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As I’ve shared over the last few years, the challenges Instructional Technology specialists face are legion. In this article, I explore the past and present, as well as suggest a way ahead. Before we explore how these positions can be re-tailored for the ever-changing present and future as curriculum coaches, let’s take a moment to look back and see how the position has evolved. 

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As a campus technology coordinator, as well as a full-time teacher, I always found myself in the envious role of being on the “cutting edge” of technology use. In my classroom, students employed technology–a routine act of engagement that stimulated their inner motivation to tinker–to construct, to create, to make. We continue to see this fundamental desire to create with technology in schools and in the world around us. It is, I believe, a primal need we have as tool-makers and tool-users to work alone or in collaboration with others in our social networks.

Technology connects us in simple, powerful ways that make cooperation/collaboration a learning imperative. We resist those technologies in schools, that cooperation that humans are wired for at our peril. 

…animals, and humans for that matter, benefit from being social. And if that’s true…there should be evolutionary evidence to back it up. And there is.
“There are two areas of the primate and human brain that are stimulated when we cooperate. We’ve evolved to get pleasure from cooperation,” he [Dr. Robert Sussman] said.
The hormones serotonin and oxytocin also play a role in social recognition and trust. (Read more of Primates Evolved to be Social, Not Aggressive)
Putting curriculum specialists in one silo, instructional technology in another, making it difficult for them to cooperate to achieve shared goals of improved, effective teaching, learning and leading is a recipe for failure. We do that each time we say, “John will work with you on the curriculum, while Jeanne will help you with the technology.” 


Our human desire to connect is critically important, a point well-made by the originator/creator of SAMR,  Dr. Ruben R. Puentedura (Twitter: @rubenrp ). You can get some insights–quite profound–online in this presentation on Technology in Education: The First 200,000 Years ( I found 6 minutes and 20 seconds forward to be engaging about the value of gossip, social networking, and what happens when organizations try to control our use of social media/networking tools. 

Mobile learning, tool-making and being social are part of who we are as human beings. The idea that these things can only be accomplished by only some people is nonsense:

…people are dumbfounded by big metal birds in the sky, so some are perplexed by devices. Only once such nonsense is over will we understand that this new fangled stuff is an enabler of education, not a killer of teachers. 

Source: Is Education Technology frivolous? via Daily Genius

Yet, school systems have embraced the nonsense as a way of working. In the past–3 of the most dangerous words anyone committed to school improvement can use–Instructional Technology Specialist positions were setup to facilitate teaching, learning and leading with technology. They were to do that by serving as “guides on the side.” Side-by-side, peer tutoring could make teaching with technology a reality.
Unfortunately, this approach required a few things that school systems could seldom put into place without any degree of certainty:
  • A desire in all teachers to learn and teach differently than the way they had been taught.
  • A commitment to adopt an attitude–which some perceive as uncomfortable, akin to relying on others to help when you can’t help yourself–that says, “It’s OK to rely on someone else to help me better transform teaching and learning.” This is a problem with the culture of schools, and, as such, can be improved.
  • A systemic culture that allowed for experimentation with teaching & technology and fostered reflection and change.
  • Easy access to technology tools and resources in sufficient quantity, and the….
  • Professional learning needed to make it routine, rather than an instructional event that takes place every Friday.

“How can using technology in class,” asked one area superintendent in a large school district, “raise scores on math and science assessments by 10 points?”  (Yes this was an actual conversation that included the phrase, “magic fairy dust,” no kidding!) .

The implication was obvious–we shouldn’t waste time on technology integration efforts unless we could guarantee student performance in math and science. This attitude endures, especially in high stakes environments. 

This perspective serves as “soft” proof that technology use is an after-thought, something curriculum departments exclude rather than include in their planning, professional learning efforts.

No doubt, there are studies that explore the various factors as to why technology integration has failed in schools..about “the myth of no significant difference:”

Students learn from using the tools of the profession…Students learn from applying what they know to solve a new problem, such as might occur in a simulation. Students learn through self-expression­—whether text, audio, video, or images. Technology can make these learning opportunities more readily accessible and more flexible to accommodate the schedules of busy students—and faculty….

