Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What are the keys to successfully integrating technology into education and making a school good to great?

by Fred Sharpsteen

Introduction to technology education research paper

What makes a school’s technology educational system move from being good to great? Is it a school that spends thousands of dollars on technology? Is it a school that lives on the leading edge of technology innovation? Perhaps it is the school that uses only the latest teaching methods. Well, as you will see after reading this research paper, no amount of money or technology can change an educational system by itself. There is no magic bullet to make children learn. It takes some basic skills and lots of hard work to change a system from being a good system to moving it forward to become a great system. After reading the book, Good to Great, I found that there are many parallels between great businesses and great educational systems, as described by Good to Great researcher Jim Collins.
There can be two types of good to great systems. One is a pocket of greatness and the other is organization-wide greatness. I will try to demonstrate this with some examples of how you can have a small pocket of success in any organization.
The first concept is it takes “level five leadership” within the organization, as described by Jim Collins. This leadership means that the organization would have great leadership at all levels, from the Superintendent down to the teachers, for the organization to become great. They are broken up into five levels of leadership; hence, the term “level five”. Level one is a highly capable individual member, such as the teachers in an educational organization. Level two is a contributing team member, such as a person on the School Improvement Team. Level three is a department chair or a lead teacher that is a competent manager. Effective leaders would be level four, such as principals and assistant superintendents. Level five is the executive or the superintendent and boards of education.
The second concept is: “it takes a hedgehog concept”. The hedgehog is based on a little animal with sharp quills. In “The Hedgehog and the Fox” by Isaiah Berlin, the author divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes, based upon an ancient Greek parable. “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one basic thing. He is a simplistic little creature and doesn’t do many things in his life, but what he does he will do well.” So what is it that they do? They survey from the foxes out there. If the hedgehog is trapped by a fox, he rolls into a ball and the long needles similar to a porcupine’s protect him. Jim Collins describes the hedgehog concept as three interconnected circles that overlap. Where all three overlap is the center where you should focus your energy of change. Number one is “What you are deeply passionate about.” Number two is “What you can be the best in the world at.” And number three is “What best drives your economic engine?” As educators we can look at these factors and can see how they should be implemented into the school improvement system. Almost every educator that I have ever talked with about education and what is important to them speaks about why they originally went into education. They talk about their deep passion to teach and help others and their love of children. This leads into the second factor that if we have that drive from number one then lets work together to get the best out of each one of the students. Lets encourage them and foster a deep desire for them to want to learn. This brings us to number three. It is much harder to come up with an analogy in education, but it is the success of helping children fulfilling their destiny to graduate and be successful in life. This is the economic engine and is the educational system output instead of a cash flow. It is not good enough to just have great educational graduation rates. Instead, we should have productive graduates that are ready and skilled to move on to the next phase of their life.
There is also a concept called “the Stockdale pyridine”. James Stockdale talks about his time in prisoner-of-war camps where he was held from 1965 until 1973. He talks about how the prisoners who thought they would get out of this any day were less likely to survive than the prisoners who believed they would never leave. It has to do with will power to stay the course. So, maintain the faith while you are working on changing the systems. Know that it may take many tries before we get to the point of greatness.
Another factor as described by Jim Collins in making a school good to great is getting the right people on the bus and the right people into the right seat on the bus. He also talks about getting the other people off the bus if they don’t want to be on it or should not be on it. This analogy refers to having the right person for the right job in an institution. An example would be having a highly qualified teacher in his area of expertise teaching that subject. In other words, don’t put a math teacher into a history class and expect him to teach this subject with mastery if he has never had history classes. Having the right people on the bus also means finding people that deeply care and are willing to help the school become great. If they don’t, lets help them off this bus and get them on a different one.
The last concept is “the flywheel effect”. A flywheel makes one rotation with limited speed, then another, and another, picking up speed every time it rotates until it hits break through speed and we start having great success. It is not one program, such as one-to-one computers in schools, but it is combining that with a magic piece of software. It is one good change at a time that ends in a successful outcome. How many times have you heard an older staff member say, “just wait until this project fails and we will then just move on to the next new strategy. I am not going to change all my materials until I know it is going to be implemented.” This is why we need to make sure that when we establish a new strategy the leadership is fully behind it to make sure that it will be successful. Also, another strategy might be to do a core test group. Then work out the problems until the problems are solved with a “get it done” style staff. You then would roll out the change in a larger group. This way we can make the flywheel effect continue to pick up momentum until our organization hits break through speed.
Does technology make the difference in good to great schools? I think if we look at many schools we find that it is not the technology that makes a school great, but it is all the other factors described in the introduction of this paper. To prove this, we can look at when the government gives money to schools that are AYP (adequate yearly progress) deficient, they most likely don’t have great leadership established and/or do not adequately train staff in the new program. The outcome of the program will not be successful or come close to reaching its potential. Lets look at some research that demonstrates this. In the report by North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL) called “Using Technology to Improve Student Achievement”, it says, “Educational technology is not, and never will be, transformative on its own. But when decisions are made strategically with these factors in mind, technology can play a critical role in creating new circumstances and opportunities for learning that can be rich and exciting”. What are the keys to successful technology integration? Level five leadership is demonstrated in the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL) report called the “Critical Issue: Technology Leadership:” Enhancing Positive Educational Change written by Gilbert Valdez, Ph.D., “Knowledgeable and effective school leaders are extremely important in determining whether technology use will improve learning for all students. Many school administrators may be uncomfortable providing leadership in technology areas, however. They may be uncertain about implementing effective technology leadership strategies in ways that will improve learning, or they may believe their own knowledge of technology is inadequate to make meaningful recommendations.” This statement follows along with the beliefs in the book “Good to Great” as it describes “Level Five Leadership”. International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is a great leadership organization that has helped schools with technology integration into the curriculum. One of its roles has been working with educators from across the country to establish technology standards for all students, teachers, and school leaders. These standards are called the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS). There are six main points of the NETS for students that we need to make sure they learn in order to make them successful learners.

