Note: The name of the digital learning platform Changella, as well as the Canadian educational publisher (CanEdPub) that created Changella, have been changed from their actual names for this blog post.
Specific Challenge outlined in the Changella Case Study
Changella is a K12 digital learning platform created by CanEdPub. Changella has at its core, a content library composed of grade-level, curriculum-aligned content (text, videos, interactive activities), in addition to several partner apps (Pear Deck, Knowledgehook, myON, WeVideo, EssayJack). Students, and then teachers, benefit the most from the implementation of Changella on a 1:1 basis in their classrooms, and at home (Changella is given to the students for the year, with a daily option to be taken home at night, with online and offline access to resources). The stakeholders involved in the implementation of the Changella project are School Board Executives (Directors), Changella Account Representatives, Changella Classroom Success Facilitators/Trainers, school Principals, teachers, students, and parents. School boards agree to first pilot Changella for a year, then decide if they will sign a one-year licencing agreement for hardware and/or software. I have been a part of many training, implementation, and follow-up classroom visits with teachers and students who are using Changella. I will base this post on two common Changella scenarios: teachers fully embrace and engage their students with Changella on various cross-curricular levels; secondly, teachers do not use Changella, and the class-set of devices sits unused, on a shelf in the classroom. Therefore, Changella has been highly successful in most circumstances, and in a limited sense in others. Full-day training led by Changella Classroom Facilitators/Trainers (from CanEdPub) were generally very successful, and follow-up classroom visits, 4-8 weeks after the full-day training, were very productive and widely well-received. The challenge, from an educational perspective, was to train and engage teaching staff to use the resources and tools of Changella to complement and amplify learning in their classrooms. Students are always very eager to use Changella in many different ways; it is teachers, for various reasons, that sometimes resist or do not implement Changella usage in their teaching practice.
Communication of Overall Goals
The overall goals communicated for Changella were in the context of a one-year plan for a pilot project. The goals revolved around offering curriculum-aligned tools and resources to improve student learning and engagement (online and offline access), as well as to make teachers’ lives easier, not more difficult (Personal communication, K. Peterson and C. Varley, February 27, 2020). Changella facilitators reiterate throughout the initial full-day training, that teachers start integrating Changella where it works for them, to aid in planning and differentiation; Changella is not meant to be another stressful add-on that teachers need to navigate amongst a world of competing pressures. More communication and transparency from decision-makers at executive levels of school boards, that speak to potential long-term goals and a strategic vision surrounding the project, may have led to more success with implementation/overall Changella usage in some schools. Teachers were often left wondering if Changella would be available the following year; some teachers were unwilling to commit to the learning curve involved with Changella if they were uncertain of whether they would have it the following year. Specifically, consensus-building conversations before Changella training, involving stakeholders on school levels, could create a greater sense of inclusion and empowerment of teachers, moving into the pilot project (Huggins, 2017; Sheninger, 2014). Establishing willing peer-leaders to champion change and offer ongoing peer-support could also set a different initial tone towards Changella training and implementation (Huggins, 2017).
Barriers to Successful Implementation
Successful implementation of Changella is defined as: teachers integrate Changella into their teaching practice in some way, and most importantly, students are more engaged in their learning through the resources and tools of Changella’s 1:1 program (Personal communication, K. Peterson and C. Varley, February 27, 2020). The most significant barriers to the successful implementation of Changella have been adaptive problems versus technical problems. Organizational readiness and cultural norms are two of the primary sources of barriers to the successful implementation of innovation (Conway, Masters, & Thorald, 2017). In a number of schools, there were three specific barriers connected to organizational readiness and cultural norms: communication about long-term commitments to Changella use, teachers considered to be laggards in Everett Rogers’ model of the adoption curve (Rogers, 1962, in Conway, Masters, & Thorald, 2017, p.9), and pedagogical shifts that had not yet occurred to integrate EdTech into teaching practices. Different school boards choose to use a project plan of their choice to roll-out Changella implementation; however, Changella’s pilot project plan (established by CanEdPub) is based on an initial full-day PD session, membership to Changella’s professional learning network, in-person follow-up classroom consultations/support 4-6 weeks from initial training, and online support. My observations of these barriers to innovation are based primarily on first-year pilot projects and experiences from a Changella Classroom Success Facilitator’s perspective, and previous experience as a classroom teacher for 18 years.
