SINCE TECHNOLOGY PLAYS A PIVOTAL role in today’s teaching and learning experiences, it’s up to educators to find effective ways of merging educational practices and technical innovation. PIERS — planning, implementation, evaluation, renewal and sustainability — provides such a plan.
This five-step technique is based on my 11 years of experience and research in best practices for technology integration in education, and on input from other technology professionals in South Carolina schools. The PIERS approach involves a cyclical process that ensures positive introduction, use and renewal of educational technology.
STEP 1: PLANNING
The most important aspect of successful technology initiatives in K-12 education is planning, says Timothy Fake, CIO of the School District of Lancaster, Pa. “Proper planning creates an environment for seamless implementation,” Fake says. “It’s critical to communicate the plan to all stakeholders and make them feel involved. A lot of projects break down or don’t get implemented properly because expectations are not well-defined. Proper planning brings potential issues to the forefront, allowing for quicker and more efficient resolution of those issues.”
Several tasks need to be accomplished during the planning stage:
• Define your technology needs (tech access, student and teacher technical proficiency, and tech support) in terms of educational needs, such as the ability to integrate technology into the curriculum.
• Set realistic goals and outcome indicators for the project or resource.
• Outline strategies and activities that will be part of the integration process.
• Develop a plan to assess your efforts.
• Address needed resource requirements.
STEP 2: IMPLEMENTATION
In the implementation stage, everyone involved must know what is going on at all times. Decision-makers must ensure that the necessary resources in terms of funding, equipment, people and professional development are available. Finally, support must be present and ongoing.
STEP 3: EVALUATION
“Evaluation shows the success of technology integration in our schools,” says Annamaria Schrimpf, director of educational technology at Winchester Public Schools in Massachusetts. “It builds support and a following to continue the initiatives.”
The technology initiatives should be evaluated by teachers and the technology leader, she says. Teachers should have an opportunity to reflect on the impact technology had on teaching and learning and to make changes as needed. The tech leader can gather data to support future initiatives.
Schrimpf says the evaluation should ask: How useful or practical was the deployment of the equipment? Was there adequate professional development for affected staff members? Was there ongoing and continued technical and educational support?
Be sure to identify the elements in the technology initiative that may not be progressing according to plan.
Schrimpf agrees: “If the steps have been tied to a clearly articulated vision for the school district, if all involved are well versed in the vision and the plan, and if predefined benchmarks and outcomes for evaluating success were set out in the original plan, then if some elements are not progressing well, you must articulate that to the key people immediately. Let them know what occurred and what changes you will make to ensure success. Communication is key to integration. When the technology plan is not successful, it will inhibit a future following for integration.”
STEPS 4 AND 5: RENEWAL AND SUSTAINABILITY
Renewal and sustainability are often linked because renewal may depend on a district’s ability to sustain the resources required for a given technology initiative. Eric Ham, dean of the Business, Computer and Information Technology Department at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, Orangeburg, S.C., and a consultant who evaluates technology programs in K-12 schools, says you should ask three questions when discussing renewal and sustainability.
1. Can we maintain what we started?
Funding, support, training and resources must be available throughout the course of the technology initiative and beyond.
2. Does the outcome of the initiative align with the district’s strategic goals?
A committee of stakeholders — including administrators, parents, students and community members — should determine whether the strategic plan, the instructional/ curriculum plan and the results of the technology initiative are working together toward the district’s goals, Ham says.
3. Is the benefit worth the sacrifice?
The benefits of the technology initiative must have a positive net impact on the school or district. The return on investment can be measured, Ham says, by looking at before-and-after test scores and attendance rates.
He says some soft benefits should be considered, such as improved student attitudes toward learning.
For your tech initiative to succeed, the answer to these questions has to be “yes.”
Because technology is an invaluable element in education, it’s our job as educators to infuse it into every aspect of education. PIERS provides a good way to accomplish that goal because it focuses primarily on the people and processes, not the resources.
TECH INTEGRATION PRINCIPLES
To integrate technology into education successfully, be sure everyone involved accepts the following principles:
1. Technology is important. All stakeholders must believe that technology is an important part of the educational process.
2. Technology involves more than computers. A common mistake in technology integration is narrowing the focus to computers. Remember that many other technology resources can be used to enhance educational practices.
3. There’s no such thing as failure. Sometimes projects have unexpected outcomes, but these aren’t failures. They are “teachable moments” that can provide insight into how future technology projects can succeed.
4. Support must be universal. Support has to come from the top down — the leadership — and from the bottom up — the school staff — from the onset of any plan. Otherwise, success is jeopardized.
5. If it works, make it work better. If things are going well, don’t rest on your laurels. There’s always room for improvement.
LeRoy Butler is director of technology educational services for School District 5 of Lexington and Richland Counties in Irmo, S.C.