An Example of Integrating Technology the Right Way

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I am frequently involved in conversations with educators surrounding the integration of technology resources in their schools. Many of these discussions center around one-to-one initiatives where schools are looking to put a web-enabled device in the hands of every student. While reviewing the details necessary to do this work well, I often hear stories of schools and districts who rush too quickly to the acquisition of the devices without having meaningful discourse within their school communities as to what they are looking to accomplish and how the devices will help them in attain these outcomes.
A short time ago, I was fortunate attend a local one-to-one summit at Nipmuc Regional High School in Upton, Mass. It’s a school that has done an exemplary job charting its course to becoming a one-to-one school. Principal John Clements and his team shared some very concrete steps that are useful for any school looking to add more technological resources to support teaching and learning. While I encourage you to spend some time looking at, the website that Principal Clements and his team created, I would like to highlight three key steps:
  1. Start with collaboration –  The members of a school community are likely to have a range of opinions and experiences related to technology integration. When developing a shared vision for one-to-one learning in your school, your team can benefit from the perspectives, creative solutions, and best practices of other districts.
  2. Let your beliefs drive teaching and learning – Research on technology integration shows that one-to-one implementation is most effective when “a vision has been developed in collaboration with all stakeholders.”  (Check out the planning document used at Nipmuc to help staff and students develop the vision.)
  3. Market your vision –  Marketing the vision for one-to-one learning is a critical component of establishing community support, funding, and student teacher buy-in. (Check out the concrete examples here of how Nipmuc markets its vision.)
Following the overview of the steps needed to get everyone invested in this one-to-one program, the Nipmuc team went on to review five concrete ways to help ensure integration success:
  1. Model technology integration best practices – Don’t wait until the devices are in your teachers and students hands before modeling technology integration best practices.
  2. Technology SMART goals – One of the most impactful ways to support your teachers is to help them assess best practices. (The administration created optional SMART goals that staff members could use in the teacher evaluation process. This was a great idea since Massachusetts educators have to develop these goals anyway. More than 70 percent of the staff members at the school adopted the SMART goals.)
  3. Develop a common model of technology integration – At Nipmuc they have adopted the SAMR model to allow teachers to have a shared definition of impactful technology integration.
  4. Professional Development – Professional development needs to be differentiated, ongoing, and modeled by school leaders.
  5. Teacher Collaboration – Promote teacher leadership and teacher-to-teacher collaboration to model and share best practices of technology integration.
Whether you are in the early phases of integrating technology throughout your school or well into the process, the steps outlined by the administrators at Nipmuc Regional High School are worthy of review.

A Question For School Leaders…Are you preparing students for…?

Image via 

I still remember how excited I was back in May 2011 when the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) published their position statement on Social Media and Mobile Technologies.  As we approach the four-year anniversary of this document, my feelings have changed to disappointment due to the limited progress I perceive in this area.  Ignoring and/or banning the use of social media and mobile technologies in schools is still far too prevalent and it is bad for kids.

Here is the key phrase in this position statement for me:

“Education should prepare students to be active, constructive participants in a global society.”

The best way for this to happen is also clearly articulated in the position statement:

“Encourage and model the appropriate and responsible use of mobile and social technologies to maximize students’ opportunities to create and share content.”

Along the same line, the recent interview below that Joe Mazza did with Richard Culatta, Director of the United States Office of Education Technology Culatta talks about what we need in our schools to create schools that are “Future Ready.”  

“It’s not OK for district and school leaders to say I’m not that tech savvy. Even joking about that is not funny anymore…The strategy for using technology to transform learning cannot be delegated…”

So I ask my colleagues the following question: What are you doing to model the use of technological tools in your role? 

Here’s a place to start 

If you aren’t sure where to start, NASSP has shown great leadership over the past four years with its Digital Principal Award that selects three school leaders annually “who exhibit bold, creative leadership in their drive to harness the potential of new technologies to further learning goals.”

