One of the most fascinating aspects of my journey through the Digital Education Leadership (DEL) program has been comparing the vastly different philosophies and priorities of schools I’ve taught or coached at.
My experience coming into the DEL program was that of a junior high teacher/recent 1:1 tech adapter at a high poverty public school in California. When I was a new teacher, my English department and I wrote a grant for the purchase of 30 Chromebooks. The five of us shared these precious 30 Chromebooks. Typically we would utilize a station rotation model for our allotted 6 Chromebooks to keep other students busy while the lucky 6 got to complete research, make presentations, or write essays. For many students, this was the only access they had to computers. In some cases, I’d even need to teach the basics of making capital letters with the shift key instead of using caps-lock on/off. This was in 2013. Seeing the digital divide up close and personal was a wake-up call for me.
As a Title 1 school, we qualified for extra government funding to purchase technology which happened a year after the initial grant was written. The priority was very much to get computers into the hands of students as soon as possible. In a classic case of putting the cart before the horse, a technology committee (which I was a part of) was tasked with identifying a unified vision…two years after the 1:1 initiative began. As a result, there were vast gaps in students’ technology experiences. Some teachers used the Chromebooks solely as a replacement for handwritten assignments. Others seemed to bring them out for educational games as a reward for good behavior. Few teachers consciously explored the ‘transformative’ levels of the SAMR model. The priority and focus was to get students using technology first and worry about the quality of use later on.
In the years since, I have served as a long-term substitute for an Academic Technology Director and high school English teacher (the position I currently hold). Both of these positions were/are at affluent private schools in Washington and provided me with a completely different technology landscape. For the first time, my students had technological knowledge that I didn’t! I must admit it was a nice change to be able to dive into digital projects without having to explain the basics of computer use.
Since devices were ubiquitous at these schools, the institutional priority was not getting teachers to use technology, but rather ensuring that the devices were being used to their full potential. This is a completely different set of concerns and I would likely not have appreciated the nuances of the schools’ needs and the impact it had on teachers when considering professional development. Of course the impact on students is a bit more straightforward. To use an English teacher analogy, I can’t possibly teach essay structure if students can’t write in complete sentences. Once they have the basics down, it frees up time and energy to focus on higher-order skills. The same is very much true for schools adopting new technologies.
What I’ve taken away from these experiences is the realization that schools across America have vastly different philosophies and priorities when it comes to educational technology. When we read statistics stating that 73% of teachers report students using technology daily, we should not necessarily breath a sigh of relief and assume that students are being prepared for 21st century skills. That use is going to vary between districts, states, and even from classroom to classroom at a single school. That’s why having a set of technology standards for teachers, coaches, and students is so very important.
Connecting this idea back to substandard 6c, the ability to assess where a school is at with quality of technology adaptation is a necessary piece of understanding organizational change and leadership. The DEL program has equipped me with the skills needed to discern the difference between quantity and quality of technology application within a school. The following diagram was inspired by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Just as Maslow’s pyramid requires fundamental needs to be met before advancement can take place, I’ve placed access and safety ahead of skill attainment and creativity. While it’s easy to criticize educators for not teaching at the transformative levels of SAMR, it’s helpful to frame discussions in terms of this hierarchy of needs.