This is a break from the special data series to talk a little bit about systems thinking as it pertains to educational technology. In the Information Age, the term “literacy” needs to be redefined. What do students need to be literate in? The answer can no longer be a single one. Students need to be literate in many things, but before we can lead that learning, we need to address our own illiteracy.
Currently, there is a push from the Seattle Public Schools Board to ban cell phones in K-8 classrooms. This is, in part, a response to our own digital illiteracy and our ignorance about the shift in how technology is being used by our youth. Here is an essay that challenges the ban that is backed by research.
Implementation and Trends
The state of implementation of educational technology in Seattle Public Schools is lacking according to the SAMR model (Common Sense Media, n.d.). While there is some evidence of individual educators achieving the “modification” and “redefinition” levels of the SAMR model, the district as a whole is still at the “substitution” level. There is currently an adoption process underway for science curriculum that would qualify as the “augmentation” level that will be district-wide once complete.
Image 1 (L., 2017)
Most use of technology in the classroom is to supplement or substitute learning, or what Dr. Puentedura calls “enhancing” learning (Common Sense Media, n.d.). Teachers use programs like Read 180, websites like Quizlet and Newsela, or services like Flocabulary to deliver 20th century content with 21st century technology. The tasks are the same with only a change in delivery. In some rare instances, teachers are using more student-centered instructional design that includes students using technology to create, including assessments using technology, like podcasts, vlogs, and the like.
It is a challenge for many teachers to do blended learning of “flipped classrooms” because of inequitable access to hardware and Internet services. An over emphasis on standardized test scores creates an environment in which teachers are pressed to teach to the test, which leaves no time for direct instruction on how to use technology. Many educators, themselves, are unfamiliar with applications commonly used by students, including Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
The priority for Seattle Public Schools to implement efficient education technology is to build the capacity of leadership around education technology. While it is important to build leadership capacity among administrators at the district and building levels, it is also important to tap into the natural leadership among all educators (Fullan, 2011), because some individuals are already at the top levels of the SAMR model.
One way to build this capacity is to use the “Visionary Leadership” standards from the ISTE administrator standards (ISTE, 2009). The first step in creating visionary leadership around educational technology is to create a shared vision and goals for how to implement technology with the goal of moving the entire district to the transformative use of technology as defined by the SAMR model (Common Sense Media, n.d.).
Whatever vision is produced from this process needs to be fluid enough in language to address the speed at which technology and information changes (Daly, 2012) and firm enough to convey the urgent need to catch up to 21st century technology. Seattle Public Schools tends to “adopt” or subscribe to technology packages, which are designed as a semi-permanent one-size-fits-all solution that becomes obsolete in a matter of months. The goal should include understanding the technologies students already use and how educators can incorporate a variety of technological tools and resources to transform their instruction (Kim & Bagaka, 2005). If the language in the strategic plan for educational technology is flexible enough, this will allow for educators to alter their practice with advancements in technology.
Once a shared vision is set and goals are created, the next logical step is for leadership to engage in professional development. In Seattle Public Schools there are consistent opportunities for teachers to engage in professional development, if disjointed and heavily focused on high-stakes testing, but there is no protocol for, or consistent access to, high quality professional development for content area program managers. The ISTE standards for administrators have a section titled “Digital Age Learning Culture” which requires educational leaders to model the practice of technological education infusion in their own practice (ISTE, 2009), but there is no indication in the Seattle Public Schools Department of Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction, that the content program managers have the necessary knowledge of educational technology to model these skills.
Many district level administrators lack an ability to use basic technological tools like Google Drive or even Outlook email service. Many educators refuse to engage in social media tools like Twitter and Instagram because they believe it “dumbs people down.” This belief and subsequent practice inhibit their technological literacy and use of culturally responsive technological practices in the classroom (Polly, Mims, Shepherd, & Inan, 2009). While there may be a valid argument in this belief, it is also the technology students are most adept at using (Tausend, 2013). Instead of the entire system, from administrators to students, learning a new technology platform, systems should start with the strengths students already have: social media.
A considerable amount of professional development opportunities should focus on how leaders and educators can adapt to evolving technologies instead of how to use a discreet tool like Schoology or OneNote. Adhering to a concept of technology literacy is more helpful than teaching discreet skills and tools because of the rate at which technology changes. The International Technology and Engineering Educators Association defines technology literacy as “one’s ability to use, manage, evaluate, and understand technology” (2019). ITEEA states that for a person to be literate in technology they must understand “what technology is, how it works, how it shapes society and in turn how society shapes it” (2019). This philosophy and definition of technology literacy aligns well with ISTE standards for students (2019b).
To assist with building technology literacy in the district, Seattle Public Schools would benefit from having a Technology Program Manager position. The Department of Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction consists of program managers for various content areas and CAI needs. For example, there are program managers for each content area, one for professional development, one for assessments, a library program manager, and an ethnic studies program manager. Anything having to do with technology is in a separate department called DoTS: Department of Technology Services. DoTS includes everything from coding, to tech support, and “experts” on district technology like Schoology. Having this department be separate, even in location in the building, from CAI signals that technology and technology literacy are separate from curriculum, assessment, and instruction.
A Technology Program Manager position would serve to bridge the divide between CAI and DoTS. This position could work directly with educators in buildings and administrators to develop and deliver professional development on technology literacy. This position could be responsible for tracking the evolution of technology and informing the other program managers of the newest trends and how to incorporate them into CAI. This position could also educate those in DoTS, who are generally disconnected from classroom experiencesand the needs of educators and students.
