A story of leading technology integration

This is entirely based on my experience working in India, at Mercedes-Benz International School (now called Mahindra International School) as the Tech Integrator for 4 years.

This article focuses on best practices for whole-school EdTech Coaches when it comes to starting with technology integration. The ISTE Standards were my key elements as they guided me to achieve the best practices of technology integration in my old school in India (Mercedes-Benz International School). I focused on the ones for Coaches here but we articulated all the other Standards too.

When I began, it was hard to know how to proceed but I know the value of sharing what one has learned, therefore this post. I just want to insist that all this made sense in my context, at that time, in that school with that community and perhaps it might not work in other contexts. I genuinely believe in design thinking and personalization, those are key elements to the success of any EdTech mission.

First of all, to lead technology in a school, we need to look into where a school is at (diagnosing / auditing) and what does the school want to accomplish with technology (envisioning and setting the non-negotiables and dreaming!), then there has to be a plan (planning phase) which needs to be put into practice (implementation) after what there is a constant monitoring &  iteration process that occurs because evaluation is constant: while taking actions, you generate change and need to adjust to the context (needs, mindset, skill sets…).

1- Diagnosing

The process of developing an EdTech Vision can be done using Design Thinking. It should be based on your local context (your school’s mission & vision, and the current skill sets and mindset of the people working in the school) as well as the literature on digital learning (but on learning in general too!) and taking into account the current trends in education.

One of the ways to get started is to proceed to an external or internal audit. You could use the diagnostic tool of ISTE which provided an easy way to review the current practices of the school and find the gaps as well as areas of strengths. This is helpful to show the reality and the best way to go about it would be to engage various stakeholders while answering the question. The committee could consist of: teachers, edtech coach(es), ICT/Design teacher(s), students, parents, educational leadership, administrators and tech team (IT manager and integrator). At a minimum, the EdTech Coach and the IT Infrastructure Manager should complete the questionnaire. This diagnostic is free and you can decide to pay a small fee to get the full report. From there, you already have a clearer picture of what has to be done. This is the checklist of this diagnostic tool.

2- Envisioning

Shared Vision: Proactive leadership develops a shared vision for educational technology among all education stakeholders, including teachers and support staff, school and district administrators, teacher educators, students, parents, and the community. –  ISTE Essential Conditions

Shared Vision ISTE Standards C, 1a Shared Vision Technology coaches contribute to the development, communication, and implementation of a shared vision for the comprehensive use of technology to support a digital age education for all students. – ISTE Standards for Coaches

If the school already has an edtech vision and this was created with various stakeholders who took ownership of it, you are already starting your edtech coaching well. Of course, a vision always needs to be reviewed at times (possibly every 5 years).

The process of creating a shared vision depends on various parameters. For instance, in my case, when I joined my current school, there was no Tech Coach before me so I had to create everything from scratch which allowed me for a lot of autonomy and creativity but also hard work! I took more leadership than I knew I would when I accepted the job because it became obvious I needed to lead change, to find my “first followers” and then to review the vision and engage people in appropriating this vision.

This is an example of an EdTech vision, from my time at Mercedes-Benz International School:

MBIS strives to develop a community of digital lifelong learners who aspire to make a difference in the not-yet-known-world

At MBIS, we are committed to integrating technology to enhance the learning and teaching environment. We engage our learners in solving challenging problems and puzzles, thinking critically and enhancing their creativity. We provide learning experiences that are connected with pedagogical purpose, encourage collaboration and provide a window for expression and reflection. We recognize the importance of digital literacy and use technology to develop responsible and empowered individuals.

Our Learning Culture

At MBIS, students, teachers, parents, and administrators are strongly connected and are all considered “learners”

  • We are driven by the desire to learn, unlearn, and relearn in order to adapt to the constantly moving world
  • We embrace intercultural understanding and are internationally-minded
  • We believe in an environment of trust, autonomy and collaboration
  • We share our passion for learning through social media to connect to the wider community
  • We give choices and offer various pathways to achieve common objectives
  • We develop intrinsic motivation through autonomy, mastery and purpose
  • We develop the understanding of an healthy and balanced lifestyle
  • We behave responsibly online, apply common sense and don’t compromise the safety of ourselves and others.
  • We reflect, inquire, question and apply critical thinking

