Sunday, January 31, 2010

Technology Leadership and a Framework

I remember the days when we all talked about creating or updating our technology plans.  Those in K12 will remember carefully taking stock and calculating student to computer ratios.  We’d strive to meet targets like 3:1 at the secondary level and 6:1 for elementary and compare and contrast our respective Districts accordingly.  Essentially technology use in schools was mostly focused on computers, mainly in labs, and software, often of the edutainment and “drill and kill” variety.  Such was the way of tech in schools for 20 years…

Around 2004-5 our School District started to look more critically at the use of technology.  We observed, especially in elementary schools, use of technology that seemed to be more about entertain or rewarding kids rather than being connected to classroom learning.  I worked with a colleague of mine, @gary_kern who facilitated elementary and middle school educators in a process to develop a technology for learning plan.  We came up with a framework that really resonates for me that helps us target the vision where Learning, teaching, and leading is enhanced through effective and meaningful use of technology through ascending the four dependent stairs.  This creates a lens for us through which we can view budgets, have conversations, do planning, and take measurement.
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Equitable Access
It is crucial that teachers and students have access to up-to-date reliable technology, in their classrooms, and enough access such that they have ready access when the learning or teaching moment needs it.  As well, responsive IT support is critical to ensure the technology is in good working order.  In our District this stair has become somewhat weak and shaky.  Budget priorities have limited our ability to renew technology fast enough.  If we don't address this soon, teachers and students will avoid using technology in their classrooms.  I hope that we are able to get back on track soon and I also hope that increasingly, teachers and students will bring their own devices to help mitigate this…

Staff Development
In “the old days” teachers would go to a workshop to learn some computer program and then return to their classroom not having access to the needed technology to put what they’ve learned into practice.  This form of in-service was usually disconnected from real classroom learning – it prepared teachers for “the lab”.

With equitable access addressed, a meaningful Staff Development model can be used to support teachers with adapting their teaching to integrate and depend on technology to extend and enrich learning opportunities for kids.  If equity isn’t addressed, this step can’t succeed.  Staff developers need to be able to work with teachers on reliable and accessible technology.

This is a most critical step as teachers need help to see new ways and possibilities and they need time to learn, practice, and experiment.  They need help finding and applying good technology based tools and practices.  Without reliable staff development, the technology simply does not get used effectively nor broadly.

Learning
If we have worked successfully on the first two steps to ensure sufficient access to well supported decent technology and staff development, learning can be enhanced in ways not possible without technology.  The goal is transformative change not change for change sake.  For example, once students have access to laptops or other mobile devices in class, they have access to the world’s information base at their finger tips and tools to rapidly write, mix media, prepare stories, presentations, etc. – this is not possible (at speed and diversity) without this technology.  Learning can not be impacted (through technology) though, without teachers who know how to integrate and embed technology in teaching and learning.  And it can not be impacted without access (approaching 1:1) to reliable well supported technology (computers, mobile devices, networks, wireless, etc.).

Exemplars
We have found that it is important to support exemplars with the aim to learn how new ideas and technologies can impact learning and teaching and to show the way forward.  Wireless writing (one 2 one) was one such exemplar for us.  We found this to make a significant impact on learning in classrooms (e.g., grade 7 boys writing 8x more).  Our portal and virtual classrooms (see: Technology Power Learning Environments) is another exemplar we are still developing.  Successful exemplars then feed learning back into staff development where capacity can be built with teachers and these new ideas and practices can spread through-out the organization over time.

Another colleague of mine Dave Sands http://twitter.com/sandman27) talks about how important leadership is for the use of technology to spread successfully in schools.  He is an elementary principal and through his leadership his school has moved from a “traditional” lab using school to one where  every teacher has a Smart Board, laptop, and projector that they use everyday in their classroom.  He is talking about mobile devices becoming school supplies in a couple of years for his students.  He has installed wireless access through-out his school.  He also spends a lot of time talking / presenting about Internet safety and the responsibility parents have.  He’s right about leadership.  It’s critical too.

The framework I discuss above is really a tool to guide leaders at the District and school levels.  I always say to Principals “school leaders are technology leaders”.  School staffs, parents, and teachers need to see it as an important aspect in modern classrooms.  They need to be shown the way forward.  In schools where this is true, technology spreads to classrooms and is used in very effective ways to support teaching and learning.  These schools address equity, staff development, and truly impact learning and embrace exemplars.

I wonder what other District and School leaders do to support effective use and implementation of technology in their planning and leading?    What models or frameworks do you use?  Can you share some stories about what has and what hasn’t worked?