Sunday, November 22, 2015

Embracing Our Technologies as a Catalyst For Change

Technology in schools is quite a game changer. More schools are beginning to implement iPads and devices 1:1. Apps are being developed at a fast pace, and innovation is taking off. If taught appropriately and affectively to teachers, these devices offer a huge disruptive innovation that can simplify, increase accessibility to learning, and make learning convenient for students, and teaching convenient for educators.
The development of the iPhone is a great example of a disruptive innovator. This product puts the World Wide Web into your pocket for just a few hundred dollars. It has made the internet accessible to many, simplified tasks, and made a variety of activities/communications very convenient for it's user.

Our K-12 charter school will be growing with students in the next three to five years, as new developing neighborhoods are under construction. These new residencies have the potential to increase our student body by 300 students. Essentially, a teacher load of three classes will increase to four (at the secondary grade level), in a block schedule of four classes a day. The strain on teachers and their ability to teach effectively to all students could be compromised.  How do we account for this increase in population? How can we prepare for more students and teach all students effectively?

Secondly, our secondary classes have double-blocked math, which means that students are attending math classes Monday-Friday on a block schedule (90 minute classes), instead of every other day. We have also phased our language B classes (Spanish and French at the secondary level). Even with technology integration of 1:1 iPads, many courses, teachers, and administrators are feeling the pressures of these changes.

How can we move forward and embrace the technology we already have as a catalyst for change and innovation that supports our current and future constraints on students, teachers, and administration?

iPads are a disruptive innovation; within a school they are meant to simplify learning and teaching, make things convenient, and accessible (Christensen, 2008). For students, technology is the norm of their culture. For many teachers, it is a foreign and scary to integrate into the classroom. In our current system, I propose three areas within our school that can prepare us for the changes that will happen in the next three to five years:

  1. Create conditions for teachers to rise to the occasion of technology integration.
  2. Use our technology to transform learning environments with our current student body.
  3. Use our technology to prepare for the future.

1. Create conditions for teachers to rise to the occasion of technology integration.

Since 2014, the first year of 1:1 iPad implementation at our K-12 school, several changes to backend support have been made, but other needed changes are still lacking. Often, students and teachers are not able to stay connected to the network, which puts many hindrances on learning. Teachers put the iPad to the side and continue teaching how they have taught prior to integration. I believe improvements to the wireless infrastructure can help strengthen the support of the 800 iPads we have on campus.

Secondly, professional development should evolve to support changes in the classroom that lead to student-centered environments (Christensen, 107). If a shared vision  of technology integration can be established, parameters can be made to provide professional development that transforms the teachers’ role into facilitators and designers of the learning environment. By using our campus’s diverse knowledge base, educators would more than likely integrate technology and try new things within their classroom. This can be achieved through collaboration and professional learning communities meeting on a bi-weekly or monthly occasion and through professional development time together and at conferences.

Lastly, school administration must set an example of technology integration in order for it to be a successful disruptor. The use of technology must be embedded throughout the culture of the school and as administration sets examples and coordinates organizational support (such as teacher and parent committees), transformations will happen. Furthermore, this can inspire teachers and administrators to learn from each other, which can change the climate and culture of the school.

2. Use our technology to transform learning environments with our current student body

iPad use within the classroom is underutilized. The iPad is not meant to be a product of consumption, but of production. By providing a support system for teachers to learn how to implement technological innovations, learning environments will begin to change to more personalized learning and outcomes for our students (Christensen, 107). Using 1:1 iPads should allow for students to become producers of knowledge and understanding, rather than consumers of information. They will begin to have authentic learning experiences with personalized meaning. As Christensen (2008) says in his book Disrupting Class, “...we learn much better when we teach it than when we’re sitting passively in a classroom listening to someone explain it to us” (p. 141). By utilizing the latest technological strategies of a 1:1 iPad environment, curriculum design can transform and students will begin to become producers of knowledge, rather than consumers of information.

This topic is closely connected to our current conditions; professional development should be tailored and differentiated for teachers to begin developing their skills as a facilitator of learning. A key question to ask ourselves is not, “What is the latest and greatest in technology and how can we implement it?”, but possibly “How is technology currently being used on our campus?” and “What is our purpose of technology in the classroom?” When these ideas can be identified and a common language and goals are established, effective change will be seen.

If support can be offered, our double-blocked math classes could benefit greatly from an online course that is customized and tailored to the gaps that each student has. Online learning could potentially come from existing online courses, or could be created by the mathematics department and pushed out through iTunes U course platform.

3. Use our technology to prepare for the future

If we can successfully shape our classrooms into more student-centric environments, we will be able to handle the next three to five years of changes. With the influx of new students, more teachers will need to be hired, but new hires or existing teachers may have to teach three to four different subjects (since there will be an increase in each subject by one class load).

Rather than hiring many more teachers (which can put constraints on finances as well as classroom availability), we should leverage our 1:1 iPads and campus expansion plan to look at flexible learning environments. Pilot classrooms could be created now to explore innovators like blended learning and flexible learning environments and their potential impact on the growth of our school in the future.

I believe that these considerations have the potential to bring about huge change and support for our campus and change for our students. As Christensen says, it is not about attacking the current system head on, but going underneath the system to “drive…accessibility, capability, and responsiveness” (p. 225).

I have been privileged to be a part of such change and innovation at my previous district. Their story, Coppell High School, shows that disruptive innovation can be successful in a large high school. 

Brown, Kayla. (2015. Coppell High School, Apple Distinguished School. (iBook version). Retrieved from 

Christensen, C., Johnson, C. W., & Horn, M. B. (2008). Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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