It hard to find a district or school that is not grappling with how to leverage existing technology and shore up more resources to ensure their students are college and career ready or are able to communicate, collaborate, create, and think critically. Providing students access to technology is a key factor in meeting the new demands and many districts are struggling with the resources and expertise to ensure the technology is used effectively.
A popular approach to educational technology initiatives is to begin with a small percentage of teachers who are highly motivated, technologically proficient, and eager to innovate. These teachers are commonly referred to as the “early adopters” and are often selected to be the first to receive devices and lead the initiative. These teachers get training and support, are really excited to use technology to enhance their teaching and their students’ learning. In many cases these “early adopters” also have access to instructional coaches or communities of practice to guide their ongoing professional development opportunities as they experiment with new technology and pedagogical approaches. While the other teachers remaining in the district have varying levels of technology readiness, or comfort levels, many are open and excited to explore the possibilities of using more technology in their classrooms. The “others” who make up the majority of teachers, however, rarely receive the comprehensive support that their eager colleagues do, and in turn, are less likely to use technology in their classrooms. With this approach, in my experience, these initiatives remain “technology initiatives” that provide select classrooms with access to technology, where students are engaged in a variety of learning opportunities but it rarely transforms teaching and learning across a campus or a district.
It makes sense to work with the teachers and the leaders that are eager and excited to integrate technology; early adopters tend to be technologically savvy and are willing to take risks in the classroom. Providing these teachers with the technology, professional learning opportunities, and communities of practice catalyzes their growth exponentially and, in these optimal conditions, paves the way to transform teaching and learning. The theory of early adopters, as I hear often, is that once the early adopters transform their classrooms the practices then will trickle down to the other teachers in the building. But what happens when it doesn’t ignite other teachers and instead ostracizes them? In many cases this approach ends up deepening the existing digital divide. When schools or districts empower select educators, rather than leveraging the expertise and experience of all, the innovations only transforms teaching and learning in select classes and the majority of classroom and learning opportunities for students remain unchanged.