Why Technology Coordinators Need to Focus on the "Ed" in EdTech
Technology is the Means, Not the End
It's a familiar scene: You're sitting at the annual administrative "retreat," the fancy name for a potentially brutal multi-day roundtable update (when it's done wrong). The technology coordinator delivers her report. The 1:1 initiative is progressing. Devices abound. This year's professional development will focus almost exclusively on the rollout of the district's chosen learning management system (LMS). Life is good.
Or is it?
Simply having devices or a particular learning platform does not focus on or guarantee that students are actually learning. Edtech should service the core value of student learning, not the other way around. It is called edtech because your primary focus should always be on the "ed" first and the specific tech tools second.
Digital Leadership to Transform Student Learning
From the world of business, a powerful lesson: Filippo Passerini, a former Proctor & Gamble (P&G) executive now with The Carlyle Group, was cited in Leading Digital that at P&G, "…technology is never the starting point. Technology is the enabling tool. The real driver for business transformation is a change in work processes, business processes or culture…" In terms of what specific technology tools helped to enable this shift, Passerini demurred; "We prefer to be technology agnostic."
Technology agnostic certainly does not mean technology indifferent. P&G continues to trumpet its digital revolution and resulting outcomes to shareholders. Being technology agnostic means that you'll hitch your star to whatever tech vehicle gets you closer to your ultimate goals. In business, this might mean anything from improving existing processes to the creation of an entirely new paradigm. But as an educator, you don't make widgets, you help make successful future adults. Digital leadership in education must therefore focus on increasing and/or transforming student learning - the "ed" of edtech.
Start With Desired Educational Outcomes
Strategic thinking means focusing on desired end states first as opposed to the planning process serving as its own goal. Thus, with regard to edtech, strategic thinking means starting with desired educational outcomes. Do you want students to make achievement gains? If so, where? Your technology needs may be completely different if your strategic process begins with an end goal of improving writing across the curriculum or increased achievement in the target area of K-12 geometry standards.
Perhaps, like me, you have spent time on a strategic planning committee where curriculum goals and technology goals exist in separate areas of the plan. Curriculum leaders and technology coordinators need to join forces to create joint "curriculum and technology" goals that place technology in its proper place, serving curriculum and learning needs.
Ask Big Questions to Align With A Larger Vision
Hand in hand with strategic thinking is the ability to ask the big questions: Why are we here? What does it mean to be human? In education, "who do we want our students to be when they finish school?" Some districts explicitly ask leadership candidates in interviews what a graduate of X high school "looks like." These are important questions, as one is compelled to construct a vision of a successful individual student. Ask this question enough as a district and an indelible image emerges as part of the larger vision.
Match the Tech to the "Ed"
Now that you have thought about your overarching goals as a school/district and have asked big questions about your students' place in them, it's time to select the right tools for the right jobs. Along with desired learning outcomes, Charles Duarte advocated for districts to consider device versatility, the replacement of paper-based resources, and consultation with students prior to making a purchase.
For example, your school or district may place an emphasis on STEAM education and the steps of the design process across the curriculum. Platform and storage needs will obviously look different in said school, and perhaps even between classrooms, as your digital photography lab may have different needs than your more engineering-centric technical drawing and design location. Advanced Placement Computer Science will often serve a population that requires different tools than a web-based journalism program. Start with the "ed," then bring on the tech.
As you proceed, gather meaningful feedback from students. Southern Methodist University conducted a student technology needs assessment that honed in on overall technology satisfaction rates and specific recommendations for improvement and future goals. These recommendations revealed a desire to go beyond infrastructure improvements to a focus on the "ed" behind the campus learning management system. Participating students were eligible for prizes, and it is not hard to imagine that a similar survey and prize drawing could be set up in a K-12 setting through your existing parent/community connections.
Focus on Education First and Technology Second
"I see myself as a business person who happens to have an interest in - and an understanding of - technology." Filippo Passerini said. In education, it is essential to see yourself as an educator first, even if you possess a deep mastery of technology infrastructure and processes.
A technology coordinator who learns to approach district technology needs with this attitude will be liberated to recommend resource allocation and plan for the future in ways that are better for students and their learning. A relentless focus on the "ed" in edtech will always be more impactful than simply counting devices or improving wireless coverage, because the "ed" will always be your core mission.