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Put the Learning Before the Technology

Put the learning before the technology

“We’re getting tablets for the students!” Such a wonderful statement isn’t it? Think about the possibilities for the students. They’ll have access to personalized devices for use throughout the school day. Each device will be connected to the Internet which will provide access to a wealth of knowledge and information. And each device will be loaded with apps that students will use to communicate, collaborate, and explore.

For those of us who’ve spent a large amount of time in the EdTech game, this actually is a worrying statement for us, not an encouraging one. You’ll notice that nowhere in the preceding practice does the word “learning” show up. It’s all about access, usage, and tools not learning, individualization, or educational.

This is a dangerous approach we find in schools around the world. The enticement of devices or digital tools or the influx of funds that have to spent on technology can obscure schools from focusing on students’ needs. I’ve seen this done in schools (and entire countries) around the world where technology was bought before the learning was planned for and the tools created more problems than benefits.

In schools that are most successful with digital tools used for learning, they live the ethos, “no technology without purpose.” These schools have developed the experience and policies to identify the learning needs that will be filled with devices, online tools, or even Internet access. Frequently, they will tie these decisions to an Educational Technology Roadmap where evaluation procedures for technology tools and the intended learning outcomes for students are clearly defined and available for everyone in the school community to access.

How do schools follow this model of “learning before technology”?

First, schools need to define what their student learning outcomes should be with technology. Are they looking for 21st skills development, deepening and broadening of content knowledge, or even improved performance on summative assessments? Once this question is answered, schools need to articulate the learning outcomes they expect from their students when using technology.

I have seen this done in a number of ways. One school created a scaffolded set of technology and non-academic skills they expected from students and outlined them against grade levels. I worked with another school that mapped the areas of the existing curriculum they felt could be enhanced by digital tools and identified outcomes that they would expect when technology was infused. Other schools use the ISTE standards or the P21 Framework to help map and identify those outcomes.

Second, schools need to approach the teaching elements of technology for learning. Do their teachers have the capacity to implement such technologies? How will they offer ongoing professional learning in the functional aspects of technology and the pedagogic uses of it in the classroom? How will evaluate the efficacy of technology usage by teachers in the classroom?

The best schools I have seen will have a clear training and support system in place to help prepare teachers for the use of technology in the classroom. They will do this through evaluation of existing skills and attitudes and then provide continuous access to professional learning resources on the technical skills and pedagogical uses of technology. I’ve seen this in the form of EdTech coaches, connections to external training organizations, or internal time reserved for collaborative planning.

Last, schools need to recognize and plan for the “knock-on effect” of introducing digital tools for learning. A school is an ecosystem, with any change having impact on other areas of the organization. If new technology comes into the school, will it replace another tool? How will time be reserved to use it in the classroom? What other resources are needed to support that technology? Strong schools will investigate these implications before they purchase any digital tools because they know a significant disruption to the learning environment could result in teachers disengaging with the tool or the tool being misused.

Once these planning elements are in place, a school can confidently say they have put the learning before the technology. At this point, excitement about the students getting tablets should be encouraged around the school because those tablets will be used in ways that will enhance learning by teachers who are supported to use them well.

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Put the Learning Before the Technology – The EdTech Roundup

Put the Learning Before the Technology - The EdTech Roundup
Put the Learning Before the Technology - The EdTech Roundup

In the run up to FETC 2018 and the Blueprint for Technology in Education session on the pre-conference day, I wrote a blog post for The Ed Tech Roundup. In my article, I discuss the most important tenet of technology in schools: Put the Learning Before the Technology. When schools put learning first, they make better choices about tools and they use those tools to greater effect.

Learn more about FETC and join us in Orlando, FL for the conference.

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The Touchpoints of Educational Technology Excellence

Educational Technology Excellence

The Touchpoints of
Educational Technology Excellence

I have had the pleasure to work with a number of schools around the world in the area of Educational Technology. Usually, if schools want to talk to me it is either to show me something amazing or to ask my advice on becoming a school that would have something amazing to show. Sadly, a large portion of international schools fall into that latter category. They have a desire to use technology for excellence, but have not been successful.

Educational Technology Excellence

Of course, “success” is a loaded word in our field. Success suggests an end point to technology for learning. As in, “we have all the computers we need, so EdTech can be removed from our to-do list.” This is a common mistake. EdTech is directly tied to learning practices, budgets, and operations of a school, none of which are ever finished. Further, the impact of EdTech success is not something that can be easily measured as it has such a breadth of influence on a school. Boards often ask me for metrics or ROI for their technology investments and while I have a few measures to show them, true impact across a school cannot be shown by standard assessments. Famed EdTech researcher Saul Rockman said, “Those administrators and board members who insist on a specific test score gain as the return on investment [in Educational Technology] are, more likely than not, going to be disappointed.”

So, where does this leave us? We know there are schools doing amazing things with technology. Are they not successful? These schools have opted for excellence, a concept of continued improvement with no time limit, rather than success. When you visit these schools, you will notice they have common touchpoints for excellence in EdTech in the areas of learning, infrastructure, sustainability, and leadership.

Educational Technology LearningFirst, and foremost, excellence in EdTech is found in a focus on learning. EdTech’s role in a school is to enhance learning for all members of the school. It is not about frequently used tools or Internet skills or even assessment performance. Excellent EdTech fosters personalized, rigorous, and real time learning that is not constrained by traditional understanding of knowledge or access to information. With this, excellence can be found when schools clearly define the skills and competencies their students will work towards with access to computing in the classroom (and at home). Excellent schools put continued professional development for their staffs, teaching and non-teaching, as strategic and budgetary priorities. Learning for parents and the community are also focal points. And these schools take time to celebrate learning through sharing and promotion. Perhaps the most striking element of learning excellence in strong EdTech schools is the technology itself is seamless. It has become part of the DNA of the school rather than an area needing special attention.

Second, technology enhanced learning is supported by a robust infrastructure. Schools with excellent EdTech programs have reliable internal networks, a clear device access policy, supplemental devices to account for damage, and online systems – such as learning management, communications, or student information – that work well and support teacher and student needs. However, the true lynchpin of infrastructure excellence in schools comes through personnel. Many times I find that less mature schools fund equipment and services without hiring and developing IT staff that will ensure reliability. A strong IT manager who leads her team, is customer focused, and is strategic is worth her weight in gold. And the team she has assembled with be vital members of the non-teaching staff.

Third, programmatic excellence is not a one-time investment. Many of the school boards I have spoken to talk about funds they have set aside for large technology purchases or upgrades, but when I ask them how they will maintain their systems in the coming years few have a viable plan. EdTech moves at the pace of technology. Devices will run out of life, better systems will come online, and the needs of learners are ever changing as our understanding of learning changes. Excellence in EdTech requires that schools strategically plan for and clearly budget replacement and improves cycles for their devices, personnel, and programs. Three to five year budgets for device and system refreshes are critical. Further, excellent school visit their EdTech learning plans frequently and revise them on regular basis to ensure they are aligned with current practices.

Educational Technology LeadershipFinally, and most critically, schools with excellent EdTech programs will have publicly supportive leadership. The Head of School, senior leadership team, and the board will understand the role of technology in the school and tout its benefits to the school community. Their support is key to making excellence in EdTech a commitment of the entire organization and its members. Such support will appear in newsletters, reports, hiring practices, budgets, strategic planning, and staff evaluation…for a period of time. Strong leadership can push EdTech excellence into the daily mission of the school to the point where their support will only be needed in budgets and evaluation practices. Leadership ensures the focus on learning, the quality of the infrastructure, and sustainability of the EdTech programs.

Excellence in EdTech is not elusive or even overly expense, but it does require emphasis on multiple touchpoints rather than just focus on computers or short term solutions. Whenever I speak to schools aspiring to do great things with technology, I refer them to these excellent schools and then I caution them not to ask about the computers.

This article originally appeared in The International Educator in October, 2017.

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Teaching from the Back of the Room: How to Work in a Tech Rich Classroom – ASCD In-Service

Teaching from the Back of the Room - ASCD In-Service

Teaching from the Back of the Room: How to Work in a Tech Rich Classroom – ASCD In-Service

Teaching from the Back of the Room - ASCD In-Service

I recently had the pleasure to write an article for ASCD In-Service. In my article, Teaching from the Back of the Room: How to Work in a Tech Rich Classroom, I talk about the conditions and potential learning experiences found in technology rich classrooms for teachers new to such environments. This article was published online through ASCD In-Service on 2nd November, 2017.

Click here to read the full article.

Click here to read and/or subscribe to International Teacher Magazine.

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