Through technology we aim:

  • To provide global access to information, digital media and devices  involve all learners in the digital society and provide them with leadership opportunities (Admin, Teachers, Students Tech Mentors)
  • To teach digital citizenship
  • To meet the curricular needs of all learners, personalize and differentiate learning and challenge everyone  refine critical thinking skills and foster creativity
  • To provide a medium for expression and communication
  • To collect, assess, and share performance information  improve the effectiveness of administrative tasks
  • To encourage risk-taking, innovation and reflexivity
  • To remain flexible and constantly adapt to the fast-moving world

3- Planning

This is when we defined goals and how we were going to achieve them. This included setting up a timeline of actions and reviews to prioritize and monitor change.

Setting Goals

In my past experience at MBIS, our goals (based on our context) were the following:

Goal 1 – Integrating educational technology effectively across the school

Goal 2 – Increasing productivity to automate administrative tasks

Goal 3 – Developing best practices of Digital Citizenship

Goal 4 – Documenting processes and procedures

Training plans

In terms of EdTech, this is what it looked like for me. I created my training schedule in 3 phases:

Phase 1 | Getting teachers inspired, get to know some basics and set their innovation plan: This included basic training sessions on our main technology: G Suite for Education. While I am not an advocate of a “tool-centered” approach, I had to start with such sessions and organize in a structured manner so that the teachers could learn the basics of the main apps to see what they had to offer before being able to modify and transform the teaching and learning. 

Phase 2 | Getting teachers to try new projects within their innovation plan and start sharing with others: This phase involved moving from engagement to empowerment. The teachers needed a push in the direction of confidence in self-learning (allowing themselves to make mistakes and learn from them) and collaboration (understanding that, with others, it’s richer and often faster). We started 2 min “EdTech SLAMS” regularly during our weekly meetings to let teachers share and celebrate their new learning and feel a sense of support and togetherness.

Phase 3 | Getting teachers to lead, create and share in and outside our school: This is where we arrived at. We moved from a “support-system” to a transformed one where most individuals were not only engaged but empowered. I was not in the foreground anymore, teachers had taken over. They were confident, comfortable with experiemengin and a bunch of them really wanted to innovate and were initiating projects and sharing ideas and achievements with others at school and beyond (social media for instance). Teachers became empowered and even our teacher “EdTech Mentors” moved to providing support through coaching, which caused teachers to further direct their own professional learning and thrive.

3- Implementation

The timeline of our phases

The timeline was not entirely predictable because, again, it depended on our context but, for us, in the first phase, we had to start by designing a shared EdTech Vision that was ambitious, open and translated a strong focus on agency and innovation rather than devices and tools. We had to have everyone on board with the G Suite for Education, our new technology, and therefore started basic training on the apps suite to get everyone comfortable with productivity and the main elements to start teaching with such tools.

The first year, we could cover phase 1 and started phase 2. In the first 6 months, it was hard, but we received the support of teacher-leaders who became “EdTech Mentors”, they received extra training and each mentored 3 to 5 colleagues in tech integration.

We also created the role of “Students EdTech Mentors” who modeled digital citizenship and shared their love for technology; they mentored teachers and peers in fixing tech glitches but also empowered them to take risks in trying new projects in class. They sometimes presented in Student Tech Assemblies and helped lead tech and Maker events.

We also ran workshops with parents (including webinars) where we connected families and discussed their concerns about the digital world. This allowed us to respond to needs, dialogue and gain trust and positivity about digital skills and students’ tech passions.

About EdTech Framework

I personally did not prefer to “use” any specific models simply because none really inspired me and I felt that it limited me rather than provided opportunities. I did know them theoretically and I did refer to the SAMR and TPACK models, but I did not advertise them to teachers so much. I kept focusing on modelling and reminding teachers that the ultimate goal was not to have “technology” as edutainment and shiny gadget but to put the learning first and that technology could be one of the ways to amplify learning (though it’s not THE only way).