This leads to the third short-term goal: systemic improvement. As mentioned above, there is a lot of siloing of work that should be collaborative. One of the ISTE standards for administrators calls for “[e]ducational administrators [to] collaborate to establish metrics, collect and analyze data, interpret results, and share findings to improve staff performance and student learning” (2009). In Seattle Public Schools, there is very little collaboration in terms of organization operation, and zero collaboration on education technology at the district level.
The first step to breaking down barriers in systemic effectiveness is to collaboratively complete an audit of current hardware, software, and other IT services, including surveying staff to understand how user friendly these tools are. The guiding question to the audit should be, “How is district technology helping leaders transform their leadership?” If educational leaders are still in the “substitute” level of the SAMR model, they are not capable of leading educators out of the bottom rungs of the model.
Another strategy to break down barriers and collaborate is to partner with community-based organizations, preferably non-profit organizations whom are less likely to dictate policy and procedure than larger organizations, like the Gates Foundation. In his book, All Systems Go; The Change Imperative for Whole System Reform, Michael Fullan emphasizes the need to include all stakeholders in collaborative efforts. “[A] powerful feature of all systems go,” he says, “is that shared commitment, allegiance, and responsibility for results becomes collectively owned” (2010 p. 49). Partnering with community organizations, who may have greater access to and funding for the most up-to-date technologies not only strengthens the school district’s efforts and opens opportunities for student experiences, it also creates that collective accountability, or what Fullan calls “intelligent accountability” (2010). When students are successful, so is the community and vice versa.
Long Term Goals
Once district and building leaders have built their understanding and skill in technology literacy, they can then lead by example. This is what the ISTE standards for administrators calls “Excellence in Professional Practice” (2009). As Will Richardson points out in Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere, much of what education leaders do to “improve” their practice is to make better what they have been doing, which is rooted in practices that originate from practices 150 years old. Richardson argues that much of the information deemed important to teach and model 150 years ago can now be accessed with a quick Google search (Daly, 2012). If education leaders are going to model “Excellence in Professional Practice” they should do it in such a way that will promote the critical thinking and technology literacy students should be using currently and will need to use after high school.
Michael Fullan argues that theory will not motivate people to change. People are resistant to change and will be most likely to change when they see success for themselves. One characteristic of a great change leader is to “motivate the masses.” Fullan claims change leaders can do this through helping others realize the effectiveness of the change (2011). If educational leaders practice the change they are trying to convince others to partake in and can share successful stories, educators will be more easily motivated to try it out themselves.
One ISTE standard for administrators is to “facilitate and participate in learning communities that stimulate, nurture, and support administrators, faculty, and staff in the study and use of technology” (2009). Being experts in their own practice is the only way to effectively “stimulate and nurture” faculty and staff. Education leaders need to commit to being life-long learners, not only for their own practice and leadership, but to model the importance of this for their faculty and staff.
The second long-term goal is for educators to “Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments” (ISTE, 2019a). This goal will require educators to learn alongside district and building leaders who have developed their practice and technology literacy. Teachers will need to do their own work with identifying and understanding the tools students are using.
An important consideration during this phase of implementing education technology is creating curricula centered on critical thinking skills. As Will Richardson points out, finding information is easy. Assessing it is the tricky part (Daly, 2012). With the rise of questionable, online “news” sources (Adornato, 2016), teachers will have to first know how to assess information themselves before teaching students how to do it. The fact that 6 in 10 Americans get their news from social media (Gottfried & Shearer, 2016), which is where much of the “fake news” is shared (Adornato, 2016), supports the earlier claim that educators and education leaders need to take social media more seriously and include it in their technology literacy learning.
Much of the language in the ISTE standards for educators that fall under learning and assessments includes student-centered learning that is “customized” and personalized to address curiosity and different learning styles. They call for relevant experiences that use “contemporary tools” (2019a). This is more language to support the need for technology literacy and use of social media tools instead of large, expensive, and cumbersome one-size-fits-all “solutions” like Schoology.
The next long-term goal is to prepare teachers to facilitate learning for students, or what the ISTE standards for educators calls “Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity” (2019a). There is a push currently underway in Seattle Public Schools for culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy. The ISTE standards for educators align with this work, but technology has not been part of the conversation. Part of this could be the result of administrators and educators not having the foundational knowledge as previously discussed.
Culturally responsive and relevant pedagogical strategies center student experiences and strengths, moving them from dependent to independent and co-dependent learners (Hammond, 2016). Since culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy is such a huge focus in Seattle Public schools, the time is ripe to include the ISTE standards for teachers and students. The fact that the district and school leaders are not prepared, however, is disappointing. There is still much learning on the part of adults before the two concepts can be effectively integrated. Therefore, it is a long-term goal.
For education technology reform to be systemic, district leadership needs to take the lead. There is some infrastructure at the district level, in the form of program managers, to build capacity in different content areas. Before this can happen, however, there needs to be an audit of current resources, practices, and organization structure. Barriers to collaboration need to be removed. Vision and goals for implementation of education technology need to be co-created with leaders, educators, and community members. The district needs to also remove internal barriers to collaboration and consider creating an education technology program manager position to facilitate collaboration between CAI and DoTS.
Before effective classroom teaching can be planned and facilitated, there needs to by systemic support at the district and building leadership levels. Systemic, effective professional development can only happen after district and building leaders have done their own technology literacy work. District level policy and practice needs to move away from one-off technology solutions to adapt to rapidly evolving technologic advancements. Policy needs to embrace technologies like smart phones, apps, and social media because that is what students are using most.
If these goals were realized, the district has the potential to move from the “substitute” rung of the SAMR model to the “redefinition” rung. Achieving “redefinition” cannot happen unless the reforms are systemic and barriers at all levels are addressed and removed. Starting with classroom practice and student learning will not achieve this. District leaders and educators need to redefine how they view technology, first.
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