Technology can be a valuable tool in the hands of teachers and students. With technology, students can access real-time environmental data to learn about climate change, explore manufacturing careers using simulators, or even observe medical procedures without leaving their classrooms.
It can be difficult, however, for teachers and administrators to choose virtual learning experiences that deepen students’ understanding of the material and support learning goals. Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest is partnering with rural educators in Iowa to identify and implement technology-based strategies that increase the depth of students’ knowledge.
Educational technology can be particularly beneficial for rural schools, enabling them to provide learning opportunities that may not otherwise be available because of distance, funding, and staffing limitations. Yet a technology solution that works in one rural school may not necessarily suit another because of differences in available resources, geographic landscape, and the local economy and industry.
To explore how technology tools can be used effectively in different rural contexts in Iowa, REL Midwest formed the Iowa Learning and Technology Networked Improvement Community (Iowa NIC). A NIC is a collaboration between researchers and practitioners that conducts fast-turnaround research in authentic school, district, or state education settings. NIC members work together to identify a high-priority research question, develop an intervention to address the question, test the intervention, analyze the results, and tweak the intervention for future testing.
The Iowa NIC includes principals, teachers, and instructional leaders from five rural districts in central Iowa. Staff from the Central Rivers Area Education Agency (AEA), which provides professional development and instructional support to districts in the region, also participate in the NIC. (Learn more about our partners at Central Rivers AEA.)
Through a series of six coaching sessions in 2017 and early 2018, REL Midwest researchers facilitated a research cycle with the Iowa NIC. The members were particularly interested in studying what types of technology-based activities teachers use. REL Midwest used the first two sessions, conducted in 2017, to explain the NIC research process and plan a research cycle with NIC members using the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) model.
During the third session, held in January 2018, REL Midwest worked with Iowa NIC members to develop an intervention to understand and improve the types of technology-based activities that teachers use. The intervention focused on having teachers categorize activities using the Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition (SAMR) model. This model helps educators determine if a technology-based activity replaces other activities, enhances learning from instruction that is not technology based, or provides new understanding and learning opportunities that students would not otherwise have.
The first step in the Iowa NIC’s intervention was for teachers to categorize the technology-based activities in their lesson plans using the SAMR model. Teachers then were to meet with peers and instructional leaders, who would also categorize the teacher’s planned technology-based activities. During the fourth coaching session in February 2018, REL Midwest worked with NIC members to solidify this intervention and determine how they would test it in their own school settings.
Between February and April 2018, NIC members conducted a PDSA cycle to implement the intervention and measure the outcomes. REL Midwest then facilitated a discussion about the outcomes in the fifth coaching session. In the sixth session, held in May 2018, REL Midwest led a discussion about revising the intervention and conducting more PDSA cycles in the 2018/19 school year.
NIC members have shared that participating in the Iowa NIC and the PDSA cycles is supporting their efforts to use technology in the classroom, even beyond the scope of the NIC’s work. After the April session, one instructional coach said, “Even joining the NIC community is pushing our AIW [authentic intellectual work] goals forward.” A teacher who is participating in the NIC mentioned being able to better understand how technology can support classroom goals as a result of doing SAMR categorization and learning about technology use at other NIC schools.
Stay tuned to the REL Midwest newsletter for updates on the Iowa NIC’s upcoming PSDA cycles. If you would like to learn more about learning technology or continuous improvement research, check out our roundup of resources related to the Iowa NIC.