Does This Really Work?
By Sara Sawtelle
The Keys to Implementing New Technology
While Providing Evidence that Technology is Successful
Proving that technology works… It is not as simple as proving that a new vendor for art supplies is more cost effective. Technology effectiveness requires both the right software and the right implementation. Just having the software is not enough. Proper planning, training, leadership, support, pedagogy, and software use—along with many other factors—will determine whether the technology works. When so many factors can affect the outcome, we need a proven protocol, as almost every administrator, principal, and teacher will agree. But still many technology implementations are less than successful. As a scientist and a teacher, I believe that we can borrow from the Scientific Method and from some common-sense approaches to increase our chances of success.
Most people think of the Scientific Method as a set of five steps to use when creating a science experiment. But it has broader application to any situation where the steps of gathering observable, measurable evidence, using good objective reasoning to evaluate outcomes, and then repeating the cycle are warranted. Such a process is essential to show the strengths, weaknesses, and return on investment for any program a school chooses to use.
The Software and Information Industry Association has released a checklist that includes 10 essential concepts that underlie all effective implementations. (Editor’s Note: A list of the 10 concepts begins on page 14. The list is available at http://www.siia. net/education/pubs/pp_Checklist.pdf.) These concepts embody the things I try to instill into everyone I help with implementation. In addition, SIIA also has a toolkit to help schools work through the process of an implementation of any software, administrative or instructional.(http://www.siia.net/education/foreducators/toolkit_0407.pdf). While we can list the concepts, it’s easiest to see how they apply by using a story. This story involves a fictitious school district, Valley District, which has four elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school. As the story begins, two fourth grade teachers at one of the elementary schools discover a new reading software program. The teachers feel strongly that this program would be better than the one currently being used that dates from the 1980s. They believe this new program would really reach the students, getting them further engaged in their own learning. So, the teachers (Ms. Crum and Mr. Pappelwith) approach their principal about switching to it. Principal Leaven likes the idea but reminds them that the school board is demanding evidence that something is truly a benefit to the students of Valley District before expenditures will be authorized. Ms. Crum and Mr. Pappelwith immediately begin talking about what they can do to meet this requirement.
Stage 1: Create the Hypothesis
Principal Leaven, Ms. Crum, and Mr. Pappelwith meet with Mrs. White, the district elementary school director of curriculum and instruction. The four decide to move forward. They know they need to develop a plan to determine if the new reading program will help the students learn more effectively than the current program.