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The Key Factors That Make Ed Tech Implementations Successful

This month I'd like to share with you some of our Project RED research findings on the key implementation factors that make a difference to the success of technology initiatives. Many quality products are less than successful when the overall planning is not coherent and sustainable, and less than one percent of the schools surveyed by Project RED followed all nine key implementation factors identified in the study.

So if you want to help ensure that your products are part of a successful initiative, you can share the Project RED list of key implementation factors with customers, to illustrate the bigger picture and some of the major requirements for success -- degree of use, independent (or personalized) learning, the human factor, and so on. Here they are, listed in order of predictive strength:

  1. Intervention classes: Technology is integrated into every intervention class period.
  2. Change management leadership by principal: Leaders provide time for teacher professional learning and collaboration at least monthly.
  3. Online collaboration: Students use technology daily for online collaboration (games/simulations and social media).
  4. Core subjects: Technology is integrated into core curriculum weekly or more frequently.
  5. Online formative assessments: Assessments are done at least weekly.
  6. Student-computer ratio: Lower ratios improve outcomes.
  7. Virtual field trips: With more frequent use, virtual trips are more powerful. The best schools do these at least monthly.
  8. Search engines: Students use daily.
  9. Principal training: Principals are trained in teacher buy-in, best practices, and technology-transformed learning.

The frequent and widespread of use of technology implicit in many of these key implementation factors is rarely found in ed tech implementations. In the Project RED survey, fewer than 12 percent of respondents reported daily use of technology in teaching core subjects. In many schools, teachers are not held to minimum implementation standards, so tech-savvy teachers may be using technology daily, but digitally naïve teachers may not be using it at all. This makes the evaluation of what works extremely difficult when the school is looked at as a unit. So encourage your customers to work toward more frequent and widespread use of technology by all teachers, so that they can effectively measure their progress and have real data from which to make improvements.

Independent learning is a powerful component of the best classrooms. One characteristic of independent learning is when students look up information on a search engine during class -- another one of the key implementation factors and a top predictor of ed tech success. When students are doing independent online research, the old pattern of "sage on the stage" is broken, and the culture encourages exploration of compelling, content-related subject matter. So the research shows this is a practice teachers should be encouraged and trained to adopt.

Many of the key implementation factors focus on the human element, which Project RED shows is as important as the device and the infrastructure. We all know about the early adopting teacher who galvanizes her colleagues and kicks off a school initiative. However, sustainable projects need a more institutional support system. The loss of a principal or superintendent often leads to the failure of an ed tech initiative, and long-term sustainability can be extremely challenging.

Consequently, almost every research study, including Project RED, has identified strong leadership skills on the part of principals and superintendents as a critical success factor. However, the Project RED research team still receives more queries from schools about devices and infrastructure, showing that the importance of a clear plan implemented by strong instructional leaders is still underestimated. This is an essential point you can bring to customers' attention, and you can suggest training programs for school leaders, offered by your company or elsewhere.

Student collaboration is another important human element in teaching and learning. Project RED shows that online student collaboration via games, simulations, and social media is one of the major predictors of improved graduation rates. Encourage your customers to use their new technologies to incorporate this essential activity on a daily basis, and suggest professional development as needed.

Motivation and expectations are high when technology initiatives are new. So this is the time when you can help your customers understand that sustaining motivation and fulfilling expectations require attention to the big picture -- the key implementation factors -- as well as the technology itself.

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