Reflections

After nearly 12 months of study, extensive literary research, and 3 complete action research cycles, my final reflections contain some of my most important techniques for increasing the likelihood of success for educational technology implementations.  Though these were written at the close of research timeframe, this document feels more like a crescendo than a coda!

For more information, please review my complete Action Research Report.



        A major goal of my action research was to improve my own abilities as an educational technology integration specialist. Motivated by a desire to improve my own skillset, I was able to conduct harmonious projects that affected change at my workplace, and improve the usage of technology in our curriculum. While working with teachers and students, I have developed extensive knowledge on practices that can be applied by myself or other technology integration specialists to improve the likelihood of success for technology integration projects. This section of my action research reports highlights some of the most important and effective techniques and methods for implementing educational technology and encouraging its initial and sustained usage. As my approach for integration typically revolves around project work, many of the concepts outlined below use an academic project as a framework.

Based on my literature review and action research, I believe that one of the most effective ways of integrating technology into a classroom or curriculum is by working in close collaboration with individual teachers. Successful technology integration requires working as close to the ground as possible. This is contradictory to most professional development, which, by design, is directed at groups of educators. Attention should be focused on a specific subject, project, and/or learning goal as perceived by the teacher partner. Similarly, an important skill that a technology integration specialist should possess is the ability to listen to the particular needs and goals of a teacher and his or her projects.

        Many projects will not necessarily be entirely technology-oriented, and thus the technology integration specialist may not be involved in all facets of the project. However, I believe that it is important for the specialist to be aware of all components, including those unrelated to technology. A discussion about the non-technology facets will not only increase the integration specialist’s understanding of the teaching and learning goals, but also make the specialist aware of potential problems. Though these problems may be unrelated to the technology elements of the project, if these problems lead to project difficulty or even failure, there may be a perception by the teacher partner or other faculty members that the integration of technology contributed to the disappointing results of the project. As an intelligent and capable faculty member, an integration specialist may be able to contribute to non-technology elements of a project. Finally, if the technology integration specialist does not inquire about non-technological elements of a project, then he or she is willfully ignoring significant components of a project in which he or she should be fully invested. As the conductor of important projects, I learned that I could increase the likelihood of euphonious implementations by being aware of the contributions of all instruments.

        During the earliest phases of a project, it is essential that the technology integration specialist and partner teachers discuss and understand the potential outcomes of the project. There are several important questions that I believe should be  used as talking points to ensure a clear understanding of the educational technology project. These include:

• What are the learning goals for this project?
• What are the technology goals for this project?
• What do we want the students to take away from this project?
• What do we want the teachers to take away from this project?
• What does a non-technology version of this project look like?

        By using these questions as a catalyst to in-depth conversation at project launch, the technology integration specialist and teacher position themselves to maximize the likelihood of success of the project. To further their understanding of the project, the team should distinguish between learning and technology goals. Isolating the different or intertwined goals will provide clarity and insights into the methods or technologies that may be selected for use. Similarly, understanding the takeaways, and establishing them in advance, will help identity the methodologies. Finally, I have found that it may be very useful for the technology integration specialist to consider past or non-technological versions of the same project. This will help shape the project’s configuration, and provide insight from a different perspective.

        When selecting a technology or a group of technologies for use in educational technology integrations, the technology integration specialist should research the simplest technologies that will meet the teaching and learning goals. While I may be inclined to push the technological limits of a project, experience has shown that the teacher-partners are often interested in the most basic solution that meets their needs. This method provides the collaborative team with the ability to expand to more advanced products or functionality in the future, without running the risk of confusing or alienating a teacher with systems that have more features than are required. Therefore, the technology integration specialist should research all potential tools for a project and choose the simplest one.

        Pursuant to the previous point, it is worthwhile for the integrator-teacher team to investigate non-technology options for a project. It may be possible that the learning goals are best achieved without technology. Even when this is not the case, the discussion of project execution without technology will typically be revealing for all parties.

        The previous two points highlight an important idea which I feel is axiomatic for the technology integration specialist: technology must be used for the sake of the teaching and learning goals, not for the sake of using the technology.

        An interesting and important discovery I made regarding technology integration into the classroom concerned technical setup. Initially I believed that it was important to train teachers on the configuration steps for the chosen technology, for example, the setup of student blogs. I discovered quickly, and repeatedly across cycles, however, that the technical setup is neither interesting to teachers, nor is it essential (or even related) to the learning goals. The learning goals are related to the usage of technologies, not to their setup or configuration. Particularly for the first iteration of a technology-oriented project, it behooves the technology integration specialist to perform the setup steps, and as much of the technical setup as possible, to create a smooth and simple experience for the teacher and students, allowing them to focus on the usage of the tool for educational purposes. There is a time and a place in which the integration specialist should perform work on behalf of the teacher, without necessarily explaining to the teacher what is being performed. Assuming the project goes well, upon completion, the teacher may be more inclined to learn about the technical setup because they are aware of the potential benefits from using the technologies. Ideally, the teacher will become interested in the setup elements once they have experienced the tool at work.