The truth is, in some classrooms (except perhaps, STEM/STEAM, CATE for tool-centric, not technology integration use) technology is seldom used in solving real problems or simulations. Technology remains an instructional event, something that happens when time allows. In those situations, technology can be used for self-expression.

Whether you blame it on high stakes testing and the pressures of accountability that strip away all but what is needed to succeed, educators in public schools usually fail to take full advantage of instructional technology specialists.

Instead, technology in schools becomes a race for people to try out new technologies or new apps, or whatever the latest fad is. This happens in spite of developing competencies in differentiation of process and product, project-based learning, as well as problem-based learning. 

In short, we enjoy trying new things but seldom do we fully see those new things making a change in how we approach teaching, learning and leading. We need to fundamentally change how Instructional Technology works in schools. We throw the best of ourselves away when we concentrate our strength in people that we lock ourselves away from as Curriculum & Instruction teams.

If Instructional Technology as we’ve done it in the past has failed, how can we do it better? If we haven’t arrived yet, what will it take to get to the target destination?

The answer may raise your blood pressure (it does mine): Probably by discarding the positions of instructional technology and curriculum specialist altogether, and instead re-conceptualizing these roles

Whenever I mention this, I shock my colleagues in Instructional Technology, and perhaps get incredulous looks from curriculum folks.

“Wait,” said one colleague and friend, “are you saying we don’t need instructional technologists anymore?”
“No,” I reply, “it’s not that we don’t need instructional technologists, but rather, that we need curriculum specialists to adopt instructional technology approaches as part of what they do. And, Instructional Technologists need to revisit their curriculum roots. . .if they can.”

A friend asked me an insightful question–“Do you think Instructional Technologists have the necessary skill-sets to be curriculum and data-driven support for teachers? And, conversely, do you think that curriculum specialists can learn the technology skills and strategies they will need?” 

Those are tough questions. These conversations imply that no one person can be both a curriculum AND technologist. That is not true. What IS true is that we have allowed our curriculum specialists to divorce technology from everything they do, and enabled technologists to play with tech to the point of irrelevance.

My response isn’t all that great. It’s essentially, “We can’t afford to separate these people anymore from each other. It’s up to us, no matter how inadequate we may think we are, to close the gap.” 

Technology has so pervaded, infiltrated every aspect of our lives, that we no longer have the option of silos. Or, to put another face on it, segregation. Promoted to irrelevance, our best instructional staff who demonstrated an aptitude for technology have been weeded out, thrown into inconsequential positions with little influence or authority. 

I have witnessed this myself, as campus technology coordinator who has shifted through all the different phases of instructional technologist, listed below for your recollection:
  1. Classroom teacher who uses technology with students – “Wouldn’t s/he make a great person to facilitate a workshop for other staff?”
  2. Classroom teacher and staff developer –  who shows staff at campus/district level how s/he is using technology with students and expects others to emulate him/her.
  3. Campus Instructional Technologist/Campus Technology Coordinator – This is the same person but who now has the responsibility of managing technology purchases, is sent to conferences/workshops to learn new things. A variant of this position is the ever-favorite teacher-librarian, a position that seldom rises higher than campus.
  4. District Instructional Technology Specialist – This role involves someone steeped in the lore of Instructional Technology, adoption of instruments that can be used to assess technology in the classroom, such as STaR Chart, TIMS, LOTI, SAMR, and/or TPACK.
  5. District Instructional Technology Director or Regional Education Specialist focused on Educational Technology – This is the pinnacle of achievement for this career path. 
The path for a curriculum specialist may be a bit more direct, and can thrive without technology. In fact, it is astonishing that curriculum specialists are able to advance without more technology involvement.  

“Research consistently shows that technology adoption requires the presence of pioneers to field-test technologies, contextualize their use for specific purposes, and then help their peers implement them.” Source: ISTE, 2013, p.6 as cited in Dr. Kristi Shaw and Kaye Henrickson’s presentation

This results in curriculum experts who may not know how to hook up their mobile device to a digital projector, create a wiki, or create a form to capture data or analyze it in a spreadsheet, perpetuating paper-n-pencil approaches that have been replaced in other areas.  I can think of at least one instance where this has had disastrous impact on school district public relations (e.g. a curriculum specialist published confidential data online). 

That this dichotomy exists, well, that’s pretty astonishing given the amount of technology available, right?

