Why Your School Should Stick to Core Principles Instead of Market Trends
By Steve Halliwell and Cheryl Miller
What’s hot in education technology? A better question might be, what’s hot in EdTech this year?
It’s no surprise that the sector is growing – and quickly. In 2017, EdTech industry investments rose to a record-breaking $9.5 billion. Just the first half of this year alone, the United States neared one billion in EdTech funding. And this means that more classroom solutions are entering the market than ever before.
Without a doubt, this ever-changing environment can be difficult for school administrators, principals, IT staff and teachers to navigate. What’s the balance between investing in the latest trend and following your school’s charter, vision – your North Star? Will investing in flashy new education technology better prepare your students for success in higher education and their future careers?
The truth is, it can be a hard balance to strike. But as new trends crop up year after year, the most important place for educators to start is with the principles that define your district’s or school’s vision. Rather than attempting to outpace neighboring school districts by purchasing new technology, it’s crucial to focus more on what new solutions can do to support teaching and learning.
Trends aren’t the enemy, but they certainly shouldn’t be your only guiding light. In this piece, we’ll explore a few ways to help you adhere to your guiding tenets and best practices by sticking to them.
Stay true to your vision
With every annual conference touting “this new trend” and “that must-have gadget,” educators, administrators and EdTech vendors alike leave with their minds set on that unforgettable solution of the future. For educators and administrators, thoughts likely go straight to – how can we afford this? And if we can afford it, is it worth the investment? Is this something that will serve the teachers’ needs in core instructional time? Will this truly enable a better learning environment for our students? Will this disrupt teaching practices, lesson delivery and achievement results?
That talk track may lead you down the path of forgetting core principles of your district just to embrace the trend. However, there’s another avenue here. What if instead you asked yourself, what is my rationale for investing in this technology? What are we really trying to do? Of all the new EdTech toys introduced on the market each year, does this one align with our key tenets?
When you focus on your school district’s goals – and not the inherent need to immediately fold the new trend into the classroom – you will likely end up arriving at a solution that not only maximizes your budget, but also aligns with your vision and strategy.
For example, say robots and drones will be the hot-ticket item of the year (according to a recent study – they will be). Does it make sense for you to purchase robots and drones for your school when you already have interactive displays in your classrooms and laptops for each student? If your pockets are deep – and most districts’ aren’t – then perhaps. But if your district doesn’t have funds burning a hole in its pocket, maybe instead you can provide access to an app for teachers to connect with STEM and robotics initiatives in the classroom. It’s straightforward and in-line with what your school already has, yet shows you have a pulse on “what’s hot” in education technology.
In sum, just because the latest trends generate interest, shop talk and press, doesn’t mean you should invest in them. Doing so could lead you away from your school’s guiding tenets and distract from your objectives. The reality is that teachers who have been in K-12 for a long time usually have their core methods of teaching, which they do very well. Or they might be fresh out of college and using all kinds of tech in the classroom. Bottom line – new tech won’t necessarily create better educators or a better learning environment. So, if it doesn’t immediately make sense at the ground level, don’t try to take the trend elevator all the way to the top.
Consider whether timing is right
We’ve touched on “what” and “why,” but “when” is just as crucial in EdTech adoption. You might be interested in a fantastic, innovative tech solution, but if the classroom isn’t ready, it just isn’t ready. Technologies and inventions that arrive before their time oftentimes fail.
Let’s step away from EdTech for a moment and consider the success of Uber and Lyft. It could be argued that both ridesharing app companies are popular not only because of the technology that drives them, but because they were launched at the right time. Without mobile phones, a gig economy and increasing concerns over automobile carbon emissions on the climate, ridesharing would have likely flopped. You can have great ideas, turn them into products and then deliver them to a market that’s not ready.
So, back to EdTech: You might remember the iPad debacle a few years back? What initially looked like one of the country’s most ambitious rollouts of technology in the classroom ended up in a lawsuit, resignation, and a few tarnished reputations. The cornerstone of the effort was to put a tablet computer equipped with a digital curriculum in the hands of every student. However, the rollout turned out to be plagued with an incomplete curriculum and technical issues which made it unfeasible for teachers to teach. And further at the district level, Internet connectivity was spotty at some schools and teachers were poorly trained on how to use the iPads and curriculum, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Education. This district unfortunately wasn’t ready, both instructionally and infrastructurally, for what in theory could’ve been a great step forward. Timing is as important as anything else in implementation.
In K-12, every year looks different because you’re trying to meet students’ needs in a different way. You’re coping with new budgets, new students, new mandates from the district and in some cases the teacher’s union – and trying to cobble all that together and make it work. Does it make sense to implement new technology, too? Many teachers are already trying to simply leverage core things that have always been done in new ways. So, if a technology or solution is right on trend but unapproachable to the average educator – then the timing isn’t right. And perhaps it’s time to just move on.
This leads us to Step 3 in your journey of sticking to your school’s tenets.
Consider what it will take to affect change
Before diving headfirst into any new EdTech solution, think through what barriers exist to technology adoption in the classroom and what steps your school can take to get ahead of them.
In K-12, there are institutionalized obstacles a-plenty, often taking the form of lack of funding, collective bargaining, state-level regulation, overcrowding in the classroom and more. With every new venture, ask yourself, what blockers will we continue to face? How can we eliminate or surmount them, so a new solution is easily incorporated and immediately valuable to the classroom?
A critical evaluation of everything that may stand in the way will help you come up with a solution around it. If, for instance, you’re interested in investing in an app for the classroom, ensure the vendor provides hands-on training, lesson plan templates or tailored suggestions on best ways to use it to your classroom’s specific needs. If your students are differently abled, need a boost in STEM or are focused on ESL, that should be a deciding factor in how your approach classroom tech. And when you do find the right solution that goes beyond a flash-in-the-pan, always ask for training and consultancy so users feel comfortable with it, particularly in front of a class full of digital natives.
This year, 48 percent of teachers reported that EdTech was available to them but they lacked the professional development to properly incorporate the solutions. If this sounds like you or your district, it’s likely time to invest in your current technology and clearly define how different solutions should be utilized in the classroom. Not only will educators be more comfortable incorporating solutions into their lessons, but it will show you what technologies are feasible to adopt in years to come.
Don’t forget the basics
Cutting-edge technology can indeed make anyone’s pulse quicken. But while chasing the shiny new trends might be tempting, don’t let them distract your school from sticking to its values, vision – its North Star.
Stay curious and research new EdTech gadgets so you know what’s available, affordable and possibly doable. But above all else, abide by your core goals, consider whether timing is right and focus on removing obstacles that already stand in the way. And when you do decide to work with an EdTech company, be sure to seek out a partner that aligns with your vision and goals. When it comes down to it, it’s better to leave tomorrow’s hottest tech trend on the trade show floor than collecting dust in your backroom.
About the Authors
Steve Halliwell is Chief Product Officer, Executive Vice President at Promethean. Prior to joining Promethean, Steve most recently held Executive Leadership roles at Amazon Web Services (AWS) since 2011. Steve started the Education and the Healthcare/Life Sciences verticals in addition to running the West Area commercial business. Prior to Amazon, Steve held progressive sales leadership roles in the technology sector with both Hewlett Packard and Microsoft.
Cheryl Miller is Chief Marketing Officer at Promethean. Cheryl has over 20 years in the tech industry and joined Promethean from Microsoft where she was the GM of the One Commercial Partner Team, leading the worldwide go-to-market efforts. Prior to Microsoft, Cheryl was VP of Marketing at F5 Networks and also spent 11 years at Symantec in various product teams including four years leading the Huawei Symantec Joint Venture program office and investment.
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum