guest written by Karen Greenhaus
The #edchat topic this past week was “If tomorrow your school was told to go all digital by September, what would need to be done to make that happen?” My first thoughts: disaster! Anything expected to happen that quickly that involves so many variables, such as hardware, software, personnel, training, etc., is bound to fail. If anyone out there is actually in a situation like this, SLOW DOWN! Those of us who have been in education long enough know that changing anything takes time, training, support, and practice and trying to do something like going “all digital” should not be something done quickly or without careful planning and thought.
What do we mean by going digital? I interpreted this as meaning students and teachers would be working with technology on a regular basis, as a means of both teaching and learning, either via computers, iPads, or notebooks. There would be etextbooks and a reliance on technology resources that would be integrated into instructional practice, from learning tools, to grading, to classwork, to communication with parents, etc. This is the definition I am going to focus on for the rest of this piece, though you may have a completely different interpretation.
What follows are my suggestions for going digital, though honestly, I think these are some basic guidelines that would work anytime you want to change what and how things are done in a school setting. Planning, support, and time – key components!
1) Plan – What are your goals and what tools/resources/strategies are needed to meet those goals?
This is the most important component and one that is often overlooked in the rush to get the latest and greatest technologies or resources. Just because something is new and sounds great does NOT mean it is great for your situation. Planning involves looking at goals – standards, instructional methods, school culture, student outcomes, etc. and determining the priorities. What do you WANT things to look like? What do you WANT teachers to do? What do you WANT students to be doing and achieving?
Goals and prioritization should involve all relevant stakeholders – administrators, content leaders, teachers, parents, students. Once goals are prioritized, THEN look at the available resources/tools. In the case of digital, that might mean computers vs. tablets, or different types of software or apps. It might involve incorporating social media. It again, depends on what goals and priorities you determine and asking what tools/resources will address your specific goals? It may NOT be the same answer for every subject area, and hence could be multiple options. Do your research.
Once goals and resources/tools have been matched, then think about support.
2) Support – What is needed to make these resources/tools work to meet your goals?
There are lots of things involved in support. What is the hardware, software needed? Who is getting the materials? Who is going to install, set-up, download, etc. all the digital resources? Who will be in charge of inventory? What technical support is needed when things go wrong or break? What policies are needed (i.e. student’s use of social media for example, or taking home computers/tablets)?
An important component – one that is often short changed – is training. Who needs to be trained, who will do the training, and who is going to continue to support teachers/students after training? As anyone knows in the edtech field, short-term training on digital tools/resources doesn’t work for the majority if you want sustained and effective use and change. Most teachers/students need follow-up training and support, so it is important to plan for this, especially in the first year of anything new.
So, how are you going to support teachers/students on a continuing basis? If you can’t answer that, then you might want to reconsider what you are planning. It is important to build in long-term support, whether that means ongoing training, or arranging collaborative support among content teams or grade-level teams, or using mentors/coaches. Whatever you decide, decide it BEFORE you try buy or implement – if there’s no plan for how you are going to support new things such as digital resources, you are doomed to failure. Support includes, technical, pedagogical and managerial aspects, so make sure you have planned for this and have the personnel and other resources to carry it out.
3) Time – How much time are you allowing for teachers/students to learn, practice, and integrate? Have you allotted time for collaborating with others, sharing of ideas, modeling, analyzing mistakes, and focusing on instructional strategies?
Expecting teachers, students or a whole school to implement anything new needs time; ideally the more the better. There needs to be time for learning new tools and strategies, naturally. There needs to be time to try those things in practice and see where changes need to be made or different strategies tried. There needs to be time to make mistakes and time to figure out how to fix those mistakes and do things better or different. So, as part of the plan, time should be a major factor. What is the time frame for getting the infrastructure set up? What is the time frame for training? What is the time frame for allowing everyone to take what they learned and put it into practice? How are you going to provide time for collaboration or feedback or follow-up?
My suggestion is, after infrastructure is in place, to roll out a slow implementation time-line. Say for example, each content area (or grade level) choose ONE app, or one lesson or one software, or one social media platform, to learn, try out, come back together, reassess, and try again. Then, next month, add on something else. Don’t expect everyone to do everything all at once and immediately – choose specific resources/tools that are appropriate for each person/content/situation, and set a certain period of time for them to learn, practice, and assess. Then, add on to that.
If you focus on planning that meets the needs and goals of your school/classroom/students, anticipate and plan for all the necessary support that will be needed, and provide sufficient time to learn, practice and reassess, you will find implementation will be more successful. This applies to digital, but also to anything ‘new’ or ‘different’ you want to add into an educational environment. Change is hard, but if done right, change can happen.
About the author: Karen Greenhaus is currently the Director of Education Technology Outreach for Key Curriculum (http://keypress.com), a math technology company that sells The Geometer’s Sketchpad (http://keypress.com/gsp), TinkerPlots (http://keypress.com/tinkerplots) and Fathom (http://keypress.com/fathom). She provides professional development for teachers all over the country via face-to-face workshops, blended learning, webinars, and online courses. Karen taught in public schools for over 17 years as a math teacher and math administrator at the middle and high school levels. She has a BA in math from Virginia Tech, MA in Curriculum & Education from Virginia Commonwealth, and is currently working on her Ed. D. dissertation on professional development in education technology at The College of William & Mary. Her passion is helping teachers integrate technology effectively into classroom instruction. Karen blogs at http://greenhauseducation.blogspot.com