There is no question that the US pandemic recovery programs are providing an unprecedented amount of money to K–12. And for good reason – so many new costs have been incurred and will have to be incurred to ready buildings and learning environments for the future.
People charged with the responsibility of spending the money have multiple objectives – setting priorities and making wise choices being the prime ones.
Some choices are relatively easy, like upgrading ventilation systems. Others are more difficult, like choosing edtech products to enable learning in a post-COVID world.
But don’t let this abundance of money make you rush or go too slow.
When you have the money that literally allows you to buy anything, where do you begin, particularly on the classroom technology front?
Step 1: Start with what you know
Before embarking on big changes to your technology plan, it helps to take a good look at what’s happening in your classrooms. Do the tools that teachers currently use and value need a refresh?
It’s common for technology products to be in the classroom for 5 years or more – and a lot of changes can happen in that time. Enhanced functionality. New integrations. Larger sizes. Faster speeds. Wireless. So the first place to start often includes upgrading to the latest and greatest to take you another 5 years and beyond.
Step 2: Envision learning transformation
Once you’ve discussed obvious upgrades, switch your perspective and get expansive in considering how learning could evolve in the next 10 years. Make your time horizon long enough that it pushes you to imagine something that you don’t yet do.
When you and your team are contemplating what could be possible, try consciously including the word “transformation” in your thinking. You can also use your experiences over the last year as a starting point. Is there something from the pandemic that pushed your schools into new territory that could and should be part of your future learning environment?
Step 3: Consider future constraints
The pandemic had a deep and immediate impact on teaching and learning. Education had to transform in a blink of an eye, leaving many districts stuck playing catch-up for much of the year.
Now that COVID-19 is trending in the right direction, it’s worth thinking about what other constraints might suddenly arise that will require rapid adaptation. For example, what if there aren’t enough teachers? What if that shortage is so large that it requires a full rethink of education?
Take some time to choose tools that offer a lot of flexibility and adaptability, so you’ll be ready for the unknown realities that are still to come.
Step 4: Gather teacher input
After many years in the edtech business, I know that products that teachers don’t like don’t get used – resulting in waste of funds and opportunity. So it’s crucial to get teachers involved in the selection process.
One common mistake is involving teachers too late – when the decision making is 99% done. Instead, ask teachers what they imagine and what they can foresee. How do they envision teaching and learning in a post-COVID world? It’s likely that teachers have spent a lot of time this year thinking about getting back to normal – but they’ve also been thinking about what needs to change as we move forward.
Additionally, it helps to ask them what parts of their job take a lot of effort for little educational payoff. What mundane and trivial tasks that consume time can be reduced or eliminated by different approaches, processes or technology?
Step 5: Get student and parent input
Just because students consume education doesn’t mean that they don’t have opinions and perspectives on how to improve the process. There could be some real gems in their thinking and suggestions about how to go. And one size won’t fit all.
Start by asking students what frustrates them about their experience with the classroom technology you already have – they’re usually more than happy to share the flaws that only they can see. You can also ask them what’s working well. Then find out what they’d like to see change about edtech use in their classrooms. Parents can also provide a valuable perspective, especially in the younger grades.
Step 6: Start a proof of concept
Before plunging headlong in a new direction, take some time to plan your adoption and then try it out in a proof of concept (POC). Yes, a POC costs money and time, but it can save even more money and time by proving or disproving a hypothesis.
Proof of concepts can be complex with many moving parts or simpler, focusing on getting input from a small group of educators. But no matter the scale of your approach, make sure you can support the implementation through professional development or training, plus have a plan in place for gathering feedback from the full range of stakeholders – IT staff, teachers, students, parents and admin.
Going through all these stages might seem time consuming, but they’ll help ensure the technology products you choose will be the right ones – ready to meet the needs of your students and teachers now and in the future. You’ll also have a process in place that you can turn to next time grants are available.
Good luck on your purchasing and implementation journey.
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Posted on June 9, 2021