        By performing the technical work for a project, the integration specialist places him or herself in a position to predict potential challenges that may arise. For example, once setup is complete, the use of a technology tool may require certain configurations, and if these configurations may be perceived as complicated, the integration specialist should anticipate the problems and prepare for them in advance. This concept applies not only to configuration, but also to usage of a tool. Something as simple as a Google search for “common issues with product X” will enabled me to foreshadow issues and prepare troubleshooting documentation or videos. These problem-solving artifacts proved to be particularly useful for the teacher when the iI was unavailable, and will further enhance the teacher-integration specialist relationship, as the teacher will appreciate the proactive support. By considering and addressing problems in advance, the teacher-integration specialist team positions itself to avoid or quickly recover from problems, ensuring pleasing development from segment to segment of the project.

        Clearly, documentation and similar artifacts can be very beneficial for an integration specialist. Indeed, while documentation for a particular technology may exist, documentation for use of that particular technology under the precise circumstances of its use within a unique project likely does not exist. Therefore, my research made it clear to me that the technology integration specialist should prepare documentation or videos that clearly outline the use of the tool in a context that is familiar to the teacher partner. Often, the act of creating these artifacts will be beneficial to the integration specialist’s own understanding of the use of a tool within a specialized environment. Finally, while documenting a proposed procedure at the start of a project is important, it is equally important for the collaborative team to monitor the procedures and be prepared to modify the processes significantly as the technology is used in the classroom. The integration specialist must be amenable to changes in procedures and even in the technologies he or she may have suggested at the start of the project. Adaptability is crucial to success, and success is defined as the use of technology to support learning, not as the teacher becoming familiar with the recommended procedures.

        Just as the integration specialist must be flexible to procedural changes, the specialist must consider all the factors involved in a project, technological or otherwise. Small, overlooked factors may diminish or even ruin the potential benefits from using an educational technology. For example, if spreadsheet software will be used to record data measured during a science lab, the tools used for generating the data are as essential to the project as the software. To ensure smooth operation the technology integration specialist should consider all factors, and ensure that backup solutions are in place. In the example of data recording instruments during a science lab, the the project ran more smoothly after I realized that I needed to know the locations of extra thermometers, pressure gauges, and other measuring devices. Similarly, seemingly innocuous factors such as computer boot times or software load times should be considered if the project involves time-sensitive work such as science experiments.

        I discovered that an important skill for the technology integration specialist is the ability to extract added value from the technologies used for a project. Typically a technology is selected based on learning or teaching goals, and those goals will dictate the use of the technology. Under the right circumstance, the process can be reversed, and the technology can influence learning goals. A technology that is used by students to create a digital artifact can also provide a rubric or guidance that the teacher can use for gauging the quality of the artifact. For example, while students may use software to create charts, the teacher can use the software’s charting menu items to determine the essential elements of the charts, such as axis titles, legends, trend lines, and scales. The teacher can translate the options that the software provides into lessons or instructional elements, as long as they are in line with the initial learning or teaching goals.

        Over time and after successful projects, I found that the integration specialist may come to prefer and rely upon specific hardware or software technologies. Despite this knowledge of comfortable and reliable technologies, the educational technologist should regularly reflect upon the use of these technologies in new classroom scenarios or projects. The technology integration specialist must understand that a tool may be reliable and preferred in one situation, and nearly dysfunctional in another. The use of an instrument should be reconsidered for each new application, and compared to all other available tools. I have found that it is a poor practice to start a new project intent on using an existing tool rather than starting with a clean slate and considering all possible options that may meet the teaching and learning goals.

It is possible that a technology integration specialist may not have a list of projects awaiting implementation, or a group of faculty members eager to participate in a project. In these scenarios, the specialist must place him or herself in a position where projects can be conceived. There is no better location for this positioning than in the classroom. Indeed, I have observed that simply being in a classroom can immediately lead to teachable moments in which the technology specialist, by virtue of advanced technology knowledge, can provide small tips and tricks to a teacher as the teacher proceeds with a lesson. By highlighting time-saving technology methods, the specialist can build a rapport with the teacher as a problem solver with the potential to contribute useful ideas. Simultaneously, the specialist has positioned him or herself in a situation that is catalytic to conversations about ongoing projects and learning goals. In essence, just being in the room is the first step towards a technology integration project.

        I believe that it is essential for projects to be seen as collaborations with the teacher partner. The primary difference between educational technology work and information technology work is that educational technology work has direct teaching and learning benefits, whereas informational technology work pertains to infrastructure. There can be innumerable elements that contribute in unique and sometimes unpredictable manners to a technology integration project. A multi-faceted project that lacks the guidance of a skilled educational technology integration specialist will have an air of disorganization and unmelodiousness. With a strong, knowledgeable specialist as the project conductor, the vast elements of a project can be united harmoniously into a symphonic success. 

        Educational technology work directly affects the students and thus necessitates the strongest available resource. That resource is a collaborative partnership between a teacher and a technology integration specialist; the former devises the teaching and learning goals and projects, and the latter conducts them into reality. 


For more information, please review my complete Action Research Report.