To achieve success in education, the technology revolution must be accompanied by a revolution of ideas on how to transform classrooms for teachers and students. This requires a holistic approach to change management in schools, composed of four building blocks. (See Exhibit 2.)
Create a shared vision for teaching and learning. The first building block of an effective e-learning environment is to create a shared vision among school leaders, teachers, students, and parents. All stakeholders must have a common understanding of what high-quality instruction looks like and how technology can help.
In Riyadh Schools, educators set the stage for the one-to-one program by gathering data and diagnostics on school achievement and assessing their students in light of international standards. This provided a baseline that allowed the school community to evaluate how students measured up and where there was room for improvement. Next, because school leaders already had a strong sense of the school’s mission, the evaluation was used as a starting point to build consensus. Educators asked, how can the school’s mission best be achieved in the context of information and communications technology (ICT)? This shared vision and mission—accompanied by clear standards and accountability—served as a touchstone for Riyadh Schools as it launched the one-to-one program.
Build leadership and teacher capacity. Once a shared vision for teaching and learning has been defined, school leaders must design a strategy to fulfill this vision. Ronald Lake, the director general of Riyadh Schools, says, “Once you introduce technology into teaching and learning, it gives you permission to make significant changes within the school. How teachers spend their time, the location of physical resources, how students work in teams—all of that is driven by the mission.” In Riyadh Schools, leadership coaches were brought in as advisors to the principals, vice principals, instructional leaders, and expert teachers. The coaches provided guidance on big-picture strategy—such as professional development, accountability, and tracking outcomes—and day-to-day challenges,
such as managing attendance and cyber safety.
To build teacher capacity, Riyadh Schools established a series of professional-development opportunities. Early adopters were identified to serve as professional-development coaches. These instructional leaders held weekly workshops to discuss innovative ways of integrating technology into the curriculum. The school’s “teacher champions” led peer-to-peer mentoring programs to support less technologically engaged teachers as they honed their skills and pedagogical strategies.
The digitally empowered classroom cannot succeed without highly skilled teachers willing to reenvision their teaching and learning methodologies. That is not to say that teachers must fundamentally change their teaching and learning objectives, however. Rather, teachers are asked to envision new ways of meeting those objectives within a technology-rich environment.
Establish a robust technology infrastructure. A technology-rich environment will quickly lose its luster if teachers and students cannot trust their connections to the Internet or if they cannot effectively employ their new tools. To keep students and teachers engaged, schools must ensure the following:
- A robust and reliable core infrastructure with high-speed, wireless Internet connectivity
- Interoperable ICT devices
- Quality-assured, engaging digital-learning content
- A learning-management system that connects all teachers, students, and parents to high-quality educational resources and provides information about student learning and progress
Riyadh Schools established a unique, student-led mentoring program designed to help meet these goals. The program is being rolled out in three phases. In Phase I, technology-savvy students are trained to serve as frontline technical-support staff. At least two “geniuses,” as they are called, are assigned to each classroom to address any IT difficulties that arise. In Phase II, the students become pedagogical leaders in the classroom, helping teachers discover new technologies to achieve their learning objectives. In Phase III, the classroom leaders mentor younger students so they can develop the skills to enter the genius program. The school also employs technical staff to address systems management and IT challenges that cannot be handled by students. These layers of technical expertise allow teachers to stay focused on their teaching objectives while students expand their technical and leadership skills.
Develop supportive policies and partnerships. Schools must embrace supportive policies and partnerships to encourage widespread engagement internally, within the school community, as well as externally, with industry leaders in digital learning. These building blocks for support include the following:
- Policies on Internet usage, cyber safety, and digital citizenship
- Governance structure with rights and responsibilities related to the use of technology
- Metrics and assessments to measure outcomes
- Sources of long-term funding (at least three to five years)
- Industry partnerships with local suppliers
These powerful technologies and data systems require a significant investment up front. Riyadh Schools instituted a five-year plan, with capital renewal and routine maintenance as part of the package. This commitment at the outset helped to ensure that the school could be outfitted with world-class hardware and software. School leaders have also partnered with Microsoft and other companies to keep abreast of emerging technologies and stay on the cutting-edge of timely and relevant content in digital teaching and learning.