A Planning Cycle for #edtech

ICT systems that are embedded in everyday teaching and learning must be highly functional and have high effort expectancy among educators. These characteristics are not necessarily coincident. For example, systems designed for highly controlled access may be safe from accidental or malicious misconfiguration, thus highly resistant to change and highly functional. Complicated rules for accessing such systems along with knowledge of administrator credentials by only competent technicians may make the systems difficult to use. This effect is observed when, for example, generic user accounts, which are common in schools enrolling young students who have limited language and keyboarding skills, are replaced with individual accounts that require sophisticated passwords. The ICT systems and the data on them may be more secure with the sophisticated credentials, but the students and their teachers may perceive decreased effort expectancy as they struggle to log on.

Systems are rarely both highly functioning and easy to use as initially designed and built. In those schools in which technology systems undergo continuous improvement, there exists a technology planning cycle (see figure 1). This can be either formal or informal and different parts of the ICT system can be at different stages of the cycle at any moment. Further, each stage of the process may require multiple iterations before process is sufficient for the next stage to begin. The degree to which a stage is completed before the next iteration begins appears to correlate with teachers’ effort expectancy.

planning cycleThe planning cycle begins with technicians designing systems according to the limits of their skills, the extant infrastructure, budgets, time, and other locally relevant circumstances. Once the system is built, technicians must ensure teachers understand how to operate it, and teachers and students have an obligation to understand and follow those procedures. If teachers and students are using the system as designed by the technicians, but they find the design is interfering with the effort expectancy or the performance expectancy, then they have an obligation to explain the difficulties to technicians in terms of technology acceptance. The cycle then begins again with the technicians redesigning the system to reflect the changes that teachers indicate are necessary.

At different stages of the cycle, all stakeholders must defer to decisions made by different stakeholders. Technicians make initial design decisions, so educators must defer to their expertise and use systems as the technicians design them to be used. When educators find aspects of the system that interfere with technology acceptance, then technicians must defer to educators’ perceptions and change the system to improve their acceptance. School administrators are hired to manage school operations and to ensure conditions are appropriate for teaching and learning. When progressing through this technology planning cycle, school administrators must recognize the stage and ensure the recommendations of the correct stakeholders are being implemented.

Educators’ technology needs tend to be different from those encountered in other businesses and industries. Educators generally value flexible systems that allow them to assess the usefulness of software, sites, and services; and to respond to new discoveries and changing expectations quickly. Students who are just learning to read and write often find complicated systems difficult to use. Technicians experienced in designing secure systems that provide predictable and stable access can find these needs of educational populations to be contrary to their expertise. The pragmatic school leaders who direct technicians to respond to the needs of teachers as they improve systems tend to increase the effort expectancy of the ICT.

When the planning cycle is active and completed on a continuous manner, the practice is associated with improved perceptions of facilitating conditions. A principal captured the effect of focusing on technology acceptance during the planning cycle. “When we talk about technology at faculty meetings, I used to hear endless griping about how stuff was never fixed. The technicians stuck to their plans and were reluctant to modify things.” After introducing the planning cycle and insisting “complaints” be expressed as those aspects of the system that made it hard to use or that interfered with teaching, the perceptions of the system seemed to change. He observed, “We have opened communication about the role of the system in our school and the conditions necessary for it to serve our purposes.”