A well-structured tech infrastructure process will help teachers do what's most important--teaching students.

3 steps to tech infrastructure that supports learning

A well-structured edtech infrastructure process will help teachers do what's most important--teaching students

Like instructional technology specialists across the U.S., I spent most of 2020 helping teachers navigate the world of edtech–explaining video conferencing tools, and demonstrating how our district’s selected edtech can support learning–as we abruptly transitioned to remote learning.

Now that we’re approaching the two-year anniversary of this transformation, I’m happy to say that technology adoption is baked into the curriculum at Ysleta Independent School District. Our teachers are much less likely to ask my colleagues and I how to use an edtech tool than how they can integrate it into their lessons, whether those lessons are taking place in a physical classroom or online.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. In a perfect world, technology serves the curriculum, and not the other way around. Ysleta’s 2,800 teachers must meet the needs of our district’s diverse learners, including a high population of dual-language learners, migrant learners, and students from economically disadvantaged communities. Our teachers need to be focused on providing the content those students need to build skills and knowledge, not worrying about how they’re providing it.

In Ysleta’s connected classrooms, we’re using instructional technologies to build collaboration, foster creativity, differentiate learning, and boost student achievement — all of which make our existing curriculum more impactful.

Here are three lessons I’ve learned over the last one and a half years for building a culture that values technology and invests in the infrastructure to sustain it:

1. Involve teachers in decisions about the edtech they’re going to be using all year. Technology should give tech-hesitant teachers more confidence in their lesson planning and delivery, and provide early adopters the freedom to innovate and experiment. They’re much more likely to embrace edtech tools if they have a voice not only in selecting them, but in personalizing them–something we enable with the hour-long professional development sessions we offer on edtech tools each Monday.

At Ysleta, I’m involved in much of the district’s edtech planning, from purchasing to implementation, and I can tell you that for the 2021-22 school year, our educators didn’t want more technology. They wanted better technology–bigger screens, faster speeds, more intuitive software. We listened and, when possible, filled their requests. After all, they’re the ones that have to live with the tools we select day-in and day-out.

2. Embrace the power of integration. After three of our teachers served as alpha testers, Ysleta has now adopted district-wide integration of our single sign-on platform, Clever, with Google Classroom, the platform that we require all teachers to use. The integration provides our teachers with rostering updates whenever data changes in our student information system. When a student changes schools or classes, their information automatically updates in both Clever and Google Classroom. It’s a feature we’ve wanted for a long time, given that our district has used both Clever and Google Classroom for many years.

The relationship is in its infancy, but we’re already seeing how it’s making learning easier for students and teachers this school year. That’s the way these sorts of collaborations should work: the technology becomes so seamless that teachers can focus on the content rather than the platform for delivering it.

3. Make sure the district’s technology is interoperable. As demonstrated by our integration of Clever with Google Classrooms, the technology a district uses should be seamless. The edtech tools that districts select must be able to communicate with the technology that’s already in-house, or else they’ve committed their instructional technology staffs–or worse, their educators–to manually reformatting files or entering information by hand.

When we consider purchasing new resources, one of my strategies is to reach out to product development teams and ask about interoperability. If the resource doesn’t connect our academic system with our operational system, then we’re likely to move on to one that does.

The common thread that runs throughout these lessons is the importance of letting teachers teach. Yes, edtech is forever intertwined with learning because of COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean our educators should become IT specialists skilled in systems integration. That should take place automatically for them, so they can spend their time on what they do best: setting up our children for a lifetime of success.

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