Over the past year, most of my time has been spent helping fellow teachers and school leaders to “think backwards.” And while it’s tempting to imagine this merely involves reciting the alphabet from Z to A, it’s actually an instructional framework (developed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe) where the goals precede action.
Beginning with student-focused goals allows us to ensure that we strategically prioritize time and resources in our classrooms. Although this way of thinking was initially designed for instructional units, it is also the perfect methodology for planning a new technology initiative.
In essence, this three-step process helps you to remain hyper-focused on student learning as you select devices, formats (carts, BYOD, 1:1, etc.), and apps.
Step 1: Define the goals of your technology initiative using desired outcomes, not tools.
What types of learning do you want to enable via this initiative? Consider the following examples:
- Increase access to cutting-edge texts, news, and primary sources.
- Promote interactive, digital methods of collecting real-time feedback from students.
- Enhance opportunities for students to publish media for authentic audiences.
- Augment anytime, anywhere learning for students.
As you determine your goals, remember to be strategic. Having too many goals is just as counterproductive as having none at all. It’s also important to ensure that all stakeholders, including students, have input into the project goals. Specific, shared goals make the rest of the process much easier.
Step 2: Carefully describe the types of evidence that will exist when the goals are met.
What types of artifacts will be available when the goals have been met? Think in terms of student work samples or student learning opportunities. Try to refrain from identifying specific apps or tools. This will help to ensure that you evaluate all options equally. Consider the following pieces of evidence described by a team that identified “augment anytime, anywhere learning for students” as their primary goal:
- Students will access texts related to coursework and texts related to personal interests at home and at school.
- Students will flexibly enroll in on-site courses, fully online courses, and hybrid courses as part of the high school experience.
- Students will publish their ideas in the form of text or media for large audiences.
These forms of evidence can be easily observed and measured after your initiative begins. For example, you can survey students about their habits accessing authentic text on the device you select. You can also evaluate records of course offerings, student registrations, and course evaluations. Finally, you can measure the number and quality of text and media products published by students in a given year using rubrics. These pieces of evidence serve as clear, pragmatic indicators that your initiative is working.
Step 3: Identify the devices, formats (carts, BYOD, 1:1, etc.), apps, and actions that will generate the evidence required by your goals.
So, what do you actually purchase and how do you deploy it? As you evaluate each potential option, be sure to keep a list of your desired goals and required evidence close at hand. You may not find a single device or software solution that meets every need, but certain choices seem to rise to the top rather quickly. Further, carefully consider every aspect of what will need to happen to achieve success. Will infrastructure need to be updated? (Probably.) Will teachers need access to regular professional development and collaboration? (Most definitely.) With this framework, sketching out a detailed deployment plan becomes the logical conclusion of a well-planned argument.
While these three steps may seem commonsensical, there are plenty of device-driven horror stories out there. (Trust me, I’ve seen them in my former life as a tech director!) Technology integration must be designed to foster specific learning outcomes in a deliberate and thoughtful way. You’ll grow from strong goals, not a device.