in Education

The freeze-thaw method of technology integration.

This post springs from 3 things:

  • My experiences as Director of E-Learning
  • Discussions I’ve had with James Michie and Nick Dennis about #edjournal
  • A conversation I’ve just had with colleague Steve Bailey about ‘cloud’ apps from a records management perspective

The further down the rabbit-hole I go, the more reports I read, and as I talk to increasing numbers of educational technology leaders, I’m realising how problematic my actions as a standard classroom teacher actually were. Why? Well as a ‘maverick’ my actions on a small scale could potentially have undermined the larger-scale roll-out of technology in that institution. I acted in a somewhat cavalier manner to legal issues and could potentially have affected cultural acceptance of educational technology writ large.

I’m going to propose a 10-stage ‘freeze-thaw model’ of technology integration. It goes something like this:

  1. Draw up a list of minimum specifications.
  2. Explore the app/service/solution that has most traction.
  3. Talk to people who can do ‘due diligence’ regarding the legal side of things (especially terms & conditions, service level agreements)
  4. Do some small-scale testing with a pilot group.
  5. Agree upon how the technology is going to be used.
  6. ‘Freeze’ it – i.e. no more new features for a given amount of time (e.g. a term or academic year)
  7. Discuss new features and have pilot groups.
  8. ‘Thaw’ it – let people play about with a sandbox and go through due diligence again.
  9. ‘Re-freeze’ – i.e. add features and then freeze for a given amount of time.
  10. Repeat.

I’m aware that this goes against almost everything I’ve done before. For example, at the Academy I just opened up all of the tools available with Google Apps Education Edition to see what people did with them. I was pleasantly surprised. But, leaving after a year I didn’t have to deal with the data security, workflow or sustainability aspects of this.

Any type of project that is successful is sustainable in some way. I see the freeze-thaw model as a way of encouraging responsible experimentation. :-)

Image CC BY jenny downing

  • http://elearningstuff.wordpress.com/ James Clay

    The problem with any system is that regardless of the flexibility you put in, mavericks will still want to do stuff outside that system, as your system isn’t moving fast enough for them.

    James

    • http://dougbelshaw.com/ Doug Belshaw

      Ah, but they’re part of the pilot team, you see… Encourage them with
      institutionally-sanctioned experimentation time! :-)

  • http://twitter.com/nickdennis Nick Dennis

    I think it depends on context with some places need to be pushed with the model you suggested before and the more considered approach would not work. It also depends on whether you are the leader or not as if you want to use the technology to help your students but the tools are not available, the considered approach can be impossible to live with…

    • http://dougbelshaw.com/ Doug Belshaw

      This is true and I suppose I am writing it from a leadership point of view…

  • Richardwoffenden

    Very much. I would love to have heard what you would have said a few years ago if you had read this proposal for a school you were working in.
    If you come back filled with enthusiasm and interest after a conference then want to try things out but it is the freeze period, it would be very depressing.

    • http://dougbelshaw.com/ Doug Belshaw

      Yes, but on the model I’m suggesting here you would propose it as part of the pilot group and then test it on behalf of the *whole* staff. I, for one, have been guilty of making up excuses to play with ‘cool tools’ ASAP…

  • George

    New ideas are developed by enthusiasts, those who have a passionate interest and generally do not see all the pitfalls involved – so I can see your wish for a process that will ensure some boxes are complied with and ticked.
    However, the very nature of such enthusiasm makes it difficult to maintain in the face of “bureaucracy” (as it will be seen).
    Also, point 6 : ‘Freeze’ it – i.e. no more new features for a given amount of time (e.g. a term or academic year) is again difficult to work with – try holding back on the new feature that has been added to GApps and it makes sense to use straight away.
    Do not feel guilty about playing with “cool tools”! The technology pullers in schools are expected to do just that….

    • http://dougbelshaw.com/ Doug Belshaw

      Again, it’s not that no-one is allowed to play with new features. It’s just that it would be done by a pilot group (which anyone can join) in a pedagogically-sound way. This would give time for pitfalls to be mapped and ways of introducing to other staff discussed. :-)

      • George

        I do get it, but just thinking back on interest groups set up to deal with innovation in schools and how they fare, how they are seen by others outside of the group.
        Now, it is an issue, a real issue. How do you innovate in schools, particularly with new tools with great potential coming out every day?
        What are the models of such innovation?
        A. Enthusiasts – on the plant many seeds to see which will grow model, working separately but with varying degrees of “free hands”.
        B. Post holders – the Learning Resources Coordinator (as in my school), the Technology Integrator or other such titles.
        C. Committee – various degrees of formality, composition, objectives.
        Perhaps there is a maturation through these in stages, perhaps all three exist.
        In terms of your model I would simplify it to a sculpt, freeze, thaw cycle, with “sculpt” being steps 1 to 5. It does have merit – I will give it some thought!

        • http://dougbelshaw.com/ Doug Belshaw

          Thanks George. It’s just that having been on both sides of the fence, I
          realise how my actions in my former position (classroom teacher) affected
          life for people in my latter position (Director of E-Learning)!