Through my work in educational technology over the past 25 years, I have been very fortunate to work closely with top-notch professional educators and am always amazed by the skills, commitment, and resourcefulness they bring to perhaps the most difficult job imaginable: teaching large numbers of students to become confident and competent learners equipped for the challenges of the future.
To do their job well, today’s educators are keen on providing students with access to effective tools. Naturally, they are focused on the conceptual design of these tools as well as their demonstrated effectiveness. For those of us working in edtech, it is our job to ensure that we develop tools that not only perform well, but are also held to high scientific standards. Even more importantly, it is absolutely critical that we are deploying tools under the right conditions to ensure we have the best chance to reach all students.
I have been part of the implementation of products in hundreds of schools over the last two decades and have seen many instances where the right conditions were set up for implementation success. I have also, unfortunately and to my regret, been involved in situations where those conditions were not in place and I am always left wondering what could have be done to remedy it. Fortunately, the situations in which these conditions were well-instantiated share some common characteristics that I share with customer-partners whenever possible.
Here are six key strategies to ensure that “the right conditions” are in place and that the edtech rollout will be successful:
1. Adherence to the Model
There is a commitment to deeply understanding the design of the tool, including its content, intended use, frequency, and duration, as well as a shared expectation that it will be used as designed. With everyone on the same page, the team can work creatively together to best fit the tool to the unique characteristics of the school or students.
2. Active Leadership
Every project needs a strong and engaged leader to both set the tone and support the teachers. I have seen staff with varying titles in schools play this role, and often the more successful individuals don’t necessarily have formal authority, but rather lead through energy, creativity and an attitude of service. The more that is done to help implementation, through monitoring, feedback, and training, the higher the potential that the edtech is implemented with fidelity.
3. Effective Communication
With the commitment to adherence comes the need for frequent, open conversation to identify and address any issues that are creating barriers. Open communication between edtech providers, administrators and teachers is also critical to maintaining the next feature of good implementations, which include the following:
4. Engaged Participants
If school staff and the students they are working with view an intervention as being of no relevance to them, if it conflicts with other priorities, or if the resources necessary to support the project are not available, it is probable that they will disengage (or never engage at all). Their non-engagement may be a major cause of the implementation’s ultimate failure.
5. Measurement Plan
Most successful implementations have a clear plan to monitor and measure the fidelity of implementation as well as its impact. That plan can help identify where adjustments are needed, assist with communication within the team and to external stakeholders (such as parents), and assist with shared accountability.
6. Shared responsibility
While schools must have many elements in place to ensure a successful rollout, edtech companies must also be held to high expectations. It is the responsibility of the edtech provider to communicate well with districts and provide frequent and accessible opportunities for participant training and support. Ultimately, schools and edtech providers should also share responsibility for implementation fidelity and its ultimate success.
As we continue to learn more about what students need to support their learning, developers will undoubtedly continue to create innovative tools to support teachers in assisting their students. By forging strong partnerships with schools, we can work together to create the best conditions for educators to effectively deploy those tools, which in turn will lead to powerful results
Jason Smith, Chief Operating Officer, Foundations in Learning
January 24, 2019