Four Pillars of Technology Integration

I spent far too much time today on this image…….

Four Pillars of Technology Integration

But first

What are the key elements required for a transformation of teaching and learning through the use of technology?  There are obviously many reasonable ways to look at this.  From what position do you view this issue?  Are you a teacher, instructional coach, building principal, technology facilitator, director of technology, chief administrative officer of some flavor, superintendent, parent, or student?  For you, this issue will likely run through the filter of your current position.

It will also run through the filter of your experience.  Are you an eighteen year old student who lives a life that is highly digitally integrated, or are you a teacher of 20 years or more who is just now trying to become familiar with the Internet as it relates to teaching and learning?  Are you a superintendent or head of school who is beginning to open to the importance of a smart approach to technology integration, or are you a technology facilitator who has been a digital evangelist for the past five to ten years?

Those filters should all be applied to the problem of how to retool schools along the lines of technological transformation.  (Though I didn’t think it worked in the title of this post, you will see below that I would rather use the term transformation as opposed to integration.)  At this point, the vast majority of school systems are behind the curve in this area.  Being this far behind might just have one distinct advantage.  If there is no way to see any of the individual trees in a forest, you are likely going to be forced to start your mission with a whole-forest view to begin with.  This is not a bad thing.  It allows you to realize two important things:

1) You don’t need a flashlight.  It’s not that dark in there anymore.  Trust that there are others who have proceeded down this path before you, and they have learned many important lessons.  Collaborate.  Learn from their successes and failures.  Do not go it alone.  Resist the temptation to slap a digital device in the hands of each student and call it success.  Have a plan.

2) Rarely do we get to make decisions with the clarity that a little distance provides.  Take your time (but hurry).  Ask yourself: what can we do with these new tools available today that we couldn’t do before?  If we could remake our curriculum any way we wanted, how would we do it?  Think transformation of the way teaching and learning is done in your district, as opposed to integration into it as it exists.

Allow me to run this challenge through my own filter for the next several paragraphs.  For more on my filter for these ideas, consult the About page.  Also-  I certainly do not profess to know all of the answers.  I am currently sitting on top of a nice little foothill of educational technology leadership…  and staring up at some pretty massive peaks ahead.  Allow me to talk about a few things that make these peaks seem climbable from where I stand.

It is my belief that all schools (and/or school systems) need the following four pillars below any technology “integration” effort…


An Innovation engine

All systems need what I will call an “innovation engine.”  Whatever the system, whatever the setup, schools and school systems need pockets of sponsored innovation.  Without some folks directly charged with instructional innovation with digital tools, we will always be just trying to fit technology into what we do on a day to day basis.  It is far better to build innovation directly into the system, and to foster it purposefully.  I know this may seem somewhat fringe in the world of public education, but it can’t afford to be much longer.

“At enlightened, forward-thinking companies, managers understand the connection between learning, innovation, and higher productivity — in fact, employees at these companies may even be encouraged to spend time learning and experimenting with new technologies.”

~Joe McKendrick, FASTforward

So who will drive this engine of innovation in your school?  Will this be a technology facilitator?  Will it be a technology coach?  Perhaps an instructional coach.  An ad-hoc committee of teachers?  A requirement of your leadership team or department heads?  If you are thinking of this from a district perspective, where does this responsibility land?  Will you just hope for it, or will you truly sponsor innovation in new approaches to teaching and learning afforded by digital technologies?

Erector Set

Administrative support

An innovative technology leader will be of little use beyond their immediate world without direct, purposeful and inspired administrative support.  Administrators:  join forces with your innovation team.  Learn what they learn.  Push them to new heights.  Allow them to bring innovative approaches to the classrooms and teachers of your school.  Support your teachers every step of the way as they slowly transform the classroom environments they create toward new and better approaches to learning…

…and then hold them to it. Hold staff accountable for bringing their skills up to the present realities of the 21st Century.  We’ve been living passively in this century for almost ten years now.  It is time for all of us to sit up and take a direct and active role in the changes happening within the learning profession.  Without strong administrative support, advocacy, and supervision, no real and lasting changes of this magnitude are possible.  Guidelines for such leadership aren’t exactly guesswork.  Grab a copy of the NETS and familiarize yourself with these standards today if you have yet to.  They come in three fine flavors:  for students, teachers and administrators.

wwwwwwwwwwwwwww access

Unfiltered ubiquitous access

So now you have innovation closely coupled with administrative support.  With those two things, you can get a pretty immediate return for your buck, provided one more terribly important thing:  that you don’t filter the very usefulness out of the web. A school can have instructional innovation and local administrative support and still fail with regard to technology integration.  How do you kill innovation quickly?  Tie it down.  Even today, many schools filter all of the good, interactive raw materials right out of the web, just when it is becoming increasingly important.  Figure it out.  Ask a school who only lightly filters.  Ask.  Don’t assume there isn’t another way.

