Dear School Leader,
Are you tired of hearing the same old advice on integrating technology in the classroom?
Are vendors knocking on your door with the latest and greatest invention that supposedly speeds up growth on the NWEA MAP Test or some other learning outcome?
You may be getting fed up with technology.
What about all the much-heralded, then failed technologies supposed to transform education? At the 2018 NewSchools Summit, Eric Cross from the Albert Einstein Middle School said he is keen to try new technologies but he is also cautious of the heaps of unused 3D printers in many schools’ basements.
Do you invest in a new Learning Management System? VR for field trips? A new computer-adaptive reading assessment?
The answer is none of the above.
So how do you drive a digital culture in your building, without making a large, risky, resource investment?
In the next few paragraphs, I will show you how to leverage the rise of digital learning resources, without spending your entire technology budget in one go.
Where do you start?
You may think: “I need to start with a deep audit of current apps and programs used, an inventory of every software our educators have ever accessed."
I would not start there. Why?
It’s a difficult, exhausting exercise. With technology trends changing so often, your catalog will be out of date in a matter of weeks.
There is an easier way.
A way to pick a suite of tools that will be both cost-effective and also used effectively in your classroom.
You can do so no matter the current maturity of your technology infrastructure.
No wifi, no high-speed lines? No problem! These tools can be accessed on mobile, so you can establish a Bring Your Own Device policy.
A practically free School Tech Operating System
How about a technology integration strategy that will (gradually) lead you to have a seamless tech experience, from learning to assessment according to state standards, from attendance to team collaboration?
Throughout our work with schools, we have seen three core areas where technology makes a significant impact on learning outcomes. This is where you start:
- The classroom itself (of course!)
- Communication among teachers, students, administrators and parents
- Project management to drive forward initiatives
Instead of installing a top-down, expensive system, you want to cultivate a smart latticework of free or almost free tools that cover these areas.
By following this process, you can build a school technology operating system that plunges you into the 21st century.
Will it be perfect? Certainly not.
Will it need modifications or improvements? For sure.
But if you start, without a large investment, without a long procurement cycle engaging a multitude of stakeholders, you have already won the battle of technology integration.
Instead of discussing the theory behind closed doors while technology trends are raging ahead, your staff are using apps and programs, applying technology hands on.
Which tools do you pick? How do you structure the selection process?
Start with the most popular tools nationwide. They are popular for a reason. They are successful, have high-adoption rates.
Are you sure they are the best fit for you? Not yet, but this is how you get the ball rolling.
EdWeek just came out with the Top 40 Digital Tools in Ed Tech for 2017-18, using a very thorough methodology.
To make it easier, here’s what I would do.
Seeding a Digital Classroom
For the classroom itself, choose Google Classroom as your base. It is the most widespread Learning Management System nationwide, with over 50% of K12 schools using it according to some estimates. It is free. The feature set is not the best on the market but it is more than sufficient and growing daily.
Our strategy here is to get started. To get technology into the classroom. To get teachers’ creative juices flowing. Being the most popular, Google Classroom also has a lot of free training resources available.
And you will need them.
The main problem you will have is adoption. We recommend you also find an external coach that will support educators as they discover the new tool.
The open, flexible, personalized workflows that Google Classroom and Google Docs enable will soon change the way your teachers work (especially if you have a part-time, remote coach that channels their efforts).
Soon after an initial Google Classroom onboarding, we have seen teachers organically reach for free or almost free tools that can link up with Google Classroom (either directly or indirectly). Some of these can cut their preparation time in half while increasing student engagement. Examples;
- Assessment (Google Quizzes, Kiddom, Kahoot!, Quizzlet, Socrative)
- Math (Khan Academy, Wolfram|Alpha)
- Science (Google Earth, Google Expeditions, Google Science Journal)
- Reading (Feedly, Paper.li, Instapaper)
- Classroom management (ClassDojo)
- Blended Learning (EDpuzzle, TED-ED, YouTube, ABCya!)
- Image editing (Adobe Spark, Canva)
- Coding (Codeacademy, Trinket)
- Mind mapping (Mindmeister, Lucidchart)
- Note taking (Google Keep)
- Presentation (Google Slides, Google Cast, Prezi)
- Research (Google Scholar)
How to help your teachers get excited? There are many ways.
- As previously mentioned, hire a virtual coach for a few hours a week.
- Offer professional development in short, multimedia drips (short videos, text and quizzes) rather than long, tiresome (and expensive) training events.
- Talk to your staff, explain how much time they will save off their work week with these tools (so they spend more time with their family),
They will start discovering a number of free tools. Many schools have been through this, and you can tackle security or privacy questions easily with a few policies and frameworks to be found online.
The implementation will become messy, but that’s okay. With a bunch of free tools centered on Google Classroom, your teachers have started experimenting!
Digitizing your communication flows
The next phase is the most important one. Communication
As teachers get excited, they will chat away about these tools. Some will prefer Quizzlet while others will prefer Kiddom. No problem.
You now need to enable and then channel this chatter so that the school-wide preferences emerge. This is where we recommend free tools like Slack, Telegram or WhatsApp to bring the conversation online. Slack is useful since you can create different channels and feeds for different topics and streamline the conversation.
Remind.com is also a great tool to open up parent communication. Many schools report a much better climate after they started using the free version of Remind.
Using such tools has the added benefit of enabling asynchronous communication. Time spent in meetings goes down dramatically. Gradually a consensus emerges on different topics. This can help you streamline your ecosystem of tools.
But how do we act on all this chaotic information as consensus emerges? Enter project management.
Setting a common heartbeat for your school
Ever have issues with administrators launching initiatives and then failing to gain support?
Do you assign admin duties to teachers who then end up being late?
Sometimes too many tasks fall on the shoulders of a select few hardworking team members?
I bet this sounds familiar.
Project management tools like Asana, Trello or Basecamp are free to start and can set a steady rhythm for your entire administrative and teaching staff.
Workloads balance out, projects run seamlessly, deadlines are kept.
Of course, it is not as easy as it sounds, you may need some external coaching or support for your staff to learn these tools.
What is amazing though is that they have habit-inducing triggers, gamified elements and other culture-forming techniques built-in. These features speed up your team’s adaptation to the tools and mindset needed.
Summing up, technology integration made easy
Instead of buying a heavy technology suite from a single vendor, try this organic approach.
- Have teachers use Google Classroom, supported by a light onboarding and training project to get everyone excited.
- Encourage teachers to embrace the open, flexible workflows enabled by Google Classroom. Encourage them to try out different assessment and learning tools available for free.
- Bring the conversation around these tools online using Slack or another similar communication program.
- When consensus starts forming around certain topics, use a project management system like Asana or Trello to drive projects that align teacher leaders around a school standard.
Over to you now: Please do let us know of similar initiatives in your school.
Do you need a longer list of potential tools to try?
Do you need a more customized action plan to get started with technology integration?
Or maybe you need some structured help along the way?
Feel free to reach out!