On a recent OnEducation Podcast episode (embedded at the bottom of this post), the hosts Mike and Glen got into a debate about what exactly is the “right” model of support when it comes to technology integration in schools? As they called out my name in particular, I felt it best to write this post in response.
Make no bones about it…Technology is a gift with a tail. It’s predicted that schools will spend $19 Billion dollars on technology in schools. This can range from a variety of devices, apps, software and various “STEM” tools but not necessarily servers, wires, and all that stuff in the closet. Despite this large amount of money invested in technology, the amount of money to support and integrate these tools dwarfs the amount spent on the hardware and software. I’d also wager that a majority of that “support” money is primarily for personnel needed to repair and keep the technology running, not to integrate it into learning.
I’ve been integrating technology in some form or fashion during my entire 20 years in education. A few years ago I wrote this post about how funding support in both I.T. and instruction can affect the level of integration. From that research as well as my work with districts around the country, I’ve seen a wide variety of models when it comes to support. With most models, the two largest determining factors are budget and vision. What follows are the various models I’ve seen employed by districts around the country. Each model is followed by a letter grade that is completely subjective, because, hey, this is for education right?
The “Tech Support Only” Model
In this model, staff and funding for support go solely towards keeping everything up and running. That means at a bare minimum, the technology will work. Will it be integrated thoughtfully? That depends largely on the teacher and the goals and expectation of the principal. I would say a majority of districts and schools across the country use this model.
While it’s great that the technology can turn on and off, there’s really no way to know if it’s making a difference educationally without some intense expectations, strategies and vision from leadership.
The “Pay and Pray” Model
No tech support. No Instructional support. Just spend the money on devices and see what happens. Whenever you read research about how technology in schools doesn’t really help, it largely comes from schools that employ either the previous model or this one. Often times you’ll hear phrases like “well, some tech is better than no tech” but in terms of this model, you could almost make the case that this could be worse for students (not to mention the tax payers funding the bill).
No support at all is not an advisable model.
The “Vanguard Teacher” Stipend Model
When I started as a classroom teacher, this was the widely used model I saw for technology integration. The way it works is you have I.T. staff to make sure the technology is running and you add some stipend or an extra amount to a group of teachers or a single “rock star” teacher to help with the integration on campus.
While the district saves money by not paying for a full-time staff member to support integration, this model puts a lot of pressure on the Vanguard Teacher to not only do their full-time teaching duties, but also support staff on a variety of issues. As someone who lived this role for several years, eventually the vanguard teacher also gets roped into helping with printer issues, projector issues, and everything in between.
The Ed Tech Consultant Model
This model seems to be on the rise as many districts that can’t support a full-time staff member. Having a consultant who’s an expert in technology integration can help build vision, support the Vanguard Teachers and converse with IT staff can be a huge benefit at a fraction of the cost of a full-time administrator.
This model works best when school and district leadership are on board and match the vision for technology integration with campus-wide expectations. Also, having those Vanguard Teachers or to work with gives insight and boots on the ground so to speak. As someone who consults with schools and districts from time-to-time, I’ve seen first-hand the benefits of this model when done right.
The Full-Time Coordinator/Director Model
While far from ubiquitous, many districts districts land on this model of support by hiring a full-time administrator to help guide the integration of technology in schools. On top of helping with the vision and expectations, this person (also the role I’m currently in) works with all teachers, the community, leadership, and IT to makes sure all stakeholders are on the same page. While it does cost a district a little more, having a full time person coordinating the integration of technology came make a huge difference in learning and usage, especially when compared with the “Tech support only” models.
Grade = A-
The only reason this wouldn’t grade out higher depends on two factors – the amount of campuses to support and how they work with the I.T. Department. If an Instructional Technology Director has too many campuses to support, their impact is minimized as they can really only take a shotgun approach to integration. If they have an over-bearing or controlling IT department, it limits the amount of progress they can accomplish.
