Sunday, July 12, 2020

Purchasing Devices Does Not Equate to Learning

The COVID19 pandemic unearthed many harsh realities for education across the globe. One of the more glaring issues was the vast digital divide that still exists in many places, especially the United States.  Inadequate WIFI and the availability of computers at home for kids to use for learning caught many educators off guard. Remote learning was a monumental challenge for districts and schools that already had made large-scale investments in devices, but it was even more so where inequity was prevalent.  Many kids were automatically at a severe disadvantage as a result, which will most likely result in extreme learning loss and ever-widening achievement gaps.

It is okay to admit that we were ill-prepared before and during the pandemic.  Now is the time to seize on lessons learned as schools prepare to move into uncharted territory whether the COVID19 rages on or begins to subside. Teaching will and must be different. Leadership must and will be different. Most of all, the learning culture will most certainly be different, and it will be a travesty if it is not. We have begun to see some change as more and more school districts are purchasing devices for all of their students.  Every day I see new articles highlighting the millions of dollars; in some cases, spent to either begin to close or eradicate the digital divide. There are also forward-thinking districts who either purchase WIFI hotspots for kids or park WIFI-enabled busses around the community for family access.  All of these efforts are to be commended.

Here is the rub in all of this. Time and time again, even well before the pandemic hit, schools had a thirst for ensuring that there was a device in the hands of every student. William Horton says it best, "Unless you get instructional design right, technology can only increase the speed and certainty of failure." 

Below are some lessons we learned after hitting the reset button on our Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative in order to get it right that I captured in a 2015 post.
We found great success at my school during our digital transformation by focusing on pedagogy first, technology second if appropriate mindset. Not only was there a focus on solid instruction, but we also provided numerous supports for our teachers in the form of ongoing and job-embedded professional learning opportunities. If the expectation was to integrate technology with purpose to support or enhance learning, we made sure everyone was prepared to do just that. 
For technology to live up to the hype, pedagogy must change, whether learning is face-to-face, remote, or based on a hybrid model to ensure student and staff safety. Drive-by professional development did not work in the past. What has and will continue to make a difference are supports that incorporate the following:
  • Ongoing
  • Job-embedded
  • Supported with coaching (face-to-face or virtual)
  • Personalized and differentiated
  • Facilitated by people who have done the work and implemented successful change that resulted in improved student learning outcomes and achievement
  • Directly correlated to professional practice
  • Aligned with research and case studies
  • Addresses real challenges educators face
  • Sustainable over time
Before COVID19, I always cautioned districts and schools to be wary of putting the cart before the horse. I am not sure that I would offer the same advice as we now know there is a great deal of work to be done to ensure digital equity for all kids. However, I am still steadfast in my opinion that just purchasing devices does not equate to learning, nor will it in the future if proper supports are not in place. Teachers need training and job-embedded coaching. Principals need support so that they know what to look for and can give their staff actionable feedback. Superintendents and central office administrators need to be able to determine the efficacy of the investment.  Check out the International Center for Educational Leadership's (ICLE) vast services and Digital Practice Assessment (DPA) process to fill this gap.

Just putting a device in kids' hands and expecting learning miracles to materialize is wishful thinking at best. Ongoing support is needed to usher in pedagogical change while building capacity. Teachers and administrators deserve this investment if large sums of money are being spent on devices.  Without this support, the overall goal of the purchase might never be realized.

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