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Chuck Holt, Ed.D. Assistant Professor Educational Leadership Texas A&M University-Commerce Amy Burkman, Ed.D. Associate Professor Director of M.Ed. in Administration and Supervision American Public University System
ABSTRACT The purpose of this project was to develop an understanding of the issues related to the operation of an urban school district utilizing digital instructional technologies from the perspective of a district level technology leader. There were three main research questions driving the project: What are the greatest challenges in creating a digitally enhanced district? What impact does digital enhancement have on student achievement? How does the district maintain forward momentum with the rapid change in technologies? Through this qualitative study researchers identified a number of effective technology initiatives in urban districts and also recognized impending challenges facing school leaders in a rapidly changing digital world. Keywords: Leadership, Technology, Digital Instruction

Introduction The purpose of this study was to investigate the behaviors and beliefs of school leaders managing urban districts utilizing significant


instructional technology. As technology capabilities explode across the social, business and educational landscapes, schools still struggle to either incorporate or even keep up with these existing tools and devices. Zucker (2009) stated that technology in education has passed the tipping point and digital technologies are transforming education, although slowly and not always in the school. Digital technologies have impacted students in key areas: when and where students learn, with whom students learn, what students learn, and how students learn. Online courses opened learning to anytime/anywhere access, yet many schools have not embraced online learning for other than remediation purposes (Zucker, 2009). The use of personal digital devices such as smart phones, tablets, and readers has provided unprecedented access to learning, yet they are often shunned or even banned in schools. These factors lead us into a conversation regarding leadership and the state of technology in schools.

Review of Literature The implementation and integration of technology in Americas K - 12 classrooms is a topic of great interest among educators. This interest appears to be the result of the challenges presented by the rapid changes in the technological market (Ramirez, 2011). This author points out that schools, especially large districts like those studied in this project, may be experiencing widespread integration problems. Issues include the lack of support for training, lack of long range planning, lack of technology knowledge by school officials, and internal and external organizational threats to integration. District leadership plays a vital role in integrating technology effectively into the classroom as is considered a complex school-wide change (Schrum, Galizio, & Ledesma, 2011). The discussion of digital natives (Prensky, 2001) is intriguing to educators but does not fully address the issue of teaching and learning. Youth today use technology for social and entertainment purposes; their familiarity with available technology does not


automatically make them capable of utilizing these tools for learning (Davies, 2011). While we are all aware of the power of technology in todays world, this awareness does not necessarily make schools, teachers, or students effective users of technology to construct learning. No single legislative act has had more impact on education than No Child Left Behind (NCLB). An important focus of this legislation is improving student academic achievement with the use of technology through integration initiatives, building access, accessibility and parental involvement (The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001). According to Learning Point Associates (2007), rather than buying the latest technology and then figuring out what to do with it, the emphasis should be on how to improve student learning. It is not about the boxes on the desk but the information that flows through those boxes. The planning process should go beyond the buying of technology but should envision ways to connect our students to the world beyond the school. As technology capabilities skyrocket, the issues connecting education and technology have evolved rapidly. While decisions about staff training, platforms, networks, and other decisions remain a very local matter, a set of well recognized issues face almost every school. These include (a) integration of technology into the classroom to improve instruction, (b) the availability of access to technology, (c) accessibility for all students regardless of personal means, and (d) parental involvement. While some of these issues seem closely related to funding - and indeed adequate funding is critical - good planning and decision making also play major roles in delivery and effective usage. Teacher training remains a top priority as new technologies make technology integration both powerful and complex.

Access Issues The term building access when related to technology refers to


the electronic infrastructure available. This may include the local area network and wide area network that enables broadband Internet connections. According to Learning Point Associates (2007), this standard must be met for all students including those in geographically isolated areas in order to meet the standards of NCLB. While most schools work to achieve this standard, the bar is continually raised as devices require more bandwidth to maximize the available technologies. Another term associated with technology is accessibility. NCLB stresses the importance of providing technology integration and technology literacy for all students, including students with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, low-income students, and migrant populations (Learning Point Associates, 2007, p. 3). To bridge the gaps of the current digital divide affecting these groups is essential in preparing all students to reach success in the global community (Ball, 2011). Personal and mobile technology devices are changing the world and have the potential to change the classroom forever. Some have dubbed this new era of wide access the Age of Mobilism. Norris and Soloway (2011) foresee how personal devices will help usher in a we learn together pedagogy era as opposes to the age old I teach philosophy of the classroom. One of the newest trends in providing technology access is the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative by many schools that encourages and facilitates the use of student smart phones and other devices. Bartelt (2012) posits there is a gap in the conversation between our imperative to facilitate new technological literacy and the ways in which we actually provide the support necessary to achieve it. He proposes we must encourage students to use their own personal mobile devices in the classroom to build literacy and life skills. Bartelt also highlights the importance of encouraging teachers to be innovative facilitators of learning possible through those personal devices.


