTech success, avoid discussions about the iPads, but rather what the students experienced and learned.
The Long Game
For a school to have a truly sustainable and impactful EdTech program it almost needs to be invisible. An outsider should have to search for technology in school publications rather than be greeted by it at first glance. They should feel its presence in a classroom instead of having teachers specifically call it out. And all members of the school community should be comfortable in the belief their younger students will receive the same EdTech experiences as the older children as they progress through the school.
Impactful EdTech is not one-time event.
This article was originally published in EdTech Digest in November, 2017.