When coaching teachers, they often started the conversation by “I would like to learn how to use…this app or this tool” and I refocused on learning by asking “Let’s put this tool/app on the side just for now and think about what might be your expected learning outcome?” or “what might be a problem you face in your classroom that you are trying to solve?” We want to hear from their field experience and work with them to improve a situation rather than giving them a recipe. Coaching is personalized learning, in personalized, there is “personal”, we need to be approachable, touch the human being and work together, in an atmosphere of trust, to make students’ learning experience the best possible and maximize learning.

It’s important to note that we also defined what technology was and we included the “Makerspace” into it for instance. We needed to open the field of technology to various aspects: physical (like the art of tinkering and making models etc) and more conceptual and invisible (like programming and computational thinking). Technology integration had to engage and empower users in tinkering and playing by trial and error, making or creating, searching and thinking critically, sharing and publishing rather than simply consuming (by watching a video for instance).

At MBIS, we did use Design Thinking strategies to help approach the problems perceived by teachers and how to overcome obstacles and hardship. For example, we went through the design cycle and then teachers, who have come up with an “How Might We” statement, created an “Innovation Plan”, linked to their appraisal, and followed their inquiry with EdTech by collaborating with others and receiving professional development in the forms of Tech Cafes, video tutorials, class observations, PD Days, mentoring and coaching sessions.

Reflection on the length of the training

The training never ends. No one should think that training is complete, it’s always undergoing but the nature of the training sessions changes with people’s progress. For instance, in “Phase 1” of our plan, teachers were mostly trying to overcome anxiety related to technology and learn the basics of productivity and organization using the Google Apps for Education. They also learnt how to reduce the use of paper and slowly, how to transform their practice (Phase 2). The final phase is for teachers to take over but continue learning and sharing in and out of school (Phase 3).

At MBIS, we use various ways to deliver training so people have a variety of options:

  • Orientation week: we have time in the beginning of the academic year to recap what we use, how and why. We go through the platforms, main tools and have activities where teachers share practices and ask questions. We include digital citizenship as we expect all teachers to embed this aspect into the curriculum. We also insist on their own professional development, passion and agency to motivate them to become the best version of themselves.
  • Boot Camps for students: students from preschool to grade 12 receive a session on edtech where we mainly cover our expectations (in terms of handling devices, using the internet and tech tools and understanding how to use digital media). The importance is to start or continue awareness about digital citizenship and recruit some students to represent best practices and inspire others. We also have ice-breaker activities and inspire students with positive and creative use-cases of technology and makerspace.
  • We celebrate two main events: The Computer Science Week / Hour of Code, the Digital Citizenship Week where we organize hands-on activities, lessons and share on social media.
  • We have a monthly EdTech Assembly led by Secondary EdTech Students Mentors to interact with the audience about the digital world: mostly about great ways to use technology (for example how can social media be use to raise awareness about a cause) and at times, if an incident happened regarding cyberbullying or plagiarism, in order to send a strong message. During those assembly, the audience always has a voice as we use Kahoot, Socrative or Google Slide Audience Tool, in order to promote students’ agency.
  • Weekly Tech Cafes (a 1 hr session repeated twice during the week) which was led by the EdTech Coach most of the time but should slowly be more teacher-led. This has been the most successful project since it’s non-mandatory (it promotes teachers’ choice) and it is slowly taken over by the teacher-leaders (tec mentors) and teachers themselves who come with questions or ideas to share and informally discuss pedagogy and technology.
  • Professional Development Days: those days are not entirely dedicated to edtech because teachers need to work on many other aspects but we do have regular sessions to gather more teachers for a longer period of time. We did try to give teachers choices by providing various sessions at the same time and repeating them twice, therefore the teachers could decide which sessions they would benefit from, just like a Summit with various sessions running at the same time. Giving choice is making teachers experience what Agency means. They need to have such opportunities to make decisions and differentiate for themselves as we often assume they are empowered but they need to be reminded and pushed to use their “I can” power.
  • Video Tutorials: teachers like the flipped concept because they can learn at their own pace. Video tutorial can be based on what the EdTech Coach feels teachers need to learn or based on a need expressed by teachers. Those videos are created and shared through YouTube and shared via Gmail or Google Groups
  • We create a Google Site called “Tasty Tech” which is used to provide content on various Google Apps and other tools as well as list video tutorials, material used during training, links to websites etc. It’s our own little training center and edtech information platform to find all relevant documentation including how to book rooms or resources, the list of apps we use, online magazines we subscribe to etc.
  • We create a Google Group called “Let’s Get Inspired” so that teachers and administrators could share their ideas, reply to one another and develop a culture of learning in our school community
  • We use an extension called “Training for G Suite” to provide self-paced training about the Google Apps so that teachers are in control of their own learning and start taking initiative and searching rather than asking the EdTech Coach.

