Modernizing your classrooms is a long, involved process. Doing it right means having the right people, partners and processes in place.
This was our focus in 2017 when we launched our “Even the Playing Field Classroom” initiative. The project included overhauling classrooms with outdated, antiquated technologies. Here's what we learned.
Get stakeholders involved early. We couldn’t talk to everyone in the district, but we did talk to a large number of teachers and then made the best decisions around that input. To build the base classroom, we started by looking at content areas, knowing that what works for a math teacher may not work for an English teacher. Most math teachers, for example, still want to be able to write problems on the board; we really listened to our stakeholders on that point. We gave them unlimited whiteboard space with software built into it so that they can do problems, have the kids come up and work on problems, and create a very interactive learning environment.
Factor in the total cost of ownership. When making tech investments, examine the total cost of ownership and the value of the investment itself. Make sure your technology decisions—or any changes you make—meet budget requirements. These considerations are particularly important today when more schools are aiming to personalize the learning experience. It costs money to make that accessible, so we look at the value that the technology is bringing to our students and how it can be integrated into their lessons.
For instance, our upgrade project included outfitting all classrooms with ProColor interactive flat panels from Boxlight. The way the boards work and their multipurpose nature—they come with adaptors that let teachers attach them to anything and view their content—means the TCO is very good over the length of time that they will operate.
Don’t try to do it overnight. Start somewhere. You can allocate some money every year and implement the technology over a multi-year time frame (that’s exactly how we did it). For our interactive flat panels, we did a pilot first and tested out different brands in various classrooms to see what would work best. It took about 18 months to go through those tests and to make the final selection. It is fine to install in 10 classrooms this year, five classrooms next year and so forth. It’s all about building and planning, and not trying to rush things.
Keep an open mind. Many times, CTOs get very “stuck” about things because we get opinionated just like everybody else does. Teachers do too, and especially when it comes to what works well in their classrooms. The idea here is to keep an open mind and then really do your background research on the products and software that you’re considering. 3D printers are the coolest thing in the world, for example, and we tried them out. We’ll do some small pilots that don't cost us a lot of money and then figure out the value of the investment from there. That's part of that whole decision-making process. I think schools that follow this lead and try to be as open as possible to finding the better solutions will come out in better shape than those that don’t.
Prepare for a culture shift. Throughout this upgrade process, we also focused on cultural change, a shift from teacher-student communication to a more collaborative environment. From the CTO perspective, we want to make sure that our end consumer--the students—can give us feedback on what works and what doesn’t in a particular classroom or course. Getting there requires significant cultural change, but we’re already starting to see some positive results from these efforts. It’s been a real advantage for those classrooms.
Jill Pierce is the chief technology officer for McMinn County Schools in Athens, Tennessee.
Tech Tips is a weekly column in SmartBrief on EdTech. Have a tech tip to share? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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