Teaching with Technology As the technology learning curve becomes almost a vertical line, teacher technology competencies take on new significance. Chen and Thielemann (2008) note that as the pressure on teachers to become technology specialists accumulates, it is critical that teacher educators, current teachers, and pre-service teaching professionals pursue the accumulation of knowledge on the applications of technology such as digital graphics, desktop publishing, video technology, multimedia, and Internet applications. Many states such as Texas are creating technology standards for K-12 teachers and methods to evaluate teacher technology competencies. The Texas Teacher Technology Competencies Certification (TTCC) program provides a system that meets the requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the Texas Long-range Plan for Technology (Education Service Centers of Texas, 2012). The process of integrating technology into the classroom has become a real focus of research in education. In a meta-analysis of research studies, Guzman and Nussbaum (2009) examine in-service teacher training processes that strengthen this integration. These authors found that technology has not been sufficiently incorporated into schoolwork and has yet to be properly linked with other teaching strategies. They posit that the root of the problem lies in the initial training of teachers where the use of technology is an adjunct to teaching and not part of the learning process for students. These authors have identified six domains in the literature and developed a set of competencies to form the bases for creating a technology integration training model. This detailed look at teacher development and competencies will be vital to bringing the powerful tools of technology effectively into the classroom.

Teacher Training Of the limiting factors to integrating technology into the class-


room, digital media literacy among teachers may be at the top of the list. The NMC Horizon Report (2012) points out that digital literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession, especially teaching. Formal training in the supporting skills and techniques is still very rare in teacher education. Staff development or informal training often offsets a lack of formal training for teachers. The NMC Horizon Report points out this challenge is exacerbated by the fact that digital literacy is less about tools and more about thinking, and thus skills and standards based on tools and platforms are not useful in the long-term (2012, p. 9). Davies (2011) posits that teachers as learners must become aware of the available technology and its basic purpose, then implement and practice it in authentic situations if they are to reach the higher levels of technology literacy (p. 45). Several interesting developments in classroom instruction have arisen due to advancements in technology. Formal and informal learning are more often being blended in successful classrooms. The NMC Horizon Report (2012) points out a new model of instruction called the flipped classroom that is opening the door to this blending of learning. The report states the flipped classroom uses the abundance of videos on the Internet to allow students to learn new concepts and material outside of school, thus preserving class time for discussions, collaborations with classmates, problem solving, and experimentation (New Media Consortium, 2012).

Technology Resources A key ingredient to incorporating these technologies into the learning environment and creating policies to encourage this integration lies with the school leaders. The decision makers in public schools establish the climate for technology integration into the educational system. The important topics of access, bandwidth, instruction, and staff development are linked to the philosophies of these school leaders. Resource allocation is another important role of


senior leadership in a school. Nowhere is this more evident among school districts than in the technology resources available to teachers and staff. To complicate matters, there is little formal training for administrators in how to integrate technology into the classroom. Schrum, Galizio, and Ledesma (2011) found little state or institutional licensure or course requirements in how to implement technology into the classroom. These authors found that successful leaders learned on their own, had a dedication to the topic, and promoted their faculty to implement technology integration. A significant revolution in communication has occurred in just the past few years. Miniaturization, mobilization, and personalization of devices have changed the way the world communicates. This postPC era as it is called is built upon devices designed to be mobile, very personal, and connected to the world. Messineo (2012) compares the revolution spurred by the likes of Ritchie, McCarthy, and Jobs to that of Guttenberg. These men are credited with creations of software architecture, knowledge architecture, and social architecture that have had worldwide impact. Mobile devices are now common tools in social and political struggles around the world. Most of the newest technology advances we take for granted today are built from their original ideas. Messineo points us down this revolutionarys path from Guttenberg to Zuckerburg that serve as examples of an individuals ability to empower society. These powerful tools of change will certainly alter learning and the classroom. The challenge for administrators will be to keep up with the revolution. A common theme among technology decision makers is budgeting issues. Rapidly changing platforms and newer software require regular funding. Johnson (2012) points out just how much is actually spent on education technology funding each year. He estimates the national figure to be $56 billion per year. K-12 education uses about 36 percent of that total or, put another way, about $400 per student per year. As district budgets shrink, technology departments will certainly be affected. Johnson points to a number of strategies to stretch the tech dollar for public schools and at the top of the list are


effective budgeting techniques. He proposes that every dollar spent directly or indirectly improve educational opportunities. Technology budgets should align to district goals; be transparent; and specific. Johnson recommends zero-based budgeting for technology purposes to insure appropriate use of funds.

