5 Ways to Run a Successful Mobile Device Initiative

Education leaders share lessons from device initiatives that include failures and successes.

by / March 28, 2014 0

Major failures and successes with mobile device initiatives have prompted education leaders to look at how they can better implement them.

From effective communication to bringing students into the discussion, education leaders at the annual CoSN conference shared five ways that their peers can run a successful mobile device initiative.

1. Collaborate and communicate with all relevant departments in the school district.

Instead of just looking at a mobile device rollout as a technology project, IT leaders should think of it as a district project that involves people from many different teams, said Lenny Schad, CIO of the Houston Independent School District (ISD). For example, the public relations team needs to be in the loop, as well as the curriculum department. 

This academic year, a number of school districts experienced problems because they looked at mobile device initiatives as technology projects and did not communicate and collaborate effectively across different departments, Schad said. In the case of the Los Angeles Unified School District, it failed to keep the communications team in the loop, and when students figured out how to get around device security settings so they could access the Internet at home, the district didn't have a quick and proactive response. 

"L.A. got killed because they were not ahead of the PR," he said. "They were reacting to the publicity, and now they've lost the war."

Pam Moran, superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools in Charlottesville, Va., went even further, saying that the school district shouldn't have prevented students from connecting to the Internet in their homes. "Los Angeles actually got into trouble because they tried to really limit their kids, and that's what backfired for them," Moran said.

2. Put on your marketing hat.

Speaking of public relations, schools would be better off if they promoted the positive stories that are coming out of their mobile device initiatives, Schad said. School districts can show the benefits of technology in education by establishing relationships with journalists, finding interesting stories to share and creating a marketing campaign across the community.

Students play an important role in these efforts and should be showcased more often so their positive stories can be shared, Moran said. "Kids are marketers of our work, and the better their stories, the better the marketing," she said.

For example, Houston ISD initiated a marketing campaign across the city for its bring-your-own-device initiative and cites it as a reason that many people are aware of the program.

3. Expect educators to use technology and support them.

School districts must find a balance between pushing some teachers to get up to speed on technology immediately and letting them lag behind everyone else for years. In Houston, the district laid out expectations for its staff members and provided support to help them reach the goals. The district also set a rule: Within three years, all educators need to embrace technology.

"You've got to adjust or you've got to go," said Schad, who wrote a book on his bring-your-own-device experience called Bring Your Own Learning.

One of the ways the district handled the transition to mobile devices was to start with people who liked to be early adopters, which took the pressure off everyone. 

4. Seek advice from other school districts.

Although the Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina is smaller than Houston ISD, L.A. Unified and other large districts, it has a lot to teach its peers. And that's where Houston ISD has gone to learn about how to create a successful mobile device initiative.

The district sent staff members to North Carolina so they could see what's going on and have brought Mooresville representatives to Texas. Mooresville is known for its digital conversion model that began in 2006 and is described by Superintendent Mark Edwards in the book Every Child, Every Day. The model includes the following critical factors:

  • A commitment to every child
  • A shared vision
  • A culture of caring and collaboration
  • Embrace of the moral imperative
  • Relentless focus on achievement
  • Personalized, relevant and connected learning
  • Deep transformation of instruction
  • High expectations
  • Digital resources and infrastructure
  • Ongoing professional growth
  • Ubiquitous leadership
  • In-depth planning
  • Data-driven decision-making
  • Creative resource alignment
  • All hands on deck
  • Joy, laughter, recognition and celebration

Over a period of four years, the district has experienced higher graduation rates and test scores along with a significant drop in out-of-school suspensions. In addition, students who have limited English proficiency and disabilities have seen double-digit growth on state tests in the third grade.

5. Address educator and student concerns beforehand.

Before a mobile device initiative begins, school districts need to lay the groundwork with educators, students and the community and seek their feedback. Houston ISD asked principals and students to fill out a survey and define what success would look like after the first year. Because it asked for input early and addressed their concerns, the rollout went much smoother, Schad said.

Your turn

We've just highlighted five ways to help run a successful mobile device initiative. What other tips or advice do you have? Feel free to share them in the comments or tweet us @centerdigitaled

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.