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5 ways to crowdsource ideas for choosing the right technology

By Carl Hooker
October 14, 2016
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In the spring of 2015, our school district passed a bond that included over $5 million for a student mobile device initiative. For the previous 4½ years, we’d been a 1:1 K-12 district with iPads as our device of choice. With the passing of the bond, we had an opportunity not only to reflect on the first few years of the program, but also to garner input from a variety of sources.

With many districts in the midst of a similar process or just beginning to think about a 1:1 initiative, here's a list of tips and ideas we used to crowdsource the best solution for our district.

Formation of the Digital Learning Task Force

With opportunity comes great responsibility. Ok, so maybe that wasn’t the exact Spider-man line, but we knew that going forward we needed to make sure we had the right people represented in choosing our next device. So rather than forming a technology committee, we decided to create the Digital Learning Task Force (DLTF) made up of teachers, students, parents, community members and administrators. As the name implies, the emphasis was on learning, not merely selecting a device.

In our first meeting, we discussed the two essential questions of focus for the group: What is our current reality when it comes to tech integration and what is our preferred future?
The task force then came up with the following five methods to gather input:

1. Digital learning symposia

In an effort to create more discussions around digital learning, we decided to host several symposia open to the community as a launching point for these conversations. Each of these was livestreamed for those who couldn’t attend or wanted to watch later. The symposia focused on different stakeholders including teachers, students, parents, business people and professors, all of whom would help decide what our students’ futures would hold.

2. Site visits

There are so many districts now taking part in some sort of mobile learning initiative, why not visit one and see it in action? Since we were already a 1:1 school, we invited the group to tour our own classrooms. This gave parents a different perspective on mobile learning than what they assumed it might be.

3. Focus groups

The symposia were great, but they were also very public. So to get a different perspective, we invited parents, students and teachers to informal discussions to gather qualitative data on our two essential questions.

4. Online interactions

People are busy, so using technology to help crowdsource answers or questions is extremely valuable. We created online posters via Padlet for people to post questions or concerns, created a Google+ Community to share research and used the #EanesDLTF hashtag when we shared info so stakeholder could easily find it.  

5. Survey, survey, then survey again

One method we used to collect data was online surveys. Each survey was designed to gather information about our current reality and our preferred future from a different segment of our community.

Making a final recommendation

We knew that no matter which device we selected, some would be happy with the choice and others would be less so. After 600 hours of focus groups, discussions, meetings, presentations and symposia, and reviewing more than 6,000 survey responses, the task force had plenty of data to make an informed decision.

While I took great pride in curating this process, I insisted on not being present when the final decision was made. I felt it was important for decision makers to choose based on the direction of the district. They voted unanimously for the option that gave us the most flexibility with the best support model as well as ease of integration.

Communicating with the community

Going through this process takes tremendous coordination and communication, not just during the selection process but after the devices were passed out as well. We made sure we let the community know that we honored their input. While a post or newsletter could accomplish that, as a visual learner, I elected to create an infographic, which we distributed along with the news release announcing the decision.

My hope in sharing our process is to generate ideas for creative ways to crowdsource information for initiatives your district might be considering. You can help by tweeting your questions and ideas to #MLMindset so we can keep the conversation going.

Carl Hooker is the author of the Mobile Mindset ISTE book series. He is the director of innovation and digital learning at Eanes ISD in Texas where he helped spearhead a mobile learning program that put iPads in the hands of all 8,000 students across the district.

Get more tips for implementing and improving mobile learning initiatives from two new books from Carl Hooker, Mobile Learning Mindset: The Teacher's Guide to Implementation and Mobile Learning Mindset: The Coach’s Guide to Implementation.