Each year, billions of dollars are spent on educational technology in the United States. With stagnant budgets forcing districts to evaluate each line item on a year over year basis, school officials are often forced to make difficult choices on what to purchase, what to cut, and ultimately, where to invest money in the smartest possible fashion.
Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside a large number of districts related to their digital conversion; in essence, moving their classrooms from teacher-centric environments with desks in rows and information dissemination seemingly the focus, to 21st century learning spaces where students are empowered, the classroom is flexible, and the focus is on creation, collaboration, and higher order thinking skills. In some districts, millions of dollars are spent putting equipment in the hands of both teachers and students and in turn, there’s minimal increases in academic achievement. However, on the other hand, in some districts the investment has yielded tremendous dividends, changing culture, empowering both teachers and students, and ultimately leading to higher levels of student achievement. Why the dichotomy? What causes such different results? Simply put, without systemically planning for the digital conversion and shifting the instructional pedagogy at the classroom level, the power of digital learning tools is not being maximized. However, when implemented properly, digital learning can support a change in school culture and help yield a more student-centered, personalized learning environment significantly benefiting all children.
To accomplish such a feat, districts must undergo a dynamic process of assessing, planning, personalizing, and ultimately implementing. The following highlights five keys to a successful digital conversion process.
Districts often struggle with exactly what to do moving forward; sometimes even where to begin. Similar to working with students, it’s imperative that districts have an understanding of their strengths and needs so that decisions can be evidence-based, and made on something other than a gut instinct or personal preference of the school leader placing the order. With that notion, districts must adequately assess current readiness levels. To a fault, many districts focus on the hardware aspects of digital learning implementation, yet that remains only one area of focus during the conversion process. One free resource for districts to use to assess current readiness levels is the Future Ready Dashboard; a resource that helps districts identify gaps in eight key implementation areas, and in turn provides strategies and customized resources to help close each gap.
Upon completion of a needs assessment, school leaders must collaborate to develop concrete action plans for implementation including timelines, procedures, and responsibilities for all key areas. Without such a planning process, gaps widen, timelines diminish, and success rates crumble. Implementing without a plan is like driving cross-country without a GPS.
3. Pilot, Solicit Feedback, and Revise the Plan
Having lead a team and department that issued hundreds of devices on a yearly basis; from tablets to laptops and everything in between, one thing that paid tremendous dividends was piloting the devices and seeking teacher feedback, prior to implementation. From a 1:1 tablet deployment in kindergarten to a 1:1 laptop deployment at the high school level, devices should be piloted so that kinks can be worked out on a small scale prior to mass deployment. Any school technology leader will share how the type of device greatly impacts deployment procedures and how different types of devices take vastly different amounts of manpower and time to deploy. When deploying on a large scale, efficiency is key. One of the best, battle-tested, easy-to-deploy machines on the market today is the Samsung Chromebook. Check out the highly successful deployment of these devices at Desert Sands School District in California and the supporting Case Study which shows, yet again, how achievement can increase when proper implementation occurs. (As of this writing Desert Sands has successfully deployed 26,291 Chromebooks and 200+ tablets to 29,000 students to almost meet the 1:1 implementation goal.)
4. Personalized Professional Learning
Districts are currently undergoing a transformation in the area of professional learning coming to the realization that the effectiveness of the one-size-fits-all, sit and get, hours-based model of professional learning, that for years has remained prevalent in our nation’s schools for years, is minimal. Study after study verifies that this traditional approach to professional learning is highly ineffective; resulting in a tremendous waste of time and money; both of which are limited for schools to begin with. For professional learning to be effective, it must be both engaging and personal. Districts that are transforming classroom instruction as part of the digital conversion process are finding ways to personalize professional learning and make the learning engaging, interactive, and hands-on. Simply put, high quality professional learning mirrors a high performing classroom.
5. Systemic Implementation
For the digital conversion to ultimately be effective, the instructional paradigm must shift. The effectiveness of the conversion will be directly correlated to the shift in pedagogy. If devices are implemented and put in classrooms where instruction remains traditional in nature; little to no impact will be seen. As verified in the latest research out of Stanford University completed by Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, technology’s effectiveness comes down to high levels of engagement, focusing on higher order skills not drill and kill, and utilizing the right blend of teachers and technology. To shift the paradigm, districts must focus the conversion on learning outcomes and work to transform instructional pedagogy throughout the process. As such, it’s imperative that districts properly implement a systemic plan; one that includes all areas of digital learning. Best of breed, is the Future Ready framework, which includes; Community Engagement; Budget and Resources; Data and Privacy; Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment; Professional Learning; Technology, Networks, and Hardware; Use of Time; and Leadership.
When poorly implemented, trust is lost, tax dollars are wasted, and students aren’t able to reap the benefits or unleash the potential of digital learning. However, when implemented with laser-focused precision and built on a systemic implementation plan as seen in Desert Sands School District, digital learning can transform instruction, empower students, and break down traditional barriers, leading to a more personalized, engaged student learning experience.
Desert Sands (CA) Case Study
“Disclosure of Material Connection: This post is sponsored by Samsung Business. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”