As school districts across the country make the move to implement 21st Century learning technologies into classrooms, it’s natural that educators and administrators will run into a few challenges along the way. From justifying the costs of a comprehensive information communications technology (ICT) program, to allaying parent concerns about unsupervised screen time and the perceived loss of classroom instruction, there are many issues learning technology advocates must address. From our experience working with educators across the country, the cautionary tale is that educators who engage in technology roll-outs without having a comprehensive plan for curriculum and technology in place are doing their students a disservice.
There are a number of elements important to a implementing any significant technology-enabled learning initiative. Three essential elements in our opinion that should be addressed are: technology, curriculum, and instructor/administrator support. If any one of those elements is not well-planned, then the implementation will have a significant risk of failure, or at least not meet goals.
Let’s start with the general best practices in planning a technology-based learning initiative:
- Have a strategic plan in place that is supported by education and IT administrators, teachers, and the community.
- Make sure that plan includes clear guidelines on ownership, liability, use and replacement.
- Also ensure that the plan includes guidance on hardware upgrades and maintenance, and program sustainability.
- Create benchmarks by which you can gauge program success.
Technology Best Practices include:
- Include IT in the planning process so that they are adequately equipped to deal with the tech support challenges presented by having devices in the hands of adventurous young minds and also involve IT in planning technology updates.
- Have uniform access and security policies in place and test them rigorously. As was recently demonstrated in the Los Angeles Unified School District, high school seniors were able to break inbuilt security policies within minutes of receiving their iPads.
- If you don not have a robust internal IT system and team, consider transitioning services used by students and teachers to the cloud so that IT administrators can spend more time on addressing problems on the ground for teachers and students than looking at blinking lights in a data center.
Curriculum Best Practices include:
- Know and be able to communicate how technology will ameliorate the student learning experience—be that through expanded course offerings, credit recovery, or remediation and acceleration.
- Include measurable outcomes and demonstrate mastery of the subject matter and align to Common Core or other state standards.
- Engage experts for curriculum development to ensure content is presented in an engaging and compelling format.
Educator and Administrator Best Practices include:
- Participate in educator training programs for online learning, technology use, and online curriculum development.
- Use data to analyze student performance to continue to develop customized learning plans for each student.
- Communicate frequently with parents to demonstrate the benefits of technology in the classroom and how online and blended learning programs are benefiting their child’s educational experience.
Groundbreaking ideas, such as the implementation of technology into the classroom—especially on the level of iPads that disrupt both ideas about the role of the teacher and the student in education—usually encounter obstacles on their way to becoming the norm. However, the bottom line is that iPads and other technology tools have great educational potential and have only just begun to be tapped. By sharing and documenting best practices, even if they arise out of less than perfect experiences, our entire educational community—from student to teacher to IT administrator and superintendent—comes out ahead.