Find Your Digital Champions
To fully embed Educational Technology (EdTech) into the DNA of a school takes significant resources. We know about the fiscal and technological resources to provide sufficient and sustainable access to tools. Schools also need vision, leadership, support, and grit. These key resources are not easily bought with money and rather take something far more precious: time. Time from leaders, time for students, and time from teachers to bring this goal to fruition.
Many schools will build in time for support from teachers by hiring Educational Technology Coaches who use their time to help teachers focus and execute on EdTech programs. However, coaches are teachers just like any other and hiring another teacher has serious impacts on budgeting in the short and near term. It’s doubtful any school has the financial resources to keep hiring teachers to the point of full support for every program. Further, many schools find it challenging to fund even one Educational Technology Coach while others do not have EdTech programs mature enough to warrant coaching.
This leaves an inevitable gap in support for teachers who are the most important part of the equation on technology effectiveness for enhancing learning.
We’ve addressed this issue, to moderate success, by identifying and supporting Digital Champions.
A Digital Champion is a teacher who has aptitude in using EdTech effectively for learning, interest in trying new things, and openness to support fellow colleagues. For example, a Digital Champion might be a Biology teacher who uses technology for formative assessment and differentiation to success. She is vocal with our Learning Technology team and me that she wants to experiment with new data modeling systems in her classroom. And when we ask for information about challenges in the Science department related to technology she is knowledgeable and forthcoming.
At my school, we have identified at least one Digital Champion in every grade level team and every subject department. As a result, each group of teachers at our campus has a recognized Digital Champion we can use a conduit to support the faculty. Finding these teachers was the easiest part of the process as we already knew who our high fliers were from previous work.
Schools can leave the process here, with informal recognition of Digital Champions and as-needed communication, and they would have a strong supplementary support system for teachers.
However, we felt this was insufficient and we added some formality. First, we create a role description to describe the skills and attributes of our Digital Champions. Second, we added simple responsibilities to the role such as regular communications with our team, formal processes for experimentation with new tools, and a requirement to inform us of departmental challenges or teachers needing additional support. Notice none of this added additional time to the Digital Champions’ workload, just formalized our interactions with them. Lastly, we added line items into our budget to provide additional professional development training and access to technology resources specifically for the Digital Champions.
In short, we have a formal role at the school where tech-savvy or tech-affinity teachers help us provide support to their department, offer us a clear line of communication, and we reward them with more tools and training. It is a win-win.
Since we created our Digital Champion program, we’ve seen a large uptick in effective use of technology in several departments and grade levels. Not surprisingly, those departments house the more active Digital Champions. We’ve also seen a reputational increase for the Learning Technology department as teachers feel more support
ed on an individual and group level. Digital Champions have brought in a handful of new tools and services that we have extended across the school. We have even removed a few tools that they showed us were obsolete.
My favorite outcome of this program has been the challenge our Digital Champions have given us. They, being empowered and well resourced, have pushed our IT and Learning Technology teams to improve service, uptime, and speed of response. Our Digital Champions have even called vendors directly (with our blessing) to request features and challenge customer service delays that have resulted in immediate actions from those providers.
Our Digital Champions have pushed technology into the DNA of the school in ways that my team and I could never have done. And they have done it by offering their time and passion with little financial or organizational cost.