Even if that sounds simple, there are some barriers that technology specialists and school leaders face when working with edtech. For one, it’s hard to know where and when to start. Secondly, there’s a tendency to overcomplicate things with extensive reports, documents, meetings and doing research without knowing what the key areas for improvement are in schools.
However, the biggest problem that we see is schools putting technology first and making up goals as they go along. This can result in a failure to properly address the needs of teachers and students.
Even if “success” means different things for each school and even if there’s no magic blueprint to make things run smoothly forever, you can still build a successful edtech strategy without becoming overwhelmed.
Here are six steps to adapt according to your school’s situation and needs:
1. What are your school’s edtech goals?
What are your school’s mission and vision? What are your school’s goals for going digital? Answering these questions will bring much-needed clarity from the start. If you don’t have a vision for this project, choosing a successful strategy is impossible.
Also, if your school’s mission statement seems too vague at this point, you can go deeper. Some schools have started with statistics on attendance, teacher workload, organization, schedules, paper usage, etc. to identify the key areas of improvement.
They have also established behavior patterns such as how much time teachers spend outside of school hours for lesson planning or how students usually hand in assignments.
For example, teachers would like to use a grade book that they can easily edit and use to export grades. Students want to receive notifications whenever an assignment has been graded. Having a single tool that does both of these things is the smartest choice, but here’s a little secret: choosing edtech at this point isn’t a concern. This is the chance to step back and decide what is essential and important for your school before you decide on what to purchase or change.
As you’ve probably figured out, this isn’t a one-person job. Building a team of diverse stakeholders such as administrators, school board members, teachers, students, and parents can be the best way to set clear goals and prioritize them.
2. What does your school have so far?
What are you working with? Before deciding to replace everything, you need to assess your school’s current tech situation as well as the barriers. For example, a barrier is not having a good enough Internet connection, which can only be solved by investing in infrastructure.
Another barrier is low adoption from teachers and students, which deserves more attention than it normally gets. If this is a recurring problem, you should be able to figure out what makes people unhappy with the device or software. Complaints can come from a place of frustration with the edtech itself or the fact that people don’t have the knowledge to use it to its full capacity.
From a financial standpoint, it’s wise to seek a return on investment and figure out whether your school is allocating money where it’s needed the most.
The same team of stakeholders can help you out at this point. A working group of edtech specialists and administrators, or people that know this area well and can offer a lot of insight. While this step can seem a bit tedious, remember that you could be having things that still work OK and things you can fix.
3. How motivated is your staff?
How comfortable, motivated and confident are teachers when it comes to technology? This is a step that simply can’t be skipped if you want to create a good strategy. If the end-users are not on board and their needs won’t be met, your strategy has a blindspot.
The best way to assess the current situation is by talking directly to teachers and getting their opinions on edtech. If you’re short on time, create anonymous surveys asking for their direct and honest opinions. To get an idea of how edtech surveys work, have a look at this project called SELFIE, which helps schools go digital in the European Union.
Don’t be discouraged if you discover that many teachers are not confident in their abilities, as implementing school-wide changes takes time. On the upside, this exercise helps you identify the main areas that edtech could improve in your school. More than that, the survey reveals early adopters and tech enthusiast teachers that can help others teach with the use of technology later on.
4. What’s your edtech plan?
Once you have steps one, two and three figured out, it’s time to create a plan. However, in order to get everyone on board, creating a long document full of ideas won’t help much. Instead, the information should be accessible to all stakeholders, including parents, who should be kept in the loop as the project moves forward. After all, this project concerns everyone.
While no two schools are exactly the same, there are some basics that most organizations can address in their strategy:
- Current technology
- Barriers to implementing edtech
- Edtech goals
- Edtech priorities and deadlines for implementation
The last one is tricky since deadlines can change. Allow for flexibility, especially if you’re on a tight budget.
5. What is the edtech foundation?
To save time, research can be done by a team of a few people. There are many helpful guides to help you make a decision, but at the very least you should sign up for free trials and product demos. The next step is to implement a pilot program with a few classes or teachers that get to test the product first. Thankfully, if you’ve done step 3, you’ve already figured out who are the teachers who would be most willing to take part in the pilot program.
At the same time, make sure you have the basics before you start testing and implementing more advanced tools:
- Hardware: tablets, laptops, PCs
- Internet connection
- Managing student data
- Managing learning and teaching
- Safety policies
- Training for teachers
The last step should always be at the forefront of your strategy. Ask the vendors whether they offer support or training for end-users, or think ahead about your teacher training strategy. For example, will you offer online self-paced courses or will you include edtech training in PD days?
6. How is the edtech project going?
Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate! Continuous assessment means that you are aware of all times of how many teachers use a platform or how many students use devices during class.
Creating a feedback form is free and it’ll save you a lot of headaches later when you’re not sure what to do to improve edtech in your school. Even if teachers give their feedback once or twice a semester, it’s still better than nothing.
Once you have your foundations (see step 5.), you can start thinking about the next steps. For example, if teachers ask for specific tools such as a molecular modeling software for Chemistry, AR, or a video camera to record online lessons, you can repeat the process at a smaller scale to help them find the best solution.
By simplifying the process, decision-makers take a step back and see the bigger picture. Putting the needs of your school and pedagogy first makes it easier to sift through all the tools and choose what is best, not just what is popular. Most of all, you get to define what success means for your school, one step at a time.