Check out the work of this year’s winners John Bernia, James Richardson, and Bill Ziegler to get a look at what best practice looks like.  In addition, look back at past winners (2014) Daisy Dyer Duerr, Jason Markey, Derek McCoy, (2013) Dwight Carter, Ryan Imbriale, Carrie Jackson, (2012) Eric Sheninger, Mike King, and me.  All of these school leaders are just a few keystrokes away and they are willing to answer questions that you may have to help you and/or your school community move forward on this challenging and exciting path!

We Can Learn A Lot From First Graders In Ethiopia About Tech Integration!

I have been using the picture and text above in a couple of recent presentations to educators surrounding the way we support learners (teachers and students) in accessing digital tools.  The picture and text come from a post on Technology Digital a couple of weeks regarding the One Laptop Per Child program.
Shouldn’t the highlighted text cause us to rethink some of our overly structured ways? I’ll cite it again below in case the text from the slide above is too hard to decipher:

OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets with no instruction. “I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android,” Negroponte said. “Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.”

In my mind, we spend way too much time walking people through tedious lessons on how to do very basic things with technology in our schools. In many cases we would be better throwing the unopened boxes out to our staff and or students and let them figure it out on their own. But if we can escape our traditional upbringings here and look at the evidence here and the similar finding of Sugata Mitra with his Hole in the Wall Project, I believe we can move much faster.

We are the only ones holding us back!

Excuse Me Commissioner Duncan, We Need More Than Stuff To Fix Our Problems

WASHINGTON - MARCH 1:  Secretary of Education ...
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
 (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

I read an interesting article by Associated Press writer Josh Lederman this week which highlighted the comments coming from Education Secretary Arne Duncan in regards to the need for all schools to quickly move away from printed textbooks.  While I am a supporter of moving to more modern resources in our schools, the rationale for the move coming from Mr. Duncan seems to be misguided to say the least.  

Check out the following excerpt:

“It’s not just a matter of keeping up with the times, Duncan said in remarks to the National Press Club. It’s about keeping up with other countries whose students are leaving their American counterparts in the dust.
South Korea, which consistently outperforms the U.S. when it comes to educational outcomes, is moving far faster than the U.S. in adopting digital learning environments. One of the most wired countries in the world, South Korea has set a goal to go fully digital with its textbooks by 2015.”

I am gravely concerned that the focus here is on technology rather than the quality of teaching and learning that is being reinforced under our current system which places too much of a focus on standardized testing.  While technology can help support good instruction, technology alone is not going to cause the change we need. Before we can adopt meaningful “digital learning environments”, we need to talk about the factors inherent in productive learning environments.

While it is clear that other countries have moved ahead of the United States in the integration of technology into their schools, it is also clear that we cannot catch up by just buying stuff and dropping it into our classrooms. Here is an excerpt from the Times of India that shows the thinking necessary to support the successful integration of technology into our classrooms:

“We did not implement the idea in a rush. We trained our teachers first and then we moved on to the students. We also talked to the parents and got them involved. The teachers have their own iPads and they create digital content for the students ,” informed GR Sivakumar, principal, DPS Surat.

iPad vs Textbooks
(Photo credit: Abstract Machine)

Plenty of examples of technology purchased hastily

We need not look far for examples of institutions in our country making the move to digital textbooks without doing the training necessary to support staff in utilizing these resources with students.  A recent study conducted on e-book usage at the college level highlighted this a couple of weeks back.   I hope I am wrong in thinking that the feelings of the students at these colleges will be the same feelings that many/most students in our public schools will be feeling do to the lack of resources dedicated to supporting staff in implementing digital tools.

“…the functions that make e-books more attractive to students than print books weren’t being fully maximized by faculty. Features like annotating texts, collaboration tools and the ability to share notes with other students weren’t being used or modeled by the professors. And if educators used the e-books like a print textbook, that’s what students did as well. “

The bottom line here is if we are going to spend the money on digital tools and continue to conduct business in the same tedious manner, we would may as well buy writing slates to pass out to all students and install inkwells on their desks.  Then again if we did that, we would not be ready to have our students take our country’s newest standardized test (PARCC) online in 2014-2015 as we are being asked.

