Saturday, December 8, 2012

Implement Technology Well

I’ve learned a lot (through the school of hard knocks) about implementing technology for learning, teaching, and work.  I naively Green Check Mark Symbolused to focus on the tools and the technical aspects without seriously considering the impact on people.  That was then and this is now.  Technology is very often the instigator of significant changes for people.  It should be, or what’s the point of buying and providing it?  Simply adding a new tool and carrying on with a current practice really doesn’t make a lot of sense does it.  We see this occur often in schools.  SMARTBoards, for example, often get a bad rap, perhaps unfairly.  We need to do implementation well!

Principals will see or hear about how amazing these interactive whiteboards (IWB) work, then they buy and install some in their school and wonder why teachers don’t use them.  Or, worse, teachers do use them but in exactly the same way they used their overhead projector or the LCD projector they already had.  A $5000 (all in, installed) tool serves really well as a glorified projection screen.  I have often been asked into classrooms to see an amazing use of an IWB and as I observe and question, leave wondering what was so amazing or transformative.  Technology too often is seen as a panacea for transforming teaching, learning, or our work and we end up disappointed with the outcome.  Why is that?  School Districts have expended millions, more likely billions, of dollars over the years on technology and often we still can’t emphatically document the real improvement or transformation.  I believe poor implementation is at fault.  A technological change is a culture change after all.  It’s all about the people.

I like to use and refer to the SAMR model when describing stages of technological adoption.


A technology can be added, for example a SMARTBoard, to a classroom and be used as a substitution for a previous tool (overhead or LCD projector) with no change in practice.  Or, a teacher could augment her teaching, perhaps of a math lesson on geometric shapes.  The teacher can quickly and efficiently produce the backdrop, the shapes, and place them on the IWB.  Students then debate whether shapes fall into the Symmetric or the non-Symmetric categories, taking turns leading the discussion, from the IWB.  Next, they talk about lines of symmetry and take turns drawing in the line imagefor each shape.  They get to the pentagram and the whole class appears to believe there is only one line of symmetry.  One girl (the one in the image above) disagrees.  The teacher asks her to come up and explain.  She says “there are five lines, let me show you” and proceeds to visually spin the pentagon through its five lines of symmetry and draw the other four lines.  The class was shocked (actually they briefly had me sucked in too).  In the example here, I suggest the teacher designed a significant modification into her lesson this day.  This would not be easily replicated without the IWB technology.  How did this teacher create the modification?  She participated in a Learning Team, an action research model of implementation through facilitated professional learning with her colleagues.

Interestingly, we know from research that people fall into nice neat buckets when it comes to accepting and adopting change as see in the Rogers Adoption / Innovation Cure. 


Innovators Brave, embrace any change, show the way.
Early Adopters Opinion leaders, try new ideas… carefully.
Early Majority Thoughtful, careful, accept change quicker than the average person.
Late Majority Skeptics, only adopt the tool/change once the majority of people have done so.
Laggards Traditionalists, hang on to old ways, critical of new ideas and tools, will adopt once an change/tool is mainstream or “tradition”.

A new tool comes out, say the iPad, and there will be 2.5% of a population, the Innovators, that will readily embrace it and generally use it effectively. This group will essentially embrace any change you toss their way with no resistance! The next group, Early Adopters will see and get excited by the possibilities of the new tool and will try it, carefully.  You get the idea.  You might be tempted to think investing time in the first two groups will get your change, the adoption of the new tool, to flourish.  Unfortunately, the majority of people tend to be suspicious of the Innovators and Early Adopters thinking “they will try anything new”.  It takes a well designed implementation process, patience, determination, and good change management to shift the organization forward in adopting new tools and ways, effectively.  It’s easy to buy, distribute, and use new tools like iPads, but it’s really hard to shift our work, teaching practice, and ways of learning to maximize the value of having the tool.  Some colleagues and I often say we need to “use new tools to do new things in new ways”.  The alternative of using new tools to do the same things in new ways doesn’t represent a high value change.  A iStock_000017128753XSmall$5000 display screen seems rather expensive doesn’t it?  Similarly, a mobile lab of digital tablets moving class to class (is this any different than a lab model?) seems rather ineffective doesn’t it?  Perhaps a better way is to acquire the class set of digital tablets for use in immersive ways by students whose teachers are engaged in a professional learning team doing action research into how they can redesign their lessons and their students learning to maximal benefit.  The class set in this scenario is shared by 2-3 classes rather than available to the whole school.  Unfair?  I don’t think so given that it would be used effectively for learning.  Think of it as the best starting point for students and teachers and grow it over time for other classes.  The alternative is interesting but would not likely have the same positive impact on learning and teacher practice.

In my new role with Vancouver School Board, implementing well is top of mind.  Funds are very tight and we need to maximize our investments for greatest impact on learning, teaching, and work.  Focusing specifically on educational technology here, I see significant opportunity to leverage some structures I’ve learned and used in a previous organization.  A few key principles that lead to successful implementation come to mind: engage teachers and principals early in choosing, testing, piloting, and designing technological changes (Design Teams, Implementation Teams).  Require professional learning to be part of any technological change – budget for it, build it into the purchase cost.  The professional learning I’m referring to is not the 1-shot workshop model, rather it is one involving Focus Groups and (action research) Learning Teams.  Read the following descriptions with the lens of designing and implementing technological tools and systems.  I want to thank my Coquitlam School Board colleagues for their work in developing, actualizing, and teaching me these structures (valid link as of Dec 2012, go to page 6) – I found them to be a very successful and effective means of implementing technology in schools.

Focus Group educators sharing a common area of expertise / specialization identifying and supporting colleagues through developing documents, professional development
Design Team educators with a time-specific task such as designing an implementation model, a new system
Implementation Team representative group of educators tasked with implementing a pre-designed process, system, etc. for cross-district shared understanding
Learning Team small groups of educators, school-based or cross-district, engaged in professional inquiry focused on educator practice, student learning

I plan to actively work with my new colleagues to develop successful implementation process for technology used for learning, teaching, and for our work.  I look forward to seeing this play out, successfully, over the coming months and years.  Any advice you might have for me, please share it here!