Driving Second Order Change with Technology

By Doug Johnson, Director of Technology, Burnsville-Eagan-Savage (MN) Public Schools

Doug Johnson, Director of Technology, Burnsville-Eagan-Savage (MN) Public Schools

When your district’s parents ask their kids how they used technology in school that day, how would your students answer? We read an e-textbook. We took a quiz. We wrote a paper.

Or would the responses be: I read an article especially chose for me. I created a graphic to illustrate an idea for solving a problem. I worked with another student in Guatemala. I watch a lesson at home and we practiced the concept in class.

“Our learning management system (LMS), can certainly replace textbooks and paper copies of common teaching materials and handouts”

Too often large and expensive educational technology projects result in simply automating the same tasks and processes that have been done using analog resources for a very long time. The question in the mind of taxpayers becomes “Was this expenditure on technology wise or could scarce funding dollars have been better spent reducing class sizes, hiring additional staff, or purchasing traditional educational materials like textbooks.

When our school district passed a $25 million dollar technology referendum in 2014, in part to fund a 1:1 project for our secondary students, our planning was done with an eye on second order change. Rather than simply educating our students using traditional methods and resources with technology being an add-on or replacement, we wanted to see a powerful transformation of the educational process-one in which the community would recognize that technology was playing an integral part.

Greatly influencing our thinking about what we wanted to see students do with their personal technologies (Chromebooks), was the Ruben Puenedura’s SAMR model. (Puenedura, 2015). In the model he divides technology uses into what might be considered first order change (substitution, augmentation) and second order change (modification, redefinition). In designing how we were asking teachers to use technology with students, we kept our eye of the prize of second order change.

We described three areas of technology use and then described what first and second order change might look like in each area:

Consumption of Information

Schoology, our learning management system (LMS), can certainly replace textbooks and paper copies of common teaching materials and handouts like objectives, syllabi, worksheets, communications, activities, and tests. This use can be augmented by linking to multimedia materials.

But second order change does not occur until teachers begin differentiating instruction by using the LMS to link to reading materials at a variety of difficulties and providing culturally relevant materials and activities. LMS helps enable teachers to design self-paced instruction guided by formative assessment and to “flip the classroom” (asking students to view video lessons outside of class then do homework in the class with teacher assistance)-purposed that actually redefine the instructional process.

We want to use technology to provide students clear and easy access to reading and viewing materials that support learning objectives tied to state standards. The LMS used in this way becomes a more powerful instructional tool than the textbook alone by providing:

• Reading materials on a single topic but on different reading levels.
• Informational materials in a variety of formats, including video.
• Links to powerful interactive websites and applications.
• Materials reflecting students’ cultures and cultural values.

This ability to correlate materials to student abilities, learning preferences, and personal interests, and provide links to materials with differing points of view on topics overcomes the built in blandness and irrelevance of the mass-produced textbook and engages far more students, especially those who may not fit the definition of the "average" student.


Teachers who only ask students to use their devices to word process and create text-only slide shows operate at the substitution level of the SAMR model when in the student productivity category. Asking for the creation and use of original graphics and audio that are critical components to the message moves technology use into the augmentation and modification levels. Using combinations of images, sound, and movement that convey the primary message and the creation of original video productions we consider second order change in the student productivity category.

Our 1:1 program is designed to give students access to not just text and number processing tools like word processors and spreadsheets, but to graphic editing and video generation tools as well.

Communication and Collaboration

When student work is distributed, collected, and returned electronically via a shared folder or as an email attachment, the digital workflow is simply a substitute for handing in and handing out papers. Collaboration is augmented when students do peer editing and review using shared document in a program like Google Docs.

But when students form virtual study groups using social networking tools and when students participate in work groups from classes in other schools, including those from other cultures, classrooms begin to utilize the full power of students having personal technologies. Our LSM allows for person-to-person communication, group discussions, and peer-sharing of materials.

We have also made available tools like Explain Everything to improve collaboration among our students in a highly visual and interactive way. Students themselves create lessons for their fellow students using these recording tools.

Making it Happen

For us, this change is sufficiently important that we cannot allow it implementation to be optional. In order for all teachers and administrators to clearly understand the uses and the expectations of use, we have embedded these ideas into our teacher observations and evaluations. Using the Charlotte Danielson model and writing “look-for” in each of the four domains she uses: Planning and preparation, Classroom Environment, Instruction, and Professional Responsibilities, principals and teachers both know what technology uses are expected to be common practice.



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