Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Avoid these 5 critical mistakes in #edtech planning

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If you've been in education very long, you've probably seen money wasted on some technology initiative. This year our school is going 1:1 with Chromebooks, and it is very exciting to think about how the devices will support learning in our building. But I feel a great sense of responsibility to ensure that the significant investment by our district (and ultimately our taxpayers) results in a more relevant and more effective learning experience for students. Careful planning should help us avoid some of the catastrophic failures that have happened in other schools (LA Unified for example). In fact, I am confident that with the proper implementation, tech initiatives are a necessary investment to greatly improve opportunities for students. So why are millions of dollars wasted each year on failed technology initiatives?

1. Schools purchase technology without considering exactly how it will be used to support learning. More than likely, there is at least a vague idea of the purpose of the tools, but the clear development of a vision and the communication of that vision is lacking. We should never make digital acquisitions simply because "our middle school students really don't have access to much technology." We aren't spending our school budgets just to say we have digital resources. That type of thinking makes 'having technology' more important than 'using technology' to add value. We need to have a clear idea of how digital access will benefit learning.

2. Schools purchase technology without considering the total cost of ownership. I hear the stories all the time in my work with teachers. Our school district bought laptops, but no one considered the expense of support and repairs. Or, we got these devices but our wireless network wasn't sufficient and now there's no money to make the needed upgrades. Or, we had this technology dumped in our laps, but there was no training for teachers. The total cost of ownership should be considered and allowances made for important contingencies that may not have been anticipated.

3. Schools fail to get buy-in from teachers, students, parents, etc. Without the buy-in of key stakeholders, a learning initiative (involving tech or not) will most likely fail to achieve its full potential. So how do we get buy-in? Have conversations about why the initiative is important. Ask questions. Get feedback from those who will be involved. Truly listen. Communicate the vision and consistently offer information and education on how the initiative will impact student learning. Finally, develop leaders from among these stakeholder groups and invite them along to help with the effort.

4. Schools purchase technology without providing support for teachers. This is one of the most common complaints from teachers about tech initiatives, "These devices were just dumped in our classrooms without any training or support." There needs to be a plan for helping teachers learn more about how tech can help with learning. Notice I didn't say that PD or training needs to be scheduled. There is nothing wrong with having training, but I think it's even more powerful to have a culture of sharing, communicating, and learning that is ongoing and teacher-driven. I want ownership for professional learning to be shared by the individual(s), and not just the responsibility of the organization. Another important area of support is related to help being available when the technology isn't working. Teachers need responsive tech departments who can assist.

5. Schools purchase technology with no plan for how to determine if the effort is working successfully. If we are going to spend significant amounts of money, and invest valuable resources of time and effort on a learning-focused technology initiative, there needs to be a clear idea of what success will look like. What types of learning improvements are we ultimately seeking, and how will know our students are gaining from this as we intended? These indicators of success need to be revisited often.

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