5- Monitoring and Iterating

This is when Google Calendar/Microsoft Agenda can be very useful 🙂

You need to look at the micro and macro levels. If you stay in the “now”, you forget the big picture and what you committed to in terms of long-term goals (in our case, a 3 year plan) and if you look at the macro level, you don’t see the progress and you forget breaking down all the actions to achieve your goals.

I will not share all the details here but I want to share how I reflect, when and what iterations it generates.

I set up my training calendar and add the sessions I think I will cover according to the needs that I identified (based on survey, observation, strategic planning of the school, our vision).

In my case, I identified 3 main areas to improve:

  • Moving from “differentiation” to personalized learning:

Often the word “differentiation” encompasses that the teacher is in charge of making special adjustments for a/particular student(s) to learn better. What is missing is the collaboration in this effort and often we tend to focus only on some students, not acknowledging that students supposedly without differences are also special, they also need and want something and that something can be very important (they are bored as it’s too simple, they want to go slower, they want to learn differently…). It’s time to move from differentiation to personalized learning where all students, regardless of the abilities (being high or low in certain areas), are all working to their full potential and are in control of their learning through goal setting and monitoring. They feel equal partners in learning and are more self-driven this way. This goal also involves redesigning spaces to allow more movement, more students’ voice and agency but of course, the big work lies in shifting mindsets – moving from a teacher-centered environment to a learner-centered environment

  • Assessments design and Data Analyzing:

Assessment and Evaluation: Teaching, learning, leadership, and the use of ICT and digital resources are continually assessed and evaluated. – ISTE Essential Conditions

Strategic Planning (ISTE Standards C, 1b): Good strategic plans include both formative and summative evaluation activities to monitor progress. Technology coaches help design and implement these evaluation measures. – ISTE Standards for Coaches

Going back to “why” do we assess and how do we analyze in order to improve learning. Most of the time, we “have to” assess but this is not what we love to do! It is essential to be able to constantly know where learners are in their learning journey and provide feedback (not simply a grade) for them to iterate and improve. We need to review what are the different assessments (assessments for learning, as learning and of learning for instance) and what is our purpose for each and how do we  move forward after an assessment. We also need to revisit the environment in which the assessments are taken. I particularly liked my colleague and EdTech Mentor Teresa who shares the way she uses formative assessments in her Spanish Second Language Classroom (check the CC for translation):

Tech to Showcase teachers’ work: A Spanish example 

  • Makerspace integration in the Design Curriculum:

The creation of a Makerspace was a decision to bring in the importance of practical life skills, experiential learning and developing tinkering mindsets where students facing a problem are able to think critically, work collaboratively and problem-solve. We started everything from scratch. These are the steps we have followed (we are currently in Phase 3):

0- Teachers’ workshop on Making (resources)

First Maker Experience for teachers 

1- Find a space and collect basic resources.

Set up Agreements. Inventory and create processes that work for you to ensure materials and resources are used but are also safe.

2- Start a club with students!

3- Create a strong tech/design curriculum (the MYP Digital and Product Design Curriculum Example)

As part of the Middle Years Programme, the IB offers a subject area called “Design” which can include both Digital and Product Design. This allows the integration of the Makerspace into the Design Curriculum.

The curriculum follows the IB conceptual framework and also aligns the ISTE Standards for Students.

This is the curriculum overview created by myself, Arif Shaikh and Praveen Sharma (Mercedes-Benz International School). Yes you CAN reuse, remix etc! We love to share and no need to reinvent the wheel 🙂

Make your own copy here.

4- Integrate in other areas

Start by ensuring that tech skills are explicitly taught. This GoogleSheet contains a progression of the G Suite for Education skills articulation from Grade 1 to Grade 5.

Technology and STEAM can be integrated in various transdisciplinary, multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary units!

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