Expect the Unexpected from Ed Tech’s ‘Next Big Thing’

It's time to move beyond incremental changes in the classroom.

Cyrus Mistry of Google once said in a keynote presentation, “Incremental change leads to irrelevance.”

While advancements in technology have had a profound impact on nearly every aspect of modern society, many schools around the United States have yet to realize a return on investment in technology.

This is largely due to the notion that simply adding technology to the classroom will affect learning outcomes. The result? Merely incremental change, and it’s about time for the next “big thing” in education.

Lately, there has been a lot of buzz on Twitter about a recent Washington Post article, citing research that diminishes the role of professional development.

According to the article, “professional development — the teacher workshops and training that cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year — is largely a waste.” You can watch a presentation of the findings here.

Does this research mean that it’s time to stop funding teacher professional development programs — or technology altogether? Certainly not. It’s an indication of how previous efforts produced only incremental changes in our teachers.

In a previous post, we discussed the importance of recognizing the difference between “training” and “professional development.” However, the study cited by The Washington Post goes far beyond that notion and suggests we redefine, reevaluate and reinvent professional development.

Redefine what it means to help teachers improve.

  • Define “development” clearly, as observable, measurable progress toward an ambitious standard for teaching and student learning.

  • Give teachers a clear, deep understanding of their own performance and progress.

  • Encourage improvement with meaningful rewards and consequences.

Reevaluate existing professional learning supports and programs.

  • Inventory current development efforts.
  • Start evaluating the effectiveness of all development activities against the new definition of “development.”
  • Explore and test alternative approaches to development.
  • Reallocate funding for particular activities based on their impact.

Reinvent how we support effective teaching at scale.

  • Balance investments in development with investments in recruitment, compensation and smart retention.
  • Reconstruct the teacher’s job.
  • Redesign schools to extend the reach of great teachers.
  • Reimagine how we train and certify teachers for the job.

In a recent post from The Atlantic, Kentaro Toyama explains why technology alone won’t fix schools: “Technology’s primary effect is to amplify human forces, so in education, technologies amplify whatever pedagogical capacity is already there.” If we simply add technology to the classroom but fail to invest in our teachers and, more importantly, our district leadership, the result will undoubtedly yield only incremental change.

In a recent conversation with IDEO about the challenges schools face in adopting technology, we spent the bulk of our time discussing organizational culture and changing human behaviors, not technology or the obstacles to teacher professional development. Furthermore, Project Red data relevant to schools interested in technology implementation indicates that a school principal’s ability to lead is critical to the success of an implementation effort.

So what’s the next big thing in ed tech? It’s people. Human forces, if you will. It’s the principal, the superintendent and the janitor. Zoom out — way out — and look at what you can do to redefine, reevaluate and reinvent not only your professional development but also your district and education as a whole.

This article is part of the “Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology” series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.

[title]Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology

4774344sean/Thinkstock
Aug 26 2015

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