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Working with curriculum and system leaders and educators across the state of New Hampshire, I frequently hear some common refrains about education technology tools for the classroom.
I know ___ is a great resource, but I don’t think teachers are even aware of it.
Teachers aren’t able to take on “another thing” so anything we share with them has to solve problems they already have.
We want to use ___ but the tech staff have other priorities.
Somehow, after the pandemic and returning to “normal,” teachers are more reliant on worksheets or things they find online (often unvetted) and can easily duplicate. They need tools that are easy to use, support active learning, and can accommodate the needs of diverse learners. There are almost too many options! Or too many different tools for different tasks. And, unless yours is a very fortunate system, technology staff hasn’t increased at a rate commensurate with the reliance on, and the complexity of, technology that supports school operation and education of students.
Maybe some of these challenges sound familiar, whether you’re a district, a school, a curriculum leader or an instructional coach, a digital learning specialist, or a librarian. Across New Hampshire, school leaders are searching for strategies to ensure that their edtech investments are being leveraged to pay dividends on student engagement, acceleration of learning, and saving teachers’ time.
To explore how to increase the return on investment (ROI) of education technology, let’s take an inquiry approach. Consider your district, schools, departments, and educators, and ask the following four questions at a team meeting to ensure you’re all on the same page and experiencing these challenges and solutions with common understanding.
Who are your district’s building-based edtech coordinators?
Do your district’s schools have a central point person who serves, and is widely recognized, as a central point person for edtech tools? Databases, lists, websites, newsletters, and the like are all excellent ways to share information about digital tools and drive usage. Establishing and highlighting the person in this role can be a great help in getting educators to the right person for targeted support, getting the word out, coordinating training, and so much more. Library media and digital learning specialists or technology coordinators are excellent candidates for this, especially when they periodically meet with their role-alikes across the system. Edtech information is then not limited to one school but shared throughout the system. The educators in these coordinator roles will be more effective if they are members of school leadership teams and have the flexibility needed to integrate into the classroom to support educators and students while actively engaged in learning.
How might you increase usage without “adding another thing”?
This is a challenging one, because no matter what edtech you’ve acquired, there will be some necessary investment of time for that tool to go from new to indispensable. Educators frequently seek administrator guidance for what they expect to see in the classroom or in use by students. Designated edtech coordinators can take the lead, working with principals and curriculum leaders to set goals, leading professional learning, and fostering digital tool adoption. Success will come by ensuring teachers understand what different tools can do, highlighting best practices, sharing fun and relevant examples, and providing time for educators to play with and learn new tools. Coordinators can also help streamline the numbers of tools needed, such as finding tools that bring tech functionality and content together. Coordinators can make it fun by creating challenges that leverage engaging digital content and interactive learning activities that teachers can share, copy, and edit. This solves one problem teachers already have: lack of time. This is an excellent way to foster use that is rewarding and meaningful, ensuring usage is based on value rather than mandates that satisfy compliance metrics.
In New Hampshire, all preK-12 schools have access to high-quality digital content through the New Hampshire Education Department. This content includes instructional activities that educators can use as-is or edit to meet the needs of their students. These resources can be shared and tweaked to support all learners and tailored to meet specific learning goals. This type of sharing and collaboration reduces stress and saves educators’ time. Now that’s incentive! This process can also alleviate confusion about what tools educators should select.
How do you keep the instructional edtech and IT infrastructure team on the same page?
Depending on how IT infrastructure and instructional edtech support teams are structured, they may not understand each other’s work or have may have competing interests. Your district’s IT infrastructure team must know what education purchasers are acquiring (or requesting), the function and users of the tool, any specific tech requirements, and how they will integrate into your digital ecosystem.
Interoperability is increasingly important as a means of making deployments efficient, supporting ease of use, and protecting student data privacy. Partnership and collaboration between technical and education stakeholders along, with tools that support integration such as single sign on and learning management systems, can help ensure that all parties are on the same page, part of effective implementations, and educators have a single point of entry for finding the edtech their school wants them to use. This collaboration also ensures technology support teams will understand the importance of edtech tools and keeping them accessible and functioning. This cross-collaboration ensures school-based tech coordinators can help fill communication gaps, expedite support, and provide educators and students with best practices for all edtech systems.
Is professional learning a part of your edtech implementations?
It is increasingly true that teacher professional learning time is at a premium, and there are so many initiatives beyond implementing effective edtech for which districts are responsible. However, just as in any new learning initiative, professional learning on edtech is key.
As leaders with a whole-school focus, dedicated edtech coordinators are poised to assess and address professional learning gaps and opportunities. Library media or digital learning specialists are uniquely capable of helping build professional learning plans, plan professional learning days, and play a leading role in building internal capacity among educators to help them help their peers. Training on digital tools does not need to happen in a vacuum. New learning in literacy instruction can be delivered through learning management systems. Resources for competency learning can be built and shared with digital tools, so both the competency process and edtech training are happening at once. Create purposeful opportunities for collaborative planning, leveraging learning tools that support sharing between teachers.
By identifying your edtech coordinators as communication and professional learning leaders in their schools, district leaders can take a big step forward in the effort to wring maximum return on investment for edtech spend.
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