This is the continuation in a series about the 6 Elements for the Implementation and Sustainability of Blended Learning initiatives that I helped develop for iNACOL. The six elements that are needed to sustain and implement a blended learning program include:
- Previously, I have written about leadership, professional development, teaching, operations and content. Today, the final element, or Element #6 is technology.
When I talk about the technology, others refer to this as the technology backbone or infrastructure. This includes the network, software and hardware, and devices used to access the content and resources for the blended learning initiative. Most school districts and schools have this infrastructure in place at some level. However, as any educator or student knows, if you can’t access what you’re looking for when you want it, then the infrastructure is not working right. The goal is to make sure there is a reliable and robust network that can be accessed by administrators, teachers and students when they need to use it. Many years ago, I had the good fortune of visiting the main office of eBay in San Jose, California. They showed us their main computer room and shared that their goal is to be up and working 99% of the time. That seems like a reasonable goal for any technology infrastructure in any school district or system.
In addition to ensuring that the technology infrastructure is reliable, there is also the need for ongoing support in operating the technology, the devices utilized and how to access the online resources. In the beginning, this support is critical and is much more time intensive than it will be once the initiative is up and running. The technology support staff should be the type of people who are encouraging and empowering to the end users, whether the end user is an administrator, teacher, parent or student.
School leaders should should consider the following key questions regarding the technology used for the blended learning initiative:
- What technology, hardware, software, and networking, will be needed to run a successful blended learning initiative?
- What technology infrastructure is currently available to support blended learning?
- What investments need to be made to the school’s technological infrastructure including but not limited to bandwidth, hardware, and software?
- What support systems are needed to maintain the technological infrastructure?
- Will the school employ a single-platform hardware approach or utilize multiple platforms (PC, Macs)?
- Will the school support BYOD (bring your own device) for students?
- If the school is providing devices for staff and students, what is the ongoing plan and funding for the devices? Will you purchase or lease?
- If the school is providing devices for staff and students, what is the ongoing plan and funding to refresh the devices? (every 3 years? or 4 years?)
- Will staff and students access the network via wireless or hard wired?
- What technology accessibility, if any, will students need to have outside of school?
- How do you ensure interoperability between systems (content, hardware, learning management system)?
Overall, schools or districts will want to ensure a successful implementation of a blended learning initiative by putting the following technology infrastructure support systems and promising practices in place:
- A robust network that can be accessed by a variety of student and teacher devices.
- A course management system/platform has been provided for use by blended teachers, including individualized student logins, discussion board, teacher assignments, and digital grade book.
- A platform that includes reporting and analytic capabilities that provide information to the teacher about student learning and provide opportunities for teachers to individualize student learning.
- District technical support is available via phone and email.
- Ongoing meetings between leadership, teachers and students about technology use and tools that facilitate progress towards the blended learning goals.
- Ongoing communication loops (e.g. website of FAQs, ongoing blog about issues, use of Twitter, etc.) between the technology support people, school administrators, teachers, students and parents about the overall technology infrastructure and blended learning initiative.
- Ongoing training and professional development and materials for administrators, teachers and students in the use of technology and the technology tools (this should include face-to-face, online, videos, how-to videos, screenshots, etc.) and never underestimate how students can help with this as well.
Next week, I’ll share how these elements are being instituted in a variety of schools and settings throughout the U.S.