Jul 29 2019

Q&A: Dell EMC’s Adam Garry on Overcoming Digital Transformation Issues in K–12

Collaboration among stakeholders and consistent language are key to a successful digital integration program.

K–12 education is in the midst of an ongoing digital evolution. From established programs such as one-to-one devices to new technology-driven, project-based learning initiatives, approaches to education are rapidly moving to the digital realm. 

While some schools take these transformations in stride, many struggle with the process

EdTech sat down with Adam Garry, director of education strategy for Dell EMC, to hear what his team has learned about the primary barriers to K–12 digital transformation and how schools can overcome them. 

MORE FROM EDTECH: Check out how superintendents can lead a digital transformation in their districts.

EDTECH: What are some of the most pressing concerns in K–12 education that educational technology can help to solve?

Garry: One of the main things K–12 schools need to do is create a common language for projects in K–12. Right now, at the top level, we’re doing “visioning days,” where we bring together students, teachers, principals, superintendents, parents and CIOs to discuss their goals. The purpose is to help them create a sense of urgency around the need to shift their learning strategies. 

If schools are really going to enable their visions, they need to understand things like what it means to be a technology coach in a school district and how you operationalize that. We are also working in some programs to switch to blended learning environments. 

We also work a lot with the concept of looking at the full portrait of a graduate instead of just a slice at a time. This means learning how to build a rubric and a shared language for important skills, which comes down to collaboration, critical thinking and problem-solving. 

These tools can be used to figure out how schools can engage students within the curriculum. 

EDTECH: What important factors may K–12 schools be missing when planning a digital transformation project?

Garry: Early on, when we held these conversations, students were not involved in the decision process. However, having the students there is one of the most important things, and it’s crucial to have different student voices. 

Part of what we help schools understand is we’re not looking for them to pull suggestions only from the kids that do well in the current environment. They’re already doing great; the system is working for them. 

Adam Garry
It’s important to operationalize the coaching and training process to make sure coaches can teach educators about how technology enhances learning, instead of coaches just being the gadget person."

Adam Garry Director of Education Strategy, Dell EMC

There needs to be a cross-section of kids. Students who aren’t doing well — even those who have dropped out — need to be active participants in this conversation about why the model might be working for some but not for others. 

The second thing is, early on, folks were just throwing classroom tools, such as interactive whiteboards, into classrooms and calling it a “student-centered environment.” But CIOs found that schools were using these whiteboards as glorified projectors. 

So the questions schools need to ask are: How can we shift current teaching models to make sure that the technology investments we make are ones students will actually use? What is it going to take to enable a student-centered model, and who needs to be touching the technology in the classroom? Because when the adults are the only ones touching it, the model really doesn’t change. 


EDTECH: You said schools need to develop technology coaches. What steps are needed to train teachers to be effective coaches?

Garry: Well, first of all, we’re trying to get away from using the term “technology coach” and just use the word coach instead. 

The goal is to have someone who can direct users in the district, whether they call you for data coaching or technology coaching. Across these topics, the training processes should be similar. 

Schools need to be able to measure the impact of the coaches they have, which means there needs to be consistency in the language and the processes that these coaches use. 

Second, let’s say I’m a fifth grade teacher. I have access to three different coaches, and they all coach in different ways. It can be very hard to understand which person to listen to

It’s important to operationalize the coaching and training process to make sure coaches can teach educators about how technology enhances learning, instead of coaches just being the gadget person. 

EDTECH: When designing a digital transformation project in K–12, it’s important to consider how integrations will help all students succeed. How can schools ensure their projects help with classroom equity?

Garry: I think the No. 1 thing is professional development for teachers about voice and choice in the learning process. It’s the key to creating agency for all learners. 

We ask district leaders, Have you defined equity? What does that look like? We’re doing a lot of consulting on what a model for equity looks like and how technology actually supports that.

So, for example, what we find, especially among school districts with one-to-one programs, is when a laptop or Chromebook goes home with a student, many kids don’t have access. 

Right now, many districts work with public libraries or even the local McDonald’s — places where kids hang out — to make sure students have Wi-Fi access and that it’s safe and secure. 

Students should have an equal opportunity to learn, especially if schools are giving them devices and encouraging them to bring the devices home.

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