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Selecting technology tools for your organization is as easy as ABC

Throughout 2020, SkillRise led an edtech learning circle in collaboration with the Retail Opportunity Network (RON). The monthly calls brought together 15 partner organizations from within the RON to explore various themes related to edtech and adult learning. After each call, a host organization developed a blog post to capture and reflect upon the monthly theme. The following post is written by Nancye Blair Black from the Block Uncarved who helped the group explore how to find and select the right edtech tools during the August call.

At one time or another, it’s happened to all of us. We see a shiny new educational technology tool and know right then, we have to have it. Yet, oftentimes in schools and organizations, when that exciting new tool arrives, it sits on a shelf or in a closet unused.

Other times, leadership successfully identifies the right tool for the job; yet the implementation is plagued with problems until frustrated students and teachers give up and go back to their former ways of life.

But why does this happen? And what can we do as organizations to ensure new technology initiatives lead to lasting change, and most importantly, better learning and teaching?

The successful implementation of new educational technology - for devices, digital tools, or apps - often have three things in common:
- The benefits of the technology and the plan for its implementation align with the goals and vision of the organization.
- All stakeholders have meaningful buy-in to the vision and implementation.
- The organization is able to sustain transformation by celebrating and showcasing effective use of the technology in action.

If you look back on past technology initiatives that haven’t lived up to their hype, you will often discover that at least one of these three things was missing. To avoid some of these common pitfalls, the Block Uncarved uses a Technology Alignment Framework to approach  evaluating, selecting, procuring, and implementing technology tools and applications. When done well, the framework can enable organizations to successfully leverage technology to transform adult learning.

Alignment with the vision
Consider what would happen if you thought about selecting technology as part of an ecosystem of an educational movement. Instead of being driven by flashy technology or promising claims, consider what might happen if this educational movement was driven by the transformation of learning and teaching.

An educational movement is characterized by progress and transformation. From this vantage point, the success of a new technology should be defined by its ability to bring the organization closer to realizing its goals and vision. Doing this takes strategic planning and alignment in decision-making as you procure and implement technology tools.

The Technology Alignment Framework used by the Block Uncarved identifies three domains and nine key areas to consider when adopting new technology. As each domain is explored, the focus remains on how to address that area as a strategic component toward realizing the vision.

Instructional: The instructional domain concerns itself with the role a device or digital tool will play in improving teaching and learning. Key areas and their primary considerations include:
- Technology integration: How will this technology be used to transform teaching and learning by accomplishing something that was previously difficult or impossible?
- Technology curriculum: How will this technology be used to advance the development of specific digital literacy skills of instructors or learners?
- Professional development: How will the organization use formal and/or informal opportunities to prepare the instructional staff to effectively harness this new technology?

Technological: The technological domain concerns itself with the concrete technical needs of the implementation. Key areas and their primary considerations include:
- Devices and digital tools: How will the organization select, procure, distribute and track instructional technology?
- Infrastructure. How will the organization ensure that the network, its configurations and the management of the devices is sufficient for sustaining the implementation?
- IT support. How will the organization provide on-going assistance to instructors and learners using the technology?

Organizational: The organizational domain concerns itself with practical, systemic questions necessary to the overall implementation. Key areas and their primary considerations include:
- Management: How will the organization monitor and manage the various aspects of the initiative?
- Policies: How will the organization need to establish or adjust policies in order to accommodate or promote the vision of the implementation?
- Business planning: How will the implementation impact the business in terms of funding, legal implications, public relations or other facets of the organization?

When new technology initiatives are successful, decisions for the selection and implementation of technology must align across all three domains. For example, let’s explore a new technology initiative with a stated goal of supporting global collaboration skills.
- Instructional decisions should consider elements of communication, collaboration and digital citizenship skills, as well as support in how to use digital communication and collaboration tools.
- Technological decisions are focused on instructors and learners having access to devices with audio-visual capabilities and collaborative software, as well as access to a network that has the bandwidth and proper settings for working with others outside the organization.
- Organizational decisions might be made about network and social media policies or funding to support ongoing global projects. While this example is not comprehensive, it illuminates the need for leaders throughout an organization to align their efforts to a shared vision and defined outcomes for the implementation of a particular technology.

Buy-in from stakeholders
In addition to aligning decisions with the vision, successful technology implementations take buy-in. Your organization could select the greatest technology in the world, but if people don’t care or don’t want to use it, it’s unlikely the technology will be successfully implemented. In order to build buy-in, you need to garner stakeholder input and clarify your vision.

Relevant stakeholder input should be sought at all levels of planning. User stories garnered at the beginning of an evaluation and selection process may illuminate why a course platform like Canvas might be more or less beneficial than Teachable for hosting content for your organization. User feedback after a piloting period might also reveal why an interactive HTML5 content creation tool like H5P might require greater IT support than a video recording and editing tool like Screencast-o-matic. This input can be gathered in a variety of ways, from surveys to focus groups to task forces. When stakeholders feel that their input is genuinely heard, this can lead to a strong sense of buy-in to later decisions. Simply put, create opportunities for students and staff to talk about new tools, share feedback about what's working and what isn't, and explore new technology together.

Buy-in can also be cultivated through transparency in sharing about the vision, plan and motivation behind decisions. You can accomplish transparency by rooting the goals for implementing a new technology in how it will help realize the shared vision. This can be done through open and consistent communication, frequent updates, tech tutorials, and/or models for intended use.

Celebrating success
Finally, once the new technology has been launched, it is critical to guide use toward the vision by celebrating and showcasing successful implementation. It’s not enough to simply tell stakeholders what the technology can do. For powerful transformation, stakeholders need to see and experience the educational movement in action.

A school system in Florida accomplished this by including 3-5 minute educator presentations at the beginning of each staff meeting, showcasing best practices. When instructors shared how they were using the technology to achieve a specific goal or vision, their peers not only listened, but also imagined their own ability to duplicate that success, knowing there was someone they could turn to for support. Other organizations share videos on their social media platforms, capturing stories of learners who succeeded with the support of a new technology. Still others have taken a technology intended for their learners and modeled exemplar uses through the facilitation of staff development for instructors. Each of these approaches focuses on showing stakeholders how a new technology can transform an organization and support better learning and teaching.

2020 has been filled with teachers and students exploring (and struggling with) new technology, building new digital skills and trying different strategies to support positive learning outcomes. Ultimately, the key to long term technology success lay at the intersection of developing a compelling vision, involving stakeholders in initiative design, and showcasing successful use cases along the way.

When done well, this process enables organizations to elevate initiatives, transform learning and teaching, and realize better educational outcomes today while creating more possibilities tomorrow.

Nancye Blair Black is the founder and CEO of The Block Uncarved, an educational consulting firm specializing in innovative instructional design and transformative professional development. With 20 years of experience in K-12 and adult education, Nancye is also an international speaker and author, Project Lead for ISTE's AI Explorations program, and a school board member for the Lakeland Montessori Schools. Find her on Twitter.