To Adopt or Not? Challenges for Schools in Adopting New Technology Innovations
Principals and teachers have in recent years been bombarded with an explosion of student data systems, all with the goal of helping educators make data-driven decisions in the classroom.
But what accounts for whether a new data innovation will stick around, or will just be a passing fad?
Susan Fairchild, director of data analysis and applied research at New Visions, is the lead author of a new case study that sheds light on the complex process by which an innovation is first adopted by a set of users, then diffuses throughout a network.
New Visions partners with DataCation, a web-based system that comprises an array of tools to help educators, parents and students track student progress to high school graduation and college readiness. The system features multiple portals for different sorts of users, aggregating and de-aggregating data as necessary, depending on whether the user wants data at the student level, classroom level or school level.
“Our experience rolling out a student data management system, or SDMS, beginning in the fall of 2009 provides a unique window in the adoption-diffusion process,” she says. “When we rolled out DataCation to our network of schools in New York City, little did we know that four years later, the system would spread to nearly 3,000 schools in five different states.”
Fairchild and her co-authors explain the conditions necessary for an innovation (in this case, DataCation) to meet with success. First, it has to offer a relative advantage to what preceded it. Next, the technology needs to meet users “where they are” and be compatible with other systems already in place. And finally it needs to be relatively easy to use.
“DataCation hits all three of those marks,” says Fairchild. “What’s more, because the end users took ownership of the technology, the conditions were ripe for the innovation to spread beyond the ‘early adopters.’”
As other districts and schools think about appropriate data systems for tracking student performance, the case study offers suggestions for setting reasonable expectations around educators’ use of data. The role of the educator (whether teacher, department chair, guidance counselor or principal), the relevance and availability of the data, and, not least, the culture of the school all play a role in influencing whether the system will be adopted by users or not.
“Adoption is inherently unstable for a whole host of reasons, no less because of the ecosystem in which the innovation lives. But the strong reforms that came before the rollout of DataCation certainly amplified its adoption. It’s humbling.”