Again and again teachers are urged to try new tech initiatives. But if that new tool or innovation is unveiled without follow-up support or a clear understanding of how it contributes to the overall mission of increased student achievement, enthusiasm fades and frustration kicks in.

I have to own up to my role in this failed paradigm. As part of the first wave of millennial educators, I have always tried to make technology integration in my classroom intuitive and fun. With fewer years invested in a pre-tech curriculum, I have embraced change with no hesitation. 

And to pay it forward, I have enthusiastically volunteered to lead workshops and summer boot camps with prepared worksheets to introduce my colleagues to a smorgasbord of tech goodies. 

However, despite my good intentions, I have committed most, if not all, of the cardinal sins of technology integration. Instead of communicating a clear and overarching vision of what an integrated classroom looks like, I have haphazardly introduced my colleagues to a variety of tech tools without context or connection, resulting in confusion and ambiguous priorities. 

And while I subscribe to a constructivist, student-centered approach to teaching, it didn’t transfer to my workshops and boot camps, where I found myself using traditional and ineffective lecture methods. And finally, as I was a full-time teacher and only a volunteer tech integrator, I had no time to follow up with differentiated support for my colleagues who needed extra help. Looking back, it is no surprise that few if any of my pearls of tech wisdom were implemented.

But as Henry Ford said, failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. 

A More Effective Approach
For my second attempt at tech integration, I paired up with a tech-savvy math teacher, Tanya Komandt, to create a student-led tech club that provided teachers with personalized technology instruction that met their individual needs. We called our club Mouse Mischief, and in contrast to student-run tech help desk initiatives, we trained our students to tutor teachers in tech tools, such as iMovie, Prezi, and Glogster. 

To provide incentive to join the club, we convinced administrators to pay our student tutors minimum wage for the hours they worked with teachers and to hire a few star performers as summer IT interns.

We initially had 20 students join the club, which met once a month during a structured clubs time when members, or “mice,” received direct training in targeted tech programs.  We paired teachers with student tutors who shared common breaks, so that as much as possible, instruction occurred during the teachers’ planning periods. Additionally, groups of mice met after school to perform the basic tech maintenance that often gets overlooked, such as cleaning computer carts or interactive whiteboards. 

We also asked our mice to flip their instruction. Our resulting repository of video tutorials has since been posted to the school faculty resources website, where teachers can access the videos and refresh their skills.

To further support the teachers, we made our mice available as classroom assistants when they had breaks in their schedules. This way, teachers who wanted an extra set of hands on deck the day they implemented a tech project were supported and comfortable.

Some of the students were so motivated that they went out and solicited training jobs from their teachers. To our knowledge, not a single teacher turned down our students’ offers of one-on-one tech tutorials.  

I admit that it took some initial convincing to get my fellow teachers on board. They feared looking foolish and incompetent in front of students. To overcome this fear, I convinced highly visible stakeholders, such as principals and department heads, to lead the way by signing up for tutorials. 

The training of student tutors was key. During our club meeting time, we role-played the tutorial and coached our students to be clear, encouraging, and above all, patient. After each tutorial, we asked our teachers to submit a survey and give us feedback on their mice. We received comments such as, “She was very sincere and enthusiastic, and explained things really quite well,” and “They are very passionate about what they know, and it is always fun to learn from the students.” It wasn’t long before reports of their patience and competence spread through school.

Last year, our extracurricular club morphed into an academic course. Komandt and I are now teaching a digital design and development course in which our 19 students are learning basic graphic, web, and multimedia design skills. One requirement to finish the course is to complete two hours of mouse service per month. For example, we will assign students to create course webpages for teachers across our K–12 campus and then follow up with one-on-one tutorials on how to populate the new website with resources.

Focus on Tech Integration
Our Mouse Mischief club helped us establish a basic understanding of technology in our school. Freed from the time-intensive job of teaching how to use the technology, I could focus on the more pressing issue: why teachers should use technology. With a fuller understanding of technology’s role in increasing student engagement and bettering learning outcomes, teachers were more inclined to implement the tech tools in their classrooms. 
The Mouse Mischief program serves a very important need in my school. Instead of hiring expensive outside consultants, we capitalize on our own tech-savvy students to provide teachers with a low-cost, personalized technology professional development (PD) program. 

Relying on the students to provide the nuts-and-bolts training has freed our ed tech department’s time and resources to concentrate on the bigger task of linking teachers’ newfound technological knowledge to existing content and pedagogical knowledge.

At the same time, our mice tutors have been able to earn extra money and gain valuable experience for their résumés and college applications. 

Additionally, the program has created a niche for the tech-savvy kids, who are often left out of traditional leadership roles. As confirmation of this, the president of our club won the 2012 National Center for Women & Information Technology’s Aspirations in Computing Award for the U.S. state of Colorado, which came with some great prizes and a scholarship! 

Several other organizations and teachers are doing similar student-led tech PD programs that provide further evidence of the success of this tactic. At ISTE 2012 in San Diego, I heard about Generation Yes (genyes.org), a nonprofit that provides curriculum and tools to help schools create student-led technology PD. And Kern Kelley, my lead learner at the Google Teacher Academy, runs a Tech Sherpas program (www.techsherpas.org), where students host weekly online chats to provide tech PD and answer teacher questions.

A Well-Thought-Out Plan Is Vital
Tech-hesitant teachers are often unfairly painted as curmudgeons standing in the way of innovation. As I delve deeper into the ed tech world, however, I have come to see that poor change management, not recalcitrant teachers, is at the heart of tech integration failure. 

To avoid creating a tech integration disaster with the latest must-have tools, schools must have a well-thought-out plan. Administration must present a unified front and a well-articulated vision that signals commitment and consistency to teachers. It must also provide differentiated support that builds skills and confidence among the faculty on a clearly established set of tech tools and behaviors, and it must consistently link technology use to the overall mission of student success and teacher effectiveness. In my school, implementing the Mouse Mischief program has helped us lay a strong foundation to achieve these goals.  

—Kelsey Vroomunn is a 2012 ISTE Emerging Leader, a 2012 Teacher of the Future for the National Association of Independent Schools, and a Google Certified Teacher. She teaches French, history, and technology and is the online and blended learning specialist at St. Mary’s Academy in Englewood, Colorado, USA.
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