A Framework for Technology Adoption: Making Your Pedagogy Deeply Digital

Over the past 30 years or so, we have learned a thing or two about how to actually integrate computing technologies into K–12. Based on our experiences in primary schools in Singapore (2009-2016) and on our experiences in classrooms all over the United States (30-plus years), and on the experiences of colleagues, we feel that the framework we are about to present can result — and has resulted — in sustained adoption of technology by everyday classroom teachers in everyday classrooms.

Needless to say, a healthy number of our experiences were failed attempts. And, for those failures we apologize to the teachers, their students and their administrators. Indeed, it has taken those failures to put us in a position where we can say the following: Here is how to work in K–12 and integrate technology in a productive, sustainable manner. Take a deep breath … let it out slowly … here we go!

Teaching and Learning Ecology #1: The project must be school-based, not teacher-centric.

We have all met those extraordinary teachers who can pull rabbits out of hats — who can take a raw technology and make it work with their students. And, a small handful of those extraordinary teachers working together can work wonders. We like to say: Beware of a successful pilot. Scaling up that successful pilot to an entire grade level when that pilot is based around those extraordinary teachers will surely result in failure because the entire grade level or an entire school is primarily composed of everyday teachers, not extraordinary teachers.

In contrast to a teacher-centric approach, we advocate a school-based approach. That is, the school’s principal needs to buy into the project, the department head needs to buy into the project, and the teachers need to buy into the project. Yes, a school-based approach is harder to get off the ground than a teacher-centric approach. But a school-based approach will result in an effective, scalable process.

Engaging Teachers: Ongoing professional learning

Say you were trying to drive a nail into a board with your fist. That would be nigh impossible. (We haven’t forgotten we are writing about educational technology; please, stay with us here.) What is needed is a hammer, a tool that is made for the task of driving a nail into wood. The hammer provides new "affordances" — new capabilities — the hammer enables you to do something you couldn’t do without it.

Now, a computing device — be it a laptop, a tablet, or a smartphone — has new affordances; it enables learners to do things they couldn’t do with paper-and-pencil. For example, using a computing device, students can carry out investigations — remember Web Quests?

The point we are trying to make is this: In a 1-to-1 classroom, where each student has his/her own computing device, a didactic pedagogy, characteristic of pencil-and-paper classrooms, is inappropriate. Rather, an active, inquiry pedagogy enables students to take advantage of the affordances of their computing devices. (What’s the point of putting a pencil-and-paper curriculum onto a computer? Having students fill out a worksheet on a computing device, instead of on paper, reduces the computing device to a piece of paper. Worksheet filling doesn’t leverage the affordances of the computing device. Spoiler alert: More blogs about computing devices as tools with new affordances are in the works!)

But, transitioning from didactic pedagogy to inquiry pedagogy is a challenge for teachers. Teachers need to develop new skills, e.g., transition from monologue to dialogue as the dominant form of communication, transition from telling answers to asking questions.  A one afternoon, professional development (PD) session where teachers are typically taught didactically, is simply an inappropriate mechanism for professional learning of the sort needed by teachers who are trying to take advantage of their 1-to-1 classrooms.

Rather, we have found that ongoing, teachers helping each other, with researchers providing coaching and feedback, is an effective process for the professional learning of teachers. Teachers enacting inquiry pedagogy while fellow teachers and university researchers — colleagues — sit in and observe their classes, with reflection and professional conversation taking place in a non-threatening, supportive environment is the type of PD that is needed. And did we mention that this form of professional interaction should be ongoing, continuous? <Smilely face goes here.>

Students: Education is a social process

Just as teachers learn from each other, students learn from each other. Learning is in the conversation. Indeed, “Education is a social process” is a cornerstone of Dewey’s philosophy of education. And social learning goes hand-in-hand with inquiry pedagogy. As Plato observed a long time ago: "Knowledge will not come from teaching but from questioning." In a 1-to-1 classroom, then, students engage in synchronous and asynchronous collaboration as they engage in questioning and inquiry.

Curriculum, Curriculum, Curriculum: Linking everything together

We have written at length in our blog about the difference between content and curriculum.  And, we have written at length about the importance of providing teachers with curriculum: while that handful of extraordinary teachers may well create their own curriculum, everyday teachers are not curriculum developers — though they might well be curriculum tweakers — and thus, everyday teachers need to be provided with good curriculum, i.e., curriculum that has been aligned to standards, is scope-and-sequenced, has an explicit coherence, and an accessible, underlying story-line.

Of course, that curriculum needs to support an active, inquiry pedagogy — not paper-and-pencil-oriented didactic pedagogy. And that curriculum must support social learning: students learning with and from each other. To support inquiry, to support social learning, and to support enactment by students on their 1-to-1 computing devices, that curriculum needs to be deeply digital.

As one example of a deeply digital representation for curriculum, we have previously described our Collabrify Roadmap Platform, where lessons are represented as node-and-arc, visual, Roadmaps, and where the nodes in the Roadmaps specify learning activities — off-computer learning activities (e.g., collect data on the transit of the sun across the sky) and on-computer learning activities (e.g., with a partner, co-construct an animation of the earth revolving around the sun).

Teaching and Learning Ecology #2: Invest in earning IT’s trust

The classroom teacher is the gatekeeper of her/his classroom. Unless a classroom teacher is on board with the technology project, that technology is not getting in the classroom door. A less visible, but still a powerful gatekeeper, is the district IT — Instructional Technology — department. Unless the district IT  department is on board with the technology project, that technology won’t be loaded onto computing devices, won’t be given access to the network, won’t be given classroom support, etc., etc. Plain and simple: IT holds all the cards!

Unfortunately, there is usually significant distrust when a university researcher comes round asking IT to "help" with implementing a project. The IT staff are worried about security; they can see the newspaper headline: "Children’s Passwords Stolen From <Your Child’s> School." And as they are already understaffed and under budgeted, the IT staff are worried about resource demands: How much network bandwidth is that project going to require? How many visits must IT staff make to the classroom to fix recalcitrant devices or update apps or whatever the project will require?

Just as researchers need to build trust with the educational staff, the researchers need to build trust with the IT staff. Yes, this activity takes an investment; building trust doesn’t happen overnight. But, take the IT staff for granted — and doom the project!

Summing Up

Five guidelines — learned through the school of hard knocks. A plea then: University researchers with dreams of changing K–12 in your eyes, please learn from our mistakes, please benefit from our experiences. There truly is wisdom in those five guidelines.

Sigh. alas and alack: We learn by doing — Dewey taught us that too. "Experience is the best teacher; lessons learned from experience are the most lasting." Yes, yes, but as wise Ben Franklin commented: "Experience is the best teacher, but a fool will learn from no other."

Educators, what do you see in the five guidelines? What have been your experiences with university researchers who have come into your school with high hopes and big promises? Please, share your experiences with us! 

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