In the first part of this series, the use of technology in the classroom was broken down. We know that technology can be used for many different reasons, but we primarily discussed using it to access online curriculum programs and allow students to demonstrate critical thinking through integrated projects.
One of the underlying issues that was not touched on is the discussion of the investment that is made with technology. Schools spend large amounts on money on wireless infrastructure, 1:1 devices, and online curriculum options. These investments should result in better outcomes for students.
My experience is that most, but not all, taxpayers and patrons understand the reason for this investment. If asked why this investment is important, I think the most common response would be to help create future-ready students with critical thinking skills—not to take the place of a teacher. Some of those technology tools that teach skills and standards are very good and meet a need of differentiation that is very hard to meet in the classroom, but if parents and patrons want to see this investment prepare our students for the future, how do we measure the success and impact of investing in this way?
Classroom Tech ROI
These large investments in both time and money should pay off in some way, shape, or form. Student achievement is always part of the answer to questions like this. We of course need students to have basic skills and understanding of the standards. Surface-level knowledge must come first before we can deepen understanding and move to higher-level learning. But in addition to student achievement, how can we see that students are learning at a deeper and more rigorous level?
There are a few ways that this could be done. One way is to monitor the higher level of engagement through observations. Many schools use a tool to record this that keeps track of both technology use and the cognitive level of the lesson. Another option to do this could be for teachers to monitor and record this information on their own. At the very least, this brings it to the attention of the teacher as they are planning and then reflecting on how the lesson went. There could be a few much longer view options to show impact, too. Students having success in college or receiving certifications in specialized fields are two ways to see that we have succeeded in students having the skills they need to move beyond our school walls.
School leaders would need to translate this for it to make sense to those asking questions about technology and its impact. The student achievement data points are much clearer, but those don’t always tell the whole story.
Teacher Learning Is the Key
We must also ask ourselves about monitoring these outcomes as a school. What if the data isn’t showing what we want? Does that mean we sell all the computers and move back to paper and pencil?
Of course not. The key for moving this all forward would be teacher learning. Teachers must understand our goal of deeper learning, critical thinking, and problem solving. After this, they need help in making this happen. This could be training on specific tech tools, but it could also be training on how to make the transition to surface-level tech use to achieve deeper, more meaningful learning.
If you are in need of a model for how this could look, check out this Boxlight webinar from 2018. It tells the story of an influx of technology tools and adaptive furniture in a school where the district didn’t stop with just giving teachers tools that will engage kids and deepen learning—they did intensive and targeted training on how to adjust instruction through the use of the tools. Traditional professional development coupled with in-class coaching and reflective practice created an environment that all schools are striving for when it comes to technology integration.
These questions and considerations should be asked before tech purchases take place. For a broader discussion about how to make good decisions when it comes to purchasing technology, check out this How to Launch Tech Successfully guide, which has many ideas that I had not considered. When a school knows how to measure impact and then provides clarity on how to do that, technology purchases will be viewed as well worth the investment.