One innovative Oregon school district applied a grassroots approach to implementing technology in the classroom, and so far, it’s been a great success.
Canby School District
, headed up by distinguished Director of Technology and Innovation, Joe Morelock, is a special organization. It has been awarded the Apple Distinguished Program award four years in a row, and nearly every one of its 5,000 students has an Apple device. Canby had iPods in the classroom, way back in 2007, before the App Store even existed. They were one of the first school districts in the country to deploy in a major way.
When I recently spoke
with Joe Morelock about Canby’s edtech program, I was struck by how decidedly he applied a grassroots style to implementation. It seems intuitive enough− people are more likely to embrace something if their friends and colleagues are doing it− but top-down approaches are the majority of deployments I’d seen before, especially in large school districts.
By definition, a grassroots movement is
“driven by a community’s politics.” It gains natural, spontaneous support at a local level, with hopes of affecting a larger population. To my mind, grassroots movements are something akin to today’s notion of ‘going viral’. The impact starts small, and then works its way to a larger audience.
Canby set up an Innovative Grant Program, in which they’ve set aside funding for teachers to apply for whatever edtech program they want to do. There are no restrictions on what mobile devices teachers can apply for, or how they choose to implement their program.
“We did that in order to incite innovation, to try to get people fired up to try to do it, so rather than doing it top-down, we’ve got a strange grassroots and top-down approach,” Morelock told me. “So that way, people get excited about doing it on their own terms.”
For the top-down part of the equation, Canby established a long-term vision for their program, which Morelock described as using technology to help students engage more fully in school. But, he reiterated: “We’re going to let the people closest to the action make a bunch of decisions, and then they form the opinion.”
It makes sense: Give resources to the teachers most excited about using the technology, other teachers will hear and see the (hopefully) positive results, and then they’ll come around to the idea of giving it a try.
“You have to allow people to onboard themselves,” says Morelock. “Then that culture ferments a little bit, and pretty soon some people figure out they want to be on board.”
The power of a grassroots movement lies in the fact that it’s organic; it’s natural. Nobody is forcing anyone to participate, so there’s less pushback and negativity. Empower a few to begin a shift in thinking, and once others see it works, they’ll want to get in the game.
As Morelock puts it: “It’s almost an audible click: Wow, people are really ready now.
Further Reading: The Intersection of Parents and EdTech, An IT Pro Prepares Middle School for 1:1 iPads. If you’re in the market for a charging solution, don’t miss our innovative line of charging carts and cabinets.
Maggie Summers writes about educational technology, healthcare IT, and healthy living for Anthro Corporation, a leading designer and manufacturer of furniture for technology in Portland, OR.