Methodology The design of this study is in the qualitative tradition of inquiry. The method selected for this research was a phenomenological narrative inquiry. Creswell (1998) and the researcher utilized narrative inquiry to gather the data. According to Clandinin and Connelly (2000), narrative is collaboration between the researcher and participants that occurs over time, in a specific place or places, and within a social interaction. They observed that narrative inquiry is both phenomena under study and method of study. Researchers must think narratively as they enter into research relationships with administrators, create field texts and write storied accounts of educational lives. In narrative inquiry people are described as the live embodiments of lived stories. Selection of Participants This study was centered purposefully in two suburban areas of North Texas in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metro area. One goal of the study was to identify particular beliefs or behaviors of school leaders in large suburban districts. A dense population in a metropolitan area in Texas characterizes these locations. This provided a population to study that is consistent with most definitions of suburban including the U.S. Census Bureau. Participants were selected from area school districts in which suburban populations were represented in school districts utilizing extensive instructional technology. The school leaders selected as participants were school officials with primary technology decision-


making responsibility for the district. While one of the districts serve a majority low SES and ethnically diverse population (District A), the other (District B) represented a more affluent suburban neighborhood. The researcher located participants meeting the guidelines developed for this research through contact and cooperation with schools in the study zone. Collection & Analysis of Data Creswell (1998) described the role of a qualitative researcher as the instrument itself. This places a significant burden on the researchers to achieve a level independence from the study while being very much a human part of the measurement. Following the design of the study, the researchers took part in the selection of a participant pool. The researchers also wrote the question response protocol (Appendix A) and made the field notes. A primary responsibility of the researchers in this study was to guide the narrative collection using personal contact with participants and through a process of data reduction to find the essence of the phenomena. Polkinghorne (1988) observed that narrative is the basis for a practitioners work because they are concerned with peoples stories: they work with case histories and use narrative explanations to understand why the people they work with behave the way they do. Narrative inquiry fits very well with the design of this study and its participants. A widely used method of creating field texts is an interview, which may be turned into written field texts through a variety of means. School officials agreeing to be participants responded through a personal in-depth interview. Data for this study were obtained through one unstructured indepth personal interview and a follow up meeting with the participant to confirm the researchers analyses, which is the member check. The first step was a face-to-face interview at a location selected by the participant. Field texts are the data in narrative inquiry. Each interview yielded notes which were turned into research texts later.


Participants were interviewed in their home districts. Creswell (1998) stated that research should be conducted in the natural setting, which allowed the researcher to develop detail about the subject or place and to be highly involved in actual experiences of the participants. The interviews were conducted as an unstructured interview with the interviewer utilizing an interview response protocol (Appendix A). The researchers began the interview with a question related to the topic and allowed the participant to respond. As the participant responded the researcher asked for further detail as needed. The interview response protocol was utilized during the interview to record responses, environmental factors and for the researcher to make reflections during the interview. The researchers reflections provided another dimension to the field texts. The iterative process of questionnaires and interviews occurred over a two-week period for all participants. A follow-up meeting to confirm the researchers transcriptions and meaning was the final contact with the participants. The final interview allowed the participant to confirm the transcriptions and analysis, which served as a member check to provide trustworthiness. Moustakas states that ultimately in the qualitative tradition, the researcher looks for the essential, invariant structure or essence of consciousness where experiences contain both the outward appearance and inward consciousness based on memory, image, and meaning. The second step utilized the process of horizontalization (1994). The researcher used response protocol notes to develop a profile of responses from each participant. This process was used to list significant statements relevant to the topic and provided them equal value. The third step of analysis, which is clustering, allowed the researcher to cluster themes together allowing for the removal of redundant and overlapping statements. In order to arrive at these essences about the beliefs of school leaders, the data were analyzed by use of textural description or the what of the experience (Moustakas, 1994). The textural description permitted the researcher to refine the beliefs and behaviors identified in the field notes.


