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.
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: