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Technology without Supports: Like Cotton Candy for Breakfast

Note: This is a guest post by Monica Beglau, Ed.D., Executive Director, and Lorie Kaplan, Ph.D. , eMINTS Program Director for the eMINTS National Center at the University of Missouri.

Does this sound familiar? "Our school just purchased the latest mobile technology tablets for all of the students in our elementary school. Does anyone know where we could get some training about how to use them and what apps we should buy?" We've heard variations on this theme across our state and nationally for several years. Too often, as others have noted, the allure of the device outweighs practical planning for the implementation. Appropriate high-quality professional development and ongoing support for teachers is essential to success. Just as having sweet fluffy cotton candy for breakfast hardly fits the bill for a nutritious breakfast, short-term "summer boot camps" or a few hours of professional development after school leave educators hungry for more and without the necessary "nutrients" for effective instructional practices.

When we help schools and districts successfully implement technology initiatives, we turn to the evidence that has guided our work since 1999:

Leadership - leadership at all levels is essential and the principal is one of the most important variables in large-scale technology implementations.

  • A clear vision and goals connect the technology implementation to identified instructional priorities agreed upon by all stakeholders.
  • Ongoing professional development support provides principals with the knowledge and skills needed to achieve teacher buy-in and to understand best practices that support technology-transformed learning.
Technology support and infrastructure - beyond the computing devices themselves, it takes a high level of teamwork to ensure that classrooms are supported so that any barriers to using the devices are minimized.  

  • A plan is in place to provide technology staff with the resources needed to support the devices, the network, and the maintenance issues that impact implementations.
Professional development - teachers and administrators have access to professional learning opportunities that incorporate evidence-based elements:

  • Active learning - participants must be engaged in interactive learning, not just listening to a lecture or presentation.
  • Coherence - participants must see an explicit connection between the professional development and their classroom practice or leadership.
  • Duration and intensity - if professional development contact time is less than 49 hours, it will produce little effect on student achievement.
  • Personalization - professional development must take into account the varied learning styles and preferences of educators.
  • Coaching - in-classroom or on-site coaching and mentoring is required to help educators "translate" what they learn in professional development sessions to their own classrooms or schools.
Creating programs that effectively address all of these aspects is very challenging. Few programs are able to encompass all of the evidence-based variables in meaningful ways. Project RED findings clearly articulate that the transformations in learning made possible by technology are highly dependent on a set of Key Implementation Factors (KIFs) . In our experience, it is not possible for schools or districts to implement the KIFs without professional development that is built on the evidence-based practices outlined above. The precious time needed to provide our educators with the "nutrition" they need to help our students' minds grow shouldn't be wasted on empty calories that lack substance and depth.

The eMINTS National Center is a non-profit organization providing evidence-based professional development programs that have taught educators how to use technology effectively since 1999. The eMINTS instructional model has demonstrated positive effects on student achievement in more than 3,500 classrooms across the United States and in Australia. The Center is currently completing a study of the impact of professional development and technology in rural middle schools funded by the US Department of Education's Investing in Innovation (i3) program.
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