Sunday, February 12, 2017

Is Technology Being Integrated Effectively?

In many cases, there seems to be a tendency to water down expectations when it comes to integrating technology.  During a recent presentation on digital pedagogy for deeper learning I asked attendees to discuss then share out on TodaysMeet how they were effectively integrating technology in their classroom, school, or district.  There was an emphasis on describing in detail what effective use of technology meant to them.  As the results poured in there were a few consistent responses that stood out. Most attendees flat out stated that they or their schools/districts were not effectively integrating technology. Others confessed that they weren’t sure what effective use constituted.  Many of the remaining responses centered on just a listing of tools that were being used as a measure of effectiveness. 

The question about effective use provides a great opportunity for all of us to critically reflect upon the current role technology plays in education.  There is a great deal of potential in the numerous tools now available to support or enhance learning, but we must be mindful of how they are being used. Take Kahoot for example. This tool is used in so many classrooms across the world to get students more engaged and add a level of fun and excitement to the learning process. However, most of the time the questions that students are asked to answer in a Kahoot are focused on the lowest cognitive domains and mostly multiple choice.  I have nothing against Kahoot and think it is a great tool that has a great deal of promise. My issue is how this tool, and many others, are utilized in the classroom. 

The burden of responsibility here lies with both teachers and administrators. In many cases the engagement factor is emphasized over learning outcomes and actual evidence of improvement aligned to standards. I get that this is not the end all be all, but nevertheless it is important. It goes without saying that effective technology integration should inform instruction and provide feedback as to the level of conceptual mastery students demonstrate. Then there is the unfortunate practice of putting the cart before the horse where acquiring technology and getting it into classrooms takes precedence over improving instructional design.  In either case, for technology to ever live up to the lofty, and at times baseless, expectations that have been established we must take a more critical look at pedagogy. 

For many educators SAMR is the preferred model often associated with technology integration. It’s a catchy model and does have some value mostly in the form of what we shouldn’t be doing (substitution). Take a close look at the tech-centric language used in each category and ask yourself what does the SAMR model really tell you about the level of student learning? This is why I love the Rigor Relevance Framework as a means to ensure that technology is integrated effectively.  It provides a common language, constitutes the lens through which to examine all aspects of a learning culture (curriculum, instruction, assessment), and helps to create a culture around a common vision. 

Technology should be integrated in a way that increases engagement through relevance. As students are utilizing technology are they just applying it in one discipline? I am not saying this is a bad thing, but we must eventually move beyond this typical comfort zone when it comes to tool use. When integrating technology does the task allow students:
  • to make connections across various disciplines and content areas?
  • to solve real-world predictable problems?
  • to solve real-world unpredictable problems?
The other aspect of this framework is the most important.  Are students working, thinking, or both? Successful technology integration is totally dependent on the level of questioning that is asked of our students.  This is why I always say that pedagogy trumps technology.  Think about the formative and summative assessments you either use or see in your respective role. Are students demonstrating high levels of cognitive thought? How do you know whether students have learned or not when integrating technology? What does the feedback loop look like? These are extremely important questions to ask as a teacher or administrator to determine the level of effectiveness. Check out this example to see how all the pieces (rigor, relevance, tech, assessment) come together to create a powerful learning experience).

The overall goal when integrating technology should be to provide opportunities for students to work and think. Another key strategy for successful integration is to use technology when appropriate. Technology will not improve every lesson or project, thus a focus on pedagogy first, technology second if appropriate with help ensure success. Many aspects of the Rigor Relevance Framework can be used to guide you in developing better questions as part of good pedagogy including:
  • anticipatory set/do-now
  • review of prior learning
  • checking for understanding (formative and summative)
  • closure
The most important aspects of pedagogy are assessment and feedback.  If technology (and innovation in general) is going to have a positive impact on learning, let’s ensure these areas are improved first. Then going forward always lend a critical eye to how technology is being used to address standards and inform instruction.


  1. Yes! Pedagogy always trumps technology. In our district we are working to provide technology access, but also are leading a cohort of teacher leaders through an Instructional Technology Leadership program to increase effective integration. The course I teach for the cohort includes a close look at instructional design. They get introduced to SAMR in their first course, but we dig deeper by going through Microsoft's 21st Century Learning Design modules. (See link below). This allows them to look at their lessons, revise, and create new learning activities. It aligns nicely to the Rigor Relevance Framework. This is a great post I will be sharing with them.

    1. I will definitely have to check out those modules you mentioned Eileen! In either case SAMR provides a great initial lens to look at our practice, but as you mentioned the goal and focus has to be on going deeper.

  2. When I think of the term integrating technology the term "further" comes to mind. Just as though digital literacy does not replace traditional forms of literacy. It builds upon the foundation of traditional forms of literacy. It's important that as we teach skills, the integration of technology should dig deeper, more meaningful (relevance). The icing is when you bring in something like global collaboration - these experiences cross cultural and and geographical boundaries. Hopefully as a global society will these things grow into meaningful change that will begin to change our outlook at how we interact with other countries, races, and beliefs. Technology will be how we get there.

    1. I couldn't agree with you more Rob! Building on a solid pedagogical foundation is key to success. You also mention so other powerful outcomes that tech integration can support. With out it, the interacting across the globe in real-time would be quite the challenge.

  3. Recently at the airport while I was waiting for my flight to attend Educon, I had a great conversation with an individual who utilizes tech in his industry. It was so clear to me that the ways we employ tech in schools is often distanced from the way tech is being used in multiple ways all around schools. Schools should aim to integrate the many rich ways that tech is included in the greater world including activities such as the following:
    - meaningful research, composition, and presentation,
    - analysis and problem solving with coding and more across discipline & geographical boundaries.
    - creativity and invention with the integration of multiple online and offline tools
    - experimentation and exploration with gaming and virtual reality
    - efficient and effective study, practice, and knowledge acquisition

    So much wonderful potential exists. Thanks for writing such a thoughtful post.

    1. I love all of your activities listed Maureen. The challenge for all of us is to not only move the needle when it comes to edtech integration, but to also ensure learning is actually taking place. For many hitting the reset button is a good course of action if success is the ultimate goal. There is so much talk about technology and its importance (especially in our PLN circles), but often little substance of concern for real results. We need to continue to push this important conversation.

  4. Your post reminds me of the paper by Gene Hall: Technologies Achilles Heel - Ahieving high quality implementation. Regardless of the framework used, change agents (aka implantation support staff) need to be aqtuned to relieving uncertainty among teachers/admin. And much like our students, educators require different amounts of time to get there...even though districts are ready for the next big implementation after 4 years...

  5. Wonderful post Eric! I will be sure to include it in my next newsletter to staff called the DuckLink.( . We met at TCEA just the other day, I wish we could have visited longer about the topic. I enjoyed sharing the 7 pillars of digital leadership with others during one of my sessions. I was in this session for which you are reflecting also. I'm happy to see you value the SAMR model but realize it's just a start. In our district I spent a significant amount of time 3 years ago convincing our administrators to include technology integration into our classroom walkthrough form. After getting their approval, I proposed a few models to them including SAMR. Together we decided we would include that and we did for about 3 years. It took a lot of training and support. Many of the admins and teachers struggled with understanding the model however. We conducted hundreds of walkthroughs that included SAMR. Though it wasn't perfect by no means, I believe it got our teachers thinking more about pedagogy and how leveraging technology could help them in many occasions. This year we have moved to focusing on the 4Cs and it seems to have put the teachers at ease a bit as we concentrate on the skills we want our students to have. - JP @haleedtech

  6. The infographic depicting students thinking and working as the goal is apropos to our current educational goals. Great article!

  7. Thanks Eric for the great article and for sharing the framework. If you're interested we've also created a framework for educational quality evaluations. It's based on defining the product's learning goals and analysing students role using 7 different pedagogical dimensions, e.g. Is student in passive or active role when receiving new information. We've already evaluated Kahoot using our model. We're building a free online evaluation tool also. If you're interested, check

  8. Thanks for the great article and sharing the framework. If you're interested we've also created a framework for educational quality evaluations. It's based on defining the product's learning goals and analysing students role using 7 different pedagogical dimensions, e.g. Is student in passive or active role when receiving new information. We've already evaluated Kahoot using our model. We're building a free online evaluation tool also. If you're interested, check

  9. Educators can benefit from utilizing planning time to think about learning outcomes first, then fit in the technology. Technology is a tool not a learning outcome. Here is a Teaching Channel Video that shows students blogging (tool) for the purpose of raising awareness (outcome). Students are not merely "using the computers." They are utilizing technology as a tool to achieve a learning outcome. There is a difference. Thank you, Eric for pushing our thinking and for taking me along this journey of awareness. The best teachers never stop learning.
    Evidence & Arguments: Ways of Experiencing a Text

  10. Great post Eric, succinct but powerful. I'd argue though that your starting point is the problem - educators find it hard to reflect on their own practice (well, everyone does for that matter!), and align the right technology with their needs. It's surfacing those needs that matters - once you can identify what it is you're trying to achieve in the classroom, it's much easier to see the value of tech in that.

    I focused on this for my own PhD research, and decided that this was a problem of affordances - affordance is after all a relative problem, and it's that relativity between an individual teacher and a tech that is the crux of the problem. I developed something I call AIM models to try and capture those teacher needs - visual thinking tools to capture practice and provoke reflection - more here if that sounds interesting, be great to hear your thoughts:

  11. I agree! There is a certain push and pressure for schools and teachers to implement more technology. After all, students do spend a lot of their time utilizing it so why wouldn't education integrate it more? Technology is extremely vital in today's classroom. Technology has the power to engage students and to enhance lessons. However, as a fairly new educator I understand the pressure to implement technology that may not be as effective as we think. My first year of teaching I was bombarded with implementing the SmartBoard, and Ipads, and engaging review games. However, I did not truly see much evidence how rigorous or effective a lot of these types of activities were. I have a better understanding on how to effectively utilize some of the technology that is available, by my own research and exploration. Districts need to implement more training on how to effectively integrate technology in the classroom. It can be overwhelming dealing with the pressure and expectations to use tech and not know exactly how to do so. This frustration can lead to implementing technology in ways that may not be as great as we think. Overall, technology is wonderful, and opens so many doors in education. However, more research, exploration, and training needs to be done to ensure it is integrated correctly to ensure academic success.