Why introducing innovative hardware and software rarely works long term in education.


Even in 2021, some educational organisations still do it. They introduce new software or hardware solutions, train teachers on how to press the buttons to operate it, and then leave them to it.

And then they wonder why the change doesn’t last, and things revert to ‘normal’.

Do you know anyone who has been on a diet, lost weight for a while, and then put the weight back on?

Do you know anyone who joined a gym to get fitter, went for a while, and then reverted to their previous habits?

In the first case, the person on the diet probably had all the books, diet guides and so on.

In the second case, the person probably had been trained on how to use each of the fitness machines, do the exercises, etc.

So why did they revert?

They reverted as they hadn’t changed their mental paradigm. Thus, any change they made was transitory. This is human nature.

The same is true in education. Educational leaders can’t just provide the new solution (laptop computer/virtual teaching environment/online learning environment/high tech physical classroom with ‘all the gadgets’/insert the latest innovation here) and expect the educational paradigm to change. It takes more. Educational leaders must plan, develop and then explain the new teaching and learning paradigm – and then they have to follow through with long term, effective training and support for this new paradigm.

They must provide all the resources that underpin the evolved teaching paradigm. Take the example of a virtual environment for teaching remote students (or for teaching in a hybrid model – with both remote and face to face students). This is a quite different teaching model than the one used in a traditional classroom.

How is each teacher supposed to deal with that? Most teachers are time poor. They are focussed on providing the best possible teaching for their students, writing the best assessment instruments for their students, marking student work fairly and quickly while providing quality feedback – and so much more. So, is it fair for educational leaders to now expect each teacher to research the best models and approaches for teaching in this new virtual teaching environment?

I don’t believe it is. I believe it is the educational leader’s responsibility to research the optimal teaching and learning models, modify the models for the individual institution, create whatever support resources (e.g. rich activity based online resources so that the virtual teaching environment isn’t just a place to ‘stand and deliver’ differently, or be a ‘talking head’ in front of a webcam), then model the solution, and train teachers to teach differently using the evolved model, well before introducing the virtual teaching environment; not the day before, and not the week before. This needs to be done months before to allow teachers time to absorb the information, practise, modify their teaching approach during trial sessions, and then introducing the change only when teachers have had opportunity to change themselves.

That is a strategic approach.

That is an approach that is more comfortable for teachers and is more likely to succeed.

A similar approach applies to students. They need to be aware of the change well before it is implemented. They need to know how it will affect their learning environment, and what they need to do differently.

After all, technology enhanced teaching and learning isn’t really about technology, it is about people. The technology is secondary. We forget that at our peril.

And if we do forget it, we have new laptops sitting on desks, rarely used for anything more than mundane, day to day tasks or entertainment.

We have virtual teaching environments sitting unused or rarely used except for a superficial, traditional approach.

We have the online learning environment/LMS as a rarely visited repository of documents and PowerPoint presentations.

We have the high-tech physical classroom with ‘all the gadgets’ being used in a similar fashion to every other classroom.

We have the dieter returning to their previous weight. We have the person who joined the gym not attending.

But what if you, the educational leader, don’t have a new teaching model planned but want to be seen as innovative? My advice; delay the change until you do.

Our teachers and students deserve the best. They deserve a planned and strategic approach to change. They deserve the change to have the greatest likelihood of long-term success. They deserve more than an ad-hoc approach. After all, it is their future we are playing with.

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Peter West
Peter West currently leads a Learning Technologies Team that explores new learning technologies for a leading VET organisation. Previously he was Director of eLearning at Saint Stephen’s College on the Gold Coast, Australia. He has been leading learning organisations in all aspects of technology-enhanced learning for over twenty years. He can be contacted at peterwest_@outlook.com and www.linkedin.com/in/peter-west-elearning

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