The 1:1 Coaching Model
This model involves putting a highly qualified, instructionally-focused staff member on each campus to support the integration of technology. Some schools have used current staff (instructional coaches or library media specialists) to sort of “hack” this model as it does cost the most money of all the models listed above. Others may not be able to have a person on each campus but have a centralized team. Both of those methods are helpful with integration and would grade out highly. However, having a dedicated ITS or EdTech on each campus to coach, co-teach, and lead innovation with technology on campuses can be EXTREMELY powerful. When coupled with well-communicated expectations from campus leadership and vision from the district, I’ve yet to ever see a more beneficial model of integrating technology into the classroom.
Grade = A+
Note: I may be a little biased as this is the model my district currently employs. That said, as someone who has been in the “Director” role for the past 8 years, I can tell you maintaining the A+ Coaching model isn’t necessarily easy. Whenever budget cuts come, as they often do in public education, it’s often the first position to come under the knife which can cause disruption and uncertainness to those in the position. Also, it’s important to coordinate these positions across the district to guarantee some level of fidelity or else risk the role being used differently from campus to campus.
You can get various levels of technology integration depending on the vision, goals and budget of a district. I’ve lived through 3 different iterations of our “Ed Tech” position in my tenure and am now going through another “evolution” of sorts. As we’ve had a high level of support for years, we are evolving the position from someone who supports the integration of technology to someone who supports high quality teaching and learning with technology as an embedded part of that.
While it seems subtle, it does change the ideology around support. Removing the word “technology” or “digital learning” from a title implies that this person supports all learning, which is a good thing. That also implies that they don’t exist solely to repair printer issues or help a principal make a newsletter.
Regardless of roles, position titles, and support, without a well-communicated vision and expectation, technology usage will continue to be only substitutive in nature with the exception of a few outliers. If you have a moment, give the OnEducation Podcast below a listen. They start to get into the debate around the coaching and support models right around the 27 minute mark. Drop a comment below too if you have feedback on the models I’ve shared or maybe some I’ve left off.
You spend a lot of money to attend a conference for professional learning. You get flights lined up, hotel, transportation, etc. Then you go to the event. You spend the first hour trying to find the registration desk. You wait in line for a half-hour to get your badge. Then you plop down on the floor and start looking over the schedule guide to see what sessions you’ll attend.
There’s so many choices, it’s almost overwhelming. It’s like walking into Costco without a shopping list. You go in wanting one thing, and you come out owning a 3-lb lobster claw that you didn’t know you needed. Once you do decide on a session, you stand in line for 15 minutes hoping to get in. Others are over capacity and you can’t get in, which causes you to speed walk 1.2 miles down the convention hall only to walk in late to a session and find the dreaded seat in the very middle of everyone.
After several hours of this, you are ready for an early happy hour. You see people laughing and having fun, but you’re not sure what they are laughing about and if they are in fact having fun. At about 2pm, you find a local watering hole with fellow attendees trying to hide their badge of shame around their necks as you are all clearly failures.
Or are you?
I would argue that you are not the failure, but instead that the conference event failed you. In its desire to pack the house with thousands of people, the large conference has lost focus on what’s most important: the attendee experience. Sure there are amazing speakers from all over and great content, but the UX (user experience) is severely lacking. Why go stand in line for a movie you might not want to watch?
On day 2, you wake up with a headache both from the early happy hour and the brain fog that comes from being overwhelmed. You go to the keynote, hoping for some inspiration. However, you are now “cattled” in and out of a 5000-seat arena where you end up skipping sitting down because you forgot to charge your laptop. So, you find a spot on the floor next to one of the 4 plugs in the 30,000 sq. ft. room. The keynote speaker is good (they usually are, to be fair) but now what? Do you engage in conversation with someone? Do you rush out the door before the closing remarks in the hopes of not being a part of the herd?
