Technology Initiatives: The Importance of Backwards Planning for Student-Centered Outcomes

by Randy Fairfield, 9/29/16

As technology continues to flood into classrooms at a rapid pace, one of the essential questions educators face is this: How can educators become effective technology integrators as opposed to simply “using technology” in their classes? Joseph South, U.S. Department of Education’s ed tech chief, was asked in a recent interview what one thing he would change overnight in terms of the ways schools are using technology. Here was his response:

One of the biggest concerns is not that schools won’t use technology, but that they’ll only use technology to perpetuate what they’ve already been doing and they won’t actually use it to transform what they’re doing.

Agreed! Unfortunately, this kind of shift is not something that just happens overnight.

Often times devices have come into classrooms for reasons that haven’t been well thought-out or student-centered in nature. Maybe the devices came in because of standardized testing. Maybe they came in because they were cheap. Maybe they came in because the school district had money to burn and figured they might as well spend it on technology. Maybe they came in because the IT Department felt this or that device would be easier to manage. Maybe they came in because an administrator wanted to bring technology in as their signature initiative. Maybe the devices came in because… well, you get the idea. If your district is like most, the infusion of technology probably came about as a result of some combination of the above and had very little to do with students.

Besides that, once the devices have arrived, teachers have often not received the training that would help them effectively integrate the devices into their classrooms. Rather than focusing on planning lessons with sound pedagogical practices that will lead to student-centered outcomes, many educators have been left spending the little time and energy they have trying to figure out the basics behind how to use the technology that’s been dropped on them. Either that, or the devices simply collect dust. This “build the plane as we fly it” approach to district and building technology plans will most certainly lead to more happening in the left column below as opposed to the right.

Tech Use Vs. Tech Integration

There is hope, however! Joseph South also noted that “helping teachers have the background and experience that they need to use [technology] effectively is a big barrier. Almost half the teachers in the country say that they would use technology more if they had better instruction on how to use it.” That is, there are many teachers who have a growth mindset and are willing to try and integrate technology in their classrooms—but they first need to be given the time and training to learn how. One must learn to walk before being expected to run!

The SAMR Model is a model that gives room for a teacher to first learn to walk. While effective integration that transforms student learning is a lofty and worthwhile goal, it simply will not happen overnight. A significant investment of planning and resources is necessary to even get most teachers to the point that they are comfortable with substitution, much less redefinition.

Is such a heavy investment of time, resources, and training worth it? Absolutely. A recent study revealed that two-thirds of the jobs that students are going to be employed in currently don’t exist. The role technology will play in those jobs will most certainly be significant, and any district interested in preparing the current generation for those jobs darn well better begin the process of redefining the outdated modes of learning that continue to persist in classrooms across the nation.

deweyUnfortunately, a further challenge is that many school leaders hold to a myopic view of student achievement that emphasizes the results of standardized test scores and test prep over engaged students that are able to creatively demonstrate higher order thinking. Rather than seeing the importance of embedding 21st Century Learning Skills and ISTE Standards into instructional frameworks and leveraging the power of technology to help students build those skills and meet those standards, many administrators only see the use of technology through the lens of what impact it will have on raising test scores.

Regardless of one’s view of student achievement, there is also evidence to suggest that the intentional use of technology in the classroom may very well be a key ingredient in closing the achievement gap in areas of high poverty. Unfortunately, the lack of intentionality behind most technology roll-outs in schools has not led to these kinds of results on a widespread level. What’s most frustrating to advocates of technology integration is that those who are opposed will use the lack of widespread results as a self-fulfilling prophesy rather than backwards planning in ways that will lead to student-centered outcomes.

TPACK-1000x1000One helpful tool in helping districts develop intentional planning around technology integration is the TPACK Framework. A close look at the framework forces some of the most essential backwards planning questions to come out: What do we expect students to know and be able to do (content)? How will instruction support what we want students to know and be able to do (pedagogy)? How can technology support both students and teachers in the learning and delivery of what we want students to know and be able to do (technology)?

Addressing questions such as these are essential to making sure that technology is being integrated effectively in the classroom—but it’s not going to happen overnight. Neither will it happen without intentional planning, a clear and stable vision for supporting student learning, a growth mindset towards technology for school leaders who describe themselves as “not techie,” and an understanding of what role technology can play in supporting that vision.

If you are interested, please consider reaching out to me if your district or school would like support with your implementation of educational technology. I believe a growth mindset, hands-on experience, self-reflection, and background with the TPACK framework and the SAMR model will give teachers and other district leaders the necessary foundation to integrate educational technology in ways that achieve research-driven, student-centered outcomes. Of course, a strong foundation is just the first step towards building something amazing! That is why our services include consultations to backwards plan road map for success, presentations to build inspiration, and professional development to move from inspiration to implementation.