By Warren Moseley
There is no doubt that the evolving nature of technology is changing the learning and teaching processes within the education sector. As a result, IT directors and managers are now tasked with building the infrastructure needed to support these new technologies and effectively deliver the technology vision of their school to support the changing nature of education.
In the late 1990s, following a comprehensive investigation into the potential benefits of the expanded use of technology in education, Whitefriars College phased in a program to equip each student and teacher with their own notebook computer. The program was implemented in 1998 and by 2004 it was extended to all teachers and students. In 2008, the College began equipping teachers with tablet PCs to take advantage of the additional capabilities offered by the tablet format and in
2011 this was introduced to students as well.
The program has allowed students to be able to take advantage of new technologies at the time and place it is needed and has provided powerful tools for teaching and learning in a 21st Century learning environment.
The most critical element is vision and the whole reason for doing anything with technology has to start with a vision for teaching and learning. You have to have a solid vision for what you expect to change and how you expect it to change, and what the classroom should look like as opposed to what it does look like. What sorts of things teachers and students should be doing as opposed to what they are doing. If you do not start from there, then you will end up being too focused on devices which is the wrong path and can end up costing your school some very expensive mistakes. Eventually, these mistakes will surface and realign back to teaching and learning.
Staff actually have to be able to see the vision. Whether that is finding some really good examples of schools in your local area or getting people to come in and talk to your staff, you have got to make it crystal clear to your teachers what the vision will actually mean in their classrooms. If you do not do that, you will get reluctant adopters. You will get people who are doing it because you tell them to but not because they believe in it. With teachers, you are dealing with professionals, people who are professionally qualified and professionally trained. If you want teachers to do something, they have to believe in what they are doing, not just because someone is looking over their shoulder and telling them to have a certain expectation.
You should also be constantly checking the vision against the reality. If you articulate a vision to people and you paint a picture of how things are going to be, then you have got to be looking at what is actually happening and then asking yourselves what you actually need to tweak to get the reality to match the vision. We have been doing this using both formal and informal processes across the last 14 years and so we keep going back to how what we are doing matches the vision and find out what we need to tweak, manoeuvre or change to get better alignment with the vision. It is also important to ask the question every now and then, is the vision still right? Our change from notebooks to tablet PCs was a subtle, but important change in our vision.
The demands on leadership are pretty substantial and if you do not have good leadership that articulates the vision and gets people on board, as well as making the decisions that need to be made across a whole range of crafted areas, then the implementation of the technology will flounder and people will look at it and say “well, we are not getting what we thought we were getting”.
- Staff Buy-
You have to have staff agreement and enthusiasm to be involved in the process. You have got to have people seeing the vision and saying ‘yes’ I want to be part of this. Listening to people is a really important part of this process. Staff will have a lot of concerns because change in any school is hard and teachers are often fearful of it. You have to show them that you are not upsetting things and you are providing the opportunity for things to work better in the classroom.
Also, do what you say. Do not over promise, and then under deliver, which is a constant problem in IT. You actually have to deliver what you have promised.
Another way to achieve staff buy-in is by celebrating and promoting achievements. When things are working and you have good things happening in your school, let the rest of the school know. Acknowledgement is very important in the change process, not just in schools, but everywhere.
- Staff Personal Development (PD)
Staff really need to feel well supported and comfortable in using technology because the fundamentals in the classroom will not change unless teachers feel comfortable and supported in implementing change. Here we are, 14 years down the track from implementing our own program and we still devote as much time and resources to PD as we have done from the program’s beginning, and that is about triple what we used to do in the school before we introduced our notebook program. Staff PD is a fundamental part of the successful implementation.
It is a matter of being able to articulate a vision and being able to show staff examples of schools or classrooms that have changed and how those schools are now doing things differently and that kids and staff are excited and actually doing better.
Staff should be aware of not just good PD for what they are meant to do in the classroom for teaching and learning, but also around technology and the good use of technology. Technology keeps evolving so you really have a responsibility to keep staff up-to-date with their understanding and skill set on how to use the technology.
- Vendor Relationships And Support
You have got to have good relationships with your vendors and they have to do what they say they will do. You cannot have people say they are going to do something and then when it comes down to the delivery, not actually doing it, because that will undermine your program in a big way.
- Excellent Process Design And Application
As you introduce your own technology program, you will have a whole range of new processes involving your staff and students and those processes need to be well thought out and cover all the things that are needed to make the program work. For example, what happens when a kid drops his tablet and smashes it? What happens when a kid cannot connect to the internet? What happens when a kid cannot install a program or comes to class without the appropriate applications installed? You have to consider all these sorts of things and you need procedures and policies in place to cover them. Using other schools which are doing a good job at this is a great way of getting ahead of what those things are likely to be.
- Recognise The ‘Behind The Scenes’ Requirements
A good technology program has as much going on behind the scenes as it does in the front. If you consider all that goes on in classrooms and with teachers working with students to make it work, then you need to have at least that much effort going on behind the scenes in terms of your support staff, your policy, configuration, arrangements, procedures and your student management structure. Your business manager and your school’s business processes all need to be on the same page and your vendors need to be supporting the technology and making sure that it is in students’ hands working, not in their workshop waiting to be fixed.
- Do Not Underestimate
A lot of schools underestimate the size of the challenge they are undertaking in trying technology programs and using that to drive change with teaching and learning. It is hard work and the challenge is enormous. As I said earlier, we have been doing this for 14 years and there is still work to do. Anyone who implements a notebook program or tablet program in their school that thinks it will only take a couple of years, is kidding themselves. It will be a decade at least before the use of technology.
It is really important for schools to look at this as a long-term change, something that is going to require sustained effort, not something that will just happen in a couple of years and then be fine. The main reason for this is because changing teachers’ attitudes is really hard work. Getting teachers to do things differently is the hardest thing to do in a school and so you need to have a sustained effort, support teachers with good PD and also have clear expectations for staff, students, parents and vendors about how things are going to change and what each of those groups need to do in the process.
Warren Moseley is Director of Information, Communication and Learning Technologies at Whitefriars College.