Finally a structural description was created that allowed the researcher to write a description of how the phenomenon of being a school leader in this school setting manifested itself in the hearts and minds of these officials. This step looked closely at meanings, seeking divergent perspectives and different frames of reference about the phenomenon. These steps of data analysis allowed the researchers to accomplish the mission of a phenomenological study to arrive at the essence of the beliefs of these participants.

Findings Although the districts involved in this study had different demographics, there were several key themes that spanned across both areas. Alternately, there were also some issues that were specific to the needs of the district. This is best reflected in the definitions of a digitally enhanced district given by each participant. One participant felt that a digitally enhanced district was one that provided students with the newest tools in business and industry and utilized those tools as teaching and learning instruments for all classes. The other participant felts that a digitally enhanced district provided accessibility to technology tools and enhanced the curriculum through technology use while also providing teachers tools to speed up the instruction and assessment process. Inherently these definitions are similar but with a few minor specifications for each environment. This is evident throughout the data analysis. Common themes emerged. Technology Must be Used Effectively and Efficiently Technology exists within the schools. Whether the technology is cutting edge or a few years old, most schools have some type of technology. Both participants of the study identified the use of existing technology to be a challenge. Effective and efficient use of technology isnt a given just because the technology exists. Teachers must know and understand the best practices that are technology


specific and must be able to implement these practices in a supportive environment. To make technology use efficient and effective administrators must balance expectation with the enforcement of the rules. Teachers and campus based administrators must have a clear understanding of how technology is to be implemented. Combining technology use with materials access can also assist in efficiency. For example, District A requires teachers to access a majority of classroom support materials through digital resources and provides student access to eReaders and digital books through the library. Teachers and students can access these materials outside of the school day, and outside of the school facilities, encouraging students and teacher to use digital materials. Similarly, District B has implemented digital project based learning (PBL) activities. In the digital PBL activities students can access materials digitally but they also participate in group learning activities online. These activities encourage student use of technology. Districts also need to find effective methods of assessing technology competency. District B has created a task force of parents and educators to discuss the assessment of technology competency of students through the application of technology practices. The challenge is in separating the students technology competency from the content assessment. Assessment practices are lacking in the implementation of technology in the classroom. The one warning given by both participants is not to give too much information too quickly. An over-abundance of information can do more damage to efficiency and effectiveness than no information at all. Teachers and students are overwhelmed with information daily, as are parents and community members. When implementing technology it is important not to inundate stakeholders with too much too quickly or they may give up completely.


There Must be True Integration of Technology and Curriculum Using technology in the classroom does not guarantee integration with the curriculum. Teachers cannot use technology to drill and kill the curriculum, nor can technology be used as electronic worksheets. Integration is necessary for student engagement; technology cannot be an add-on to curriculum or an afterthought to curriculum development. The superintendent of District B stated that we should move from curriculum development to curriculum enhancement. The focus of districts and teachers for the past decade has been in developing curriculum. We have curriculum; we know what we are going to teach and we need to focus on how we are going to teach. Using Promethean boards, using eReaders instead of books, creating magnet schools and project based learning teams are all useful tools when integrating technology applications and can be tools that enhance the curriculum. The use of technology in the design of meaningful lessons is more important than making technology available. If technology is going to enhance curriculum, districts need to provide digital support for classroom materials. As in the case of District A, the library media center can be a one stop shop for classroom materials. The technology support within the district must be integrated with the curriculum support to model good integration practices. Good curriculum and instruction people will be the real techies of the future. Districts Must Utilize Digital Natives to Enhance Technology Use A phrase that was coined in the interview process was digital native. A digital native is a person that has grown up using technology tools. New teachers tend to be digital natives and should be encouraged to be leaders in technology implementation. Digital natives have different professional development needs and digital native students have different learning needs. We need to capitalize on


the learning experiences of the teachers that are digital natives to enhance their experiences as teachers. We also need to use the ripple effect: excitement from the digital natives will ignite other excitement. Another important factor when dealing with digital natives is to remember that technology doesnt mean laptops. Students and teachers as digital natives are using smart phones and note pads (or other Gesture Based tools) in daily experiences and they do not need to be limited to the laptop. District A providing campus administrators with iPads instead of laptops because they are more mobile and District B allows teachers and students to use any WiFi enabled device in the classroom. Resources are far more extensive than the basic computer. Digital leaders are responsible for shifting the paradigm of old school educators. Budget Responses The biggest topic in recent school discussions has been the budget crisis that followed the recent economic downturn. With a decrease in access to school funding, schools are faced with tough decision-making and are frequently required to make deep cuts. At the same time state and national requirements for technology integration have been increasing. No Child Left Behind addresses technology competence specifically. In response District A has chosen to combine funding for technology, books and materials into an IMA (Instructional Material allotment). All materials purchased for the school come from this fund, which has increase the need for campus leaders to be innovative and for them to consider combining needs and purchase materials that are technology based. This reduces the duplication of technology based and paper based materials. They have also entered into an interlocal agreement between city and schools to maintain good fiber optic network and they have reduced 12 full time employees (FTEs) by integrating library and technology services into one job.


