Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Technology Adoption Challenge

People have optimal learning paths involving diverse means and difference paces.  Taking that to heart should drive us to iStock_000005861579XSmallpersonalize learning for adults and students wherever possible.  For years, society has accepted the efficient path of teach to the middle, keep to the schedule / pace, etc.  Not only in K12 classrooms but most places training or learning is offered.  In adopting technology, I’ve learned that we must differentiate the learning of the tool, in a real context, and at a pace suited to each individual.

Technology for learning is gaining new emphasis and importance in education systems world wide.  In British Columbia our government recently published the BC Education Plan.  This lead message sets the stage for change:

“our education system is based on a model of learning from an earlier century. To change that, we need to put students at the centre of their own education. We need to make a better link between what kids learn at school and what they experience and learn in their everyday lives. We need to create new learning environments for students that allow them to discover, embrace, and fulfill their passions. We need to set the stage for parents, teachers, administrators and other partners to prepare our children for success not only in today’s world, but in a world that few of us can yet imagine”, Minister of Education George Abbott.

The plan includes goal #5 Learning Empowered by Technology and “will encourage smart use of technology in schools, better preparing students to thrive in an increasingly digital world. Students will have more opportunity to develop the competencies needed to use current and emerging technologies effectively, both in school and in life. Educators will be given the supports needed to use technology to empower the learning process, and to connect with each other, parents, and communities”.  This sounds all progressive and future-oriented but how do we achieve this with budgets fragmented by competing priorities and educator readiness all over the map?  Difficult maybe, but as I expressed my thoughts in Technology is Why Education Must Change, it would be inappropriate for us to avoid this hard work.

I was having a deep conversation with a wise colleague of mine recently which carried on into e-mail with some sharing of blog posts related to adoption of technology in schools.  My last blog post included “too often new technology is placed in classrooms and it is iStock_000012676792XSmallused to do old things in new ways”.   My colleague is concerned that this is too high an expectation for people and that it can be impossible for them to learn a new tool and try to do something new with it.  I agree that old with new can be a valid entry point for people but I think it needs to move past this.  Technology is “just a tool”, if nothing about one’s practice changes.  It’s when people are able to do new things not possible without the tool, that the true amplification and transformative power of technology is realized.

We continued our conversation via e-mail.  My colleague made some thoughtful comments with “it’s the dismissive and absolute statements that stop people from engaging” and “it’s developmental and people need to recognize this as a first stop and not evaluate and discourage… degrading entry level adoption” and further, “educators feel defeated when what they are trying to do isn’t good enough”.  This carried on with a concern that “there is a thread through much of the technology in education conversation by the ‘elite’ that completely dismisses the first step of learning anything is to combine what you are learning with something you know how to do”.

This conversation has got me thinking about how to best adopt and implement educational technology.  Patience is a significant factor.  Technology leaders often (myself included) just want to plow ahead iStock_000010885909XSmalland make changes happen quickly.  Often this is due to the vision we have in our heads of what is possible “on the other side” of the change.  However, when dealing with people, we have to take the time to bring them along as new tools are incorporated.  We need to avoid the scenario where “before they even start individuals are intimidated to begin because they feel that if they are ‘only’ doing something they know how to do while learning a new tool that they shouldn’t even bother” (via my colleague).  I think successful adoption involves a number of approaches and factors:

  • help people see the possibilities with technology without the journey feeling like an impossibility – point people to the possible, and to a preferred future, reassure them it is achievable with time, effort, and support
  • connect the use of tools to real purpose – i.e., there needs to be real hope and understanding of how the tools will help or improve teaching and how use will improve student learning
  • remove technical barriers – make sure the tools work reliably and seamlessly
  • set realistic starting points (to do old things in new ways) that are personalized to the individual person’s readiness and design support to suite their needs – reassure them that their starting point is valuable and encourage them to be fearless learners
  • provide time for teachers to learn together, preferably as action research learning teams (see example learning journey) – embed just-in-time workshops to help them gain needed technical skills for adopting the tools for teaching and learning
  • through ongoing appropriate levels of support (depends on each individual) help them, at the right time and pace, move on to doing new things, not previously possible, in new ways to effectively transform their teaching and learning

I know, this is complicated, can be expensive, and time consuming.  On ever squeezed education budgets, how is it possible to be successful?  The obvious answer is to “adjust priorities”.  But as you know, there are often significant trade-offs that are difficult to accept or budgets that are inflexible due to “the rules”.  I agree also that is about a cultural shift and structures need to change as Dave Truss wrote in Thinking about ChangeI think to change the culture, we need to first change the structure. We have to stop counting a teacher’s ‘instructional minutes’ and start giving them ‘learning minutes’. We have to stop talking about ‘teaming’ and starting giving teachers time to be a team”.  But if we are to meet the challenge of Goal #5 in the BC plan, we need to figure out how to do this successfully.  I hope you believe as I do that it is imperative to our future.  I would love to hear from others their views on how to best meet the technology adoption challenge.