Nobody likes change, but the fact is that change is at our doorstep. Upgrades in technology are quickly beginning to force the hands of schools and districts across the world. This poses some good news for students, as transformation efforts are under way to provide authentic learning experiences that provide relevance, value, and tangible skills in an unpredictable world.
Even though changes are occurring, we need to be mindful of what is driving the work (while looking past soft claims) to ensure technology is actually improving learning and achievement. It is important not to get sucked into the transformational aspects of the technology itself, but instead focus on the transformation of teaching, learning, and leadership.
With every inch of progress, we must constantly be reflective of where we are and how we can improve. We can’t afford to keep investing in the “stuff” through the played-out scenario of putting the cart before the horse.
Placing a device in the hands of all students and hoping for learning miracles to happen will always result in a letdown. I know this might rub technology aficionados the wrong way, but the fact remains that ed tech has been overpromised and underdelivered. Any leader who has gone through a successful digital transformation realizes this. The key is to be critical of the process in order to make sure investments pay off in terms of enhanced learner outcomes.
Many lessons can be learned from successful digital transformations, including the one that occurred at my former school. Whether going BYOD, one-to-one, blended, or personalized learning, take note of some key elements that are essential to success.
1. Infrastructure Is the Gateway to Innovation
If the plumbing is not in place success will be hard to come by. By infrastructure I am not talking about devices per se, but Wi-Fi access and space design. There is nothing more frustrating for teachers and students alike when attempts are made to integrate technology, only to have the Wi-Fi not work properly. It’s important to make the initial investment to get this right the first time.
2. The Right Pedagogical Framework Helps Successful Tech Implementation
Pedagogy trumps technology. Do you have a framework in place to ensure successful integration? It is critical to have a common vision, language and expectations for how technology will play a ubiquitous role in supporting and/or enhancing learning.
A growing number of schools and districts rely on the Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition (SAMR) model. My question for you to consider is what does SAMR actually tell you or your stakeholders about the level of student learning taking place? We found the answer to be not very much.
SAMR does provide good guidance on what to avoid when it comes to technology integration (substitution) and provides an excellent bridge to the Rigor Relevance Framework. Consider using this framework, which is learner-centric, to assist in effectively aligning technology to instruction, curriculum, and space redesign.
3. Proper Professional Learning Prepares Educators
Investing in people will always be one of the foundation elements of a successful digital transformation. Relevant, job-embedded learning opportunities that move away from traditional drive-by approaches will help to sustain meaningful change.
Equal investments need to be made to support both teachers and administrators. After all, success is dependent on both groups having the knowledge, support, and skills to implement, evaluate, and continuously improve the digital transformation process.
There is no substitute for quality, face-to-face professional learning opportunities that blend an assessment of where you stand with digital practices, courses, job-embedded coaching, and active discussion.
4. Good Digital Leadership Breeds Good Outcomes
This element is critical in any type of change process. It is not only about being open to change, but also being an intimate player in the process. Thus, digital leadership goes without saying.
It is about working smarter, not harder, in order to do what we already do better. Digital leaders help to establish a collective vision, provide support, model expectations, ensure accountability, and constantly reflect in transparent ways in order to improve.
5. Avoid Assumptions to Ensure Success
Let’s begin with an example. Students know how to use tech (assumption), but they don’t necessarily know how to use it to support their learning (reality).
Students will be off task when they are afforded the opportunity to use technology (assumption), yet virtually all adults would go off task at times well before the digital age (reality).
So many assumptions are made when it comes to technology that reality plays second fiddle. Progress — and ultimately success — is contingent upon removing a myriad of barriers to change that arise as a result of our mindset. Assumptions and excuses will hold you back.
Thanks to the internet and Personal Learning Networks we can learn firsthand from the reality inherent in digital transformation success across the globe.
6. Highlight the Evidence of Improved Outcomes
Success breeds success. There is no greater motivator than the positive results of any change effort. Evidence of success goes a long way toward embracing change resulting in transformation. However, along the same lines of our infatuation with assumptions, a lack of evidence and connection to research tends to be accepted when talking about digital transformations.
When integrating technology, there needs to be a return on instruction (ROI) that results in evidence of improved student learning outcomes. This can come in the form of data, improved observations/evaluations, artifacts and portfolios. Too much money and time is at stake to rely exclusively on broad claims and a lack of real evidence of success.
7. Smart Budgeting Makes Sure Tech Spending Is Useful
Having developed a budget for a high school over the course of many years, I can tell you that there was a great deal of wasted money year in and year out.
Money can be freed up in any budget if we critically analyze how the expenditure will positively impact learning. Once money is reallocated the next step is to ascertain the role that any technology purchase will play.
The question we need to be asking when going through the budget process is this: How will this technology actually improve learning and achievement at scale? If there is a challenge in answering this question, then obviously you are not making a wise investment. Do your research and plan accordingly.
8. Build Strong Relationships Between Students, Teachers, and Administrators
Relationships are the glue that holds the change process together, resulting in transformation. These need to be built both internally and externally.
From a student perspective it is important to emphasize and follow through in ways that foster greater student agency in the learning culture. You need to begin to say ‘yes’ more often, because implemented ideas that come from students are the ultimate relationship builder.
From an adult stakeholder perspective, it is critical to develop a positive brand presence that will result from a multifaceted approach to communications and an evolution into the storyteller-in-chief. Meet your stakeholders where they are, engage them in two-way communications and maintain a level of consistency. Over time powerful relationships will be established with all.
We need to prepare students for their future, not ours. We can’t afford to prepare them for a world that doesn’t exist. We need to create schools of the future, today. Even with progress in many schools and districts it is important to always be open to critical reflection and evaluation — not just where we currently are, but, more important, where we want to be.