In Naturalizing Digital Immigrants, a book that will appear in April, 2015 but can be pre-ordered now, a different approach is suggested. Their “collegial coaching Model for Technology Integration” includes these points, which they elaborate on in their book:
  1. Establish the Need: Explore fears, hesitations, insecurities, and overarching goals, helping focus them on 3 tools.
  2. Create partnerships: This suggests adapting past projects and blending technology into those, focusing on content.
  3. Differentiate technology projects, supporting teachers in short-term, easy to attain projects, building confidence over time, moving on a continuum from personal to professional.
  4. Assess Progress: This involves aligning technology-enhanced activities to what was originally intended to be taught, constantly refining how you teach to match what students need to learn.
  5. Ask reflective questions. One nifty quote they share includes one from John Dewey, such as reflection allows one to convert “action that is merely appetitive, blind and impulsive into intelligent action” (Dewey, 1933). I can think of no better description for the avid app consumption that occurs when teachers are given iPads (“Go get this free app now! You can tutor kids with it!” rinse, repeat).

“Coaches encourage reflective practices and guide clients to self-directed learning” (Aguilar, 2013 as cited  in Dr. Kristi Shaw and Kaye Henrickson’s presentation).

View more digital coaching resources

Based on these ideas, here is what that might look like, including 4 aspects of coaching that will apply to ALL instructional coaches, including those who are currently Instructional Technology Specialists and/or Curriculum Specialists:

  1. Instruction & Technology Coach: This aspect of the coach focuses on the how of instruction, as well as a strong focus on helping staff better use technology-enhanced processes to redefine current teaching, learning and leading tasks, replacing paper-n-pencil pedagogical approaches that no longer make sense in a highly-connected, high-tech teaching and learning environment.
  2. Data Coach: These strategies focus on staff examine student achievement data and to use this to design instruction and to make curricular decisions. This involves analysis of data and its presentation through the District’s Data Warehouse.
  3. Resource Coach: This aspect focuses on upgrading where coaches maintain resources for each other and staff. This includes management of a variety of digital tools and resources for teachers and students to use in technology-rich learning environments.
  4. Classroom Supporter: This aspect includes working alongside a teacher to model effective teaching and/or observing and giving feedback.  This role requires co-planning, co-teaching, observing, giving feedback and engaging in reflective conversations about teaching and learning.
This means that District Curriculum Coaches would also articulate a shared vision and framework for supporting the various campus groups that may currently work independently of one another at worst, or at best, in close proximity and incidentally support one another. 
Coaching is appropriate model to frame the changing role of Instructional Technology Specialists and their “Curriculum sans technology Specialist” counterparts, widening their influence to speed transformation of praxis for district curriculum specialists, as well as campus teachers and instructional staff:
  • Coaches are master teachers who participate in explicit professional development about coaching to become skillful.  
  • In professional development, they examine their fundamental beliefs about student learning, teaching and coaching; acquire deep knowledge about adult development and change; and acquire skillfulness with a broad range of strategies to use in their new role.
  • Instructional Coaches are district-based, school-focused professional development specialists who work with individuals and teams to design and facilitate appropriate technology-enhanced learning experiences, provide feedback and support, and assist with implementation challenges.  Their work centers on refining and honing teaching, and their indicator of success is student academic success.
To achieve the status of District Curriculum Coaches, all staff members would need to develop a professional learning plan based on a district assessment and reflection. For example, curriculum specialists may enjoy strong data-analysis techniques that allow them to quickly make sense of data and its implications for staff. On the other hand, instructional technology specialists may offer curriculum-embedded technology strategies that lack the benefit of data-analysis. Both positions would benefit from peer coaching over time differentiated for their specific needs and growth goals.
The proposed needs assessment could include the use of instrument like the Levels of Teaching Innovation (LOTI) assessment, which provides individualized feedback to participants, as well as recommendations that encompass instruction and technology. Participants would also apply the work of traditional instructional coaches, as well as Wilson and Alaniz’ technology coaching efforts, to their efforts.

While it is tempting to continue as we are, with curriculum in one silo and instructional technology in the other, it is critical to realize we can’t continue as we have been. The stakes are too high, the technology investment too costly to consider any other approach that engages in parallel programs that dilute the impact of committed staff.


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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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