All of these above scenarios have been part of my experiences attending large conferences in the past. I feel like I spend much of my time being shepherded around or looking for the next session, but rarely walk away with my money’s worth in terms of knowledge and experiences. In fact, the best learning usually happens in conversations and dialogues with colleagues or things posted on the conference hashtag.
With all this in mind, in 2012, we created an event called iPadpalooza. We didn’t want to call it an “iConference” because we really wanted it to be something quite different. We wanted it to be a learning festival. A place to experience something different as an attendee. A place where the things that matter the most, the interactions, discussions, and collaboration are the focal point of the event.
Flash forward to present day.
Taking all past experiences, both good and bad, when it comes to professional learning, we are attempting something, well…different. The event formerly known as iPadpalooza is now LearnFestATX (after all, it’s about the learning, not a device). Last year, rather than just changing the name and moving on, we decided to beta test some new concepts in professional learning with a much smaller audience. Following that beta test, we discovered what worked and what didn’t. Taking just the parts that worked and adding in some of our own magic, we have created what we feel will be an event from the future, for the future.
Our motto this year is “Ready Learner One” along with a retro video game theme (sometimes the past can best prepare us for the future, right?). Many of the things we are trying are still top-secret, but here’s just a few highlights of things you could experience as an attendee this summer:
Three Different Perspectives to Learning:
As someone attending, you’ll experience learning in three different ways. The first way is the most traditional in terms of learning as part of a large group (during opening and closing events) or a medium-sized group (during interactive and make-n-take sessions). The second way is learning as part of a collaborative team either with our Teacher Shark Tank or the APPmazing Race. The third way is learning as an individual by reflecting in our Mindfulness Lounge, participating in our digital petting zoo, lunchtime interactions, or attempting to win our massive easter egg hunt (details revealed at event).
While the traditional conference puts featured speakers in certain rooms and only for certain times, we want our featured speakers to be much more part of the event. They should be learners too. As an attendee, you should have multiple opportunities to interact with them as well. Sure, there will be some scheduled sessions, but now with our new Mindfulness Lounge and Expert’s Lounge, you’ll have opportunities to sit, relax and reflect with some of the top educational experts around. Our featured speakers will also be playing multiple roles in some of the experiences that are taking place, from Impractical EdTechsters to the Ed Tech Family Feud to a Poetry Slam, you’ll see these folks in roles that stretch their thinking and yours.
A Different Kind of Keynote:
I can’t give away too much here, but for those that attended our beta-test last year with the “Silent Disco” presentation style, we’ll be doing that on a much larger scale during our opening session on June 12. Also, we’ll be bringing back our “What’s HOT in Ed Tech” challenge for the closing ceremonies. Let’s just say it involves some new ways to “spice” up a talk to a large crowd. We’re also super-pumped to have Manoush Zomorodi as our day 2 Keynote speaker. These large groups events will have tons of audience engagement as well as boat-loads of door prizes.
Dive Deeper Before the Madness:
While the main LearnFestATX runs on June 12th & 13th, we will also be having our 3-hour deep dive PreFest LearnShops on June 11th. No more fighting for a spot or a seat. Just buy your ticket, select your sessions, and you are guaranteed a seat.
In summary, I’ve always been of the belief that learning is an active sport. Sometimes that’s a team sport, sometimes it’s an individual sport. But the bottom line is, you get out of it what you put into it. This is true of either a traditional conference or our event. The biggest difference is, at our event, you don’t have to try to seek out those learning opportunities. At our event, they seek you out.
I hope that you’ll join us this summer at LearnFestATX. We do believe that learning as a team can be powerful too, so we offer great group discounts if you want to come hang out with colleagues or meet new ones. With our event, you have the ultimate level of voice & choice. Something we want our students to have as well, so why not model it in a professional learning environment?
Come see what all the fuss is about this summer in Austin:
Hint for those of you that read all the way to the bottom of this page. Try and reach out to a featured speaker to get a 20% off discount!
Editor’s note: LearnFestATX was recently listed as one of EdSurge’s top Ed Tech events to attend in 2019!