Software in a Suitcase vs The Learner Profile

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By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

The Problem

Curriculum in a Suitcase, this is a common term and point of discussion in international schools. For anyone not familiar with the reference, it addresses the common practice of teachers arriving at a new school and bringing with them a curriculum they are comfortable delivering.

The current practice around curriculum planning and mapping is to avoid this practice. A school should have a curriculum that students and families can depend on, regardless of the staffing.

In Educational Technology there is similar practice known as Software in a Suitcase. Using the word software is being simplistic. Software, subscriptions, services, and even computer brands and operating systems are included.When teachers move from one school to another, they often try to avoid the new school’s technology plan, and attempt to implement an ad-hoc technology plan they are familiar with.

Technology plans can be flexible, but if a school is a Windows 10 Tablet school, or if they are using PowerSchool, those core structural pieces are not flexible. In fact, they are required from the first day. Usage is not negotiable.

Unfortunately, publishing a list of resources before new teachers arrive is not very helpful. They are counting on a miracle, because the motivating force is being comfortable and confident in what they are using. I cannot fault anyone for wanting to use tools that work or tools they have mastered. Nor can I blame a teacher for making a persuasive argument for trying to acquire a resource that has proven track record improving learning for their students.

The fact remains, limitations are limitations. Long term multi-year technology plans create a structure, but they also form boundaries and budgets. Creating niche technology projects around a large campus, without a planned budget, is impossible to support and sustain.

The Solution

The IB Learner Profile and ISTE Teacher Standards hold the solution to the problem of software in a suitcase. If schools want students to embody the ideals of the IB Learner Profile, then teachers and administrators need to model those ideals. Technology is the perfect medium to demonstrate communication, risk-taking, inquiry, and subject knowledge.

Being dependent on a set method and set of resources does not achieve the outcomes expected of IB students, nor does it meet the ISTE criteria for teachers to Model digital age work and learning and Engage in professional growth and leadership. 

Every year when new teachers are completing orientation, these core concepts should be part of every discussion around curriculum, assessment, and technology. Pushing people to see themselves in the light of the IB and/or the ITSE standards actually creates the middle ground needed to move beyond the problem. The challenge to be an adaptable problem solver, as a model to students, is one every teacher should accept. Adapting to a new technology structure should be seamlessly integrated into adapting to a new curriculum structure.

The trap with technology is discussing brands. People will often say, “I need XYZ software.” Replying, “Well we have WTY software.”, is not going to resolve the situation. This dialogue only creates a partisan debate.

The best way to approach issues related to technology is simply to ask, “What are you trying to accomplish?” The focus should always be on the why first, or the outcome. From there, people can brainstorm the how.  Sometimes, the why is not even inline or aligned to the curriculum. Reiterating the technology plan is also not very useful. The core problem stems from an emotional reaction to change not a misunderstanding of a written plan.

Here is a common dialogue I have with new teachers coming to China:
Teacher: I just came from a Google School, and I need to use Google Drive even though I know it is not accessible in China.
Me: Ok. What do you use it for? (Avoiding the name immediately)
Teacher: I use it to store files and share files with students.
Me: Ok. So you need to have a solution to store files and collaborate with students.
Teacher: Yes.
Me: We have that. Can I show you? I can even help you move your resources quickly.

In most cases, there is a solution. Often, the solution is just time. Time to adjust. Time to privately realise the influence a brand is having on decisions. Time to see other options.
Support cannot be forced. People have to be ready to change. Creating the middle ground and bringing a person back to the core ideals they are working towards with students is definitely the best path to positive outcomes. In an IB school, that is The Learner Profile. The ISTE Standards, those are just for an extra shot of professionalism.

About Tony DePrato

Tony DePrato has a Master’s Degree in Educational Technology from Pepperdine University and has been working as a Director of Educational Technology since 2009. Currently, he works for St. Johnsbury Academy in Jeju, South Korea. He has worked in the United Arab Emirates and China where he has consulted with schools in both regions on various technology topics. In 2013, Tony DePrato released The BYOD Playbook a free guide for schools looking to discuss or plan a Bring Your Own Device program. Tony is originally from the US, and worked in multimedia, website development, and freelance video production. Tony is married to Kendra Perkins, who is a librarian.
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