Five (not-so) easy pieces of technology integration

A few years ago, a colleague and I presented a session titled, “The Five (Not-So) Easy Pieces of Technology Integration” at an educational technology conference. Though technologies have changed, our district’s use of this simple framework continues to guide our technology integration efforts today.

Technology integration sounds so simple. Yet it can be especially difficult to get a handle on, due to rapidly changing high-tech tools. Why does it have to be so daunting? Why are so many schools and teachers struggling to integrate technology? It all seems so complex that we just aren’t sure where to start. The logical place to start, though, would be with a meaningful definition of “technology integration.”

It is not simply a matter of use. Keyboarding and other computer-based applications, such as word processing, can prepare students for integrated use of technology, but they are not integration themselves. Integrated learning systems (I’m still trying to figure out what’s integrated about these systems) are not technology integration, either.

Integration occurs when a teacher or learner selects a technology and uses it effectively to achieve a desired outcome. The focus is on the teaching and learning process and the outcome. There may not always be one right tool, and there may be multiple ways to use any given tool.

Teaching and learning thus become the focal points of our integration framework. Curriculum is like a tapestry that contains the traditional strands of math, language arts, and science, among others. These content strands are woven with critical life-long skills we call “learner goals.” Each student is expected to be an effective problem-solver, communicator, information accessor, team member, and responsible citizen.

Where traditional, content-oriented structures fail, these learner goals provide us with a framework that allows us to more easily see how technology fits into instruction and learning. As we develop content curricula, a technology integration specialist works as a member of the committees to ensure that integration is considered throughout the process.

Infrastructure is the second piece of our integration framework. Because computers and networks are visible signs of technology, they too often get the emphasis. Other parts of the infrastructure—electrical and mechanical systems, support, and maintenance—are equally as important. These latter pieces often get short shrift in district budgets. That’s unfortunate, because they have a direct and ongoing impact on technology integration.

Keeping the technology supported and maintained is a never-ending struggle. Technology plans that rely solely on students to support a multimillion-dollar investment are shortsighted. Increasingly complex technology requires a well-trained, well-compensated technical support staff.

Staff development is the third component of a sound integration framework. Too often, it focuses only on basic skills. Staff development should help teachers learn to use technology in authentic learning experiences. Practical skills, such as word processing and keeping grades, can be effective hooks, but they are not high-level uses of technology.

Staff development efforts should be targeted to a variety of skill levels and interests. Survey teachers to determine what they need and want. Most important, staff development efforts must be sustained. Even in a district with little or no growth, it will take years to ensure that all teachers meaningfully integrate technology into their administrative and instructional activities.

A fourth component of our technology integration efforts is an “information power”-based library media program (American Library Association, 1998). Such a program relies on teacher-librarians, in collaboration with classroom teachers, to ensure that students can use technology as effective seekers and users of information.

Collaboration, or teamwork, is the fifth essential element for technology integration. No one department or individual makes technology integration happen. It takes an organization-wide, systematic effort to ensure integration. Teachers, administrators, board members, technical staff, students, parents, and community members must work together.

By using this five-part framework, can you expect your own technology integration efforts to become simpler? Probably not. But, by breaking down your integration efforts into five (not-so) easy pieces, you will have a manageable framework for integrating technology into all phases of teaching and learning.

Bob Moore is the director of instructional technology and library media services for the Blue Valley School District in Kansas.

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