The evergreen conversation about the need to integrate technology is prevalent among school leaders. However, the lack of focus on why and how to integrate the technology is what is often missing from the conversation.
Administrators and teachers can get so focused on integrating technology that they lose sight of the end goal – how it can impact learning outcomes and student engagement. It's easy to be enamored by something new and flashy, but administrators and teachers need to take the time to evaluate if the technology is applicable for their environment, and more importantly for their students.
At St. Thomas School (STS), our practice includes deploying pilot projects with one or two classrooms and letting the teachers lead the evaluation of its success. We partner with teachers in advance of the deployment to set goals around what they are looking to achieve, how it will be measured, and what success will look like. We also collaborate with teachers to reflect on the project and learn about what worked well, what they would change, if they would try it again, and whether they would recommend it to other teachers. Then, depending on the type of initiative and how successful it was, we introduce the opportunity to a few more teachers, or when it is an overwhelming success we roll it out to everyone – which is what we did with the Microsoft OneNote project. After a very successful one-year pilot program, with Third Grade and middle-school mathematics, that generated positive feedback and improved learning outcomes, we were confident it was worth taking to the rest of the school.
Measuring success is a key component when we evaluate our pilot programs for broader integration. For example, with the OneNote project, we had data-driven outcomes such as improved test scores and anecdotal information around student engagement. However, one of the most transformative attributes of introducing the OneNote project at STS was providing teachers with another way to customize learning experiences for each student and their learning levels. For example, teachers can assign different work to different students more easily without embarrassment or awkwardness, as it is individually shared with the student via OneNote. Additionally, depending upon the task and what outcomes they are working towards, teachers can give students different modalities that allow a student to write, type, or record audio appealing to alternative learning styles.
Students have shared, for example, how helpful it is that they can hear the Spanish vocabulary words the teacher assigns at the beginning of the week and listen to the pronunciation on the computer, instead of having to remember the pronunciation from class. We have also heard from students who struggle with, or are building organizational skills that the technology has helped them become more organized, because everything they need is in one place and they aren't losing papers out of their notebook.
I encourage teachers who are evaluating how to effectively integrate technology into their classrooms to think deeply and start small. While it's important to set expectations around what success will look like, it's equally as important to think about the impact if it's not successful. What are the risks if the technology fails, how will it impact learning outcomes? If it fails, what is the worst thing that can happen?
At STS we work to provide both our students and our teachers with opportunities to leverage their learning through technology. For our teachers, we provide resources and training to help them identify what tools would be most helpful and determine how to effectively integrate those tools into their classroom.
This year we are concentrating our professional development on the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM). Teachers are focused on building their skills and knowledge around SEM to become better teachers, to become more aware of student needs, and to give more students voice and choice. Based on what we learn this year, we will explore additional ways to integrate technology to support further professional development.
In the interim, we are implementing a more personalized approach for professional development for teachers by offering access to Lynda.com. We are also working closely with our teachers during back-to-school trainings to see how we can utilize technology to support them as the year goes on.
Too often technology adoption becomes a game of keeping up with the Joneses. People naturally don't want to feel like they're behind, especially parents who are looking to provide their child with the most valuable opportunities possible. I encourage parents to ask questions to determine what the best environment is for their student. For example, if a school touts a "one-to-one program," ask questions to gain a better understanding of what that really means, how the technology is being used, and for what.
At STS we are very intentional about introducing the use of technology and evaluating how it impacts learning outcomes and student engagement.