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Building a successful support foundation for technology

5 min read

Voice of the Educator

We didn’t all learn to drive the same car. In many school districts, technology is pushing forward into every school, classroom and home. Many choose the route of one-to-one computing, some chose BYOD and some are still finding it a challenge to choose between the two. It is important to start the process with a focus on students, without it there can be no real change. It is not about the device, and in the end, the technology should be invisible.

Implementing a project should begin with a vision. Technology shouldn’t be the main focus but a vein running through a strategic plan touching every objective and outcome, providing the highway to efficiencies and collaboration. Every district is different across the country, with different views, demographics, policies and procedures.

Adopting technology at its lowest level means asking the fundamental question to measure, “Is it making a difference in student learning?” The route of technology you decide upon can bring major benefits beyond this question. It will always be important to keep your focus on what your outcomes should be as you progress. Technology has the ability to level the playing field for all students as it gives them the tools to access content across subject and grade levels — anytime, anywhere by pushing learning beyond the confines of the school building.

The major support for assisting in this ability is professional development. Many teachers do not have the technical knowledge or skills to recognize the potential for technology in teaching and learning. Just knowing how to use a computer is not enough. Instead, teachers must become knowledgeable about technology and self-confident enough to integrate it effectively in the classroom. It doesn’t end there. District and school leaders need professional development to lead by example, giving weight to technology initiatives driving this change.

As with any technology initiative, it is important to discuss infrastructure. Many times a different pair of eyes are needed to look at the current state of technology infrastructure in a district. This allows the ability to remove bias towards specific solutions or procedures and allows many districts to focus on “what’s best for the classroom” thinking. Infrastructure can make or break the learning experience and frustrate staff.

It is important to understand that your end user might move faster than you are willing to put policies and procedures in place. With the “consumerization” of cloud services, many times students and teachers are utilizing technology tools and placing data into places you have no administration over. By creating a “ring of innovation,” a controlled avenue for those fast movers to explore and expand their classroom experiences, you can steer alignment to the vision your district wants to create. These can come in the form of technology standards advisory and innovation academies.

Nearly every staff member has a smartphone, and most students come to school with one. Building capacity for each and every staff and student can help shape the services you deliver. With the growing infiltration of technology in our daily lives, our technology literacy has grown dramatically. However, it is important to know the measure of technology literacy everyone is at and provide the resources necessary in a single pane of glass to where you expect them to be. Keep in mind the larger the district and deeper the implementation, the greater the need to release features purposefully to not reach implementation fatigue.

Starting your implementation with a vision tied to your strategic plan and getting the key stakeholders at your table lays the critical foundation and scaffolding for your initiative. Professional development for teachers makes the foundation stronger, adding bricks and mortar to your framework and the infrastructure serves as the cornerstones, ensuring stability and reliability in your rollout. Your rings of innovation ensure no one is trapped inside the framework and allows for growth, expansion and creativity not yet reflected on the road map. The technology devices and software are merely decorations that change over time and with the seasons; they are not a part of the foundation.

Using these methods, we have been able to successfully rollout changes in our organization, most recently an Office 365 districtwide rollout. In all of these changes, it is important to understand that our technology changes are cultural as well. Organizational change is complex, and there are many issues underlying what helps or hinders success. Much attention is focused on what to manage, such as goals, strategies, action plans or project plans. What is often ignored or downplayed is how to lead people through transition, especially involving rapid change through technology. There is an important difference between change and transition. It’s helpful to think of technology change as the external situation.

Co-founder and President of GreyED Solutions, Rob Dickson’s technical understanding of how technology should support student learning contributed to his previous district’s ranking among the “top then” digital districts in the nation four of the past five years. Dickson currently directs the instructional technology program and all of the technology infrastructure work for Omaha Public Schools as the Executive Director of Information Management Systems.  Among his accomplishments are leading the first VBlock cloud data center installation in K-12 education and advising many schools across the country with their technology planning and integration. Dickson was recently named 2014’s “20 to Watch” from NSBA for innovation and technology integration work.

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