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Connecting Meaning and Motivation: Education Tech Implementation

Connecting Meaning and Motivation: Education Tech Implementation

Any time administrators aim to rollout new computer science coding curriculum or education technology product into a classroom, school or district level, you’re likely to get questions.

How can we afford this? How will we prove this is effective and the program a success? How would we ensure this program wasn’t a flop like one of our previous programs was? Do we have the time for this? The school or district is very critical of spending funds on new program implementations, so how do I ultimately make sure I am assessing efficacy on both a student and staff-level correctly so we don’t get burned?

Educators are on the receiving end. From blanket rollouts where there was little discussion involving their points of view to implementations that ultimately aren’t realistic for the classroom, it can cause major headaches for teachers who may not understand where a top-down order came from.

Numbers are everywhere in K-12 schools. From budgets to testing to surveys to KPIs to votes given by a school board, our first conclusion may be to jump to defending a program implementation with numbers. And that doesn’t even include external numbers, which if you’re set on rolling out a coding program, may already be aware of.

Take for example that according to, by 2020, an estimated one-million computer programming-related jobs will go unfulfilled. Or consider that every year colleges and universities produce 30,000 computer science graduates, which isn’t enough to sustain our workforce. At that pace, it would take eight years to catch up to the current demand.

It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers, and we get it. These numbers are your data points. Without data, it’s often hard to come to the table with a compelling idea that gets other educators on board or to prove that a program has legs. As author Peter Drucker once said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” But what are all of your data points driving toward? If you were to compile numbers you needed to implement an academic program of any size, would it bring meaning?

Giving Meaning To an Educational Technology Program Implementation Through the Power of a Mission

Data points are one piece of the program implementation puzzle. By looking too critically at the numbers, it’s often easy to confuse your school or district’s program goals with your objectives.

A goal is defined as specific intention aligned to your program’s vision that doesn’t adhere to a timeline.

An objective is often defined as a task that can be assigned to team members or departments and be tracked against metrics.

To complicate matters, while objectives are aligned to goals, goals should often be tied to the school or district’s overall mission.

A mission is a written statement that defines an organization and its philosophies.

For those educators who know their school or district mission by heart, that’s great news. It should be much easier to try to route all of your program goals, such as exposure to 21st Century skills and preparing students for post-secondary school or the future workplace, back to the clarity of the mission.

By designing your goals and objectives clearly so that they are tied back to your mission and vision, you can bring in certain standards to strive for. This is where KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators come into the picture.

A KPI is defined as a measurable value to see if you are meeting an objective.

Some of these values may be completely brand new and not reference data from the district, while others can be referenced and aims to improve a problem area in schools, like low test scores in math or teachers not using enough technology in the classroom day-to-day.

And many educators may say that this is enough assume the feedback cycle from my mission to goals, goals to objectives, and objectives to KPIs is complete. Therefore the program is structured and meaningful.

But if program implementations were this simple on paper, why do so many get shut down or fail?

It’s possible that meaning wasn’t what a program lacked at all. It was motivation.

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Uncovering the True Motivation Behind a Successful Educational Technology Program Implementation

Many K-12 schools or districts in the US pay lip-service to the concept of innovation in mission statements according to Teach Thought, through professional development, or committee, council, and board meetings, then fall at the first hurdle when it’s time to implement the change in the classroom.

A school or district-wide computer science or coding program is only as effective as the staff, students and administration who participate in it. This is why school or district-wide coding programs (or a program at any level) must master the art of motivation.

Recent figures highlight this. In a 2015 study conducted by Lea(r)n, “65% of student licenses were not used enough to meet any goals set by the product companies or school districts.” In fact, the study said that only 5% of licenses were considered “fully used”. And anecdotal evidence is also widely available: stories where districts may not have considered all of the aspects of planning, like the cost of training on top of product or giving enough time to properly implement.

And as Paul Macaruso and collaborators point out in Reading Psychology, it is essential that teachers are provided with sufficient training opportunities for positive student achievement outcomes.

A lack of motivation can cause a whole host of problems: edtech products and curriculum may not get used, morale from teaching staff or administration can hit new lows and there can even be staff turnover.

So how is motivation created? A timeless example comes from the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by David H. Pink. In the book, Pink highlights three major areas that contribute to motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

  • Autonomy refers to self-direction. Factors that increase autonomy are mitigating micromanagement, encouraging delegation and giving the power to the individual to manage their own time and resources. Autonomy is powerful because it can increase engagement over compliance.
  • Mastery refers to being skilled. This means being focused on the right tasks, having the right support and having enough time to complete objectives. When used correctly, mastery gives individuals the desire to become better at something.
  • Purpose means focusing on what’s important. Purpose isn’t only for a business or institution — purpose needs to be uncovered and shared for individuals and departments to drive towards a common goal. With proper alignment, purpose can heavily influence motivation.

Students using SAM Labs STEAM Kit

Thinking back to the examples above, it can become clear why a number of these failed educational technology or curriculum statistics exist.

  • There wasn’t enough time or resources to continue or ensure success.
  • There wasn’t enough training and professional development to make staff feel supported.
  • The program micro-managed implementation to a degree that upset staff and took away classroom curricular autonomy.
  • The program didn’t provide enough meaning for staff to feel compelled to participate.
  • The vendor we chose did not supply us with the right product or pedagogical training we truly required to implement a program like this.

It’s important to remember that if a program has failed in the past, it’s better to assume that it wasn’t by intent and it was due to poor design. In some ways, this can make designing a new program to include motivation easier, as you can examine or survey for areas of motivational weakness and what went wrong.

For educators that are venturing into uncharted territory with a program, the process may prove a bit more difficult to take the meaningful, structured plan you have created and reconfigure it to make sure it includes the elements that drive motivation.

However, there are a number of ways that educators can do this:

  • Including a larger number of voices in the planning stage of your program. This gives anyone designing or implementing a program a better view of how it may affect teams and individuals, staff and students. Our latest ebook, Implementing a District-wide Coding Program, gives suggestions on who you can include and the best ways to include them during your planning phase.
  • Designing KPIs to be not just about usage or academic improvement, but the movement of factors that determine motivation. This may mean taking a step back from easier ways of gathering data, such as through dashboards or applications, and having staff give weekly or monthly feedback on their confidence levels in the program. More example KPIs can be found here.
  • Studying other failed implementations (even if they were before your time or outside of your department). Even if it didn’t happen on your turf doesn’t mean it can’t be a valuable learning experience. Talk to other teams, departments or schools and ask them about their history. There can often be something useful gleaned from the experience as it impacted the same school system you work for.
  • Finding education technology solutions where you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. This may go without being said, but when designing and implementing a program, finding a vendor that supplies you not only with the right product and curriculum, but the right onboarding, professional development and philosophy aligned to teaching that your schools share. Remember that free solutions or solutions that require ad hoc elements to make an entire component can also muddle matters and make things more complicated, too.

Speaking to other schools or districts who have successfully implemented a program is another great way to brainstorm ideas around increasing motivation. Educators can focus on what these implementations did correctly that aligned to the motivation formula and use it to their advantage.

Download the Full District Coding Program Ebook For Many More Resources

It cannot be more clear: meaning is often not enough anymore when it comes to successful program implementations. But by using the power to combine meaning with motivation, educators can prepare to jump for hurdles before they even reach them and ensure that everyone participating in the program feels a reason to do so.

At SAM Labs, we know how much effort it takes to implement a school or district-wide program and how difficult it can be. We applaud the thinkers, movers and shakers and aim to align our methodologies to the needs of each classroom.

For more resources on how to implement a school or district-wide coding program, consider:

What’s your meaning to motivation story? We’d love to hear what worked (or didn’t work) for you. Share in the comments below.