BECOME A MEMBER! Sign up for TIE services now and start your international school career
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Teachers: The Heart of Any Successful EdTech Program
The effectiveness of the technologies we bring into our classrooms derives principally from each teacher’s attitudes and capabilities By Matt Harris 20-Jan-17
At this point in the evolution of educational technology this statement is a bit trite, but it still needs to be said: Teaching Over Technology. After having worked with technology in schools for years as a practitioner and basing my doctoral research on the topic, this idiom has become an axiom in modern schools, especially international schools. As we enter a new school year, I think it’s important to revisit the subject as schools plan out their academic and professional programs. Research and practice have shown that the impact of technology on learning is directly tied to how teachers choose to use the technology in instruction and assessment. However, the impact doesn’t start with the choice of what technology to use, but instead derives from teacher’s attitudes and capabilities. It has been shown that EdTech will amplify what a teacher does or can do rather than transform it. That is to say, technology will make good teachers better, leave mediocre teachers stagnant, and actually make bad teachers worse. Does this mean that technology cannot improve learning beyond the capacity of the teachers within a school? No. What it means is that any good EdTech program must focus on teachers more than it does on tools or systems. School leaders must build teacher capacity to leverage the potential of educational technology if they want their programs to be successful in improving student learning. In the international schools I have seen where technology is most impactful, governance and leadership teams have put in place four things: 1) a continuous professional development system that focuses on both technology knowledge and pedagogic growth; 2) teacher leadership programs that encourage teachers to share their work and passions with colleagues; 3) hiring and evaluation programs that include use of technology for learning; and 4) a lived ethos around technology and learning. Successful EdTech PD programs in international schools come in many forms, but all of them are continuous and focus on learning beyond the technology. You can see this continuity in school calendars, where sessions and coaching are offered throughout the year, not just during in-service or induction periods. Further, and perhaps more importantly, continuous professional development covers both the “how” and the “about.” In “how” training, teachers are taught the functionality of technology, whereas in the “about” learning teachers focus on the use of technology to meet specific pedagogic goals. It’s only with this balance that skills grow for all teaching abilities and the mission of learning remains at the forefront. Additionally, the most successful EdTech programs offer teachers promotion opportunities. They encourage them to display and share their successes (and sometimes failures) with their colleagues for communal growth and learning. They also promote these teachers into formal and informal leadership roles within grade levels/subject areas or schoolwide. Some schools will offer these teachers an academic technology function, such as EdTech coach or digital literacy specialist. Often, schools will create informal roles that encourage talented teachers to lead groups of colleagues in learning communities or to work with teachers and students individually beyond their typical classroom responsibilities. When talking with colleagues in progressive and impactful schools, they describe the use of technology as a valuable leverage point for improving instruction and claim they must be intentional about it. They say the best way to do this is through hiring and teacher evaluation. In recruiting new faculty, they ask candidates to offer examples of how they might use digital resources in their classrooms. Others will require an in-depth induction on the “how” and “about” uses of EdTech at the school. For in-service teachers, strong programs include EdTech as part of their teacher assessment process, though this can be a dangerous practice. I have seen unsuccessful schools create EdTech evaluation rubrics for teachers that include unrealistic metrics, focus too heavily on specific technologies, or make evaluation punitive in nature. Successful schools help teachers to develop goals (rather than performance against standards) for using technology to improve student learning in their classes. The most successful international schools I know have created a living mission around using EdTech. They have developed a clear statement around technology for learning that aligns with their core values. The vision for using technology is owned and articulated by members of the school community. Their governance and leadership support these efforts in strategic planning, resourcing, school procedures, and policies, as well as in public discussions around school operations. This ethos is something palpable that can be seen and felt throughout the school. Whenever you talk with members of these schools they don’t speak as much about laptops and WiFi, but rather about classroom projects, student attitudes, skills, learning outcomes, and what teachers do meet those ends.
Please fill out the form below if you would like to post a comment on this article:
01/21/2017 - Samar
I believe this article covers most of the problems that international schools have. I strongly agree with the author on the fact that focus should be on teachers and not students. I also believe that teachers should be included in the decision making of what technology should be used!
01/20/2017 - jastup
I absolutely agree with you Matt. Technology should be the tool to enhance learning. Creating a 'have to' mentality and enforcing the expectation that teachers must keep up with the newest and the best, doesn't help at all.
Again it does come back to the teachers attitude and their relationship with their students that makes the difference.