In 2019, the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest wrapped up our work with the Iowa Learning and Technology Networked Improvement Community (Iowa NIC). This partnership created space for REL Midwest researchers, staff from the Central Rivers Area Education Agency (AEA) in Iowa, and teams from rural high schools that the agency serves to engage with and learn from one another regarding the use of technology in classroom instruction. As the partnership’s facilitator, I am proud of all we achieved as well as of the educators and leaders who participated in the NIC and stayed the course as the project launched and evolved.
> Learn more: A partner in continuous improvement: Central Rivers Area Education Agency
Participants in a NIC, whether teachers, leaders, or other types of practitioners, can sometimes struggle to remain patient during the early phases of the process, when members define the problem they want to address, sort through root causes, and create logic models and theories of action. During these phases, it can feel like it takes forever to get to the point of developing an idea and testing it. Once at that point, participants apply Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycles, which includes carrying out repeated mini-experiments to test interventions through a continuous improvement process. Iowa NIC members stayed engaged throughout the entire process. When the time came to move from planning and hypotheses to implementation, their patience better enabled them to enact their change ideas related to the use of instructional technology and to collect and analyze data on the results.
> Learn more about networked improvement communities
What did participants in the Iowa Learning and Technology NIC accomplish together?
As part of the Iowa NIC, participating high school teams developed practical measurement tools for analyzing data on their change ideas—that is, the new instructional practices the teams implemented and tested to attempt to reach the instructional technology goals they set for themselves. Teams also received professional learning from the Central Rivers AEA on creating meaningful change in practice. These activities helped NIC participants gain a better understanding of the how and the why behind technology integration approaches and move beyond the use of education technology for the sake of it.
> Check out this REL Midwest blog post from March 2019 on the resources and lessons learned from REL Midwest’s networked improvement communities to support educators
Iowa Learning and Technology NIC resources
Over the three years that the Iowa NIC was active, REL Midwest created many resources that are available to the public.
- Technology Use in Instruction and Teacher Perceptions of School Support for Technology Use in Iowa High Schools: REL Midwest conducted a research study to describe the extent to which rural high school teachers in Iowa are using technology to support the development of four 21st century skills—collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. In addition, the study described teachers’ perceptions and school supports related to technology integration. A companion infographic highlights the study’s key findings.
- A Closer Look: Teacher Perceptions and Use of Technology in Teaching: This webinar addresses the importance of professional development for teachers using education technology to prepare students for the 21st century. Researchers present an overview of the above REL Midwest study. Practitioners then discuss how educators can use the study’s findings to inform practices in their districts, including how rural school and district leaders can provide teachers with professional learning opportunities that are sustained, ongoing, and job-embedded. A recording of the webinar and a slide deck of the presentations are available.
- Learning Upgrade: Technology in Iowa Schools: This informational video, produced in partnership with Iowa Public Television, covers research-based strategies for the successful use of education technology. The video focuses on the recommendations of the National Education Technology Plan and highlights promising practices from Iowa schools.
- Using Technology to Increase Depth of Learning: This REL Midwest blog post describes the early work of the Iowa NIC and how technology can be a valuable tool in the hands of teachers and students.
- In-Depth Coaching and Consultation to Support the Iowa NIC: REL Midwest provided in-depth coaching and consultation to help Iowa educators identify programs and practices that support the integration of technology into high school classroom instruction. The archived materials are available online (scroll down to the Training, Coaching, and Technical Support section). Module 1 lays out the process for conducting a root cause analysis and developing a theory of action. Module 2 provides support in creating aim statements and developing drivers and measures for the NIC.
- Conducting Relevant Research through Networked Improvement Communities: This webinar addresses how researchers and practitioners can form NICs to study high-priority questions about education practice. Presenters provide an overview of continuous improvement research, including the NIC structure and Plan-Do-Study-Act rapid research cycles. School-based practitioners then discuss their experiences participating in the Iowa Learning and Technology NIC. The webinar recording and slide deck are available.
- Two REL Midwest Ask a REL reference desk responses round up related research. One response covers the successful integration of technology into curriculum and instruction and the impact of technology on achievement. The other response discusses the duration or number of hours required to make teacher professional development effective.