By Susan Bearden
Inspired by attending conferences such as FETC, many educators return home eager to explore new tools and technologies. While it’s natural to be inspired by the latest and greatest edtech, it’s important for school and district leaders to remember that successful educational technology implementations require careful thought and planning. Stories abound of edtech implementations gone awry because of inadequate planning. The U.S. Department of Education’s guide to K-12 technology infrastructure, Building Technology Infrastructure for Learning, outlines 7 questions that will help to insure the success of education technology initiatives.
- What is the vision for learning that technology will be supporting?
Although it is easy to be drawn in by flashy promotional materials and discounts, school and district leaders should articulate how students will use technology to learn before making decisions about technology. Learning objectives should drive the technology implementation and not the other way around. Community and stakeholder ownership is the key to success of any major initiative. Involve all stakeholders, including district leaders, board members, curriculum directors, school administrators, teachers, students, parents, and other community leaders across all stages of planning and implementation. Communicate your vision to all stakeholders and remain flexible and responsive to individual school needs.
- What digital tools will be needed?
While vendors may try to convince you that their tool is “best,” there is no one tool or platform that holds the key to education technology success. Talk with students, teachers, and school administrators to understand how they currently use learning technologies and determine which digital technologies align with your school or district’s learning goals.
- What kind of professional learning will teachers and administrators need?
The need for ongoing, job-embedded professional learning is one of the most overlooked factors for education technology implementation success. Because educators differ in technology expertise and pedagogical knowledge, professional learning should be designed to meet the needs of teachers at all levels, from the most traditional to the earliest adopters of new technologies. Differentiated instruction that combines in-school and online professional learning communities can ensure that administrators and teachers understand how digital tools can support their work and ensure user buy-in.
- How much bandwidth will be needed?
School bandwidth needs can vary tremendously depending on how technology is used in the classroom. An organization’s ISP (Internet Service Provider) can provide data about bandwidth usage, and schools that manage their own networks should have monitoring tools that provide a comprehensive bandwidth assessment. Schools and districts should consider setting aspirational connectivity targets, such as the recommendations from SETDA’s Broadband Imperative II, based on the number of users. Schools and districts should also take the bandwidth demands of online testing into account, as well as other network applications that may impact bandwidth such as administrative or security systems.
- What will be the needs of the in-school network?
Without a robust network infrastructure, digital learning initiatives are doomed to fail. A network assessment, conducted by school technology support teams or a certified consultant, will identify mechanical, electrical, and environmental conditions that needs to be addressed. Remember that technology infrastructure has a limited lifespan, and bandwidth needs continue to grow, so refresh cycles will need to be planned and funded.
- How many and what type of devices will be needed?
Once a clear vision for the role of technology in teaching and learning has been established, determine what type of computing devices and how many will be needed. Consider the number of devices that students and teaches can connect to the school network and be sure to differentiate between devices owned by the school vs. those owned by staff and students. Wireless networks should be designed to provide adequate coverage, which is the breadth of area in which wireless access is available, and density, which is the number of devices that can connect to and use the network in a confined space such as a classroom.
- What resources are available to fund the transition?
Funds from the FCC’s E-Rate program can be used to support school broadband connectivity and network infrastructure. In addition to E-Rate, some federal education grants may be used to support the transition to digital learning. In October 2016, the U.S. Department of Education released Non-Regulatory Guidance for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) Grants. The Department also released a Dear Colleague Letter which outlines how funds under Titles I through IV may support the use of technology to improve instruction and student outcomes. The Office of Educational Technology provides this comprehensive list of funding resources. At the state level, examples of innovative funding models can be found in the State Digital Learning Exemplars from SETDA and the Friday Institute.
With proper planning and vision, technology can leveraged be a powerful educational tool. By addressing these 7 questions, school and district leaders can ensure the success of digital age learning initiatives.