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Three Key Elements of EdTech Success in International Schools
By Matt Harris 24-May-16
If you search the Internet, you’ll find innumerable articles about factors for success in Educational Technology programs. These are contextualized for school districts, Ministry of Education schools, and private schools serving local populations. They often talk about funding and environmental conditions or buy-in and visioning. I would suggest that as you look into developing your EdTech programs in international schools you investigate these resources. There are a number of takeaways and tools that have immense value for international education. Still, our context is a bit different. We serve diverse populations of students from around the world paired with host-nation kids. We have affluent families and those on scholarship. We have linguistic variability that rivals that of most multinational corporations. Most of all, we have transitory populations in our teaching staff, administration, and students. As such, the requirements in international schools are complex and varied when we look at essential conditions for EdTech success. When you overlay the needs of international schools, three key elements emerge as constant factors in schools with the greatest impact in the field of educational technology: administrative commitment, community support, and appropriate resourcing. The schools that I have seen (and had the pleasure to work with) that have been most successful in creating impactful and ingrained EdTech programs have demonstrated both a very public commitment from the administration and ownership. They have developed a clear vision that is understood by everyone and presented in an explicit and tacit manner. When you talk to these site leaders individually they can clearly articulate the vision for EdTech in school and discuss its provisioning, the operational impacts it has had on the organization, and how and where you can see improvements in teaching and learning because of it. Interestingly, the turnover of school leaders in these schools doesn’t seem to affect their success because the commitment of leadership towards the use of technology for learning becomes pervasive in the ethos of the school. They do this through public statements, learning conversations with the community, funding, professional development allocations, and evaluation models for staff, students, and the overall organization. Parallel to leadership commitment towards EdTech, the most successful schools have a level of community buy-in with respect to improving teaching and learning. I have seen faculties engage leadership in EdTech conversations that have been pointed and challenging, but not confrontational. These are teachers who integrate EdTech at varying levels, but who also embrace the school’s intent to improve student learning through digital resources. They do not actively block initiatives or school-sponsored support. Similarly, the parent body actively engages school leaders, asks good questions, and develops a level of understanding and support for EdTech as a means of delivering 21st-century learning. Some may take issue with screen time or worry about security, but they bring up these issues in a constructive forum where everyone in the community can learn and contribute. Naturally, students are also part of the decision-making process in the most successful schools. They aid in the implementation of programs, user support, and the evaluation of new systems. They take ownership of their learning through their collective voice in determining the shape EdTech takes at their school. However, I have seen this human capital support in a number of schools that I can’t describe as successful because they were resource-limited. I have seen schools put up barriers to accessing what is needed for fully implemented EdTech programs. I have seen resourcing models that are not learning focused. I have seen “Ready, Fire, Aim” models of technology systems procurement. To be successful in international schools, EdTech needs to be appropriately resourced. To a degree, I am talking about devices, money, and support personnel, but this is not the bottom line. More important is to commit resources towards growth. The most successful schools have created financial plans that draw upon their abilities to supply students and teachers with access to technology in a sustainable way. This may come in a 1:1 program or single computer lab, supported perhaps by Edmodo (a free service) or some fully featured learning management system. They have also given the resource of training and support through time, personnel, and access to external expertise. These schools understand that there is a balance between IT and learning technology. Most vitally, they have given the resource of time—time to build program, to collaborate, to create legacy for new students and teachers, and to find the best ways to improve teaching and learning through the use of technology.
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