Friday, October 06, 2017

The Role of School Administration in the Success of ICT Program Implementation: Traditional vs. Distributed Support Models

An administrator’s role in their building or district is becoming increasingly complex as today’s education system involves multiple stakeholders and programming needs.  One such role includes the development and implementation of technology use within their facility(ies).  The use of technology by educators and their students is becoming an essential component of interacting successfully within our globalized 21st century society.  Successful programming, however, requires an administrator to be directly involved in all aspects of any technology-based implementation from planning, to classroom use, to troubleshooting.  An administrator that is directly involved in the implementation of an information and communication technology (ICT) program with their staff will have more program success than those who only offer encouragement.
Introduction - Why is ICT Implementation Important?
As members of the future workforce and society, today’s students require guidance and education, in order to successfully navigate and utilize the digital world that they were born into.    Acknowledging the importance of becoming digitally literate, the provincial and territorial governments of Canada have been developing various forms of information and communication technology (ICT) curricula, which will assist students in their skill development.  School-age children have a unique set of experiences awarded to them due to the digital age in which they were born.  However, their birth date alone is not sufficient to equip them for navigating the digital world without support.  Successfully utilizing technological tools and communicating within the digital world requires that students incorporate a skill set that differs from other aspects of their life.  An ICT curricula that is implemented with purpose and support produces direct benefits for the students, such as enriched learning opportunities, ease of life, and practical post-secondary preparation.  For these various reasons, investing in the digital literacy and education of all students is important, in order to help students navigate the digital world that continues to evolve before their eyes.  
The Role of Admin within ICT Implementation
Integration of an ICT program is not only the responsibility of policy-makers and classroom teachers, but also the responsibility of the administrative team at a school and division level.  Teachers have identified that new technology programs and activities would be easier to implement if they could work as part of a team to support one another and exchange ideas (Stephenson, 2013, p. 11).  However, it has been found that although most school leaders have positive opinions towards technology, they fall into two very different categories in regards to their approach: (1) distributed principals who work closely with their teachers and ICT teams to ensure effective implementation and (2) formal principals who offer positive encouragement towards ICT ideas but do not personally participate in planning or training (Peterson, 2014, p. 302).  Of the two types of leaders, the schools that commit to ICT development as a team initiative and focus on collaboration and communication are more successful in their implementation than those schools who force a top-down approach with minimal support (Peterson, 2014, pp. 304-310).  In order to support their teachers effectively, school leaders need to keep up to date with new technology programs and tools, and model appropriate use for their staff (Waxman, Boriack, Lee, & MacNeil, 2013, p. 193).  Furthermore, an effective ICT implementation should be one that includes long-term planning with school leaders and addresses budgeting, hiring of necessary specialists, teacher training, and long-term maintenance plans (Peck, Mullen, Lashley, & Eldridge, 2011, p. 47).  Thus, in addition to provincial ICT policies, an effective administrative team that is committed to the purposeful implementation of an ICT program also contributes to successful implementation, which benefits both staff and students.
Distributed Administration Structure
Peterson (2014, p. 305) identified administrators who approached technology implementation with a distributed support structure as those who saw themselves as a team-member alongside their staff; where every person involved in the program goal shared in the successes and challenges of the journey.  This style of administration support fosters a culture of respect amongst staff members and is a high predictive influence on the long-term adoption and implementation of an ICT program (Baylor & Ritchie, 2002, p. 40-411).   The distributed support structure provides teachers with access to multiple resources and a network of colleagues that can assist in planning and troubleshooting from different perspectives.  Upon study of the role leadership plays in technology implementation Peck (2011, p. 47-48) noted that school leaders who were actively involved in successful implementation programs shared the following characteristics: (1) they developed long-term implementation plans in advance, (2) worked with staff to determine individual needs such as PD, (3) created formal support networks to assist with challenges, (4) showcased program successes and (5) developed and enforced consistent technology policies for staff and students.  The team approach of the distributed support model can result in an increased morale amongst staff members as they feel supported in implementing new technologies because of a belief their administrators have systems in place to help ensure program success (Baylor & Ritchie, 2002, p. 410-411).  Furthermore, positive attitudes towards technology encourages participation amongst both staff and students (p. 397). When an administrator is able to recognize the value technology has to staff and students they are more likely to participate alongside their staff members in the implementation of such programming which in turn can result in increased program success.
Formal/Traditional Administration Structure
Peterson (2014, p. 302) identified administrators who adhered to a formal/traditional support structure as those who respond to teacher-directed technology implementation with support but are not directly involved in the planning or training required to meet the program goal.  While appearing positive and encouraging to their staff this style of administration support offers only surface level  assistance and can negatively influence long-term adoption and implementation of the technology in question (Ritchie, 1996, as cited in Waxman, 2013, p. 188).  The formal/traditional support structure provides teachers with autonomy to develop and implement programs that suit their interests and classroom needs but can hinder long-term success by not accounting for required infrastructure or policy modifications.  A study of high schools in the Southeastern United States documented examples of how the formal/traditional structure contributed to implementation challenges including: (1) requiring staff to maintain online and offline records in case of technological failure which required staff to double their workload, (2) not providing sufficient professional development for staff, (3) allowing wait times for maintenance of technology tools to exceed two months and (4) not enforcing policies relating to technology that lead to inconsistencies between staff members (Peck, 2011, p. 43-45).  The removed nature of the formal/traditional support model can result in staff members feeling frustrated and not valued as they do not believe their administrators truly understand what they are doing within their classrooms (Peterson, 2014, p. 306).  This perception may be accurate as a study by Waxman (2013, p. 191) concluded that the majority of administrators believe that the primary function of technology in their building is for professional communication, not instruction or student learning.  When an administrator is unable to recognize the value technology has to students they are unlikely to participate alongside their staff members in the implementation of such programming which in turn can result in the failure of such endeavours.   
Conclusion
In summary, the role of an administrator needs to evolve to include the implementation of an information and communication technology (ICT) program that will equip students for the higher-level skills required for being successful in the digital world.  A positive attitude towards technology, however, is insufficient when it comes to ensuring programming success within their facility(ies).  School leaders who adopt a distributed support model that places them alongside their staff as a team-member will see a much higher chance of implementation success than those who adhere to a formal/traditional support model that, while positive, are unwilling to walk-the-walk.  Baylor & Ritchie (2002, p. 412) summarize this topic eloquently with the simple statement, “The bottom line appears to be that administrators who wish to nurture a technology culture need to figuratively ‘‘roll up their sleeves and join in’’ rather than sitting by the side.”

