Every year has it's challenges. This year is no different. This summer we have deployed devices to secondary schools, implemented a new communications system with automated workflows to address busing operations, began a year long process of upgrading our HR and Finance systems and updating buildings infrastructure with our phase one Bond Projects. These are great examples of ongoing change with technology occurring in Omaha Public Schools. As with any large district, there are always concerns around technology adoption:
Culture is a big ticket here. There is a saying “Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch”. Culture is everything and to compete for talent, especially for teacher retention, districts need to have a clear sense of purpose and a set of shared values. Purpose and shared values not only needs to be communicated but also demonstrated by the behaviors of district leadership. One good example of this is how Superintendent Evans engages in social media and changed how the district approaches it.
Create An Innovation Ring
In an effort to create a vehicle for digital transformation, there were many identified strategies our district decided to tackle in the Strategic Plan. Here you can access the full Strategic Plan, but here were key areas that were focused around technology:
It can be a bit overwhelming when you see the extent of how these strategies can be in focus when you are in a large district. Systems create behaviors and this is important in a district because, as I say sometimes, district's do what they're organized to do. Imagine a Superintendent, or other District Leader, stands up, presents a vision, does a PowerPoint presentation or says, "We're going in a new direction!" Everybody sits there, nods their head, claps and then returns to their classrooms, schools, and offices. Back in the classroom, they do exactly what they were doing before they came to the meeting. When they come to work the next day, they do exactly what they normally do on that day based on what they have traditionally been taught. So, simply talking and casting vision doesn't change the direction of a district. Systems create behaviors because districts do what they're organized to do. To bring about actual change within a district, before launching a big vision or announcing the change, district leaders must sit down, look at the systems and ask the question, "What are the behaviors that need to change in order to move in the direction we need to move?" Then, the harder question is, "What systems are in place that are reinforcing the behaviors we need to change?" "What new systems could we put in place that will redirect the behaviors?" As wonderful as people are, as motivated and as committed as they are, people are creatures of habit. When we go to work and we get in a specific environment, that environment, sort of directs us into a certain task or a certain way of prioritizing what we do during the day. Can you see how this might happen in a classroom? So, how are we addressing these systems when it comes to technology in Omaha Public Schools? Below is an updated infographic that outlines our current systems that address many of those needs listed in the Strategic Plan and are meant to bring forth a long term culture shift.
In this post, I am going to focus on some key areas of the infographic:
The challenge in developing this innovation ring is anticipating the change. With the introduction of wearables, Internet of things, artificial intelligence and augmented/virtual reality, how is one to keep up? Society is shifting because of the introduction of these and I think it is our duty as life long learners to make sure we stay relevant to our students. What are we looking at in Omaha Public Schools?
Augmented and Virtual Reality
In the area of learning experiences, augmented and virtual reality bring about increased engagement. Wrap that around the popularity for gameification, and you get a recipe for purposeful learning. This means content needs to be curated to fit the environment as well as remain loyal to our learning standards and goals.
We are fortunate to have a great relationship with Microsoft. Through that partnership, we have been able to see the power of HoloLens as it pertains to student engagement. The above video is a great example of presenting to NETA participants what that experience looks like. These HoloLens units will be on our Mobile Learning Unit as seen below.
These and many other avenues for engaging young learners in technology are great, but it is important to note that we should make it purposeful. That is why the team, most of whom you see here, are instructional technology but play the role of mini project managers. It was important for me to do so to keep empathy involved in the user adoption process. They are my eyes and ears in the classroom, keep me well grounded and make sure purpose is instituted. We wouldn't be making the strides we are in Omaha Public Schools without their commitment and success in the initiatives outlined above and in our strategic plan. Do we have everything together? No, but I think we have a good foot forward to address technology as it evolves.