Zoom, Meet, Teams, Oh My! ATC Plans for Strategic Tech Use

I think I speak for the whole Arkansas Teacher Corps staff when I say I am very excited about our program’s new strategic direction! Last year, we launched the five-year strategic plan developed by Executive Director Brandon Lucius with meaningful input and feedback from staff and stakeholders. The strategic plan, Growing Where Needed, highlights nine priorities that will allow us to grow in our capacity and increase the number of fellows (and in turn students) we are supporting.

Why A Tech Plan?

As an action-oriented staff, two questions continually came to mind when developing and launching the strategic plan: How do we best achieve this vision? How do we best prepare for the task ahead? These questions developed a new urgency last year when our work was impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic and we had to shift our teacher support, professional development, and summer training to fully remote structures. This meant a critical evaluation of the quickly evolving features found in the most common online meeting platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Blackboard Collaborate. While data from institute research and fellow feedback suggests our team did a great job in meeting these challenges, this also highlighted a new program need — the need for a specific vision of the strategic use and implementation of technology.

After confirming that a strategic technology plan would be a useful product for ATC to have in driving towards our greater mission, the planning process began. We spent the fall semester of 2020 evaluating future program goals, assessing current needs, and generating potential solutions. This work led to the development of a two-year plan for strategic technology use that we began implementing as a team in January 2021. 

The ATC strategic tech plan provides a roadmap for aligning all of our communication and collaboration technologies with the goals in our overall 5-year strategic plan. This includes technologies that enable us to train and support our teaching fellows, as well as track and share their data and progress over the course of their fellowship. The strategic technology plan is separate from, but aligned to, our five-year strategic plan, and we believe successful implementation of the technology plan over the course of the next two years will support the effectiveness and success of our mission to grow where we are needed in the state of Arkansas. 

What’s Our Tech Focus?

Our main findings during the evaluation process were consistent with the unique structure and context of the ATC program. As a program of the University of Arkansas, we utilize tools as a full-time staff that our fellows and external partners may not have access to. There were also inconsistencies in tech use within the team that have led to miscommunication, limited sharing of resources, and duplicated materials. The teacher development team specifically surfaced a need for a more user-friendly method of storing, retrieving, and accessing fellow and programmatic data. ATC has a wealth of knowledge in regards to what works and what doesn’t with new teacher support, and we need better tools to help extract and distill that information. 

Having identified some of our potential needs, the staff worked together to analyze those needs and prioritize them for implementation. ATC aims to achieve the following goals by spring 2023:

  • Implement a virtual coaching platform that allows for increased engagement with coaching and increased teacher effectiveness in the classroom
  • Transition to a data management system that allows for complex analysis of program and fellow data over time
  • Train our current staff in the areas where they reported lack of technology proficiency
  • Develop a technology onboarding plan for new staff to increase their proficiency and capacity to do their work well from the start
  • Ensure that all the technology we use is easily accessible to fellows, partners, and other stakeholders and that it integrates well which will allow for more efficiency and fiscal responsibility for our team

We have already begun training our staff on specific tools for teacher and student learning, like Screencastify, Nearpod, and Lucidchart. We are also piloting the Edthena virtual coaching platform this semester and will be using it to conduct our spring evaluation of teacher growth and progress.

Our strategic technology team meets bi-weekly to track our completion of action steps, assess current and potential tools, and develop the tech onboarding for staff hired in the future. This team will also be responsible for collecting data in the form of technology proficiency surveys, meeting observations, focus group interviews, and fellow data reports to help us evaluate progress to goals.

We are proud of the work we have accomplished so far and will continue to do in becoming a team that is both technology-aware and technology-proficient. We know that our intentional and effective use of technology will allow us to streamline our work, illuminate gaps in our workflow, and enhance our support of teachers across the state. We also hope that we can be a resource for our school partners and other stakeholders looking to implement new and varied educational technologies into their work. 

In undertaking the strategic technology process, we have leaned into each of our program core values, particularly that of continuous learning, and we are excited to share our new learning with you along the way.