References
Baylor, A., & Ritchie, E. (2002). What factors facilitate teacher skill, teacher morale, and perceived  student learning in technology-using classrooms? Computers and Education, 39, 395-414.

Peck, C., Mullen, C. A., Lashley, C., & Eldridge, J. A. (2011). School leadership and technology challenges: Lessons from a new American high school. AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice, 7(4), 39-51. Retrieved from http://www.aasa.org/uploadedFiles/Publications/Newsletters/JSP_Winter2011.FINAL.pd f

Peterson, A. (2014). Teachers’ perception of principals’ ICT leadership. Contemporary Educational Technology, 5(4), 302-315. Retrieved from http://www.cedtech.net/articles/54/543.pdf

Stephenson, G. (2013, September). Flipping the classroom upside down. The Manitoba Teacher, 9-11. Retrieved from http://www.mbteach.org/library/Archives/MBTeacher/Sept13_MBT.pdf

Thompson, Kirsten. (2016). "Digital Literacy and the ICT Curriculum", BU Journal of Graduate Studies in Education. 8.1, pg 10-13.

Waxman, H. C., Boriack, A. W., Lee, Y., & MacNeil, A. (2013). Principals’ perceptions of the importance of technology in schools. Contemporary Educational Technology, 4(3), 187-196. Retrieved from http://www.cedtech.net/articles/43/433.pdf

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