Our school system does currently block Facebook and MySpace.  However, our general approach is to put the filters in place required by law, (keeping out the really creepy things) and then keep the real Internet open for education.  Yes, that means we have open access to YouTube, Flickr, UStream, Ning, Twitter, Blogs, Wikis, etc…  We have our hands on far too much fuel for innovation to even worry about looking at Facebook and MySpace at this moment.  They are where our students already are.  But for now, we are luckier than 95% of school districts I encounter with regard to open access.  This fact has allowed us to move quickly toward figuring out the advantages and disadvantages of these powerful new tools in an educational setting.

Oh, and ubiquity.  Access to these tools must be easy and everywhere.  Soon after access is all around you, it doesn’t even feel like “technology,” it just feels like the way things are done.  This is a good thing, for when technology becomes invisible, we can finally focus on the value added from new uses of these tools.  The world is moving quickly toward wireless access in all corners.  If your school isn’t wireless, then only your students have wireless access.  That’s right-  via their phones.  You have a cell phone policy that bans their use in your school?  How is that working out?  You might be surprised.  Many of your students likely are on the raw, unfiltered Internet via the 3G connection of their cellphone more often in the classroom than you care to admit.  Why ignore this,  or worse yet, why punish it?  Embracing might just be the answer.  Some serious thought, study, and stakeholder input should be focused in this direction.

If your school isn’t at a 1:1 ratio of students to laptop computers… and the students don’t take them home with them night by night, all year long… then you don’t yet have an ideal learning environment for 2009 by most accounts.  Until then, however, there are other ways until that time to assure ubiquitous access.  Our school currently employs laptop carts at a ratio of better than 2.5 students to one computer.  60 of these machines will also be available for checkout from our Media Center in the fall.  Our Media Center/Library will also be open well beyond school hours.  It isn’t perfect, but it is allowing us to move ahead intelligently.  We are moving quickly toward the 1:1 environment that seems inevitable in schools.  Moving in that direction in a smart and purposeful way is the strategy we’re employing.

Nice Helvetica.

Instructional model

So now you have innovation on the ground level, administrative support, and unfiltered access.  Be proud.  If you can honestly say this characterizes your school or school system, then you are in a very small but fortunate minority.  You work with smart, visionary people who know how to plan and have been doing so for some time now.  If your lone goal is to have students, teachers and administrators all gleefully pushing buttons and gazing at computer screens…  then your work here is done.  Congratulations.  However, if what you were wanting out of this nationwide technology push was something a bit more…  substantial, then you had better finish reading.

The fourth pillar of “instructional model” is more than a quick soundbyte allows.  I see three levels of this notion with increasing value as follows:  1) You have thought about and encouraged good instructional practices in your building/district.  2) You have a well-articulated plan for effective instructional practice that is building or districtwide.  3)  You have a true learner-centered instructional model in place in grades K-12 that credits the constructivist nature of human learning.

I am fortunate to say that though our district has awakened late to the call of real and purposeful transformation via educational technology, the toughest of our four pillars has already been built.  The final pillar of a student-centered model for instruction that is carefully stated, professionally-developed, supported, and supervised…  is just freshly in place.  This is not so say that fluency in adopting this philosophy of approach is yet there, but the crucial first step is complete.

As I stated earlier, we are looking up at some pretty tall challenges ahead of us.  Locally, we have unfiltered access to all of the content and interactivity the web affords.  We have pedagogical experts in district leadership positions who have put in place an ideal instructional model for the future.  We have a quickly multiplying group of administrators at both the district and building levels who are responding to the call of the digital world, and we are making plans to foster innovation and creativity in our classrooms.

