November 26, 2017

Decentralizing the Technology Integration Department with "Tech Deputies"

In the last decade, schools have contributed significant resources to educational technology in an effort to improve instruction and to prepare students for a rapidly changing workforce. Schools have created new positions, or entirely new departments, for technologically savvy faculty members to act as liaisons between teachers and technology departments and to act as integrators of new educational technology software. In theory, for that faculty member or department to succeed--to integrate technology fully--they would have to run themselves out of a job. In other words, they would have to train a technologically savvy faculty, which in turn, wouldn’t need a specialist. So how do we get there?

Our Tech Deputies and their specialties in the Faculty Lounge

The Tech Deputy Solution

At Flint Hill, one unique way we--in the Technology Integration Department--have chosen to train our faculty is by deputizing additional members of our faculty. Two years ago, we started a new program where we recognized technologically savvy members of each department called “Tech Deputies.” Instead of having to answer every educational technology question ourselves, we could outsource it to the Tech Deputies in each department. As the Tech Deputies taught their peers, we hoped the amount of technologically literate teachers would increase. Additionally, by starting this program within departments, we hoped it would encourage departmental teams to try new things knowing they had support from within the department.

Interestingly, one of the greatest successes of this program is that we really didn’t know what was going to happen, so we pitched it as a fun idea to recognize some faculty members that are leading in the area of educational technology. That turned out to be the greatest strength of the program. The first time we met, one member thought it’d be funny to call the group, “Tech Deputies.” Of course, the title was about all we could do for them, there was no compensation involved, and they were doing us a huge favor.

Using humor as a buy-in, the deputies met with us biweekly to help us identify complications and prepare for tricky technological projects in the future. When we pitched the program to the rest of the faculty they laughed too. But it worked. The faculty was happy to recognize their peers who had gone out of their way to help out in the past and signed up to continue to do so with nothing more than a humorous (yet meaningless) title.

In the first year alone, we saw many unintended benefits grow out of this program. Our Help Desk staff saw a decrease in tickets for simple troubleshooting, like connecting to projectors or issues with Apple TVs. Our Tech Integration Specialists received fewer questions about how to use the CMS (Content Management System) and basic GAFE (Google Apps for Education) issues, which allowed for more and deeper conversations about pedagogical and instructional strategies being used in the classroom. With regularly scheduled check-ins, we successfully created a network within our faculty to learn from one another. It also allowed for a forum to explore topics beyond the scope of tech integration where we discussed institutional deficiencies and how we as a team could approach them and support each other. Finally, it led to a lot of fascinating interdisciplinary connections and opportunities.

The Tech Deputy Solution: Year Two

Continuing with our planned obsolescence mission, in year two we expanded the amount of Tech Deputies from one per department to anyone interested. Several people willingly signed up to join, again with no incentive other than this silly title. Building off of our success with humor in year one, to ensure buy-in from the faculty, we created playing cards. The cards display department, location, “specialties”, “interests,” and a humorous narrative (see below).

We unveiled these cards at a faculty meeting to highlight which Tech Deputy faculty members should see if they need technological help. And we encouraged faculty members to see deputies if they wanted to try a new application or streamline a classroom technological process. Once again, the biggest reaction we received from these cards was laughs, but those laughs have turned into questions that faculty members ask Tech Deputies all the time, in meetings, in the hallways, via email, etc. Once again in year two, the Tech Deputy program has made a huge difference for us in the Tech Integration Department and in the IT Department.

Having introduced our new and expanded lineup of deputies, we then posted the cards on a corkboard in the faculty room so that teachers will always know who they can go see if they have technological questions. The colored thread stretches from each Tech Deputy to his/her “specialties,” the applications that he/she uses and would like to help others use as well. Want to add exit tickets to your class? See Mr. Uher to teach you Go Formative. Want help with Google Classroom? See Ms. McKain, she’s an expert.

The Tech Deputy Solution: Applying Our Success

First, we intend to continue to increase the number of Tech Deputies on our team. We’d like everyone to feel comfortable enough to be considered a Tech Deputy. We also hope to apply the success of this program to our students, and to other areas of student life at Flint Hill like Diversity and Inclusion, Advisory, and Instructional Support.

This year we created a Student Technology Integration Team (STIT) to support our students who aren’t as technologically savvy. The members of STIT will get training from the TIS Department so that they can help their teachers with projects and lessons that require technology. They’re also working with campus groups like our school newspaper and student council to help them use technology more meaningfully and tactfully to raise awareness and improve their products. Like our Tech Deputy group, the plan is to grow this really big. That way we can ensure that we are graduating technologically savvy students that will thrive in the 21st-century workforce.˘

We’ve also been thinking a lot about how to apply this success to other groups around campus who can benefit from this style of ambassador program. Our Diversity and Inclusion Director just added two faculty members to her team. Our Dean of Students and his grade-level deans hope to use a similar model to improve advisory programming. We’re working with these groups to help them see the same success we did. But most importantly, we’re just trying to train and support our faculty so that they have the knowledge, tools, and confidence to handle the challenges associated with being a full-time teacher in a rapidly changing world.

The Tech Deputy Solution: Try it at your school!

This program has been a fantastic success at Flint Hill. We have more teachers trying new things with respect to technology, and we have more teachers talking about pedagogy in general. The faculty knows who to talk to if they want to revamp an old unit, if they want to add technology, or if they want to streamline one of their classroom procedures. And given the number of deputies we now have, teachers can work with a deputy that they trust. The convening of Tech Deputies once a month has led to a more proactive approach to technological issues in the building and another forum in which teacher-leaders engage in interdisciplinary conversations and collaborations. And finally, this group has freed up more time for the TIS and IT Departments to dream bigger and plan more substantial professional development knowing that not only is there day-to-day support amongst the faculty at large, but there is also an appetite for rolling out new technology initiatives and processes.

This article was co-written with my Department Chair, Melissa Turner. A version of this article was published by EdSurge!

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