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Replacing technology -- where do you start?

Following the recent American Rescue Plan, the state of Michigan will be receiving $3.7 billion in K-12 funding. As the administrator of information and instructional technology for Livonia Public Schools, which is about 20 miles outside of Detroit and which will receive some of these funds, the upcoming months will include important planning and decision making when it comes to spending on technology. Our district, like many others, will have several considerations regarding technology and training to ponder as we start planning for this summer. 

As we all know, the need to replace technology is inevitable. A laptop, for example, has an average life span of three to five years and even if you purchase the nicest ones, they will have to be replaced at some point, especially after the heavy use they get in schools. In addition, after this school year, there will be a need to update general areas to address the need for social distancing and focusing on new ways of teaching and learning, including creating collaboration spaces and a new approach to the media center. Lastly, there will be a need to improve technology such as network switches, cameras and recording systems, servers, mobile devices, classroom sound systems, new teacher computers, projectors or interactive devices, and phone systems. 

One of the top priorities for districts is focusing on selecting technology for the long term. It’s easy for anyone to get distracted and intrigued by what’s shiny and new. However, it’s important to choose technologies that are purpose built for the inevitably heavy use they will get in the classroom and to prepare teachers to use this technology to its fullest. Below are two key steps to take to ensure that your technology purchases are practical yet forward thinking and have teaching and learning at their core. 

Don’t purchase without a plan

While starting the purchasing process, many technology leaders understand the importance of creating a plan and outline for their district. When a plan is in place, it really helps make the large task seem much more approachable and easier to accomplish. For any task at hand, it is always important to start with asking questions. When it comes to district technology purchases, there are several factors to consider and questions to ask, including:

  • What technologies do I currently have and how old are they?
  • Of the technologies we have, what are teachers consistently using in their classrooms?
  • How are teachers using the technology currently in place?
  • What feedback have teachers provided about the technology in the classroom? 
  • Will the curriculum change in the next one to five years and if so, how does that impact the technology purchased?
  • What is the infrastructure currently in place and what upgrades need to be made to keep up with the pace of technology?
  • Will teachers take the time to learn new technologies? If so, does the district have the budget and time to provide thorough training for them?

Once these questions are answered, and some technologies have been considered, it helps to go directly to the people who are using current technologies and will be using the new ones. When a district gets feedback from teachers and staff it makes it much easier to determine the next best steps. Some districts work with each building’s technology coaches/media specialists or send out surveys to staff in order to receive direct feedback. Our district works with building leaders and media specialists in order to gather specific feedback and ensure technology being purchased will be used. 

These conversations are important to have both with end users of technology and their managers, not only so district leaders know what teachers like and need, but also so teachers and staff understand why decisions are made by the district. For example, when asked about the classroom display technology, teachers initially were intrigued by the idea of flat panels.  In our conversations about this, we let teachers know this would mean losing whiteboard space, and for many staff that is a concern. We have found through our current installations that Epson BrightLink interactive displays allow teachers to have big, bright images with interactivity when needed and still gives them the flexibility to access the full whiteboard when the display is not in use.

In order for any new technology to be used, both training and professional development have to be a part of the equation, and yes they are two different things. If training and/or professional development come at a cost, this needs to factor into what purchases are made. 

Training vs. professional development

While the terms training and professional development are often used interchangeably, they mean two different things when it comes to technology. Both training and professional development are important to provide to teachers to ensure they are using the technologies you purchase appropriately and with fidelity. 

Training should include the basics on how to properly use a specific technology, some hands-on experience with the technology and the ability for educators to get answers to any questions they may have. This training is especially important when a district purchases a technology that is brand new to teachers and staff. When the district purchases updated models of technology already in place, then limited training will be needed throughout the district, although a refresher course never hurts. Many technology companies created online videos, tutorials, etc. during the pandemic which can help districts with training moving forward. In addition, vendors may offer your district live webinars and chats to help answer teachers’ questions. In this era of everyone working remotely, training services provided online have become the norm and I think this trend will continue. 

Oftentimes updating technologies teachers and staff are already familiar and comfortable can provide more opportunities for professional development. Teachers need to really understand how to incorporate a technology into their teaching to better support learning and that is where professional development comes in. Understanding the professional development offered by a technology provider, and the costs associated with it, will help administrators ensure they have the means to provide quality, ongoing PD. Districts often turn to instructional technology specialists or external consultants to help tie a new technology to the pedagogy. These individuals can help map out a PD plan of action for the district to ensure that teachers are prepared to use the technology provided to improve instructional practices based on current research.

Looking ahead

Once districts identify the best technology to purchase and what training and professional development is required, they are able to set teachers up for success. Every district leader wants to provide teachers with the best technology resources to meet their needs, but it can only have an impact if teachers are using the technology regularly and confidently. This summer will be a crucial time for schools and staff as they consider the past year, how to best spend the influx of funding coming through the American Relief Plan and how to best move forward with in-person learning. 

Tim Klan is the administrator of information and instructional technology for Livonia Public Schools in Livonia, Michigan. The district uses Epson BrightLink interactive displays.

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