The Role of Digital Transformation in Education Work

By Dr. Joe Phillips, Chief Information Officer, Broward County Public Schools

One of the buzzwords that have been gaining traction in the past few years is Digital Transformation. While I do love buzzwords, it is vitally important for organizations to define and codify the meaning and intent of what these words mean for their vision and mission. Educational organizations are not immune from this necessity.

When used effectively, PITAC can ensure that the role of digital transformation in education is a positive and effective one. Digital transformation can significantly move the needle for schools and districts. The benefits of digital transformation include increased student achievement, increased motivation for learning, improvement of student engagement, an increase in the ability for teachers to transform their teaching methods, the potential to make an educational organization’s operations more efficient and/or effective, and/or a mixture of these value-adds and more.

However, to reach these noted benefits, educational organizations must clearly define what digital transformation means to them and which benefits they expect from the digital transformation. By understanding the clearly agreed-upon definitions and the desired benefits, educational organizations can clearly outline their desired return on investment (ROI) and avoid the practice of pumping and dumping technology solutions into their operations, environments, and classrooms. Pumping and dumping of technology solutions occur when these solutions are touted as solving problems and then deployed following the PITAC Process described below.

In these cases, organizations tend to measure the mere saturation of the solution as the ROI instead of the set of desired benefits and outcomes. Pumping and dumping of technology solutions achieve little to no value-add, and the technology solutions are often blamed instead of the process. This tends to perpetuate further pumping and dumping with educational organizations switching technology solutions frequently, causing frustration for all involved.

Digital transformation can significantly move the needle for schools and districts.

To avoid the failure of a digital transformation, everything after the development of defined desired benefits and outcomes should be about the Planning, Implementation, Transition, Adoption, and Continuous Improvement (PITAC) phases of the technology solutions and transformation.

The Planning phase of digital transformation focuses on developing the digital transformation plan by taking the desired benefits and outcomes and turning them into tangible goals. Then go through technology solutions’ feedback, selection, and procurement process, and create the Implementation, Transition, and Adoption plan elements. A key aspect of this process is ensuring that the technology solutions will have perceived ease of use and perceived usefulness.

Once a set of solutions is purchased, the next phase is the Implementation phase. The Implementation phase consists of standing up the solution, ensuring that it is functional and, if necessary, training the trainers who will be providing the training during the Transition and Adoption phases.

The Transition phase involves shifting the solution from the implementation team to the solution end users. This includes moving to the go-live plans, following communication plans, soliciting user feedback, and ensuring that the solution becomes operationally functional and with ample technology support. As an example, when a new classroom technology solution is rolled out, the transition phase can include ensuring that teachers are trained in how to use the new technology and trained on how to embed it into their teaching. This phase will also ensure that the service desk, field technicians, instructional coaches, educational leaders, etc., can provide substantial support.

The Adoption phase focuses on ensuring technology solutions are being effectively adopted. They then determine if not, why not, and what can be done to improve. This is done by focusing on first- and second-order adoption variables. First-order adoption variables are extrinsic to the end user and can be directly modified by the individuals in charge of the educational organization. These variables include technology integration, effective planning, appropriate funding, effective leadership, a school cultural environment with a unified vision for technology integration, educational technology professional development, access to technology (hardware and software), preexisting technology experience, and adequate technology support.

Second-order adoption variables are intrinsic to end users. They cannot be directly modified by the individuals in charge of the educational organization and can only be impacted by modifying first-order variables. These variables include user knowledge, motivation, skills, beliefs, values, level of technology self-efficacy, level of technology anxiety, and buy-in. When these first- and second-order variables are positive, it is a bridge to digital transformation and adoption. However, when each of these is negative, it acts as a barrier. The primary focus of the adoption team should be on seeking out barriers and turning them into bridges before, during, and after the adoption phase.

The final phase of PITAC is the Continuous Improvement phase. This phase involves studying the work done in the Planning, Implementation, Transition, and Adoption phases and acting on opportunities for improvement. It’s also about looking at the ROI and determining if the organization is on target, behind, or ahead, then taking appropriate steps as needed. These steps commonly consist of retraining users, building more training or technology support, doing a full reimplementation of a solution, or even replacing a solution.

Overall, the role of digital transformation in education is clearly one of necessity and increased value. Educational organizations that do not digitally transform will be left behind by those who do. However, those who have botched a digital transformation have been seen to have improperly stewarded funds, caused havoc and stress on their teachers, staff, and students, and defined their organization as ineffective. Focusing on the PITAC process can ensure that these educational organizations succeed at the end of their journey and show that a digital transformation is a worthy investment and the right thing to do.