Tech Integration in the Classroom: It Is Not About the Tool

What is it that holds us back from trying new things? What is at the core of risk-taking?  These questions were essential when I coached teachers to integrate technology into their practice. I was observant of the personality traits that a few of them possessed which prompted them to, later on, try what I had suggested. These teachers were innovators. But I didn´t want only a few, rather I hoped all of my teachers would be innovators.  At first, when I felt I wasn’t being successful,  I assumed it was my fault: I wasn’t using the right tech tools,  I wasn’t convincing enough, or I didn’t understand my role as a coach. There was probably a lot of truth to those statements because I found it hard (and I still do) to craft the correct words or to design the precise experience to motivate teachers to do something that they weren´t comfortable doing. Things were changing at our school and many teachers were questioning the decision to no longer have a dedicated teacher in the computer lab. This meant they were going to be asked to integrate technology into their lessons (and this was an area that was somewhat unknown for many).

The difficulty that I encountered could also be related to what Jeff Utecht shares in his blog post, Really? It’s My Job To Teach Technology? when he advises us to “avoid teaching tools out of context.” I quickly learned this lesson after my school decided to switch from using Office 365 to the G Suite for Education platform.  In my mind, it was a simple task: we would create different PD opportunities to teach many of the Google Suite Apps.  However, after the hours of training, many teachers and administrators continued to require support.  But, the learning was accelerated when there was a true need for the use of a tool.  One great example was when teachers needed to write lesson plans in collaboration using Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, etc.  It was then when teachers saw the real use of certain features such as colaborating on documents instead of continually attaching files to emails and asking ¨who has the latest version?´  They quickly became convinced through sharing documents, seeing the revision history and learning how to chat with others in a file. Of course, this principle of teaching a tool within a context also could be directly applied when they found themselves instructing their students through the same tools. It was important to realize that we only really learn something when there is a true need to learn.

In addition, it was Monique Flickinger, the Head of the Metropolitan School of Panama, who first introduced teachers to the SAMR model at my school.  This was certainly a memorable moment, not only because of the engaging videos we produced to learn the framework but also because teachers finally had a common language to talk about technology integration in the classroom. The next step was to apply the SAMR framework with the newly acquired G Suite for Education apps. The presentation below (created by Google) was useful for teachers to understand the merging of the two.

SAMR Model flickr photo by erinformella shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

The ultimate goal was for teachers to come to the realization that technology could redefine the learning process, to know that true tech integration was never about the tool, but how it actually enhanced or transformed learning. But the shift in mindset needed to happen all across the school as Matthew Lynch describes it in his blog post, Peering Past the ‘Pixie Dust’ of Technology, so this was the piece that was going to required a strategic plan:

For technology to be an integral part of a school district’s strategic improvement plan, technology directors must outline and communicate specific goals to all stakeholders. Then, they must measure progress toward that goal, continually coaching and improving as necessary.

In other words, we wanted everyone to be convinced that learning needed to look different in the classroom. The task was not to teach students how to use tech tools, it was to better prepare them for an ever-changing and demanding future.  Jeff Utecht in his blog agrees with this statement:

It is not about making every student have the same standard set of tools, it’s about giving them the tools they need to be successful in whatever they decide to do after their formal education is over.”

How to assess tech integration?

As in most schools, administrator classroom visits and peer-observations have become an important component of teacher development and evaluation programs. We used the Effective Learning Environments Observation Tool (ELEOT) developed by AdvancED based on a four-point scale (1 being “not observed,” and 4 being “very evident”), which includes a Digital Learning Environment.  This same tool is used by external review teams when a school needs to be reaccredited. Here are the descriptors:

However, the observer often had trouble clearly determining what he or she was looking for in students. I think including something similar to what Matthew Lynch suggested in his blog could be very helpful:

Whatever tool we decide to use to evaluate technology integration in the classroom, we, as educators, need to determine what holds us back from trying new things.  Many times, as Kim Cofino points out in The Laptop Learning Curve, a podcast episode in Shifting Our Schools, “it is the fear of losing control,” that holds educators back from allowing students to have more say in their learning.

Final Thoughts…

I would like to share this wonderful TEDTalk by Jason Brown, a student at Wymondham High Academy in England, who convincingly describes the reasons why technology is redefining learning. I am sure I will use some of his arguments the next time I have to describe why I am passionate about tech integration in schools.

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3 Responses

  1. Nick says:

    Hi Carolin, great post! I really enjoyed reading it and hearing about your experience with SAMR implementation. I recently did a SAMR workshop at our school and I agree with you on the importance of teachers using it as a common language. Making it relevant to them, like you did in the workshop certainly helps. it’s almost like the same way we spark engagement with students. They need to go through and experience how it impacts them directly. It helps them keep focused on the learning and slowly make that shift you mentioned while also using the tool as self-reflection piece. I’ve added my presentation here for you if you’d ever like to take it on and remix it. 🙂

    Also, I liked your examples of empathizing about the different ways teachers interact with their tech tools. The switching from Microsoft to Google reminded me of my experience with staff when they first switched to Macbooks.

    You’re spot on about teachers fearing the loss of control, that to me speaks volumes about the mindset you mentioned earlier. These tools are great ways to help teachers scaffold away the control. You’ll notice that the further deeper the learning goes on SAMR the more ownership the students have. Edna Sackson wrote a great blog about tech as a tool back in 2016 when she visited my former school in Laos.

    I’ve included it here as I think you might like it.

    You and her share lots of similar viewpoints – mainly her key takeaways at the bottom of the post about tech as a tool and making the tools work for you. Finally, I wanted to say that I really related to your experience in dealing with so many different teachers on the spectrum from fixed to a growth mindset. So much of the coaching relationship depends on people skills. I’ve learned that the interpersonal skill you develop by working with others really will help you know where to assist and what content to share to specific individuals. Knowing and capitalizing on their strengths while aiding their blind spots and being mindful of the delivery of ideas is key to a maintaining a successful relationship. Thanks for another great post!!

  2. Thank you, Nick, for reading my post, and for sharing your presentation and Edna Sackson’s post. As I wrote to you earlier, I learned a lot listening to you during the Eduro Learning micro-credential about coaching. I am sure your school is thrilled to have such an insightful educator working for them.
    Carolin E.

  3. Sara McAllister says:

    Hey Carolin! I loved reading your post! I, too, agree that SAMR is great for creating a common language among teachers. I was very excited to learn about it and present it to our teachers last year. I completely agree with your points that we do not need to focus on the tool! Dr. Sonny Magaña points out research by John Hattie that good pedagogy must come first before the technology tools. I think it’s really easy for educators to learn about a new tech tool and jump to creating a lesson around using the tool. For those who aren’t familiar with a lot of tech tools, I guess it’s hard to get away from that. But I also think that’s where our tech coaching role comes in to try and help make sure teachers focus on their teaching first and design lessons for our students and then have us help to fit in technology to really transform the learning in those lessons. Have you used the AdvancED yourself with assessing teachers before? I know of other schools who’ve created ways to use SAMR for assessing teachers and my school is looking for a model to use. We’re looking strongly into the T3 Framework because it provides self-assessments, goal setting forms, and the general scaffolding to help make the process easier for teachers, we just have to re-teach the common language again to make the T3 information make sense. Thanks for sharing!

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