I feel like I am at the foot of a mountain that a handful of good people have climbed…  20,000 feet below the summit, yet armed with the best climbing gear and support I can get my hands on.  The immediate future should be interesting indeed.

I don\'t understand the question...

Where are you?

So where does all of this leave you?  How many of these pillars have been already constructed around you?  What have you done to help in that construction?  What do you see as the greatest challenges in this mission?  What can I or others do to help?  Are there other pillars that you believe I have missed here?

This post was initially intended to be a part of Leadership Day 2009 as conceived by Scott McLeod.  I am posting it at 1:30am on July 13th instead of on July 12th.  This is not to shabby considering my two baby girls thought that since it is technically summer here…  it should feel like it today.

Leadership Day 2009

***This post ended up being nominated for “Most Influential Blog Post” at the 2009 Edublogs Awards.  Nifty nomination.  Thanks much:


*I created the Four Pillars image above from the original raw image: “OSU Columns 1” by Steve Betts (Zagrev) on Flickr.
*Catracas by [ cas ] on Flickr
*Erector Set by vgm8383 on Flickr
*wwwwwwwwwwwwwww access by squacco on Flickr
*Nice Helvetica. by William Couch on Flickr
*I don’t understand the question… by flynnkc on Flickr

Sean Nash

Biology teacher in the great state of Kansas. Back at it in the classroom after a 30-year career in Missouri. Former District Curriculum Administrator, Instructional Technology Coordinator, and Instructional Coach. Biology instructor since 1993. Find more about my passions and my work at


  1. Great discussion on ubiquitous access. Wi-Fi and smartphones completely changes the equation. I say, in this environment, any money you spend on filtering and blocking software, you might as well burn.

    Actually, why not tell the parents how much that filtering system costs, then have a student demonstrate how it is obsolete. Would make for a fun PTA meeting.

    Also, not sure about your ‘we gotta hold ’em to it’ argument. I’d rather just hire people who use tech and social media naturally; I don’t think we should force tech on folks for whom it’s not a natural thing.

    Maybe we should think about new ways of running classrooms to allow for both the expertise of long-career teachers who have the experience, but not the tech chops, and other folks who eat and breathe the tech but need help in the traditional areas.

    I guess what I’m getting at is moving towards more of a hybrid model of collaborative teaching. Bring together teachers of different strengths. For too long we’ve treated classrooms as the domain of a single voice standing behind a podium or sitting behind a desk.

    • @Shelly, excellent point. That is a big line of division. Do we spend our time and resources on only those “ready to run?” Or, do we define at least a minimal level of competency required of all (from NETS-T?) and then highlight the standouts?

      Your comment draws me back again to the TPACK framework. The pedagogical knowledge of some of our career teachers needs to be shared with the newer set just as much as the technology sphere needs to be shared out in (usually) the other direction. That collaboration works to bolster skills in all three areas of the framework.

      Good thinking on the PTA meeting. Hmmmm…….

  2. I think the accountability piece is important. How might schools look, how might teaching and learning look, if educators were accountable for integrating technology into their programs and lesson design.

    Forcing tech vs. hiring people who use it naturally is an interesting question. At some point what we now consider to be tech will not be for future educators. The old saying about if it existed before you were born or when you were young it’s not technology.

    But for these same future educators, new innovations will create new technologies. What if some do not feel “natural” using them. The same debate begins again.

    If technology (learning, adapting, and implementing) was just considered a job requirement, a skill all teachers must have, then the issue would take on a different tone.

    Interesting. Your post was very instructive.

  3. Excellent post Sean. If I could stress anything at all, I would highlight a very important piece of one of your four pillars. In addition to having an administrator who is supportive, I also believe that the said administrator must truly be willing to learn and embrace the technology. I believe there definitely could be situations where your administration may support you, but not necessarily follow in technology efforts along the way.

    To me, as leaders of the school or the district, the administration should also serve as a model for what they expect from their teachers. Luckily for us, we definitely have that working for us in the Saint Joseph School District.

    I definitely agree with Shelly’s argument about hiring those who are already comfortable with technology and would prefer using it. I’m not sure how realistic that is in most districts – aren’t there always some who are resistant – but who would change if given the opportunity?

    Overall – excellent thoughts here – I really enjoyed reading this post.

