When we think of culture, we often think of other countries that have common food, language and clothes. But our schools have a culture too that needs to change before any education technology initiative can be successful.
In a recent report from the Consortium of School Networking, a number of educators shared seven keys to transforming schools with technology. And one of the major keys is building a school culture that embraces learning first and uses technology tools strategically to accomplish learning goals.
"Educational technology has been conceived for the last number of years as really being about the tools and access," said Dani Herro, one of the report authors and assistant professor of digital media and learning at Clemson University’s Eugene T. Moore School of Education. "And while tools and access are really important, for any sort of transformative effort, we need to consider the culture."
Before addressing tools and access, it's important to think about learning first and then how to select tools to cultivate the learning process. This kind of thinking leads to a school culture that is more about customizing learning experiences and resources for individual students than standardizing them.
"Because we've come from this model of standardization in traditional schooling — and by no fault of our own, that worked for many years to an extent — we aren't used to the idea that we have a choice of how it is we might create something or how it is we might demonstrate learning," Herro said.
Now in her second year at Clemson University, Herro and a colleague are helping tomorrow's educators have a solid foundation in digital learning with a new course that all pre-service teachers are required to take.
In her 20-year career at Oconomowoc Area School District in Wisconsin, Herro became part of a team that shaped the culture of the district. To build the district's education technology culture, these district leaders assessed where they were, what they were doing and where the gaps were.
In technology cabinet meetings once or twice a month, district leaders who could influence change got together so they could solve problems across curriculum, instruction and technology areas, said Herro, a former instructional technology administrator. As a result, these leaders were able to move initiatives further and faster and change a number of policies to accomplish their goals.
Another kind of leadership team meets throughout the year in Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. A student advisory council represents the student voice and focuses on a task each year that the superintendent gives them, said Derek Kelley, coordinator of instructional technology integration. Over the last few years, that task has been related to technology and learning.
The council is a small group of mostly high school students, and the school district's next challenge is to figure out how to get more students involved, especially at the elementary and middle school level, Kelley said.
Students needs to be involved in changing the school culture because they are the ones who are affected by leadership decisions, Kelley said. The school district engages parents, other community members and educators along with students because the input they provide is critical.
"It's more than just adding technology to a school or just adding some technical component to a classroom," Kelley said. "Really all those things have to be in place in order for it to be successful, and if they're not, no technology or digital conversion is going to be successful."