Why technology must be invisible during ed tech roll outs

Focus on doing
When Dickson arrived at Omaha Public Schools in mid-2014, he says the district’s technology platform was a “blank slate” (i.e., its technological infrastructure was sparse and aging). Recently the district completed a needs assessment and is working on several initiatives, such as workshop-based professional development, planned obsolescence, and new digital curriculum.

Dickson’s now keeping an eye on the extent to which the tools and applications become the central focus during implementation. He realizes that keeping the technology invisible won’t come naturally for teachers and others who have for years been taught that it’s “all about the tools.”

“When you think about instructional technology, teachers learn how to use a whiteboard in the classroom or tablets in a one-to-one environment. That’s how things were traditionally managed,” says Dickson. Instead, he sees the shift to his “invisible” approach as a significant cultural change that starts with a different way of measuring goals and results. “It’s not about measuring specific technology usage; the focus should be on the actual activity that’s going on – the actual ‘doing’ of something with the technology.”

Dickson points to the Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition (SAMR) model as one good measuring stick for this process. Centered on how computer technology impacts teaching and learning, the SAMR model develops a progression that adopters of educational technology can follow as they progress through teaching and learning with technology. At the “substitution” level, for instance, instructors and pupils replace old technology tools with new ones (Office 365 or Google Docs instead of Microsoft Word), as a way to test out new tools to conduct the same activities (in this case, writing).

“You can use SAMR to measure the activity that students are partaking in. If you couldn’t have done that activity before – and without technology – then there’s a real cultural change taking place there,” says Dickson, who has used the SAMR model to switch out traditional classroom instructional tools like whiteboards with a combination of interactive whiteboards and overhead projectors. “In doing so, we added some augmentation to the equation,” he explains, “in that the end result was an interactive environment where multiple individuals were able to edit and collaborate.”

(Next page: How both teachers and IT departments can prepare)

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