Is one-to-one mobile computing an essential tool that can help transform K12 education, increase student achievement, and prepare students for 21st century success? Or, as some suggest, a waste of money, time, and energy?
The honest answer is- it depends. Now, you are probably thinking, how can an employee of a high tech company say such a thing? Let’s explore what I mean.
Well-implemented, systemically-driven technology initiatives provide teachers more flexibility to meet each student's needs and enable students to develop 21st century skills such as critical thinking and collaborative problem-solving. This, in turn, leads to an increase in student engagement, motivation, and attendance, higher achievement, and reduced dropout rates.
The key phrase is "well-implemented." If all you do is put technology in the hands of students, in effect merely replacing their pencils with devices, chances are that teachers will be frustrated, the impact on student outcomes will be disappointing, and the program will go down as yet another oversold miracle cure—a missed opportunity to have a transformative impact on education by taking real advantage of the power the technology offers.
Expanded Role for Education CIOs
School system CIOs are in a unique position to ensure success. The key is to recognize that student technology use must take place within the context of systemic transformation: a movement from the teacher-centric, lecture-based models that most of us grew up with,to student centric learning models that prepare young people to fulfill their human potential and succeed as 21st century job creators, workers, innovators, artists, and citizens.
Education transformation involves comprehensive, holistic change and profound change management. It requires new levels of leadership from education CIOs to include a significantly closer partnership with education leadership. This parallels the expanded opportunities that CIOs in other industries are embracing as IT expands from keeping the lights on and running the enterprise to providing customer-facing cloud services and delivering direct business value.
Holistic Approach, Transformative Impact
To ensure that education technology initiatives deliver their promised benefits, CIOs must avoid the temptation to over-focus on technology at the outset. Instead, join the school's leadership team in focusing on WHY you're providing mobile technologies. Work with a range of stakeholders to develop a clear definition of student success. Yes, you want to improve student outcomes, but what will that look like for students, for teachers, parents, and other stakeholders? Then, work backward from the goal. Given where you want to end up, what do you need to do to get there?
Here are the major areas the school system will need to address—and the CIO can be a valuable member of the team.
• Professional development- Teachers are at the heart of education transformation. How will you provide teachers with the inspiration, training, tools, and ongoing support so they can adopt new learning models and incorporate technology into inquiry-driven, student-centered learning? What new skills will teachers need as they design personalized learning experiences, use new assessment data to adjust instructional strategies, and incorporate high-quality digital resources? School systems should examine a wide range of professional development options, from mentoring/coaching to just-in-time/self-service online modules.
• Curriculum- What kind of curricular changes are necessary to deliver a rigorous, student centered, individualized education? What new digital content resources do you want to acquire to deliver your curriculum? With digital devices, the choices are much broader.
• Assessment- For many districts, the vision of success will include not only increasing student achievements in traditional content areas, but also developing 21st century skills such as critical thinking and collaborative problem solving. So, how will assessment methods change so you can accurately gauge student progress in these areas? What computer-based and online assessments will you use? Cany our school system make the needed changes on its own, or do you need to collaborate with other districts and states to influence the development of next generation assessments?
• Policy- The policy framework must align with the outcomes you aim to achieve. Before you deploy mobile technologies, you need to identify anypolicy changes needed to ensure that curriculum and assessment, professional development, teaching and learning practices, and technology all work together to support your transformation objectives. Look at what national and state policies you need to align with for issues such as student privacy and data handling, as well as district-level, school level and classroom-level policies and consequences regarding issues such as acceptable use and digital citizenship.
• Sustainable resourcing- How will you resource the project? The district chief financial officer should be involved in planning from the start, leading the development of a comprehensive, long range financial plan that addresses capital and operating costs for technology, as well as costs for professional development, curriculum resources, technology support, program evaluation, and so forth. Budgeting may also identify potential savings, for example, by replacing wall maps with Google Earth.
• Evaluation- How will you measure program success? What metrics will tell you where you're succeeding and where adjustments are needed? You need to identify those metrics up front, not as an afterthought. Determine if you're already collecting the relevant data. If you're not, then decide how will you gather the data surveys, classroom observations? Data is not free, so investigate whether there are proxies for data you don’t have. What feedback loop will you set up to ensure you're using the data to improve your program? How will you report back to stakeholders?
• Leadership- It takes a leadership team to make transformation happen and ensure that it is sustainable even if the initial champions move on. The leadership team should bring together principals, teachers, parents, community members, the district financial officer and of course the CIO, and should focus on establishing a long-term vision, inspiring stakeholders to believe in it and work toward achieving it, and creating a detailed roadmap to achieve the targeted objectives. In some cases, the job is to transform the culture—to empower teachers, create a learning culture for all, and encourage informed risk-taking and innovation.
Bringing Teamwork to the Choice of Technologies
The decisions the leadership team is making in the above areas will shape the choice of device technologies. As in any industry, devices must meet the needs of the intended end-users. For education transformation, devices must meet the requirements you've established as you've spelled out your vision of student of success and identified the changes necessary to achieve it. Devices must be sturdy and flexible, with sufficient performance, graphics, screen real estate, and other capabilities to handle both curriculum and assessment requirements. They must enable teachers to deliver personalized, academically rigorous educational experiences emphasizing investigation, independent learning, creativity, and collaboration. They must support standardized online assessments as well as normative, on-the fly assessments that teachers will use to adjust and optimize the student's earning experience.
Equally important, device technologies must be enterprise worthy: capable of being deployed, secured, and managed in large numbers, and supported by mature management and security software. Education CIOs should lead a collaborative approach to define specific device requirements, and encourage students, teachers, and other stakeholders to evaluate a range of devices and form factors, including tablets, laptops, and new 2 in 1 devices that convert between tablet and full-keyboard laptop.
These are exciting times for education CIOs. By thinking holistically and collaborating strategically with education leadership, customer-focused have an opportunity to have a transformative impact on their school systems and on the lives of a generation of students.