How Ready Are You for Blended Learning?
We know how hard it is for schools to stay up to speed with the latest and greatest in education technology. Even the experts fall behind. Right now, I see many educators and school leaders feeling anxious about where they are (or are not) with their technology integration. Maybe their school is not fully moodle'd or edmodo'd just yet. No matter. Education technology isn't about how fast you get all your gears in motion. It's about how efficient that motion is. It's about being honest regarding the starting point, careful planning, and even more careful implementation.
With the help of the very smart ed tech experts over at Ed Elements, we're excited to share our high-level framework to assess a school or district's preparedness for digital instruction. The framework includes 1) School/District Culture, 2) Staff Proficiency, 3) Current Instructional Program, and 4) Technology Infrastructure. Not being honest about any of these factors could lead to a lot of money spent on new technology with lackluster implementation. Let’s walk through these areas.
Culture is nebulous, complicated and no organization is immune from it. Some experts argue that it is the single, most important factor to the success or failure of an organization. I describe culture as the way we do things around here and how we feel while we are doing them. Many school and district leaders inherit culture. A lucky few have the chance to create their own. The impact of culture cannot be underestimated and must be managed thoughtfully. Two examples of companies with great culture are Southwest Airlines and Zappos. Both organizations were able to succeed while many of their competitors floundered.
In the world of education, culture is even more important because everything revolves around people, little people, big people, happy people and sometimes disgruntled people. We exist in a complex web of stakeholders that all contribute to the success (or failure) of the organization, parents, teachers, principals, district administrators, the broader community and others. Historically, education reform efforts have undervalued culture as a starting point. Hubris has led many to believe that because an idea is great, it should automatically be received by all and implemented to perfection. We know differently. In any situation that involves change as all ed tech initiatives do, culture must be considered.
This one is personal. A few months ago my mom called me frantic from New York because she could not find her tickets to a Broadway show that was starting in just a few minutes. She had bought the tickets online and printed them out before taking the train from Philadelphia to New York. Unfortunately, the printed tickets were sitting on the kitchen table and now she and her three girlfriends were ticketless and panicking. Of course Ticketmaster emailed the tickets to her and to all of her friends. Three of the four had iPhones. None of them knew how to access their email accounts from their phones. Three of them were teachers, one a school social worker.
Let's be honest. People are at various levels of the spectrum with regard to technology proficiency. I have visited many schools where computers sat because teachers were not comfortable with them or because they did not want to be "shown up" by the students. It is absolutely critical that leaders recognize the starting point of staff to appropriately train and pace implementation.
Current Academic Program
Before making major decisions about which technology product or service to purchase, leaders must first be clear of what is happening in classrooms now. I would recommend this be done with real observations and real rubrics, not surveys. I have already witnessed multiple situations in top districts where district administrators thought things were occurring in schools that were actually not occurring at all.
In general, the greater the departure from the existing set-up, the more difficult the transition will be. I recommend incremental steps even if you have a lofty new vision in mind.
Finally, leaders should look very carefully at the school's current technology infrastructure. Your technology infrastructure will play a significant role in what is truly available to consider in going digital. Making purchases or adjustments that exceed existing capacity, will immediately lead to compromised implementation and a lot of disgruntled teachers, students and parents.
A good friend refers to these matters as “pre-implementation.” It is absolutely critical that school leaders have a firm understanding of these areas prior to diving into a new technology integration. This is how to save time, heartache and bunches of money.