Sunday, 23 October 2011

Have a process/structure but don't kill the innovation.

Tony Bates facilitated a good discussion on the MOOC Change11 session: "Managing Technology to Transform Teaching" (not sure why not " Transform Learning"). He sought to involve the participants in his questions, so it seemed much more interactive than usual.
He asked two questions which seemed remote from the immediate discussion (do institutions need to change and should this be done from within or outside) and went on to describe the findings from the book he has written together with Albert Sangra  - "Managing Technology in Higher Education: Strategies for Transforming Teaching and Learning". The link gives a good executive summary of the main findings of their book.
The research brought out some interesting and valid findings, including that more successful technological implementations occurred when the Leadership Team were speaking from the same page, all having bought in to the concept of technology being important to develop learning, had set measurable strategic goals, with academic disciplines having specific technical skills for the particular discipline, with planning at all levels (and specifically not just top-down), using F2F earlier on and later more e-learning (first year more F2F), program level innovation, planning and decision making (with an Exploration -> Resources Planning -> Pilot -> Evaluation -> Spread across school methodology). He made the point of the importance of getting away from line management and silos, and for having a strategy for supporting the initiatives in technology.
This was all related to Higher Education. I am interested in how these ideas transfer to K-12 schools.
Reflecting on how we managed the introduction of technology in my school, I notice how we have developed:

  • working with enthusiasts at the start and trying to appoint teachers with ICT capabilities
  • taking the view that, on the whole, ICT is taught through the medium of subject disciplines and not on its own
  • taken the approach of "sowing a thousand seeds and letting the flowers bloom"
  • appointing key people to ICT teaching jobs, having key supporters in leadership posts
  • holding enthusiast workshops, offering training in Web 2.0, using various systems for sharing technological resources
  • providing initially a network infrastructure with roaming desktop facilities, then various stages of wireless networks, increasing broadband access and bandwidth (now at 30Mbits)
  • noting the growth of many weeds amongst what we had previously sown and so standardising on Google Apps for Education, including Sites for webpages and Blogger for blogs; pulling all this in with a Communications Strategy to harmonise and centralise
  • use collaborative technological systems at school to both increase technological expertise and have a collegiate approach to decision making
Where do we go to from here? The financial constraints are real and inhibiting. So we have to take this into account and develop strategies to ensure that we continue to develop our technology so as to make learning and teaching effective and efficient, whilst maintaining our desire to create independent learners of our students (and teachers).
Bates' idea of through-institution development and not just top-down makes sense. However, his approach seemed too structured and inhibiting - but perhaps this was because of its Higher Education setting. I read Viplav Baxi's post on Death by Structure with great interest - and urge you to do so too. It prompted me to comment on his post as follows, and I give his reply:

Viplav – Thank you for your view on this which has made me think hard. Tony Bates has put forward a standard solution to the organisation of technology issue – use structure, committees, perhaps consultants, have clear strategic goals shared by the Leadership Team, involve people from program level through to the LT.
It is hardly surprising that the “coming of age” of technology should be institutionalised through standard organisational processes.
However (certainly at K-12 school level), this model may not work as well. Busy teachers, successful but traditional pedagogy (tweaked to include technology at the Substitution and Augmentation level of the Puentedura’s SAMR model, perhaps including some Modification but hardly ever Redefinition), will be more successful in a much messier approach. Providing the infrastructure and the encouragement to seed lots of initiatives and let the flowers bloom has been the approach the I have found successful.
At this point I think it is necessary to provide some structure, to zero in on some standard resources (say using Google Apps for Education and Sites instead of personal blogs on various blog platforms, so as to provide for institutional continuity). But the driving force is still teachers developing individual expertise in areas where they see the advantages.
It is necessary to engage teachers at all levels, from “program” or EWB-face through department and school leadership. Include enthusiasts, skeptics and wannabes. And continue developing the pedagogy and direction but always asking “where is the learning in this”.
His reply:
I completely agree. Structure is not antithetical to complex systems. In fact, there is an orderliness about them as well. However it is not ordered as in centralized direction or uni-directed cohesion. The best structures are those that provide the ability to self-organize and adapt. That is what I feel shall bring change and it is where we must focus. Thanks!

So, we have to have a structure which is not top-down, is innovation-friendly and has the ability to allow self-organisation, but allows us to plan strategically and make appropriate financial decisions. We will try a Technology for Learning Forum (T4L-Forum) to develop the pedagogy necessary, working with enthusiasts, wannabes and even perhaps skeptics, but always asking "where is the learning in this".

No comments: