Though the current school year is drawing to a close, some of the most important decisions schools and districts make annually have yet to be made. Among them: What technology to invest in for the next school year.
But the success of these decisions, which will be finalized through the end of July, hinges on more than just the tech purchased. For more advice on what schools and districts should take into consideration when making these decisions, we reached out to Scott McLeod, director of innovation at Iowa's Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency, and David Hinson, director of technology services for Yeshivah of Flatbush in Brooklyn, NY. The IT thought leaders shared two key pieces of advice for their peers nationwide.
The most important questions begin with 'how'
In particular, McLeod stressed schools should always ask, "How does this empower students to do amazing things that make a difference in the world?" As far back as 2013, he called it his guiding question for presenters and vendors at that year's International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference.
"I get a lot of puffery but rarely an answer that causes me to lean in and ask more rather than raise a skeptical eyebrow," McLeod said.
Truth be told, there's a lot of ed tech out there that likely does a disservice to students. While game-based learning is gaining prominence in education, games ambiguously labeled as "educational" have given game-based learning a bad name. Many of the games in this broad, vague category are often cited as culprits when it comes to ed tech that doesn't live up to its promises. Richard Culatta, former director of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology, was highly critical of smart boards when he saw educators simply using them in the exact same way they used the traditional black- or whiteboard. And according to recent reports, tablets — which have become a regular fixture in many classrooms nationwide — are seen by many students as toys and not learning tools.
While all of the tech mentioned does have the ability to transform learning and empower students, administrators should have a clear idea of how that's going to be done.
A technology strategic plan is a must
The need for strategic plans around technology has been highlighted recently for higher ed, but missteps in recent years, like those experienced in Los Angeles' iPad rollout, drive home the need for similar thinking in K-12. Hinson recommends every school have a strategic plan written out, detailing how tech decisions fit into larger institutional priorities. The plan should specify how tech purchasing decisions are made, who is responsible for them and processes for shared governance.
At Yeshivah of Flatbush, the following areas get priority:
Sustainable technology purchasing strategies
- Leadership visibility
Naturally, infrastructure and pedagogy grab the top two spots, because they are necessary for effective tech implementation. Devices, platforms, apps and other tools simply won't achieve targeted results if there aren't adequate broadband access and capacity, or if plans in place for the effective use of that technology in the classroom. Tying into McLeod's point, the latter should include a conversation about whether certain tech products or approaches are actually necessary for your school. While 1:1 might work for some schools, maybe BYOD is better than tying up funds that could be spent on other efforts.
By standardizing its classroom spaces with specific models for smartboards, projectors, printers, etc., the Yeshivah is also able to save time and money by limiting the prevalence of technical difficulties that could occur.
"Technology spending and planning should not be limited to just equipment and infrastructure," Hinson said. "Investment in what we claim to be our most important asset, our people, is equally critical for success."
With that in mind, Yeshivah has implemented a professional development program, the Flatbush Career Advantage, which funds classes, conferences, training and continuing education. It's also important, Hinson noted, to ensure administrators, faculty, board members and other stakeholders maintain visibility and shared governance in decisions made.
Ultimately, while the tech in use is important, how it actually impacts students and the strategy put behind it are what will make or break any rollout.