How to Design an Effective Educational Technology Program

A strong educational technology program can impact student achievement.

Gone are the days of analog learning: rows of desks, a chalkboard, even whiteboards are quickly becoming relics of the past, more an “idea” of what schooling should look like than the reality in classrooms across the United States. In place of this idea, schools have embraced the latest developments in educational technology. From individual student Chromebooks, SMART Boards, and teacher laptops to online instructional platforms and data & assessment systems.

However, with these new tools come challenges for schools hoping to implement an effective educational technology program. The pandemic may have been a “test drive,” a trial-by-fire in which schools could test the capacity of their existing technology and technical know-how of their teachers, students, and staff members. But far from an aberration, the widespread use of educational technology during the pandemic is more likely a harbinger of things to come.

Remote learning or “hybrid” models are likely to become more common as schools evaluate the pros and cons of distance learning. Implementing these models–much less making them the “norm” for a particular school–requires robust educational technology infrastructure and troubleshooting support, services many schools aren’t yet equipped to provide. Below, we outline some of the key aspects of an educational technology program, as well as itemize specific challenges school leaders seeking to use technology to impact student achievement will face.

School IT Support Provider

Remote learning demonstrated the importance of effective education technology programming.

Before diving into best practices, it’s important to take stock of where we are now that most schools have returned to in-person instruction. Beginning in the spring of 2020, schools rapidly shifted from traditional, in-person learning to hybrid or fully remote models as a result of the pandemic.

As a result of this shift, school leaders were forced to use educational technology in new, innovative ways. For instance, before the pandemic, many teachers had little knowledge of Zoom, Google Classroom, or other online instructional platforms that became the norm during remote learning. Similarly, while many students struggled with remote instruction, others seemed to thrive. What was it about remote learning that caused these otherwise disengaged students to succeed, and how could teachers integrate these practices into traditional instructional models, at least for this subgroup of students?

The rapid shift to remote learning also underscored the need for robust troubleshooting support to solve common teacher and student technology issues. For schools working with a managed IT provider, managing incoming tickets was mostly hands-off: students and teachers called a designated number when they had a technology issue, and an IT team member helped solve the issue remotely. By contrast, schools that lacked this capacity likely struggled to manage the sheer volume of troubleshooting tickets.

First, schools need to determine how educational technology fits into their broader instructional design.

For schools hoping to scale their existing educational technology programming, solving these and other challenges is key. But first, schools should determine how educational technology fits into their broader instructional design.

The technology an arts-based middle school needs will differ dramatically from a STEM-focused high school or social justice-oriented after-school program. Similarly, resourced schools will have little trouble generating the financing to fund their program, while schools with tighter budgets will have to be more creative. More broadly, to what extent does the school want to integrate technology into its daily programming? While some leaders desire a 1:1 student-to-Chromebook ratio, others are more reserved, preferring more targeted, strategic technology interventions.

Launching and maintaining an educational technology program also requires effective training and maintenance. Given the demands of day-to-day school, it’s difficult to imagine adding educational technology to an existing administrator’s list of responsibilities. Who on the team, for instance, can manage the program, monitor its operations, and ultimately evaluate its effectiveness?

Next, roles and responsibilities: who is responsible for which aspects of the educational technology program?

In a similar vein, schools must decide which of their team members is responsible for each aspect of the educational technology program.

Hardware: who’s in charge of procurement, troubleshooting, and teacher and support staff training? With so many models to choose from, sourcing the right technology to meet the school’s needs can seem overwhelming. Moreover, not all models are created equal. While some student laptops, for example, are relatively inexpensive, they don’t last as long and aren’t designed to withstand the wear and tear that can occur through daily student use.

As for software, schools will need to acquire the correct number of student and staff “licenses” (i.e., digital permissions to access the software) and establish systems for data upload, cleaning, and analysis. Importing student data from the school’s student information system to online platforms like DreamBox or Newsela can prove time-consuming. Similarly, setting up “classrooms” within the online instructional system requires an ongoing dialogue between the school’s student information system and the online platform. How will the school ensure any updates in the former are captured by the latter?

Between hardware and software alone, it’s clear that managing even just one portion of the school’s educational technology program can take up an excessive amount of school leaders’ time. For these reasons, it often makes sense to either hire a full-time team member, if the school’s able, or a managed IT provider who can (at the very least) oversee day-to-day management of the program on a school leader’s behalf.

Rinse and repeat: how will the school ensure its educational technology program remains relevant?

Of course, anyone who pays attention to technology broadly knows that changes in the sector can occur rapidly. The latest and greatest device one year is quickly superseded by new, higher-performing models the next. When the school makes its purchasing decisions, it’s important to keep longevity in mind.

Sure, a particular SMART Board model might be the norm in most schools today, but what if it turns out that the company that provides them will no longer service the model in two years? Does the school really want to take on the task of fixing the SMART boards themselves? Similarly, as state and local data reporting requirements change, so too could the school’s preference for particular student information or data and assessment system.

Along with the other responsibilities that accompany the management of an effective educational technology program, keeping an eye on broader changes in the sector and how those changes, in turn, potentially impact the school’s program is critical. Each dollar the school spends on educational technology could be put to other uses, so spending money as wisely as possible allows the school to accomplish its non-technology goals.

Long-term planning takes time and resources. It’s tempting to put out the nearest fire.

An effective educational technology program will also think ahead. For many school leaders, it’s tempting just to put out the nearest fire: a student arrives in the main office and says she’s not feeling well, or an upset parent walks into the building demanding to speak to a school administrator. These common scenarios can derail administrators’ dedicated work time and ultimately compromise their ability to engage in effective long-term planning.

For an educational technology program to thrive, however, long-term planning is key. For instance, as the school prepares to close its doors for the academic year, the school’s IT team needs to spring into action to collect student and staff devices; inventory, troubleshoot, and replace any defective hardware, and place an order for the upcoming year before the mad dash of other school orders overwhelms retailers.

When the school year begins in the fall, this same team will “own” redeployment. They’ll have to ensure each student and staff member has device log-in credentials, that teachers and students can access the relevant online instructional platforms, and that parents can access their students’ attendance and academic data. All of these workflows, in turn, impact student achievement. Without access to a student’s prior test scores or other academic records, for instance, a teacher cannot anticipate the challenges that come with educating that particular student.

Both end-of-year close-out and beginning-of-year launches require effective long-term planning. Scrambling to throw together comprehensive plans for either initiative will likely result in failure, compromising the ability of the school to maintain an effective program.

At CTS, we help schools launch and sustain an effective educational technology program.

Our team has worked with more than 60 schools across the United States to launch, maintain, and continuously improve their educational technology programming. With decades of experience in the sector, our team has the technical know-how and deep knowledge of daily school operations to provide effective solutions for our partner schools. We firmly believe that an effective educational technology program can improve teacher practice and positively impact student achievement. Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help your school achieve its unique mission.