The Touchpoints of
Educational Technology Excellence
I have had the pleasure to work with a number of schools around the world in the area of Educational Technology. Usually, if schools want to talk to me it is either to show me something amazing or to ask my advice on becoming a school that would have something amazing to show. Sadly, a large portion of international schools fall into that latter category. They have a desire to use technology for excellence, but have not been successful.
Of course, “success” is a loaded word in our field. Success suggests an end point to technology for learning. As in, “we have all the computers we need, so EdTech can be removed from our to-do list.” This is a common mistake. EdTech is directly tied to learning practices, budgets, and operations of a school, none of which are ever finished. Further, the impact of EdTech success is not something that can be easily measured as it has such a breadth of influence on a school. Boards often ask me for metrics or ROI for their technology investments and while I have a few measures to show them, true impact across a school cannot be shown by standard assessments. Famed EdTech researcher Saul Rockman said, “Those administrators and board members who insist on a specific test score gain as the return on investment [in Educational Technology] are, more likely than not, going to be disappointed.”
So, where does this leave us? We know there are schools doing amazing things with technology. Are they not successful? These schools have opted for excellence, a concept of continued improvement with no time limit, rather than success. When you visit these schools, you will notice they have common touchpoints for excellence in EdTech in the areas of learning, infrastructure, sustainability, and leadership.
First, and foremost, excellence in EdTech is found in a focus on learning. EdTech’s role in a school is to enhance learning for all members of the school. It is not about frequently used tools or Internet skills or even assessment performance. Excellent EdTech fosters personalized, rigorous, and real time learning that is not constrained by traditional understanding of knowledge or access to information. With this, excellence can be found when schools clearly define the skills and competencies their students will work towards with access to computing in the classroom (and at home). Excellent schools put continued professional development for their staffs, teaching and non-teaching, as strategic and budgetary priorities. Learning for parents and the community are also focal points. And these schools take time to celebrate learning through sharing and promotion. Perhaps the most striking element of learning excellence in strong EdTech schools is the technology itself is seamless. It has become part of the DNA of the school rather than an area needing special attention.
Second, technology enhanced learning is supported by a robust infrastructure. Schools with excellent EdTech programs have reliable internal networks, a clear device access policy, supplemental devices to account for damage, and online systems – such as learning management, communications, or student information – that work well and support teacher and student needs. However, the true lynchpin of infrastructure excellence in schools comes through personnel. Many times I find that less mature schools fund equipment and services without hiring and developing IT staff that will ensure reliability. A strong IT manager who leads her team, is customer focused, and is strategic is worth her weight in gold. And the team she has assembled with be vital members of the non-teaching staff.
Third, programmatic excellence is not a one-time investment. Many of the school boards I have spoken to talk about funds they have set aside for large technology purchases or upgrades, but when I ask them how they will maintain their systems in the coming years few have a viable plan. EdTech moves at the pace of technology. Devices will run out of life, better systems will come online, and the needs of learners are ever changing as our understanding of learning changes. Excellence in EdTech requires that schools strategically plan for and clearly budget replacement and improves cycles for their devices, personnel, and programs. Three to five year budgets for device and system refreshes are critical. Further, excellent school visit their EdTech learning plans frequently and revise them on regular basis to ensure they are aligned with current practices.
Finally, and most critically, schools with excellent EdTech programs will have publicly supportive leadership. The Head of School, senior leadership team, and the board will understand the role of technology in the school and tout its benefits to the school community. Their support is key to making excellence in EdTech a commitment of the entire organization and its members. Such support will appear in newsletters, reports, hiring practices, budgets, strategic planning, and staff evaluation…for a period of time. Strong leadership can push EdTech excellence into the daily mission of the school to the point where their support will only be needed in budgets and evaluation practices. Leadership ensures the focus on learning, the quality of the infrastructure, and sustainability of the EdTech programs.
Excellence in EdTech is not elusive or even overly expense, but it does require emphasis on multiple touchpoints rather than just focus on computers or short term solutions. Whenever I speak to schools aspiring to do great things with technology, I refer them to these excellent schools and then I caution them not to ask about the computers.
This article originally appeared in The International Educator in October, 2017.