Getting intentional about ed tech strategy

Educational technology contributes enormous potential into our schools. Not merely rhetoric – the principled, purposeful adoption of educational technology can unleash the capabilities of educators and students, contributing to a vibrant learning community.

An intentional strategy?

As they often do, conversations over summer with fellow education sector friends again prompted several reflections. Many years after tech started working its way into our schools, many still are locked in the battle over what dictates the strategy.

For many in fact, there’s seemingly not a need to have an ed tech strategy. After all, don’t we have a Learning and Teaching Strategy? A school Organistational Strategy? A Communications Strategy? Surely the Ed Tech Strategy is just a function of that?

This is of course partially valid and true, yet it has been my experience that effective integration of educational technology requires a considered purposeful strategy with clear values and intent. Approaches must reflect a deep understanding of students and an informed grasp of learning theory and the complex ecosystem of education and technology.

We need an Ed Tech Strategy that recognises the role tech plays in a school (including in learning) and seeks to deliver on the promise while also battling several key historical pressures

How we got here - three pressures

The history of educational technology is replete with stories of ad hoc and reactive initiatives – the failure to be intentional. Three key patterns are often present:

  • Vendor-driven approaches. In many schools and districts, technology vendors respond to a lack of vision and values by dictating the strategy for them. A school becomes a ‘Brand X School’, or accumulates a buzzword-laden set of expensive solutions that fail to provide a harmonious user experience for teachers, students, or families.
  • Inappropriate focus on compliance, conformance, and control. Schools and educators bear a duty of care to the students they educate. Rather than keeping this in balance with other responsibilities, schools without an intentional strategy are prone to react by “locking it all down”, developing uniform, overly controlled, inflexible systems that value control above flexibility, creativity, and autonomy. In the process, much opportunity is lost.
  • Inconsistent quality; wasted resources. One of the goals for educational technology teams is to positively impact the learning of all students. Without an intentional approach, technology is used inconsistently or not at all. Exemplary practice by some teachers is unable to be shared with others. Poor practice is neither identified, not challenged. Examples of this include educational technology as child-minding, technology used for simple ‘substitution’, and the misspending of precious budgets as technology remains unused or poorly adopted.

So what then?#

In contrast, effective educational technology strategy is deliberate and purposeful.

  1. Intentional about student outcomes. Technology can be used to create, connect and collaborate, organize, and to individualize the experience of each student

  2. Intentional about quality and rigor. Technology should complement and enhance teaching approaches. Its use must not be accompanied by a mentality that treats it as necessarily informal or lower in quality.

  3. Intentionally broad and diverse. Although the drive for quality sometimes values consistency, uniformity is not a goal. Diverse teaching approaches can be embraced; diverse student expression can be encouraged. The technology must provide appropriate safeguards while encouraging a broadening of possibilities, not a divergence.

  4. Intentional at all levels. It is not enough that only the high-level school strategy meets this requirement. The best approaches insist that teachers are purposeful regarding their use of technology, and that students be clear of what they’re seeking to create or achieve, engaging in critical reflection regarding their use.

An effective strategy is not inhibitive

Effective approaches seek to mitigate the effects often witnessed in education technology integration.

  • Not inhibitive to educational excellence. Technology in a classroom might be seen as opposed to more traditional approaches. In contrast, the best uses of education technology will amplify excellent teaching. They will help to deepen or broaden understanding, challenge through discussion and collaboration, and ignite the creativity of students.

  • Not inhibitive to focus, concentration, and deep work. Left unchecked, many technologies have a bias toward distraction and ‘shallow work’. Our approaches must understand and counter these pressures, supporting students to build new skills in digital citizenship. Where appropriate they will help students switch off, reflect, and engage in distraction-free deep work.

  • Not inhibitive to relationships between students, faculty, and families. A familiar challenge with technology is the emphasis on student-to-device interaction at the expense of valuable inter-personal interaction. Our strategy should reflect the understanding that well-rounded, capable, and confident students must master the art of relating in the offline world, as well as in the developing contexts of digital communications.

  • Not inhibitive to the solutions that students and teachers will imagine and create. Educational technology is bringing into the learning experience a seemingly limitless array of possibilities for student creation, whether in the traditional creative domains of Visual Art, Design, Music, and Drama/Theater, in the STEM disciplines, and now areas such as Literature and Humanities. As Ed Tech leaders we must not be captive to the allure of technology systems that sacrifice this freedom for the sake of uniform configuration and ease of maintenance.

Educational technology contributes enormous potential into our schools. Not merely rhetoric – the principled, purposeful adoption of educational technology can unleash the capabilities of educators and students, contributing to a vibrant learning community.