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  • Writer's pictureAMISA

Technology Integration Strategic Plan

by Mohammed I. Aziz, Coordinator Technology, Library & Media Country Day School Costa Rica

A lot is being written these days about Technology integration in the classroom. Funding, building infrastructure, Wi-Fi bandwidth, device selection, qualified teachers, receptive and progressive administrators are all cited as essential ingredients for success.  I believe we need to do more.

A Paradigm Shift

Imagine for a moment that we are already there. We have the best-designed classroom with students and teachers engaged in the pursuit of knowledge using the best of everything. Now hold that thought and work backwards to determine what steps we need to take to get there. We need to shift our paradigm by already accepting the ideal end point.  What we need now is to remove all the extraneous obstacles.  We have to accept the inevitable and work to get there.

21st Century Classrooms

The classrooms should be designed with maximum flexibility for reconfiguring the room and the furniture to create a learning environment that is optimal for the lesson at hand. Modular chairs, tables, movable room partitions, wireless AV equipment, electronic boards, etc. should all be standard equipment. Beanbags, reclining chairs, soft sofas, small collaboration areas should be all part of the design.

Manufacturers, like Steel Case and Herman Miller make some of the more innovative classroom furniture. If budget is an issue, cheaper alternatives can be substituted but always keeping the flexibility of the learning environment as the guiding principle. We need to create a learning environment that promotes creativity in a nurturing, caring, collaborative setting.

The curriculum and the instructions should provide skills that allow our students to be creative, innovative and great problem solvers. We cannot be teaching obsolete stuff that is no longer relevant to the jobs that these students are likely to be engaged in. Education of the last century was mostly top down where the teacher lectured and the students feverishly took notes to capture what may be on the tests. The teacher was supposed to know everything. The curriculum and the assessments were all designed with the teacher convenience in mind. Standardized tests and canned answers to questions in the teacher’s handbook allowed large volumes of baby boomer kids to be “educated” and assessed by overworked teachers having large number of students per class.

The goal today is to teach 21st century skills. The classroom layout and the tools that we use are merely enablers that, if used properly, should allow all our students to acquire knowledge at their own pace and at their own preferred mode. Today’s students must learn the process of creativity and innovation. They must learn how to think analytically and be able to respond to new and different situations. They must know how to define a problem and then be able to find the resources to solve it. The teacher plays the role of a facilitator and provides the condition and the environment for learning to take place.

Hardware and Software Choices

The schools’ Responsible Use Policy (RUP) should guide the use of the Internet in the K-12 environment.  Teachers, staff and students should abide by this policy. Having said this, we must make sure that the policy does not restrict the learning process by putting artificial barriers in accessing the desired information. Downloading of movies, videos and music should be restricted unless teachers’ need to download stuff for classroom instruction. Software and hardware should all be compatible with the school’s infrastructure and the IT department along with the responsible authority must approve them.

All tools must be allowed. There is no point debating whether it should be PC or Mac, tablets, iPads, smartphones, Google glasses or any other device of the future.  If the device is compatible with the school’s network and the student/teacher knows how to use it then let it be. The focus should be on acquiring knowledge and the tool used should not be the object of the debate. The students of today and more so of the future are gadget sophisticated and they are almost always going to be more electronic savvy than their teachers or parents.  We must catch up to our students’ level and not try to dumb them down by requiring them to be at our level of comfort and familiarity!

Curriculum Development with Technology Integration in Mind

A school’s educational blue print can be determined by its curriculum. Common core is a base line minimum but to what extent a school goes above and beyond this is an indication of its academic prowess.  Curriculum development and curriculum mapping must include teachers, technology integrationists, administrators and division heads.  Periodic review of the curriculum must be done to determine what worked well, what needs to be modified and what needs to change.  The curriculum should not have major learning block gaps going vertically from grade to grade or going horizontally across the progression in an academic year. Technology integration should be a key focus throughout the curriculum to see if it can improve the strength of the curriculum and the learning process.  Project based learning, blended learning and student led learning are all important components of a progressive school and a progressive curriculum.

An important addition that I often thought might be helpful in the development of our curriculum is to get input of selected parents, business leaders and students. This will make the curriculum more robust and certainly more relevant. Business leaders can provide valuable input on how well the students are being prepared for the job market of the future. Technology integration in the curriculum will benefit greatly with input from this group.

In depth review of the curriculum every quarter should identify any gaps and document any proposed changes that need to be considered for the following year.  These must be reviewed with all the stakeholders and approved by the division heads and the superintendent/director of the school. A curriculum-mapping tool, such as Atlas, can make this job more manageable. An identified person must be appointed to lead this effort and it must be a part of this person’s job description. The curriculum overseer must have access to all levels of the school’s hierarchy to solicit input and to gain alignment.

Is Technology Integration Making a Difference?

We need to measure the impact of technology integration on student learning. Are we seeing improved comprehension, retention, improved grades and increased learning interest? Is the curriculum with technology integration making learning more interesting for the hard to reach and marginally performing students? Test results, student survey and teacher input can help answer these questions. Is this making a difference in building a new sense of interest in pursuing STEM majors in college?  Periodic surveys can help determine if number of students applying to pursue STEM majors in colleges is increasing.

Staff Training and Acceleration of the Technology Integration Program

Teachers are extremely busy with their day-to-day work. They are usually unable to spend too much time on their own to learn about new technology integration in the curriculum.  Some senior teachers with 10 plus years of experience may not be very enthused about incorporating technology in their lessons. You can try to generate some interest by offering them free subscriptions to digital learning tools. The desire to try these new teaching tools has met with varying degrees of success. We need to make this a win-win proposition.

One approach of integrating technology may be to recruit some early adopters and have them start introducing technology in their traditional lesson plan. After some prodding and one on one teacher training by the technology integrationist, our Elementary grade students and teachers have adopted the RAZ Kids reading program and also the Word Q writing program. As these new tools spark student and parent interest, other teachers and students are expressing interest in using these new digital tools.  We need to make this happen also in our upper grades to a greater extent than we are doing today. Another approach may be to allow training time by dismissing classes two hours early, once every two months. Have trainers available to make these training really meaningful and convincing. If the interest of the students can be served better by the technology integration in the curriculum and there is proof, then I am sure the teachers will take this new program to heart.

Lastly, in many International schools about one-third of the student body and the faculty go through a turnover about every two to three years. Recruitment and hiring of the new faculty should aim to hire teachers that are pro technology and are enthusiastic in incorporating technology in the curriculum.

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