Today I learned that we will be losing two really important digital programs at our school. This is a real blow for us as we are trying very hard to supply our teachers and students with excellent digital content to support the use of chromebooks in the classroom – all students from grades 3 to 6 have their own computer and the juniors (4-6) are expected to bring their machines home every night.
There are two important factors that seem to be influencing decisions about access to digital resources. One is the expense, the other is implementation – not enough teachers across the school board are using these costly programs. I would like to focus on implementation.
Implementation of digital content seems to be widely misunderstood. You can’t just drop in a sophisticated digital program without a really good implementation program. Like with everything in education, it comes down to the person. If teachers are ill-equipped to use new programs, they will fall back on traditional teaching methods.
So what can we do? Here are a few ideas.
- Implementation is a long game – to successfully introduce a program, you need a full-year plan of PD and support for your teachers. Some of this training has to be driven by the principal or someone else who is available to put on demonstrations and workshops during the day.
- Webinars are good, but people are better. We have found that while webinars are easier to arrange, teachers prefer to meet with a representative of the company producing the content. When we have been able to arrange this, implementation has gone up dramatically.
- Teachers need in-school time to experiment with the programs. Last year, after the introductory workshops, all teachers were given release time to experiment with the programs. They could choose what program they wanted to experiment with and many times they were able to contact the service provider to get just-in-time solutions to their problems.
- Provide your staff with a good on-line PD resource. We are in the second year of a partnership with Atomic Learning. I consider this a great investment. You cannot ask your teachers to rely on YouTube or Google when they have questions on a variety of digital programs. They need a source for curated material delivered by professionals who are used to working with teachers. Atomic is not the only source for this professional learning, but for us, its works really well.
- People need to understand the importance of curated resources. Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers states that he rarely uses Google as a way to locate material for teachers. This is a really important point. If you want really good content, it has to be curated. Discovery Education, for example, does an excellent job of bringing educational resources together in math, science and social studies. Other tools like unroll.me and Scoop.it are wonderful ways to collect information of interest to you. You choose the content and receive (in the case of Scoop.it) suggestions from your personal learning community. The important point is – curated resources can cost money. You can’t sustain your school just using Google and YouTube. You need to make sure the materials you are using with your students are excellent and have been selected by professionals – you can’t guarantee this with uncurated sites like Google.
Implementation is not easy. It is much harder than simply buying machines for everyone in your school. It is something that requires a great deal of thought and yes, sometimes, financial resources.