The process of technology-enabled change in schools is poorly understood, probably because most of us have only ever caught fleeting glimpses of it.
Chief among the many reasons for this (institutional inertia, accountability risk, lack of tools aimed at supporting the processes of learning, etc) is impatience. Education is not a sector that has the luxury of taking its time – the children in our schools right now don’t get a second chance once we’ve worked out how to do things right.
This is a completely defensible viewpoint with which I have sympathy, but in the case of technology, and 1-to-1 in particular, it is self-defeating. We know, from case studies and inspection reports, that technology deployed in this manner can have a persistent impact on the quality of teaching and the pace of learning in some schools, but also that these schools seem to be the exception rather than the rule. My hypothesis – and my experience – is that these 1-to-1 schools, successful across strikingly differing contexts, share one common characteristic:
They’ve all taken their time.
Wrapped up in this measured mindset is a skeptical, investigative approach that doesn’t assume that this is going to work or that it is necessarily the right thing for the school and its pupils. I like this a lot. It forces the pace from “Headlong rush to implementation because <insert flimsy reasoning here>” to “Let’s work out how to do this well, if it’s worth doing at all”. My view is that it is worth doing, but only if done extraordinarily well, and that requires the patience, precision and persistence of which undue haste robs us .
One school that has created this patient, cautious and discerning culture is the one at which Adam (@cagelessthink) works. I won’t worry about heaping praise on him and creating an ego-monster, as Adam is one of the most modest talented people that I know. This, by the way, is also a valuable attribute for technology leadership – he doesn’t think he has all the answers or that he’s necessarily right and as a result is constantly looking to improve and learn.
This is the timeline that he has developed to try and ensure that the change ‘takes’ at his school:
Year 1 – Plan and Test
At this stage, Adam was given the remit of experimenting with his teaching and with his students’ learning with a class set of devices. This was a period of research and development, seeking answers to the questions ‘Is this useful? What does it make possible? Is this enough to justify the effort?’ (and many others) as well as an opportunity for Adam to become the expert technology-enabled teacher that the next stage required. After a year, he felt he had a good grasp of what was possible and why it was worth extending beyond his classroom.
Year 2 – Staff Training
The second year focused entirely on creating internal capacity and confidence among other staff at the school to make powerful educational use of these tools. Supported by an iTunesU course he had developed, Adam spent roughly 50 hours per term working face to face with groups and individuals to deliver training, coaching, lesson observations – generally to lead the way so that colleagues weren’t faced with the dual hurdles of learning new skills whilst also trying to work out what this meant for their teaching. I want to underline that point again, because it’s very important: some of Adam’s work was about helping people learn how to do things with tablets, much more of it was about helping them think about the why and what.
Year 3 – Partial Rollout
Only after a year of all teachers having a tablet and spending a considerable amount of development time and individual effort in this area did the first child arrive in lessons toting an iPad and an expectation of its use. The school was cognizant of the risk presented by giving every pupil a device on Day 1. Beyond the unhelpful live stress-testing of the technical infrastructure, there was the genuine possibility that a full 1-to-1 would overwhelm the school’s capacity to support teachers in the key initial period. Change like this is fragile and it doesn’t take much to derail it. For these reasons, iPads were deployed to only two year groups. As the year progressed, initiatives such as Digital Leaders were spun up and infrastructural bottlenecks uncovered and addressed – only now was the school ready for full 1-to-1.
Year 4 – Full Rollout
This is the stage that the school has now reached. In September 2015, every pupil will be equipped with an iPad and every teacher will have been using one to support their lessons for the past two years. There will be problems – not everyone’s progress has been equal or smooth, but in general the staff feel not just prepared for but empowered by this technology and islands of expertise have been joined up across departments. Screen mirroring to every classroom’s audio visual system works every time. Saving files between the iPad and the school’s network is automatic. Sufficient Internet bandwidth, and its distribution around the school, has been secured. In short, the school is ready educationally and technically to grasp the opportunity afforded by powerful tools, well deployed.
Year 5 – Embedded
If Year 4 describes full engagement with the opportunities of technology, Year 5 (and beyond) is about exploiting them fully. This stage envisions an educational experience where departments create and curate digital resources targeted with precision at the needs of their pupils, tasks that move learners away from fact retention and repetition towards higher order processes, events which connect students with each other and with the world beyond the school. This too won’t happen evenly or without a great deal of support, but if it is realized, the culture of learning and the children’s educational experience will be enriched in ways not previously possible.
It may be feasible to achieve the same end point in a truncated timescale, context is everything after all. However, the ‘average’ teacher has so many calls on their attention, time and energy that moving much faster than the 5 year model mapped out above would make the change harder to normalize into school culture, with its impact as sustainability the inevitable casualty.