We Can Get It Right!

CEO, One-to-One Institute

Numerous colleagues, organizations and the One-to-One Institute are researching the return on investment of education technology. I realize this blog preaches to the choir and that there are volumes of information out there on this topic. However, I am amazed at what little quantitative data exists from a myriad of education systems that are leaders and early adopters of technologies.

It’s clear that we move at the speed of sound with this work because of our community’s demands and the required response to this urgency in schools. This is surpassed by the pace at which technology and information race across our landscape. It is true that we can do only our best with the time we have to digitally transform schools. We must insist on high quality professional learning and find ways to acquire, refresh, maintain and sustain education technology. Personnel and time are limited. 

We can be more nimble about how we study the planning, design, development and efficacy of implementations—which means using systems that ‘work’ (i.e. the Project RED Model©) and understanding the financial and student achievement sides of return on investment. We educators “get” the value-side of education technology. We are intimate with the 21st century skills and knowledge necessary for real-world success and student growth. Business, industry, parents and caregivers are convinced of the efficacy of education technology-rich ecosystems.

As an executive director of secondary education in a large suburban district, I could have done benchmarking with middle-school teachers, students and parents when we implemented our one-to-one program. Our solid formative assessment program could have provided evidence of our students’ achievement. Ongoing surveys could have told us students’, parents’/caregivers’ and teachers’ perspectives on topics relevant to the one-to-one progress.

The one-to-one classrooms could have become our action-research spots with their same grade counterparts as control groups. Granted, we weren’t scientists, but we could have formulated a simple mathematical formula to compare and contrast along key factor measures such as: student attendance, discipline referrals, assessments, research and problem-solving abilities, etc. I would have that informal information at my fingertips today.

There are several disconnects regarding that district project. If systems had been intact (if we knew then what we know now), it would have made a profound difference in the success and sustainability of the initiative. First, a superintendent drove the one-to-one proof of concept. He understood and believed in the need to engage education technology. The leader put in play ‘”challenge” grants for teachers and schools that showed solid plans for instituting high-quality technology programs. Many across the district took advantage. 

However, the leader’s cabinet was not fully on board. There weren’t many shared conversations.  The leadership team didn’t understand enough to support, in concept, the one-to-one initiative. Most of these school administrators didn’t research the program and they were not provided ongoing communications regarding “why” this would be an important event in the district’s life.  McREL’s leadership research tells us how this was a major caveat (McREL 2007).

Next, the district’s head of finance would attend meetings held by the curriculum and operations teams. But, as a group, they never engaged in a shared visioning experience where the silos could put their voices and concerns on the floor and begin to understand one another’s perspectives. This, ultimately, would be a key reason for the project abandonment.

This superintendent was way ahead of the curve considering the norms at the time regarding education technology. This was not a wealthy district but one whose leadership was very interested in how to best serve the school community. Unfortunately, communicating and honoring relationships with administrators outside his “kitchen” cabinet weren’t qualities of this leader.

The superintendent’s successor was a person who did level best to “undo” the former superintendent’s initiatives…the one-to-one initiative being an example. The point here is that if we had the informal or formal data to “prove” the need and efficacy of the project, we would not have likely witnessed its demise.

Over the past seven years I have connected with many educators, technology staff, CIOs, CTOs, superintendents, virtual school executives, researchers and other ed-tech experts and practitioners. There is a much richer body of research around education technologies and one-to-one programs.  Project RED (2010), of which I am a co-author, is one such resource.

We now have data to show how implementation of meaningfully integrated technology has facilitated learner growth, and allowed for cost avoidance, reallocation, savings and other funding measures. We can do more to ensure everyone in the education space understands this data. This can be most expeditiously accomplished if district key leaders ensured that their teams had the knowledge and “visions” around it.

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