  4. Great post! I am glad it is tied to the Leadership 2009, it will certainly be a pillar in its own right. Glad you were thoughtful and reflective in your approach and examples.
    We are moving on!
    Cheryl Oakes

  5. So Art… Thanks for linking and finding the post interesting. But, you don’t allow comments on your blog?

    The one I would have left would have been a respectful disagreement in every sense. You mention in your comments that accountability works both ways:

    “That’s what it all comes down to, but not only for the teachers but for the administration as well. Both are accountable to the other for support and effort, and both are accountable for their own support and effort. Sword cuts two ways here.”

    I couldn’t agree more. In fact, that is why one of the four key items here is to have an administration that is on board 100%. Being “on board” in my mind means following the NETS-A standards all the way down. We need administrators who not only allow edtech integration to a high degree… but who also model digital (modern) learning in a very real and concrete way.

    You assertion that: “Too many schools are still paralyzed with fear over mobile technology. Until this hurdle is leapt, true technology integration will be nothing more than a pipe dream.” … is a real one in the sense that too many district are too currently paralyzed by all the “what ifs.”

    However, some districts who are forward thinking (such as the one I belong to) will make this leap reasonably easily and in short order. The four “pillars” I lay out above are those four key elements needed for such a rapid integration. Really- this pace is needed to catch up to the rest of the real world in opinion. The only mistake one will make with a pace such as this would be to do so without these (and perhaps others) in place.

    Thinking that most schools will not be 1:1 with digital devices in the not-so-distant future is to ignore current trends. Until recently school systems haven’t put the dollars and thinking power into edtech integration because they didn’t know enough to have a comfort level that would allow it. Now that the number of early adopters is hitting a certain saturation level in schools, this “knowledge level” is rising in a real way. The younger our faculties become in the near future will also contribute to a move toward digital resources.

    The only thing left is for this knowledge and comfort to hit administrative levels for the buttons to be pushed toward purposeful and informed integration. Once that happens… once key decision makers in schools see the value… real transformations can happen.

    None of this will happen overnight. However, if in ten years 90% or more of our schools aren’t pulling the majority of their information from digital resources, I will be shocked. It might happen faster as the unit cost of small, smart devices continues to drop.

    • @nashworld, Thanks for the heads up about my comments not working. I’m off to fix that now, then I’ll be back to respond. 🙂

    • @nashworld, Ok…here we go:

      1. The majority of schools and districts may feel they are forward thinking but it is in technology acquisition not implementation. Line items in a budget report for purchase approvals do not translate in to successful application and integration by teachers and students. An administration that is “100% on-board” needs to acknowledge it involves more the capital expenditure approvals. Show me a district or a school where professional development is funded at the same level as technology capital expenditures and then I’ll agree that administration is “100% on-board.”

      2. There are many schools in the U.S. alone that lag woefully behind on technology integration due to funding. Take a ride to an inner city school in the Northeast or a rural school in the South and tell me they are going to be 1:1 when in many cases they can barely afford basic building maintenance or supplies much less individualized technology. While it would be ideal to make that jump it is impractical for many schools. They’re just not ready. 10 years is a lifetime in the technology field and predictions out that far are fuzzy at best. I would challenge to see how many five year plans of schools and districts are targeting 1:1 tech integration now.

      3. Over the years I have seen two things happen consistently with public and private schools alike: spending without a plan and planning without the spend. Until we are able to spend with a plan that reaches all aspects of implementation from purchase through training to creative application and show schools who are not on the bleeding edge how to accomplish the same our examples continue to be “really cool” but “still far off.”

      Personally the concept of ubiquitous technology availability is a wonderful ideal but needs to be tempered with a dose of pragmatic realism to demonstrate true measured successes that schools can be comfortable with using as a starting place. We in the edtech field need to be not only cheering those who lead the race, but getting water for those in the middle, and supporting those in the back.

      • @Art Gelwicks, Hey Art… thanks for joining in.

        I think I figured something out from your post here. If there was a person to oversee this mission at a national level (pipe dream, eh?) …it would be far better to be you than me. I for one, have never stepped foot inside a rural school in the South, nor an inner-city school in the Northeast. My writing here is limited by my personal and direct scope on the field of education. And also, you must know that I am not an “edtech” per se. I am writing as a generalist instructional coach. I am a person paid specifically to work with staff in small groups and 1:1 on improvement of pedagogical practice. This might impart a different perspective than the typical edtech blog. Not better… but different for sure.

