“We’ve had this program for three or four years, but we’ve really never used it,” Zach Larimore, the high school principal told me. I sat in his office listening to a new version of the same story I’d heard dozens of times before. “Back then someone came and taught us how to use it and we were all excited about launching it. Then school started and somehow we just never got it going. This year we want to use it.” As a technology implementation consultant, I had taken on the responsibility for seeing that the program finally did get successfully launched in Zach’s high school.
With today’s nearly universal connection to the Internet, computers, software and other types of technology are present in virtually every classroom in the nation.
His was a situation I’d often seen. Technological advancements schools had purchased to fill a legitimate need that had never been used. Software that had become shelfware, purchased but unused.
With today’s nearly universal connection to the Internet, computers, software and other types of technology are present in virtually every classroom in the nation. Despite this access, a considerable gap exists between the presence of technology in the classroom and its usage. Schools commonly have a list of technology items they have purchased that either are not used at all or are not used to their maximum potential.
One of the most common reasons such technology remains underutilized results from a school’s or district’s failure to properly manage the implementation of the product. Successful implementations result from careful planning and preparation. There are several critical steps and considerations that facilitate successful product implementation and help sustain the product’s use once implemented.
Form An Implementation Team
An important first step in any implementation process is for the school to select an implementation team representing all the departments affected by the technology initiative. Team members may include professionals at all levels, such as teacher leaders, subject matter experts, coaches, office staff, counselors, the technology coordinator and administrators.
These team members are assigned the responsibility of advancing the initiative toward its effective implementation. The team should develop a systematic approach which includes an action plan, implementation processes, building support and enthusiasm for the change, facilitating the change and delegating roles and responsibilities. Coordinating the effort with a diversified team rather than with an individual, usually an administrator or the technology coordinator, is a fundamental piece of the implementation puzzle and a strategy that is key for helping insure that the technology is actually used after its implementation.
In Zach’s school, for example, a salesman had made a very convincing presentation to the school’s administrative team. The school had purchased the program and the software company had provided training. Then the Principal left and the product slipped out of use and onto the shelf. Had there been an implementation team in place, the initiative would likely have moved forward even in the absence of the former Principal.
Implementation team members must constantly communicate among themselves, collaborating and working together as a unit. They must also establish open conduits of communication with all the departments in the school. Communicating the plan, the involvement and the expectations should be at the forefront throughout the implementation process. Questions such as “What’s going on?”, “When will it happen?” and “How will this affect me?” need to be answered. If team members are not having lots and lots of conversations about the plan and listening to the feedback, resistance may occur when staff members feel uninformed and uncomfortable about the changes they will be required to make in their daily routines and activities.
Evaluate the building infrastructure
Before beginning any technology innovation, schools need to insure they have an adequate building infrastructure in place. The implementation team needs to prepare for the new technology by answering such questions as “Are our infrastructure, wireless network and equipment adequate?” and “Do existing technology staff members have the expertise to implement the identified solution or are new hires necessary?” Being aware of any alterations necessary to the school’s technology infrastructure helps ensure that it is prepared to handle the new initiative and is not lurking as a future hindrance. Schools skipping this step oftentimes find themselves in the unenviable position of retrofitting infrastructure while the new technology sits waiting and outdating.
Provide Technology Support
Plans need to be in place to ensure that adequate resources are available to provide staff members with the appropriate technology support. Teachers need to feel confident that they can get help when they have questions or problems using the new technology. They need to know who to contact and how to contact them so their problems can be addressed quickly. Without such support, technology tools that are purchased frequently remain unused in classrooms because teachers don’t have the time or expertise to troubleshoot. Teachers often conclude that the new technology is not worth the trouble and continue in their old ways of doing things that work just fine.
Establish A Realistic Timetable
Often technology implementation struggles or fails because of some unanticipated incompatibility or unexpected issues. For this reason, implementing the plan all at once throughout the entire school may not be the best option. Instead, first test the new technology on a limited basis under actual classroom conditions. Phasing in the initiative in different stages allows for such testing. Implementing gradually by grade level or by letting willing staff members take the plan for a test drive facilitates getting any discernible issues worked out during the pre-game warmup. The more extensive the testing of the technology, the better the chance of uncovering potential issues and allowing time for them to be addressed.
Furnish Professional Development
A critical element in achieving a successful implementation is a well-conceived professional development program having a twofold design. The content of the first phase of the professional development program includes the basic technical knowledge of how to use the new technology. Teachers would typically learn how to use the technology in a workshop and outside of their classroom environments. Such training is necessary, but is not sufficient to ensure that the technology will be used in the classroom. Discontinuing training after the first phase is often the main culprit for the technology being infrequently or never used.
The training at Zach’s high school didn’t continue after phase one, the initial product training. Since information presentation does not equal skill acquisition, merely providing training on the use of software and hardware rarely ensures that the technology will be integrated into the classroom. A further step is necessary. Successful professional development includes a second phase which insures that staff members have significant time and resources to learn, practice, create and implement the new skill.
During this phase of the professional development the school’s subject matter experts and teaching coaches take the primary responsibility for helping teachers create new classroom activities and lesson plans incorporating the new technology. The training should identify the advantages of the technology, highlight how the initiative can add value in the classroom and focus on integrating the implementation into the classroom curriculum. When teachers return to the classroom after phase two training, they should have answers to the question “How can I use this in daily lessons in my classroom?” Teachers are much more likely to embrace new technology once they know specifically how they can use it in their classrooms tomorrow morning.
These are some of the critical factors that schools need to consider while implementing technology into the classroom. If properly addressed,these factors can all work together to facilitate the implementation process and greatly enhance the chances for its success.