Basic operations and concepts

Students demonstrate a sound understanding of the nature and operation of technology systems.

Students are proficient in the use of technology.

For the technology natives as the students compared to us, the technology immigrants, this standard is well covered in most educational settings. In fact there are advocates out there that say that someday we will be able to drop this as a requirement because they feel that all students will come to school well prepared in the subject area.

Social, ethical, and human issues

Students understand the ethical, cultural, and societal issues related to technology.
Students practice responsible use of technology systems, information, and software.
Students develop positive attitudes toward technology uses that support lifelong learning, collaboration, personal pursuits, and productivity.

This is a standard that we need to work harder for. As a community as a whole, we are lacking in the ethics, not just in technology but also in our culture.

Technology productivity tools

Students use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity, and promote creativity.

Students use productivity tools to collaborate in constructing technology-enhanced models, prepare publications, and produce other creative works.

There are some neat tools in this area, such as Blogs, the Wiki, and even MySpace if it is used appropriately.

Technology communication tools

Students use telecommunications to collaborate, publish, and interact with peers, experts, and other audiences.

Students use a variety of media and formats to communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences.

I think a good example of this is You Tube and how students are using this to send their message. Again, we need to make sure that this is being used responsibly and with ethics and that morals are being considered.

Technology research tools

Students use technology to locate, evaluate, and collect information from a variety of sources.

Students use technology tools to process data and report results.

Students evaluate and select new information resources and technological innovations based on the appropriateness for specific tasks.

The Internet has given us a great research tool to help collect data and information. With all the new books and research papers being written daily, there is no physically possible way to find all this information without tools such as Google and other search engines.
Technology problem-solving and decision-making tools
Students use technology resources for solving problems and making informed decisions.
Students employ technology in the development of strategies for solving problems in the real world.