Suggestions to Overcome Barriers
The changes in planning that I think would have helped mitigate the challenges and barriers encountered are: transparency and communication of long-term goals from school board leaders, and more ongoing peer-mentoring and professional development (PD). The use of learning analytics, data-driven decision making (DDDM), and other research-based decisions shared with stakeholders can be an effective component of strategic visions when shared with end-users (Marsh, Pane, & Hamilton, 2006; Sclater, Peasgood, & Mullan, 2016; Zettelmeyer, 2015). Ongoing PD, even lunch and learn sessions, revolving around the use of EdTech in classes, may have added more strength and validity to the pilot projects. The challenges were overcome in some cases through extra effort spent during initial Changella PD, working one-on-one with resistant or concerned teachers. Similarly, classroom consultations with Changella Facilitators provided support to teachers who were lower on the EdTech acquisition curve or engagement with the SAMR model (Puentedura, 2015). In fact, the SAMR Model sketchnote created by Sylvia Duckworth was a great point of reassurance used by Classroom Facilitators to encourage less tech-savvy or resistant teachers, to start using Changella by intermittently wading into the shallow end of the EdTech pool.
Methods and Ideas for Future Implementation
The methods that I see myself using in my practice, as a Classroom Facilitator for an innovative EdTech platform in this K12 context are: encouraging more peer-mentor relationships, and encouraging transparent communication about board innovation and EdTech goals in the form of a shared strategic framework. Peer-mentoring or distributed leadership models can help to carry such innovations further and deeper in a school setting (Huggins, 2017). In my current role, I don’t have the input or authority to influence communication with executive leadership teams at school boards and their staff. If I did, I would encourage the decision-makers, Directors and Chief Information Officers to work to clearly communicate an EdTech vision and long-term plans, leading up to the pilot project, and every year, thereafter.
Al-Haddad and Kotnour (2015) identify ongoing communication from change enablers, involving “a proper alignment between content, people and process,” as integral components to successful change (p. 244). I see communication about EdTech goals as both “tame and wicked problems” that require more systems-centred design that maintains a holistic view and approach (Rittel, 1973, in Conway, Masters, & Thorald, 2017, p.14). As much as school boards are under pressure to work with increasingly constrained budgets, creating and supporting positions such as learning technology developers that “move beyond just thinking about learning technologies as tools (or efficiency mechanisms) and consider the generative ways in which technologies might act as co-agents alongside teachers,” will create even more sustainable EdTech strategies and solutions (Scott, 2019, para. 2). On a much higher, complex, and wicked level, I would encourage systems-based design that involved the establishment of an EdTech Oversight body (EOB) at the school board level. Such an EOB would work to make teachers more accountable for their willingness to infuse their teaching practices with EdTech, versus not at all. Sandner (2020) shares his vision of an “EOB [as having] authority and autonomy to look at all levels of education and provide audits of system performance, acknowledgement of best practice and some ability to monitor all levels of education to ensure the results of these audits and best practices are implemented” (L. Sandner, personal communication, February 25, 2020). The University of Calgary established a Strategic Framework for Learning Technologies in 2011 that has elements of an EOB, recognizing instructors’ contributions to technology integration and mentoring workload (University of Calgary, 2014, p.13).
We talk a lot about 21st century learning skills and competencies. However, the use of EdTech and a pedagogical shift to incorporate new ways of learning and assessment of learning using digital tools is largely left to individual K12 teachers’ discretion. For a teacher to leave a set of devices loaded with tools and resources, in a supply room or on a shelf at the back of a classroom, seems to be doing students a disservice and leaving valuable 21st century learning resources untapped. There is currently no EOB that supports or holds teachers accountable to implement valuable EdTech that best serves the needs and interests of students today, almost a quarter-way into the 21st century. Valuable digital tools and pedagogies need to be embraced for the sake of students’ learning needs and interests. A guiding priority needs to be: students. A guiding commitment to meet challenges and a steep learning curve of innovation needs to be: a professional obligation of teachers and school leadership teams.
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