So the good news is that the technology will allow us to administer standardized testing to our students hundreds of times during their K-12 experience

Anyone else feeling sick to their stomach?

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The Technology Is Easy But The Teaching Is Still Hard

I remember not to long ago when the integration of technological resources into a lesson plan required a great deal of planning and support (at least for me).  So as I struggle to see why technology is not being integrated into our schools and classrooms as quickly as it could be, I am reminded of the words of our Superintendent of Schools (Dr. Conti).

I have heard him speak to educators numerous times on the topic of integrating technological resources into schools. His comment that resonates for me is as follows:

“The technology used to be hard and that has changed, but the teaching is hard and it will always be hard.”

Keeping this in mind and the whole idea that searching for technological tools and resources has been compared to taking a sip of water from a fire house,  we have what appears to be a difficult task in front of us.  How do we best conquer this two step process of showing teachers how easy these tools are to use and then help them to navigate the seemingly endless number of resources available?

It makes me think that the fact that we have so many options makes the technology hard again, albeit in a different way than in the past.

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A Great Way To Approach Technology – "Pause — Think — Crawl — Walk — Run."

One of my favorite leadership books of all-time is Good to Great by Jim Collins.  He captured my attention three sentences in with the following statement:

“We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools.” 

It is ironic that when I first read the book shortly after its publication in 2001 I skipped quickly past Chapter 7 which is titled “Technology Accelerators.” At the time, I was in a place where technology purchases were few and far between and that was fine with me as I dealt with so many of the overwhelming details of being a brand new Principal.  Another reason for my jumping past the chapter was that Collins said the following about technology:

 “Technology and technology-driven change has virtually nothing to do with igniting a transformation from good to great” 

I have to admit that my perception of the situation was that we had a great deal of work to do in creating a more student-centered approach and coming to agreement on learning expectations. So, I was happy to put technology discussions on the back burner and have one less thing to worry about.

Fast forward to Burlington in the present and I have a different view of Chapter 7 from Good to Great.  The quotation from Collins about technology has become a “yeah, but…” for me. While I know that technology alone cannot change an organization, it is now clear to me that technology when deployed thoughtfully can bolster improvement efforts. It gets to the heart of what is intended in the quote from Sheryl Nussbaum Beach above. Technology alone is not going to move an organization or an individual from Good to Great. However, technology that is thoughtfully deployed can help us move a bit faster. 

Great schools and teachers will share that traits of the great companies that Collins described by selecting and focusing solely upon the development of a few technologies that are fundamentally compatible with their established strengths and objectives.”  They will not fall in love with the newest or shiniest toy that the vendors are peddling.  I can’t help but wonder how many millions of dollars have been wasted on Interactive White Boards in schools that did not first consider how they would be used or if they fit well with the goals and objectives of teachers who received them. 

As we receive visitors, calls, emails, etc here in Burlington about our iPad initiative, I caution schools to employ Collins approach to adopting technology  – “Pause — Think — Crawl — Walk — Run.” 

Here is my interpretation of each term:

Pause – Don’t get caught up in the initial wow factor of a new resource.

Think – How would this support current objectives and initiatives you are currently working on? 

Crawl – Have some teachers start to utilize the resource on a small scale and provide school-wide feedback to all staff. Also begin staff training on use of resource in the classroom. 

Walk – Get a whole department or cohort going with the resource and have them report out to the entire school community staff members on how the resource is impacting learning outcomes. Ramp up training. Ensure all staff have access to differentiated training.

Run – Continue to ensure that there are frequent opportunities for learners (all school community members) to provide feedback on best practices. These opportunities should extend to other school communities doing similar work.

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