Too often those of us in technology, perhaps to justify our jobs or prove our abilities, rely on putting the "technology first" in educational settings. This happens too with those of us in educational administration: Often wowed by the “bells and whistles” of various technology products or wanting to make our schools "21st century,” we may make attempts to integrate technology just for technology's sake. But when we do this, we often forget to ask the most important questions first: Do the teachers or students even want this?they told us or is it something we are telling them?
I am honored to support teachers, because I know I am supporting those who are out there “in the trenches” every day doing everything it takes to support our students. Listening to and responding to the experiences and needs of those who are seeing and doing the work firsthand should always come before our own interpretation of what we think they need.
So it seems that technology integrations should be done in this order: The teachers or students express a problem or an interest in a technology, and then a technology-based solution is devised to address the issue in response. In a field that is as human-driven as education, you would think this would be innately how things are done. Yet I am surprised by how frequently technology integrations are done in this order: Administrators or technology experts (much like myself) first obtain a technology and then retroactively try to convince teachers and students why they should want to use it.
This results in often expensive and time-consuming "cheerleading" campaigns for technology integrations, which entails attempts to promote or market a technology and convince teachers and students why they should want it. And when teachers or students still show disinterest in the technologies we provide them, we often resort to assuming that the issue is simply a failure of their abilities or competencies with technology (i.e., "They just don't know how to use it"). This, then, frequently results in even more expensive and time-consuming, mandatory training and/or orientation campaigns that are forced upon staff or students, which often serves to further sour their impressions of technology as an "invasion" or unnecessary nuisance to their everyday work (the exact opposite of what it's supposed to do). Overall, this process all too often results in "uphill battle" technology integration campaigns that are doomed to fail.
It's important to remember that getting teacher input at the start equals better teacher buy-in at the end. When teachers have a say or a voice in the technology solutions that are presented to them and feel that their concerns and interests are being listened to, technology integration campaigns go much more smoothly. When technology implementations are run as a “response to a problem,” it is more obvious to staff that the technology is serving a purpose that’s meaningful to them. This tends to result in staff being much more willing to adopt the technology solution and to be responsive to training.
Granted, there are times when technology integrations have to be brought about through "top-down" initiatives that are simply unavoidable (due to state laws and security concerns, for example). When this happens, it is important to be open with staff and take time to explain the “why” (i.e., the reasons behind the technology initiative), versus focusing solely on the “what/how” (i.e., what the technology is and how to use it). Staff tend to be more receptive to training under such circumstances when they are kept in the loop of what’s going on.
At the end of the day, though, we must remember that we are committed to our students and teachers first—not to our technology purchases. Sometimes we may need to recognize a mistake and cut contracts to start over again. It can be painful at the time, but ultimately less expensive and time-consuming in the long run.
This is why I believe in human-centered technology integrations. While the specific technologies and products that we implement often change and can generally be learned by anyone very quickly, knowing how to plan and work with people is ultimately what leads to successful, long-term implementations.
In any situation, teachers should always feel in control of the technology they use. I want to make them innovators of technology implementation in their classroom, not merely "users" of technology. To do this, teachers need to feel empowered with technology. This is why incorporating teacher voice and choice is so important to successful technology rollouts. Remember to reinforce the "support" role that technology is intended to provide for teachers and their own ideas. And of course, never make teachers feel "stupid."