District B has a different set of needs due to the different demographics of the students. There is less of a need for the school district to purchase technology equipment because students provide their own hardware. The district has decided not to purchase more technology until there is proof that current technology is being utilized effectively. This moratorium on purchasing ensures that materials are being used effectively and the superintendent includes all stakeholders in the evaluation process on current technologies. District Specific Identified Issues and Responses Keeping up with technology changes. A theme that emerged from discussions with District A leadership is that the biggest challenge in funding is keeping up with the changes in technology. Most districts develop educational technology plans but an educational technology plan cannot be a 3-5 year plan when technology is outdated in 18-24 months. Technology changes happen almost before materials can even be purchased. To combat this issue the district uses a strategic selection of materials and minimizes the purchase of new materials to match top 3-5 district goals. This keeps materials from becoming outdated all at the same time. Identifying clear expectations and assessments. In dialogues with District B, a lack of clear expectations and assessment practices was a major technology issue. The district created access well but didnt couple access with clear and defined expectations for teachers and campuses. The superintendent felt that defining best practices and comprehensive goals is the second step in the technology integration process, to come immediately after acquiring the technology tools. This district is not providing additional money for technology until teachers/campuses implement what they have which necessitates the creating of aligned expectations and an assessment process. The goal is engagement in learning not using technology for technology sake.


Discussion and Recommendations Digitally enhanced districts have found unexpected boons that come with technology usage. For example, District A found that there was a significant increase in student attendance when technology was integrated into the curriculum. There has also been an increase in attendance at magnet schools and in specialized programs that focus on technology based skills. District B has found an increase in student performance on district assessments and has also found increased student engagement through the implementation of technology based projects. It is clear in these districts that the appropriate use of technology to enhance curriculum has a positive impact on student success. The implementation of technology provides students at both ends of the socioeconomic scale opportunity to learn life skills that enhance future opportunities. Schools districts are finding that teachers and students that are digital natives are pulling schools along with newer and better ideas for implementing technology. District leadership needs to be open to allowing change to occur from the bottom up and rely less on administrative experts to devise plans for technology integration. Recommendations for districts that plan on enhancing technology use are very clear: 1. Create a clear, comprehensive set of expectations for teachers and students. 2. Assess technology learning in addition to content assessment. 3. Work with the community to enhance the access to technology and to increase the networking capabilities of the district. 4. The technology must be integrated into the curriculum and cannot become a technological worksheet device. 5. Technology plans cannot be 3-5 year plans. Technology changes quickly and the technology plan needs to be a living document that is reviewed annually.


6. Planning for technology implementation should include digital natives, such as teachers, students and parents that are technologically savvy. 7. Let the stakeholders push the envelope with technology use and dont limit them.

Conclusion Using technology is a way of life. The participants of this study work in districts that embraced technology and that work to create a relevant learning environment. When asked about advice to other district leaders moving toward true digital enhancements, the responses were immediate and remarkable: 1. Dont be famous, be effective! The why of technology use should be the focus of your curricular plan. You should always move from why to how. 2. There has to be intentional devotion to enhancing instruction and to engaging students with technology. 3. Watch what other pioneers do and learn from them. Evaluate their initiatives and try new things after success is evident elsewhere. These words of wisdom can guide district leaders looking to increase technology use and can provide a novice leader with a foundation for decision making. Work closely with districts that are already digitally enhanced and find mentors among the leaders of these districts. Educators are on the same team when it comes to the best use of technology in learning and can accomplish much by working together for the better success of our students.


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Appendix Research Question Protocol 1. How do you define "digitally enhanced district?" 2. What are challenges to creating a digitally enhanced district? 3. What have been stakeholder concerns? 4. How do you respond to stakeholder concerns? 5. What have been your biggest concerns? 6. What impact do you feel digital enhancement will have on student achievement? 7. What responses have you gotten from school district employees? 8. What advice do you give other superintendents or school officials planning digital enhancements? 9. How do you manage the rapidly changing technologies with the limited resources available now to districts?