School leaders know that making the transition to student-centered teaching with education technology requires first and foremost a shift in school culture.

Culture is the personality of your school. It can feel chaotic and busy, or maybe it feels measured and collaborative. Todd Whitaker, professor of educational leadership at the University of Missouri, says school culture is the enduring feeling in a school over a long period of time. It affects everything – adult morale, student learning, and parent involvement.

A study conducted in 2016 involving a survey of 278 public middle schools’ students and teachers confirmed that culture deeply affects teacher retention, job satisfaction, and student success (Kraft, 2016).

A school’s culture is formed by people, by their values, and by their practices. Efforts to transform or improve school culture usually address one or more of these three aspects. They might include the creation of a new vision statement, the identification of specific goals, and the plans to achieve them, which practical day-to-day changes trickle down from.

For example

A new vision statement might read: Our school will adopt a student-centered pedagogy which incorporates modern and evidence-based approaches to teaching and learning in order to prepare students for the contemporary world of higher education and work.

Goal: For students to achieve educational autonomy and responsibility.

Plan: To integrate pedagogical approaches and technology tools and applications that reinforce this goal. To provide sufficient communication and training to staff in order to make this transition successfully.

What Impact on day-to-day changes might (ideally) look like: increased time dedicated to teacher professional development, new opportunities for staff collaboration, the testing of tools that might fit the objectives of the school and of the teachers in their classrooms.

So, edtech tools and applications have a role to play in changing school culture. They can reinforce the intended school culture, they can be neutral to it, or they can counter it. Skeptical?

Here are some examples of how this works.

Applications implemented schoolwide in order to change the way teachers plan, organize, and teach and the way students access resources and showcase learning might include productivity suites like Google Suite and Microsoft Office, class management tools like Google Classroom, or learning management systems like Blackbaud’s onCampus. The transition to using digital tools like these has changed the way students and teachers work day-to-day.

Due to the digitization of workflows and the integration of technology, one common workflow change to note is that of the elimination of the student’s paper planner or agenda.

In the context of the paper planner, the workflow was that teachers would write homework and assignments on the chalkboard or whiteboard and students would write it down in their planners. This simple act of writing down a teacher’s expectations, tasks to get done, and deadlines gave students the ability to develop a sense of autonomy and responsibility – crucial elements of character education that contribute to success in higher education and career readiness.

With the introduction of the LMS, the workflow shifted the onus of writing down homework and assignments onto the teachers and all students have to do is passively “view” it.

This seemingly minor change in the workflow of how students acknowledge and become accountable to work assigned to them actually impedes a deeper learning experience.

Ultimately, the paper planner was a student-centered learning management tool and today, many LMSs are teacher-centered tools that put the burden on the teacher to enter most of the information.

This is how what appears to be a simple innovation can inadvertently deprive students from a crucial learning opportunity.

When the Studyo team uncovered this problem, they got to work developing a tool that can be integrating with LMSs to put students back in the driver’s seat of their learning.

“At the end of the day, learning is an experiential act that doesn’t just take place in a learning application or in a classroom or even in a school – it takes place in the world. So, as we think about how to improve or change teaching and learning through our tools, we always consider the larger experiential impact on how students and teachers move about their worlds”, says Studyo CEO, Renaud Boisjoly.

Give your feedback and ideas directly to our CEO, visit booth #1853 at FETC 2018!

If we truly want to help our students get career ready and prepared for higher education, then we need to acknowledge that the world of work and the world of higher education both require that our students be responsible and reliable.

Our students need to be accountable to themselves. They need to know what they have to do and be able to manage and prioritize a variety of tasks. They need to be able to create a plan of action for getting their work done and set goals for themselves – practicing these executive functioning skills as much as they can during their middle and high school years.

Implementing technology that promotes character development and executive functioning skills rather than eclipsing them is essential. When teachers and administrators are assessing applications and tools, it’s important to consider the student and teacher workflows. Ask, how would the current workflow change if we adopted this tool and what are the environmental and experiential implications of making this change?

Ultimately, “experience” is another way of thinking about school culture. School leaders are designers of student experience. All the little unwritten and unspoken acts that students and teachers perform throughout their days. With the integration of applications which are available at school and at home, school culture extends far beyond the walls of the building. School culture is now also transmitted digitally.

Many schools are looking to make a culture change towards a paradigm where educational technology is used to elevate the pedagogical possibilities of every classroom. This transition requires many leaders to update their beliefs, their values and their behavior. Practically, this means updating the school statements of purpose or vision statements, their goals, and their plans. From there, the decisions made within the plan which include technology integration, teacher training, and educational programs all also impact school culture.

Taking the time to consider how tools will impact the teacher and student experience in a holistic way is essential to fostering the culture you really intend to create.  

Roxanne Desforges is a former high school math and entrepreneurship teacher. She currently teaches pre-service teachers on how to use educational technology at McGill University, where she also conducts research on education and the future of work. She is a strong advocate for the professional treatment of teachers and focuses on helping the next generation of teachers to be better and more holistically prepared for the job.

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