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Overcoming EdTech Inertia

Over and over I see the same issue popping up with the uptake of new technology by teachers. Apparently, implementations fail because teachers are 'set in their ways' or reluctant to 'fix' something that isn't broken. I've seen teachers respond this way myself and even, at times, been guilty of it. Why would I want to replace my markbook with an iPad app that does exactly the same thing, but requires me to carry around an expensive piece of kit? Why would I want to set homework via a VLE when I can more easily set it in lessons and know firsthand that the little darlings have inscribed it in their planners, rather than relying on them to log into a system and find my message? The answer is, given those circumstances, I wouldn't, and nor would any sane or responsible teacher. For me, it is unclear how the initial investment of time (to learn and implement) is going to result in better quality teaching and learning, or a more streamlined administrative process.

In a profession where every hour counts, asking teaching staff to invest time and energy in a system that doesn't have a measurable and obvious benefit for themselves or the students is, at best, unlikely to work, and at worst, exploitative. Any time spent working on implementing the new system is either in addition to a teacher's normal day, or at the expense of other more immediately productive activities such as marking or planning lessons.

Either way, there is an opportunity cost; you have a situation where additional time spent learning and or implementing a new tech system makes a teacher less effective at being a teacher, or presumes that the idealism of those in the teaching profession makes them willing to sacrifice their personal life beyond the usual demands of the job. So, even among idealistic tech-savvy teachers like myself, there is going to be significant inertia, that is, resistance, to using new technology. You could think of this inertia as follows (bad maths, but valid illustration, I think!): Inertia = Opportunity cost + Learning Investment - Perception of Future Benefits The challenge for managers who are attempting to change the culture of a school, is identifying the source of the inertia and providing the right amount of activation energy (support and designated time) to overcome the inertia in all teaching staff - or in at least enough of them that the culture begins to shift. So, in order to lower inertia, effective tech implementations need to do three things.

  1. Lower the opportunity cost of implementing new technology. That means, provide designated non-contact times for teachers to learn and innovate that doesn't have a knock-on effect on teachers' other duties. Other ways of further decreasing opportunity cost is to ensure that teachers are not reinventing the wheel - give them time to talk to each other and share resources.

  2. Ensure that there is adequate training and support for the new technology. Training and support does not just include showing staff members how to log in, set up a system, create an entry etc (you would never tell a student how to do a process and call it a day!). The training needs to be fit for purpose and include time to explore, test, create and consolidate.

  3. Ensure that teachers fully understand the potential future benefits of adopting the new technology. Part of the implementation needs to involve examples of good practice that clearly demonstrate how the new technology supports teachers and solves problems in the subject or area of responsibility of EACH teacher. That means time in departments or working groups exploring possibilities to encourage teachers to adopt the new system. Perhaps, as a manager, you might spend time with individual departments identifying problems that the new technology could help solve, or existing practices that could be streamlined or made more effective. If you are unable to clearly communicate the future benefit of uptake of new tech, it's probably time to question its value.

And finally, it's worth pointing out that not all whizzy apps and fancy hardware are valuable. Not all of them are worth spending the activation energy. Sometimes pen and paper is just better. Sometimes an app just encourages is lousy teaching practice. Creating an effective technology-rich environment is vital to the success of a school, but handing every teacher an iPad is not going to cut it. Instead of starting with the technology and trying to make it fit the profile of the school, start with the problems - like the processes that require duplication of effort, or the resources that need to be found or invented over and over again. How could technology allow you to share information and resources with and between teachers, students and outside experts to make things better?

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