The role of instructional technology coaches as change agents

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is credited for coining the phrase “the only constant in life is change” (www.reference.com). The educational system is a constantly changing environment influenced by frequently shifting learning standards, curriculum, and advances in pedagogy. The COVID-19 pandemic thrust many educators into new ways of teaching, which resulted in a steep learning curve into the utilization of digital technology. I cannot think of a more fitting example of an educational coach acting in the role of change agent than amidst the pandemic. Perhaps the abrupt transition to remote teaching had a silver lining, as the unfortunate circumstances connected digital technology coaches with classroom teachers and administrators in unexpected ways, ushering in a new era of teaching and learning.

The term change agent has been described as “the individual or group that undertakes the task of initiating and managing change in an organization” (Lunenburg, 2010). The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) states that, as change agents, “coaches inspire educators and leaders to use technology to create equitable and ongoing access to high-quality learning” (ISTE, 2022). Within the change agent standard, there are five performance indicators that encapsulate the following characteristics of digital technology coaches as change agents:

  • Creates a shared vision and culture to accelerate transformation (PI 4.1.a)
  • Facilitates equitable use of digital tools and content to meet the needs of diverse learners (PI 4.1.b)
  • Cultivates a coaching culture that supports and encourages educators (PI 4.1.c)
  • Recognizes educators who teach effectively utilizing technology (PI 4.1.d)
  • Connects teachers and educational staff with the appropriate digital tools to maximize student learning (PI 4.1.e)

In my previous writings, I have explored the five performance indicators which undergird the ISTE change agent coaching standard. In my blog post titled, “How can design thinking impact the peer coaching process?” I discussed the practical ways that peer coaches can act as change agents to assist educators in transforming their lesson plans through technology integration. Relatedly, I described how the design thinking framework can be used as a peer coaching tool to accelerate instructional transformation through utilization of technology (PI 4.1.a; PI 4.1.c).

Furthermore, in my blog post titled, “Pedagogy before technology: Why the cart shouldn’t be put before the horse when integrating technology into student learning experiences,” I discussed the role of the peer coach as a change agent when integrating digital tools into lesson plans.  I emphasized the importance of being intentional regarding the selection of digital tools to promote student engagement and accelerate learning. Additionally, I touched on the partnership between the coach and coachee in having a mutual understanding of the lesson plan, including the desired results, acceptable evidence, learning activities, and instructional strategies before digital tools are selected. This way of thinking aligns with the Backward Design framework developed by Wiggins and McTighe (Bowen, 2017) (PI 4.1.c; PI 4.1.e).

In my examination of digital tools as a vehicle for learning, one angle I pondered related to equity and access was coaching considerations when partnering with educators who are digital immigrants. In my blog post titled, “Coaching digital immigrants: Considerations for digital equity and inclusion,” I focused on how to be inclusive with educators who are not digital natives to avoid ageism and to be a supportive peer coach. For any successful coaching relationship to develop, trust needs to be built over time. This could prove to be challenging when a digital native coach collaborates with a digital immigrant. However, any issues with trust but can be mitigated by using inclusive language and effective communication skills when discussing and demonstrating digital learning tools. Instructional technology coaches who support and encourage digital immigrants in their efforts to integrate appropriate digital technology into their curriculum will indirectly increase students’ equity and access to digital technology (PI 4.1.b).

In addition to my investigation into the link between digital immigrants and digital equity and inclusion, I explored accessibility and use of digital tools in meeting the needs of diverse learners (PI 4.1.b).  In my blog post titled, “Student-preceptor collaboration: Why precepting dietetics students is a win-win situation,” I showed evidence of preparing a professional presentation that included accessible and inclusive conference materials for audience members with disabilities, such as alt text, image captions, and closed captioning. Moreover, in a blog post titled, “Integrating digital technology into teaching and learning: A reflection on what the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced,” I discussed the many ways to provide accessibility support through technology, including screen readers, closed captioning, graphic organizers, text-to-speech software, and notetaking aids. I also discussed digital inclusion in my blog post titled, “How does Canvas Learning Management System support learner variability?” This post includes content on the Universal Design for Learning Framework, which focuses on reducing barriers to learning by changing the learning environment (and not the learner).

Another avenue I explored regarding utilization of technology to maximize the potential for learning (4.1.e) was the investigation of a few specific digital tools to support advanced teaching and learning in clinical nutrition. One blog post titled, “Simulation learning in dietetics education: What options are available?” explored laboratory simulation using robots, computer software programs designed with 3D virtual simulation learning environments and avatars, and virtual reality training using a headset and hand controls.  Additionally, I explored the use of infographics to disseminate food and nutrition information to the public, and the integration of online peer review tools for use in higher education courses.

Another avenue I explored regarding utilization of technology to maximize the potential for learning was the investigation of a few specific digital tools to support advanced teaching and learning in clinical nutrition. One blog post titled, “Simulation learning in dietetics education: What options are available?” explored laboratory simulation using robots, computer software programs designed with 3D virtual simulation learning environments and avatars, and virtual reality training using a headset and hand controls.  Additionally, I explored the use of infographics to disseminate food and nutrition information to the public, and the integration of online peer review tools for use in higher education courses (PI 4.1.e).

Another example of my writings on the role of instructional technology coaches as change agents was my blog post titled, “Incorporating Knights’ seven principles of partnership into modeling digital instructional design principles.”  In my work as a peer coach with another university professor, I was able to see evidence of Knight’s seven principles (i.e., equality, choice, voice, reflection, dialogue, praxis, and reciprocity) of partnership come alive during our collaboration. By cultivating a supportive coaching culture, my coachee was able to achieve her goals of integrating digital technology into a revamped university course (PI 4.1.a; PI 4.1.c).

Beyond my blog posts that demonstrate alignment with the change agent coaching performance indicators, I completed a community engagement project that focused on “recognizing educators . . . who use technology effectively to enable high-impact teaching and learning” (PI 4.1.d).

The project encompassed a university-level practicum built into a 5-credit undergraduate Food Production and Management course. Two preceptors joined my class on Zoom for five consecutive sessions to instruct students about their professional areas of practice in food service management. (One preceptor is the director of a school food service management program, and the other oversees the food service management of an eating disorder facility.) Student groups applied their knowledge of the assigned organization by completing projects for their preceptors that integrated digital technology. The preceptors demonstrated how to use technology effectively during project development, which enabled high-impact teaching and learning.

Collectively, the ISTE Change Agent Coaching performance indicators reflect effective leadership in collaboration with educators to support their growth, agency, and utilization of digital technology. The fruits of these efforts are manifested by maximizing student learning through equity and access to technology, appropriate selection and use of digital tools, and preparing students with the necessary 21st century skills needed for success in a global workplace.

In conclusion, though philosophers such as Heraclitus spent much mental energy deliberating about impermanence, or the problem of change, digital technology coaches should celebrate the fact that their expertise will never become obsolete due to the ever-changing landscape of digital technology.

References

Author unknown. (2020). Who said the only thing constant is change? https://www.reference.com/world-view/said-only-thing-constant-change-d50c0532e714e12b

Bowen, R.S. (2017). Understanding by Design. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/understanding-by-design

Lunenburg, F.C. (2010). Managing change: The role of the change agent. International Journal of Management, Business, and Administration. 13(1): 1-6.

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