Patrick Larkin: Instructional Technology Top 6
Patrick Larkin (@PatrickMLarkin on Twitter) has been a classroom educator, building principal, district leader, and always an outspoken advocate for students, teachers, instructional technology, and education change. Today, Larkin is the Assistant Superintendent for Learning in Burlington Public Schools, Burlington, Massachusetts, and blogs regularly at www.patrickmlarkin.com. Burlington is a 1:1 school district, where every student in the district has an iPad. Patrick relies on his soft-spoken common sense messages to move the education and education technology meter forward.
Patrick Larkin learns each day, and often by walking into classes observing his teachers and students in action. When you talk with Larkin, you feel comfortable in the knowledge that using technology, in his district, offers educators the ability to do more with things they already do well. Patrick Larkin is also a noted presenter, who has traveled throughout the United States, as well as the United Kingdom sharing his thoughts at schools, districts, and conferences. We are so pleased to present our interview with Patrick Larkin as a sample of his common sense leadership wisdom.
Patrick Larkin’s Instructional Technology Top 6: In his own words.
The number one problem with trying to integrate technology is the need for a mindset change. We really can’t do things the way we’ve always done them, and just adding technology to the mix isn’t the silver bullet either. Really what we’re looking for with technology resources is differentiating the way students access material. We’re also looking for ways students can learn in more self-paced ways. You can’t really look at it as just throwing the technology in, and because you’ve done that, things will change for the better. We need to change the way we instruct all students completely, wherever they are on the learning continuum.
The next problem began a few years ago with 1:1, and iPad initiatives. Districts would throw large sums of money at technology without enough funding towards training and professional development. I’ve cautioned district leaders to make sure that funding is there—in their starting budgets. I’d even encourage a cut back on the amount of devices being purchased to ensure a larger portion goes to professional development.
In many cases educators, who don’t have all the technology and resources in their classrooms are chomping at the bits, when they discover, through professional development, how these new tools can be used. Success is when you hear educators ask, “When are we going to get this or that?” in reference to a particular new device, or solution, they’ve heard about, or seen, during a workshop, or presentation. That certainly beats hearing, “No one asked me if I wanted this or that.” Unfortunately, we tend to hear that question from educators, who have gotten the technology, or solutions, but have no clue how to use what they’ve gotten. Professional development plays a huge, and necessary part in the successful instructional technology program.
We need to do a better job of informing our stakeholders, upfront, especially parents, because a lot of this is so foreign to them. Just as we do with our educators, we need to show parents our vision. Just saying all of our students will have iPads, or whatever solution, isn’t enough. We need to bring parents in, and show them how devices and solutions are going to be used in the classroom. We need to let parents use the devices, and try the solutions, and have them become comfortable with them, too. Addressing any disconnect between parents and technology is a good thing. Parents may be concerned about things we hadn’t thought, like worry that these tools are just more screen time for their kids. We need to share that for us it is more about the quality of the exercise and student participation—with or without a device. It is about the quality of the lessons, and the depth of learning teachers and students can achieve.
I think that we need to be careful not to be too platform specific. If possible, it is better to remain flexible, and use as many resources as possible, whether it’s an iPad, or a Chromebook, we want our students to be able to access their resources, and work no matter the device in front of them. As an iPad district, we have strived not to become app dependent, either, so we make sure to use open resources that are accessible across devices. That may sound like a contradiction, but from day 1, when we said iPads would be our district device, we had our eyes wide open. Our thinking was that five years down the road it might not be the iPad. We also thought, depending on wherever our students went, we wanted them to be able to do their work on any device. We are big on students accessing open resources on phones, iPads, Chromebooks, or a home computer. Our students can use many devices to do their work, and access the right resources necessary to do that work.
Tech Tools and Resources Mandates
For us, at Burlington, we’ve tried not to have our entire staff dive into any, one, particular tool. We don’t mandate compliance for all of the teaching and learning resources. We do encourage the use of Google Apps. Most of our teachers use polling tools, and Google forms to get quick responses and feedback from students. Teachers are using and testing a variety of things for formative assessments during classes. We learn more by trying different things. Teachers use a variety of tools to get feedback—and then there are times when hands raised, or thumbs up—half way—or thumbs down—is enough to see if students are still on track. We’re tying to be flexible, mix it up, and not do the same thing every day. The nice thing about technology is that it broadens your toolbox, so we’re trying to take advantage of that.
Feedback for Learning
People think that classroom management has changed a lot because of technology, and it has certainly opened the door for a few more issues we didn’t see before. Aside from that, whether it’s personally texted, or verbal responses, with technology, it is still all about the expectations. Educators can control that, and we can expect to see that feedback in the classroom, and as part of each lesson. Students need to know it is an expectation, and they can rely on it happening every class and each day.
Feedback can’t be optional for teachers or students. They need to know the expectations going in, and that there will be feedback in both directions, too. You can call that part of good classroom management, if you want to, but it’s good teaching to be clear on expectations. You can rely on consistent feedback as being part of good classroom practices. That hasn’t changed much, we were doing “turn and talks” with kids before technology. Engaging students with technology is a little different—we just have to be a bit clearer about the expectations of responses for feedback, when we use technology in the classroom.
About the Interviewer:
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 a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.