Crossing the chasm of GAFE adoption

In their first and second year using Google Apps for Education (GAFE), many organizations evaluate the success of their implementation based on teacher adoption rather than the impact that adoption is having on teaching and learning.  

This can create problems for organizations down the road.

While Google Administrators can use basic metrics to track adoption in the Google Admin console, which shows the growth of Drive content and other applications over six month increments, unfortunately, many administrators mistake an increase in Drive content and apps usage for real improvements in teaching and learning.

GAFE adoption

In years three and four, organizations often see a plateau in GAFE adoption. Many incorrectly assume that the lull is caused by GAFE reaching its saturation point. Some even think, “Teachers and students are using Drive. Our work is done. Onto the next challenge.”

Not so fast.

Upon visiting classrooms, however, truly savvy administrators will notice that most teachers are not using GAFE and devices in ways that engage learners more deeply or accelerate learning beyond the analog; that is, they don’t see an increase in the best practices we know push classrooms to meaningful change–mindful collaboration, deeper projects, student choice, differentiated instruction, etc.

Without meaningful professional learning aimed at shifting instructional practice, many teachers continue traditional instructional practices while using technology.

The Innovation Chasm and GAFE adoption

If technology isn’t increasing rigor or engagement, why make the investment? Beyond the financial cost, the time spent on GAFE adoption and device integration should have a greater payoff than cloud storage, typed essays, and money saved on printing. Without a concentrated focus on pedagogical shifts, organizations might end up with innovation stalls–and with classrooms that haven’t really changed a bit. 

The challenges around innovative use of GAFE are consistent with classic theories on innovation adoption.

The revised innovation GAFE adoption lifecycle

See that gap between Early Adopters and Early Majority? That’s “the chasm” identified by Geoffrey Moore in his book Crossing the Chasm. Fifteen years later, Moore’s work is still considered one of the foremost frameworks for thinking about how new technology is adopted and accepted.

Moore’s chasm represents the gap between what satisfies Early Adopters and what satisfies the Early Majority.

How will you cross the chasm?

We might consider Moore’s graph in terms of the SAMR scale and the instructional transformation many educational organizations hope to achieve when they implement educational technology.

Assume your district is in your fourth year with GAFE, and all of your teachers have complied with your tech plan by adoption Gmail, Docs, and Drive for basic teaching and professional workflows.

If we were to map the SAMR scale across Moore’s Revised Technology Adoption Lifecyle graph, it might look like this:

GAFE adoption lifecycle

Image: Adapted from Moore,  Geoffrey, Crossing the Chasm 1991

Here, only 16% of the population–the Innovators and Early Adopters–are significantly modifying and reinventing instructional practices with the use of technology. The other 84% have not significantly changed their practice; they’ve simply layered 21st century tech over 20th century teaching.

Technology can enable good teaching; but the teaching has to be good first.

A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Students, Computers and Learning, provides evidence that “computers do not improve pupil results.” The report’s author, Andreas Schleicher, says: “We have not yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogies that make the most of technology; that adding 21st century technologies to 20th century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.”

Are your teachers layering 21st century technologies over 20th century teaching?

For schools and districts that focus on tools adoption instead of improving pedagogy, it will be tough to cross the chasm. For these organizations, an average of 16% of teachers will be doing innovative, engaging work with a tech backbone–while some others will primarily use Google Drive as a place to store their worksheets.

Organizations all over the world are facing this problem now: they have spent tremendous time and money getting teachers to use GAFE and devices, but they don’t see a noticeable improvement in learning.

Focus on Pedagogy Instead of Tools

How can organizations transcend the GAFE chasm–or avoid it altogether? By focusing on pedagogy instead of tools from the beginning. This is where professional learning–as opposed to traditional professional development or tools training–is vital.

In most cases, when teachers are mandated to adopt GAFE–as opposed to seeking it out to streamline already collaborative, engaging, student-centered instructional practices–they will use technology to substitute or slightly modify old fashioned workflows.

In these cases, real innovation does not occur because the adoption is driven by compliance, not an organic need to solve an innovative instructional problem.

Say No To Tools Training

I know this is not in vogue. And it certainly isn’t easy. And you’re probably thinking, “That’s odd. Don’t I need to train my teachers to use Google Docs in order to get them to use Google Docs?”

Not really.  

To get them to use Google Docs, focus on teaching them instructional practices that will necessitate their use of Google Docs. If needed, you can teach them how to use the tech organically while you focus on higher-level outcomes.

If your teachers beg you to bring back tools training (unlikely) you can do this after you’ve taught the pedagogy that will make using those tools useful.

Either way, your primary focus should not be on helping teachers learn tools and features (ie: how to operate the tech), but on helping teachers understand and adopt effective instructional practices.

What’s awesome about this approach is that most Next Generation instructional practices are made easier by using GAFE (and Hapara, for that matter). So once teachers have adopted these practices, it’s pretty natural to turn to technology to make those workflows easier.


Shifting from (tools training-focused) Professional Development to (pedagogy-focused) Professional Learning

Most Technology Directors and CTOs would agree that using GAFE and other edtech tools should be grounded in instruction. But many of these leaders are still supporting professional development focused on tools training. (The systemic disconnect between IT Departments and Curriculum & Instruction tends to exacerbate this, since those invested in instruction are often not involved in their organization’s technology initiatives, and vice versa).

Organizations aren’t trying to deliver and support insufficient PD; they simply don’t know any better. Many members of the edtech community have been stuck in a tools training rut for so long, we don’t even notice when we’re doing it.

Every August, thousands of U.S. school districts have PD days focused on GAFE training.  Attend any edtech conference or summit and you will see session after session… “20 Best Chrome Extensions for the Classroom,” “Getting Jiggy with Google Forms,” etc. Unfortunately, these and so many others are only accessible to Early Adopters and continue to miss the mark for the rest of the population (even then, are they really about teaching and learning? Or are they more about shiny tools?) 

The best sessions, in my opinion, focus on establishing and getting buy-in on a new, engaging pedagogical practice first. Then, they introduce the tools (Docs, Hapara, Forms, Sticky Notes, Finger Paint) that will help streamline and scale that practice.

Even more amazing: putting pedagogy first will not just get teachers to adopt GAFE; it will get them to use GAFE for more effective instructional practices that are likely to engage students more deeply, increase student achievement, and–ultimately–help meet school and district outcomes.

And everybody will have a lot more fun.


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