Conversations about educational technology often focus on either choosing which edtech tools to use or determining the specific ways in which to use them. School- and system-level edtech leaders play a critical role in each, and they increasingly decide which technologies are available within an educational community. When it comes to the effective use of these edtech tools, leaders should move into a supportive role, ensuring that users have the resources they need to effectively utilize technology.
Last year, I worked with my team at The Learning Accelerator, alongside colleagues at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, to produce edtech systems guidance that outlines equity-driven strategies for technology selection, implementation, and evaluation. We interviewed dozens of edtech leaders to better understand how they ensure that teachers and students are prepared to effectively use the technology put in front of them. From these conversations, three technology implementation strategies emerged.
Step 1: Share Information Early
In selecting a new tool to add to your edtech portfolio, you’ve identified a need and determined which tool works best in your context. Before you roll this tool out, you can build buy-in and excitement by sharing targeted and relevant information. Doing so may require you to develop and execute a communications plan, to tell people who, how, when, and what.
Who: You likely have a clear idea of which stakeholders will be using the tool that you are implementing (e.g., a new student information system implicates teachers, school leaders, students, and their families, whereas an on-demand tutoring platform may only implicate students and families). When identifying your who, you should attempt to be as specific as possible and highlight any unique needs they may have that should inform your communications strategies (e.g., nonnative English speakers may benefit from communications in their native languages).
How and when: Assess what you know about these groups. Their unique needs, what they care about most, and where best to access them should inform how and when you plan to communicate with them.
What: Your decision-making process likely included a lot of information gathering, but only some of it will be relevant to your audience. You should aim to tailor your communications, providing relevant information, which may include elements of the following:
- The need and goals that drove your selection of a new edtech tool
- The benefits that you hope to achieve in integrating it into your school or system
- The kinds of support you plan to offer to ensure that everyone is prepared
Step 2: Tailor Your Rollout
In addition to your first communications about a new edtech tool, the first training you provide on this tool can be a powerful way to support its effective use. Your rollout should provide differentiated access points and build the confidence your participants need to start using the new tool. In planning for a robust rollout process, you must examine how you define proficiency, differentiate resources, and provide accessible learning opportunities.
Defining proficiency: Identify the baseline skills and understandings necessary to effectively use the tool. This could include information about how the tool collects and stores or shares data, technical knowledge (e.g., logging on to and wayfinding within the tool), and key functionalities.
Differentiating resources: Your edtech vendor likely provides resources such as professional development sessions, one-pagers, and how-to videos. However, these are usually designed with broad audiences in mind. You should think about how you might leverage your school- or system-level instructional leaders to personalize vendor-provided materials that specifically target your community’s unique needs.
Providing accessible opportunities: You should aim to provide accessible, multimodal opportunities to engage with the tool. This may include both online webinars and live training opportunities that align with your users’ schedules and provide them the support they need to fully engage (e.g., if you are rolling out a parent-facing tool, consider hosting evening workshops and providing child care).
Step 3: Sustain Support
Users learn at different rates, and new students and staff will need to be brought up to speed on how to use the tool as well. To account for both of these, you will need to develop systems that offer sustained support for effective edtech use. Designing these systems will require you to develop un-siloed support and create structures for continuous improvement.
Un-siloed support: The lines between technology and instructional or operational functions of schools are blurring. As part of your implementation, it is important to weave together support structures that speak to the various aspects of an edtech tool. For example, edtech components of a curriculum should be supported by leaders with knowledge of both the academic and technical elements of these tools—leaders who work together to provide support that bridges the gap between content and technological knowledge.
These support structures, like those used during your rollout, should also provide various access points to ensure equitable access. This could include a suite of resources like how-to guides and videos available in multiple formats and languages. Additionally, edtech champions in the school could directly support their peers in developing the skills and knowledge needed to use the tools effectively.
Continuous improvement: Your implementation supports should adapt and change over time. As stakeholders, curricula, and innovation continue to evolve, it is important to investigate how you might need to update support structures to address your community’s evolving needs. Consider how you might build opportunities to gather feedback via surveys, focus groups, or empathy interviews in order to identify ways they could improve.
School and system edtech leaders play an essential role in technology integration, but this role increasingly involves supporting the effective use of edtech tools. These leaders can use the three strategies above to provide accessible on-ramps and ensure that those who drive their edtech usage are supported and prepared to do so effectively.