Remember when we thought a Palm in every hand was the education answer?

Flipping EdTech Professional Development

Remember when we thought a Palm in every hand was the education answer?

Remember when we thought a Palm in every hand was the education answer?

Getting education technology right has always been difficult, and even more so today—with technology changing so rapidly. There seem to be more possibilities—desktops, laptops, Chromebooks, tablets, and other handhelds vying for education technology dollars. You don’t have to think back too far to find good ideas that just didn’t pan out as perfectly as we thought they might. What ever happened to school projects that involved Palm Pilots… and even more recently, those involving netbooks? Today, it’s a bit scary to know that in many districts the technology prospects are being narrowed down to a choice between tablets or Chromebooks, with very little to go on other than, “We like them.” or “That other district is using them, so we should, too.” How can education technology mistakes be avoided?

There are a few problems that need to be addressed, and possibly a flipping of common practices is necessary, too. First of all, many school-based technology decisions are being made by groups of educators and parents, who bring with them their own preferences for tech tools—usually from the home consumer, or work-side usage. Add to that educators who have limited knowledge of what they really can do technologically. Furthermore, it’s a time when technology budgets compete with everything, from larger class sizes to hiring teachers, to added school security efforts. It’s easy to choose the wrong school technology, and get that wrong tech for a great price. In many instances, choosing just one type of solution, or technology is a mistake, too. That hasn’t stopped more districts from investing a lot of money and time in what they believe to be complete programs using one device or solution. That’s when most begin to talk about professional development, and maybe that’s what needs to change. Flipping when professional development begins won’t provide a crystal ball, but could help prevent a technological error in education judgment.

Technology education professional development that takes place after purchasing a solution, or in the worst case, in order to save a program—afterwards—is too late. The traditional timeline of buying the education technology and then doing the professional development works, but a preliminary professional development model for planning and choosing the best solutions makes additional sense. It’s just a little flip, but necessary for success. What if a district bought into professional development before any major technology purchases? Invite the stakeholders for those preliminary professional development sessions—include administrators, teachers, parents, and especially students. Learning what a device or solution can do by seeing it in action and sharing what can actually happen in classrooms—from professionals who know how to use technology with students—is important.

These sessions are not sales pitches, but instead, true professional development events with activities, where even if the solution isn’t chosen, the audience walks away with more education technology knowledge. While these flipped professional development workshops could be free, it would be very appropriate to charge a fee for them. In the long run, these preliminary gatherings could save a district a small fortune, and a trip down the wrong technology path. These sorts of experiences are memorable, too, so when a district is looking for more professional development, solutions, or devices, they’ll most likely revisit where they received their initial, trusted advice.

Ken Royal

Ken Royal is an educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience, as well as a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is an Education storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.
One Comment
  • Tim Sheehan
    28 October 2013 at 3:57 pm -

    Having been a teacher and then sold education technology to K-12 districts, I totally agree that preliminary professional development is key to using dollars wisely. For stakeholders in education who have little experience using the various tools of the “21st century classroom”, be they teachers, administrators, or parents, I think the main problem is that people still think that technology will somehow do the learning for the kids. I remember being with a bunch of parents at a school meeting about 15 years ago and a number of parents made comments about how important it was to have computers in the school as if the computers would do the teaching AND the learning all by themselves. My comment was, “The kids still have to learn how to read and to write and to do computation. Computers will not do that for them. They are just fancy typewriters.”

    The growth of the Internet has changed that. Students now have an incredible amount of info available to them and it is easier to access, but they still have to search for it effectively and then read it and synthesize it. Technology will not do that for them. What it can do is enable students to more easily do for themselves. They can collaborate more easily and teachers can communicate more effectively with students through social media like Facebook and Twitter for example. With Student Response systems, teachers can know in real time what their students know and eliminate the wasted time due to an inaccurate read of student understanding during a lesson. This real-time data is immediately actionable. It puts a fine point on a teacher’s pedagogy because they can move forward in a lesson or re-teach based on real information– not guesses. Document cameras allow teachers to easily display non-digitized artifacts, books, and record activities like chemical reactions and biology dissections and then use them later as teaching tools. What these kinds of technologies have in common is they improve communication between teacher and students and allow teacher’s lessons to have more impact. After class, on-line resources like Khan Academy allow students to watch and re-watch explanations until they really get it. Students can become autodidacts– which should be the overall goal of education, anyway.

    If a technology is not improving communication between teacher and student and not empowering students to teach themselves, it is an expensive piece of plastic and metal that clutters up the classroom. The reality today is that too often administrators have been out of the classroom for so long they have no hands-on experience with how some of these new tools can improve pedagogy. They take baby steps because they are afraid of making mistakes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and then only buy a few units at a time. They may well invest in professional development but since all teachers will not have constant access to these new tools they quickly lose interest and whatever user knowledge they gained in the PD. As a result, electronic white boards are used for little more than projection screens, document cameras are only used as updated overhead projectors and Student Response Systems sit unused in a closet.

    Technology dollars will be mostly wasted if not enough money has been invested in professional development at the outset and then also budgeted for subsequent years. Ongoing PD must be looked at as part of the technology purchase price and maintenance cost and not exist only as an afterthought. Knowing how to use a tool properly is essential if you are to be productive with it in your work– be it a carpenter’s level, a stethoscope, or an electronic whiteboard.