Oct 12 2006

Commitment Is Key For Implementing New Technologies In K12 Classrooms

Schools must do their homework before bringing in technology to get top-down and bottom-up support.

To ensure that schools make the best use of technology tools, it takes a top-down and bottom-up approach. That includes passionate teachers and students, as well as school boards and district administrators that demonstrate a keen interest in infusing schools with technology.

About seven years ago, when Massachusetts required school districts to develop technology plans in order to secure state funding, Plymouth Public Schools quickly pulled together a plan to fulfill the requirements. But the plan became obsolete quicker than the technology itself, admits Alan McLane, Plymouth’s technology systems engineer.

Too often, schools spend so much time chasing after dollars to bring technology into their classrooms that they don’t think about what to do with it once it’s there. Funding is indeed critical, yet it’s just one piece of a school technology program. There are scores of other issues to consider.

Like McLane, numerous teachers, students and administrators in the Plymouth school system were passionate about technology. But getting these stakeholders involved in time to meet the looming deadline wasn’t possible. This time around, Plymouth is in the process of developing a brand-new technology plan, with careful planning and input from various constituencies within the community.

One of the best ways to ensure that a new technology acquisition meets current and future needs is getting all the stakeholders involved early and ensuring that the commitment is there—starting from the top. Once the commitment is in place at the highest levels, it’s easier to find a group of passionate staff, students and teachers that will lead the charge for getting technology used in the classroom.

It takes a top-down and bottom-up approach: School boards and district administrators demonstrate a keen interest in infusing schools with technology, and passionate teachers and students ensure that these new tools get used.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is a prime example. At the Archdiocese’ 232 schools, “no technology request gets turned down,” says Paul Sanfrancesco, director of K-12 technology. Any teacher who wants to bolster the curriculum with tech tools is given the opportunity to make it happen. That’s a commitment that comes from the top, which makes Sanfrancesco’s job much easier. With that type of top-down support, teachers and students are encouraged by the district to take ownership of the tech tools.

During a recent pilot, where handhelds were distributed to students with learning disabilities, only one was lost—and that was by a teacher.

“Some of the teachers will tell you, ‘You can put a computer in my classroom, but I am not ready,’” Sanfrancesco told me recently. “But when they see a peer using it, that shows them that they can do it, too. And when they’re ready, they really take to the technology.”

School districts such as the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Plymouth Public Schools are on the right track by encouraging and supporting their teachers. In any workplace, from the classroom to corporate environment, if people know that you’re open to their input, they’ll come forward with new ideas. But if they get told “no” too often, the desire to try something new and to take a creative approach to an old problem might dry up.

Supporting those teachers once they get the itch to try something new isn’t the only piece to a successful game plan. Training teachers to use technology should be the top priority in every school’s program. Computers can help bring classrooms to life; they help capture students’ attention, develop their research skills and foster a curiosity about the world around them. But the key word here is “help.”

One issue for consideration with any technology purchase is training the users. A study commissioned by CDW•G last year found that 76 percent of teachers surveyed thought additional training would help them make the best use of technology in the classroom, yet one third of the teachers said they received no computer training in the past 12 months.

Some teachers, particularly younger ones who grew up with computers, naturally embrace technology. But too often the most seasoned teachers on staff fear it. They’re the veterans who have been teaching for years, shaping the minds of generations of students and becoming living legends doing so. It would be foolish to tell them to forget everything they know about teaching and let a technology expert dictate how they should run their classrooms.

We need to help these expert teachers get excited about technology. Watch how they run their classes and show them how technology can enhance their lesson plans. Start slowly and let them build upon that foundation themselves. As for the more tech-savvy teachers, have them serve as technology ambassadors. Encourage them to share their ideas with their colleagues.

Don’t forget to recognize teachers who might not know much about technology but are willing to learn. The most confident and committed teachers are those who aren’t afraid to admit that their students know more about technology than they do. They embrace those students and encourage their expertise.

A tight budget is never an excuse for having an inadequate technology program. Some of the poorest school districts have excellent education technology programs. One suggestion from McLane is to “look within.” His office sends surveys to residents throughout the district to gauge their skills and see if they could help out in the schools. He has had retirees from top computer firms, such as Hewlett-Packard and Nortel Networks—who normally earn $150 an hour in consulting fees—volunteer in his schools. With that, he has discovered a surefire method for tapping into the passion in the community for improving the usage of technology to benefit its students.

Which brings us to one of the most important constituents in the top-down and bottom-up equation: the students. No technology program can succeed without their buy-in. Schools often forget to make students a central part of the technology planning process. That’s a mistake because when it comes to technology, students have no fear. In fact, they’re demanding more technology than some schools can incorporate.

Our students and children have never known a world without tech gadgets and tools and, intuitively, they get it. At schools across the country, students are taking active roles in teaching others about technology to help pave the road to success.

Teachers who say technology makes their job easier

One to Nine

Ten +

Years of Teaching Experience

Source: CDW•G’s Teachers Talk Tech Survey, May/June 2003 (conducted by Info Tek Research Group, Inc.)

Computer Talk

76% of teachers indicated that additional training would help them make the best use of technology in the classroom.

1/3 of teachers reported receiving no computer training from their school in the past year.

38% of respondents felt not having enough computers in the classroom is the biggest problem they face in making use of technology in the classroom.

30% is the increase in the percentage of teachers who, after receiving more than five hours of computer training, believe computers are “very useful” in the classroom.

Source: CDW•G’s Teachers Talk Tech Survey, May/June 2003 (conducted by Info Tek Research Group, Inc.)

Teacher Talk

85% of teachers believe computers improve students’ academic performance, and 74% say computers improve attention in class.

Source: CDW•G’s Teachers Talk Tech Survey, May/June 2003 (conducted by Info Tek Research Group, Inc.)