        My perspective is that of a mid-sized district in an economically depressed town in the Midwest. Two of our three high schools have over 45% of the student body on free & reduced lunch, and some of our elementary schools are above the 85% level.

        Perhaps (assuredly actually) our district is weird when it comes to professional development in terms of pedagogy, content, and now… technology. We actually have a model approach that has garnered many awards in the recent past. When I spoke of one of the pillars being “administrative support,” I was certainly speaking of more than capital expenditures. What I meant was the kind of support that includes not only modeling digital age learning themselves… but also building in paid, job-embedded professional development during the school day to support all star in this endeavor.

        When you have true instructional leaders in a school, you have them advocating for far more than “managerial issues.” The leadership in my district doesn’t make a move without thinking of the impacts on instructional pedagogy in the classrooms on a daily basis. Every single school issue runs through that filter. I would invite anyone interested to come and sit down (or even videoconference) with the leadership in my building to see where I am really coming from.

        So if you’re right, that districts wont be ready for this, the first step they might want to take is to grow instructional leaders who will be doing far more than being a “cheerleader” for technology integration. From that point on, everything else is possible- not easy for sure, but possible.

        In regard to whether most schools will be 1:1 with digital devices within 10 years… I agree anything past three years is fuzzy. This is what makes all but the most flexible and smart “five year” plans fuzzy as well. However, schools ARE implementing such “purchasing plans” ahead of a smart schedule. They are doing it all over. There are district just to the south of mine that have jumped into the cool world of digital 1:1… and have terribly restrictive codes regarding filters as well as what teachers and students can and cannot do with these devices. Essentially, they are the new “plug in textbook.”

        I think once the number of school systems moving to 1:1 hits a certain saturation point, tons of schools even farther out of the loop will feel immediate pressure to step into that realm. This is not a good thing. I agree with you here, that this is potentially a very expensive error waiting to happen on a fairly large scale. However, I do see it happening.

        It is largely my mission this year, to publicize more and more of what is happening in our building and our district in terms of these plans, implementations, and program evaluations. We are certainly not doing this alone. I don’t advocate the output of even $100 without really researching whether it fits our mission, capabilities, and strategic vision.

        Thanks for bringing your perspective to this discussion. We all get better when we are forced to clarify. We get smarter when we are forced to think more deeply and more broadly, and to interact with others who know something that we do not. We get better when we think and work outside of an echochamber of folks who all chant the same approach. Anytime I spend this much time on a reply, I know I had to reflect in ways that will make me more aware. 😉

  6. EXCELLENT article! Thanks for the inspiration AND the image. With a new job as Director of tech in a school that is starting from almost ground zero, this is a great article to pass along to the teachers and admin.
    My new school is a private faith-based school (Hebrew Academy) in Montreal Canada and is not subject to NETS. However, they have been investing in laptop carts and a wireless infrastructure without any clear direction or strategy. I have my work cut out for me.

    I feel blessed that the leadership admin has been immensely supportive and the teachers have shown genuine interest in moving forward. Great work on a thoughtful article!

    • Had I been wavering about why I continue to write in this space… this one posted comment would have cleared things up for me.

      It makes me very happy to know that this post has provided some clarity for you, for your new position, and for the direction of your district. It sounds like you are in a very powerful position for change. Grab hold of your leaders and cut some direction in there wherever you can. You can then build out from there.

      It sounds like you have a really exciting few years ahead. Best of luck, and be sure to stop in from time to time and let me know how it is going!


  7. A wiki that outlines these four elements a couple of years later can be found here: My teammate in C&I, Jaime Dial, and I are planning to continue using this wiki as a framework for future presentations/conversations on the topic.

    We’d like to encourage others to step in and contribute resources, etc to any of the “pillar pages.” You’ll see several linked articles/resources there already as an example. Also, we’d like to solicit suggestions for any further element that might qualify as a “pillar” along these lines. There is a space for this on the wiki, check it out… what are we forgetting?

  8. As I think through the four pillars and discuss the possibilities with my collegues we keep running into two huge pillars not included in your model: finances and parents. In your district model were these two areas already developed or did they follow the leadership? Did your district make the commitment to technology first and then the four pillars followed or did the parents/community have a say in the direction of the district. It seems we have six pillars not four and we’re looking for insights.

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