Oct 31 2006

Fight Your Techie Urges When Picking New Technology Tools

When it comes to selecting the right tools to improve instruction, focus on educational objectives.

How does your District select new technologies? Does the prevailing, decisive method involve a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors?

While Rock, Paper, Scissors may help your team whittle down a short list of equally appealing technology products, there’s a lot of ground to cover before creating a list of options. When it comes to implementing instructional tools in a 21st-century school, one of the biggest challenges often is determining if a given tool will meet curriculum objectives, as opposed to shoehorning the technology into the classroom and building the curriculum around it.

The process of identifying educational objectives is a crucial first step in any process for procuring new technology. To ensure success, experts in instruction and technology also advise that schools leverage technology tools that are already in use as a means to engage students and factor in the total cost of technology acquisitions, including software licenses, hardware, training, utilization and maintenance costs.


Before making a purchase or adding a particular technology tool to your evaluation list, touch base with your teachers, instructional technologists and professional development staff. Review products and technology only after educational objectives have been established.

“You need to evaluate the educational objectives and select tools after the learning objectives and needs are documented and understood,” says Christy Ziegler, director of professional development for Gardner Edgerton Unified School District 231 in Kansas. “This takes away the risk of selecting technology for the sake of using technology and wasting dollars for the ‘glitz factor.’”

At this stage, ask them: Are there curriculum-driven tasks or projects at stake? Are you hoping to provide different tools and options for students with a variety of learning styles or limitations? Which assessments does this project map into? These questions should be addressed before any particular product is discussed.

“Technology tools are the means to an end. Identify the tasks and problems before discussing tools,” says Deb Spring, an assistive technology consultant.


During the early steps, it’s also important to get input from the real stakeholders — the students. A key question to ask is “How can we use technologies that students are already using?” says Andy Mann, instructional technology coordinator at Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, in Holland, Mich.

“We should be learning to use their tools and harness them in a collaborative environment,” Mann explains.

Too often, IT purchasers get caught up with the latest tech tools, warns Darin King, director of technology for Grand Forks Public Schools, in Grand Forks, N.D. “Don’t select new technology too soon,” he says. “Fight your ‘techie’ urges and go for proven technologies that teachers will use and IT departments can effectively support.”

While student input is important, as with any new technology that might be used in the classroom, it’s important to have the teacher try it first and give buy-in for its use as a valuable tool.

Spring, who previously worked with Michigan’s department of education, advocates identifying and integrating tools that can support multiple needs, such as using portable word processors, concept mapping software and Microsoft Word platforms for supporting student writing needs. Spring says to “start simple — you do not have to integrate the tools into every activity all at once.”

Kathy Maimone, director of network technology for Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, concurs. “We consider the needs of all learners when choosing technologies and find that the tools used most successfully are compatible with various learning needs,” she says.

Yet one common error is “purchasing all the same tools for a particular project, when a variety of tools might be more efficient,” says Carol Mayer, technology integration consultant at the Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA) in Wayne, Mich.


For the successful implementation of any new tools, professional development and ongoing training for teachers is essential, as well as the product and support costs. But failure to understand the full cost impact of a new instructional technology is a mistake made by numerous schools, says Kimberly Rice, CIO of the Boston Public Schools.

Rice recommends asking the who, what, when, where, why and how questions about the implementation. This will help ensure that all equipment, key stakeholders, support staff and users are identified, and will enable a blueprint for the project to be put together to categorize all costs.

Don’t let a one-size-fits-all or a Rock, Paper, Scissors approach guide your tech choices. Schools must look at technology from many perspectives to ensure they’re getting the right tools to meet the needs of every teacher, student and classroom.

With the right tools to meet learning needs, technical support and sustained professional development, teachers can successfully integrate emerging technologies that will address each student’s needs and improve their learning.

Sue Summerford is the educational technology coordinator for Lenawee Intermediate School District located in Adrian, Mich.


To improve your odds of success with a new technology tool, consider stakeholder needs, skill levels, training, support requirements and how you will determine if the technology is worth the investment before you buy.


Involve all stakeholders who will touch the tool, product or service — whether students, parents, teachers or administrators — in the selection of the technology. Is there a one-size-fits-all solution that meets all end-user needs or should several technologies be considered?


Implementing technology for technology’s sake doesn’t work. Make sure you know what problem or educational objective (low reading scores or student engagement, for example) you’re trying to solve or meet, before you start examining potential technology products.


Consider the needs of the learners and instructors. And remember that your IT staff and administrators may need training. When it breaks, someone must know how to fix it. Make sure the IT staff can support the new technology and that you understand ongoing maintenance and upgrade needs.


Focus resources on evaluating whether your infrastructure can support the technology. The new technology may look like magic, but somewhere there’s a wire or two holding it together. Tools in the classroom versus those in an administrative office have different support and licensing requirements.


In today’s tight funding and accountability climate, agreement on how to measure the success of this program is critical. Make sure you have come to a consensus on what measures and reporting you should provide before the rollout, midway through and at the end of the project. —Ed Tech staff