5 tips to take your large school district into the digital age

Technology changes quickly, with educators and administrators often racing to catch up. Sometimes the bigger the school district, the longer it can take to make what happens inside classrooms as engaging as what students encounter outside our doors.

But just as chalkboards have given way to smartboards, so can your school system bring all aspects of teaching and learning into the digital age.

Here are five ways to get started in creating digital learning environments:

1. Prioritize professional development.
Focused professional development has been one of the main keys to our district’s digital transition success. Our technology integration framework allows administrators and teachers to identify where instructional activities fit, complemented by professional development around core classroom technology, such as Google tools and interactive whiteboards. Make sure that staff has a solid understanding of what meaningful technology integration looks like and how to develop activities that integrate technology in a purposeful way. Help school-based and central office administrators sharpen their vision for effective technology integration and transitioning to the use of digital textbooks and other online resources. Continue professional development on using digital textbooks and other online resources to create effective learning activities for students.

Next page: Four more ways to create digital learning environments

2. Go slowly.
Take the time to develop plans for identifying and understanding technology-enabled curriculum before providing devices to students. For example, my school system did not eliminate traditional textbooks in the transition to digital textbooks. We targeted new textbook adoptions and provided a class set of books as a backup. This allowed students and teachers to adjust to the use of digital textbooks while simultaneously evaluating readiness toward creating a Digital Learning Environment. Similarly, for teachers who were hesitant about using new technology tools, it was important to build effective integration into the curriculum. Ensuring easy access to online resources — whether through textbooks or other activities – will help you to gain buy-in at the school level. Having a seamless process for accessing digital content is important in avoiding user frustration. Locate early adopters in schools who know how to use technology effectively to develop activities, and allow them to model and coach their colleagues.
3. Resist one-size-fits-all.
The day-to-day details of your digital integration will likely vary from school to school and classroom to classroom. A great way to advance digital adoption from school to school is by identifying early adopters—those who are excited about technology and know how to use it effectively–to help lead the effort. Once these leaders are identified, train them first and give them authority to develop activities to model and coach their colleagues. Schools that experience the most success in technology initiatives are those that have teachers and staff in house leading the effort and actively engaging and challenging teachers to use technology in the classroom. Creating site-tailored policy around how devices will be used is also important at the individual school level. Some schools create policies where students may take devices home. Other schools have “bring your own device” policies. And still others require all devices to remain in the classroom. Policy should support what is best for a given school and its unique learning environment, strength and challenges.

4. Think ahead.
Tackle the issue of device sustainability early. District leadership should address how devices and digital resources will be sustained for at least five years, and beyond. Develop a plan in advance that addresses these issues as well as others, such as maintaining a robust network infrastructure and collaborating with internal and external partners. Refresh funds, grants and program fees can be used to support tech initiatives. Establish partnerships to help lower some costs; we receive high-speed connections at a reduced cost through our I-NET partnership with our local county government.