ICT4ED: A solution in search of a problem? (part 4: many a slip ‘tween cup and lip)

Back when I was a High School Vice Principal I was a technology evangelist. I was definitely an early adopter – I saw right away the powerful ways technology could impact my work. I devised technology-aided systems that would revolutionize how we did school – only to be frustrated, disappointed and befuddled that my staff reluctantly if at all made efforts to implement what I proposed. “Can’t they see how it helps their teaching and the students’ learning? Can’t they see how it streamlines their work processes? Can’t they see how it helps track problems so that persistent issues can be handled more quickly and directly? Can’t they see HOW GOOD this stuff is???” I was continuously exhausted by the amount of training and scaffolding we needed to build and implement just to get the programmes started. Nor did it end there. I didn’t predict the continual training and retraining necessary to ensure some degree of implementation. More often than not my good intentions led to half-baked interventions. And we all know where good intentions lead.

It turns out that our experience was not unique – insufficient implementation is the bane of many e-learning and ed tech programmes even when well matched with problems they are solving. In fact, I found implementation fidelity to be one of the strongest predictor of one-to-one laptop programme success. And because technology integration affects so many levels and conditions of learning, programmes with anything less than the highest levels of implementation tended to flounder within the first years. Moreover, implementation did not improve over time. Typically the first two years saw the greatest attention paid to implementation, after which implementation efforts tapered off. So if the programme was not implemented faithfully from the start, there was little chance that was going to improve.

Successful implementation has its own drawbacks as well. As teachers successfully implement a technology intervention and become proficient with the technology, they adapt the intervention to their preferences. This is wonderful in principle but adds a whole new set of variables that may potentially derail the intervention if not carefully managed. It is exactly at this point however that the attention paid to implementation tends to wane. Successfully programmes can see a drop-off after the first few years if continuous attention is not paid to implementation fidelity.

Our fourth challenge is to design not only effective interventions that work in our short to medium term experiments, but also to plan implementation strategies that facilitate the scaling of large-scale long term versions. –> part 5: managing change (available 20 July)

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