Article: What would happen is Teacher drove District Technology Purchases


This is a great tweet I saw earlier in the summer.  Speaks to the ongoing debate of what platforms we should go with.

By Christopher Miller and Laura Vladika

In the 2012–13 school year, Skokie School District 69 (located in suburban Chicago, Ill.) began experimenting with teacher-led research and development (R&D). For the first time, teacher teams had the option of conducting in-house R&D to see which curriculum, instruction, and assessment strategies worked best for our students. Interested teams submitted proposals answering the following questions:

  • What is the problem we are trying to solve, and how does it relate to teaching and learning?
  • How will implementation of our strategy or research cause the change that is needed?
  • Who is accountable for implementation, and what do they need to be successful?
  • What evidence will let us know our strategy is working?
  • How will we share our findings with stakeholders?

We saw some exciting R&D completed during that first year, and even more progressive and high-quality proposals came forth in the 2013–14 school year. Teacher-led R&D led to a pervasive cultural shift in the way we do business in District 69. In the winter of 2014, the district leadership team began to discuss ways we could expand on the successes of the R&D, and that’s when technology innovation grants were born.

Although District 69 has long been “device agnostic” (we are not committed to any one platform or brand), teachers have not had a large say in the hardware purchased each year. We are a technology-rich district, but simply having various devices available does not ensure their use. As an administrative team, we hypothesized that if teachers had substantial decision-making power on what types and brands of devices they had access to, we would see effective technology use increase significantly.

This spring, teachers in teams or small groups will submit proposals to replace instructional technology that has reached its end of life and to bring additional technology into their classrooms. Essentially, the district technology budget will split into two parts: infrastructure and instruction. The technology department will continue to manage the back end through the infrastructure budget, while a panel of technicians, administrators, teachers, and students will review staff proposals for instructional purchases, both hardware and software.

Before starting their proposals, staff will receive a list of equipment that is retiring, the decision matrix for grant awards, and a menu of devices with their associated costs. They build the grant proposal in Google Forms, including a narrative explaining what they’ve chosen and why, how their choice relates to a SMART goal aligned with a student achievement outcome, the estimated number of students affected, the estimated amount of technological support needed, and a budget with initial and recurring costs. The panel uses a decision matrix that weighs these factors in their final choice.

Successful applicants must submit a review to the panel the following year. The panel will evaluate implementations that are struggling, adjust them as needed, or identify ways to repurpose the devices. The panel will consider the successful implementations for expansion across a grade level or even the district. Participants will share their experiences at staff and board meetings as a way to raise awareness and participation in the program prior to the next year’s round of grant proposals.

Because of the dramatic change in the way we are purchasing technology, the initial years of this project will require a high level of assistance from the technology staff in each building. Having staff work on proposals in groups adds the benefit of growing teacher leaders in technology, while exposing staff that are uncomfortable with technology to new devices as well as a different way of thinking about classroom instruction. Wherever this particular journey ends, we know we have left indelible footprints on our district’s path to more innovative technology implementation.

Christopher Miller is technology coordinator at Skokie/Morton Grove School District 69 in Skokie, Ill. Laura Vladika is director of curriculum and personnel at Skokie/Morton Grove School District 69.

ASCD Express, Vol. 9, No. 19. Copyright 2014 by ASCD. All rights reserved


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