Although a computer at this point cannot have logical thought processes like the human brain is capable of, it can help us make logical choices. An example of how computers process is a simple spreadsheet where if a factor equals a value then this is to happen. These are great tools that can save us countless hours in processing data. The NETS standards for teachers and administration can be found at http://cnets.iste.org/index.html. These are important tools for all educators to help gain the leadership skills that are going to be needed in the future to help make successful students in our culture.

How can we have just a pocket of greatness? If you are a department chair, you could exhibit great leadership and make sure that your department has the right people on the bus. You can also further make sure that you not only have the right people on the bus, but you can make sure they are all in the right seats, i.e., that they are highly qualified to teach the subject they are placed in. You could further make sure that everyone is trained to become a master teacher and that they know the proper and appropriate use of the instructional technology. Finally, get the flywheel effect going, one success at a time, until the flywheel is spinning fast enough so that you have breakthrough success. Keep the faith. It is a long journey and there will be no quick fixes to becoming great. If you think of yourself as just always being good and strive to become great, you will reach your goal and only others will think of you as being great. Just as John C. Maxwell talks about in his book. “360 Degrees of Leadership”, you can be a leader at any level in your organization. You also now know that you can help the organization by starting a pocket of greatness at your level.


Lets look at how we can make a successful transformation from the 21st century learner into an engaged and accelerated learner. One of the strategies is the “crawl, walk, run”. It can be a very effective approach, even during times of rapid and radical technological change
, as described by Jim Collins. We need to take those first few baby steps until we feel confident that we can go a little further without use of some of the aids till we are finally off and walking without any help. “The good-to-great schools used technology as an accelerator of momentum, not a creator of it.” Here are a few examples I found that I feel fit into this category. One is the Classroom Performance Systems (CPS). They are like TV remotes used for summative and formative assessments. The other product was the Scranton Performance series. This is a web-based student assessment that can check students’ knowledge based on the state standards down to the grade level content expectation (GLCE). Both these tools seem to help motivate, give quick feedback, and allow the educators to quickly find students’ strengths and weaknesses.

I think you could also make a good argument for this fact by Jim Collins. “The idea that technological change is the principal cause in the decline of once-great schools or companies (or the perpetual mediocrity of others) are not supported by the evidence.” Furthermore, “How a school reacts to technological change is a good indicator of its inner drive for greatness versus mediocrity. Great schools respond with thoughtfulness and creativity, driven by a compulsion to turn unrealized potential into results; mediocre schools react and lurch about, motivated by the fear of being left behind. The good-to-great schools used technology as an accelerator of momentum, not a creator of it. None of the good-to-great schools began their transformations with pioneering technology, yet they all became pioneers in the application of technology once they grasped how it fit with their systems of education.” Wow! This is a powerful statement. In other words, as we are making the transition, we may not realize it but we have morphed from an ugly larva into a beautiful butterfly. I also found his thoughts on giving technology to an organization without the systems in place and watching it fail, as described in this statement, very intriguing. Jim Collins says, “You could have taken the exact same leading-edge technologies pioneered at the good-to-great school and handed them to their direct comparisons for free, and the comparisons still would have failed to produce anywhere near the same results.”
So, after doing this research, I find that it is not how much money we are going to throw at these schools to close the technology gaps, but rather it is instead the implementation, the leadership that drives a school to become great instead of accepting the fact that they may be good. It is getting the right people on the bus and the right people into the right seats. This is what will make it all work to help educate our children to their full potential and beyond in this flat world with great global competitiveness.

Works Cited

Collins, Jim. Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2005.

Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't. Great Britain: Collins, 0.

Friedman, Thomas L.. The World Is Flat [Updated and Expanded]: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.

"ISTE National Educational Technology Standards." International Society for Technology in Education Home. 02 Oct 2007 .

Mahler, Jonathan. "The Prisoner - New York Times." The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 01 Oct 2007 .

Maxwell, John C.. The 360 Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization. Toronto: Thomas Nelson, 2006.

“NCREL North Central Regional educational Laboratory.” Home. 03 Oct. 2007

"Welcome to Jim Collins.com." Welcome to Jim Collins.com. 25 Sept. 2007 .

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I am the Director of Technology at a K-12 School system.