Harnessing the Power of Incremental Change

In a recent white paper on Blended Learning in Jewish Day Schools by the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education titled According to his Way: Blended Learning, Charles Cohen distinguishes between 2 different, Model 1 schools which are new schools who curricular mission is grounded in Blended Learning and Model 2 schools which are more traditional schools that are using Blended Learning in specific courses. Obviously, new schools formed with the express goal of utilizing blended learning can have an easier time achieving more widespread implementation and cost benefits at least in the short term than an established school. As Dr. Eliezer Jones is quoted in the report,“it is easier to start a new school and hire a smaller number of faculty than it is for an existing school to lay off a substantial percentage of its teachers.” But does this necessarily make the newer Model 1 schools the better model?

As I have blogged about in the past, I am still skeptical about the educational benefits of blended learning when coupled with larger class sizes. More research is needed to gauge the effectiveness of this model. At the same time, I think there is another benefit to the more gradual approach to introducing blended learning and other new technologies into an established school. This is what I call the power of incremental change.

Even an innovation as disruptive as Jedcamp is such a powerful model because it is incremental. Jedcamps and Edcamps upon which they are based are run one weekend at a time, in one location at a time. The sum total of these different un-conferences is what is so innovative a change.

As an educational technologist in a Jewish day school, I am a change agent. Teachers know that my role is to constantly assess new technologies and assist them in any way possible in utilizing them in their classroom. But teachers trust me because they know that although I have a broad vision, at the same time, I work with them one lesson at a time.

For most teachers, I believe the most effective way to integrate technology is incrementally. The first question I always ask when meeting with a teacher is what is their curricular goals. We then search together for ways that technology can help further these goals. Sometimes these lessons are drastic changes from what they are used to but most times they are more gradual. What makes this model powerful is that it is less threatening to teachers, it is easier to replicate in future lessons, and when added together these many small incremental changes can add up to lasting change. (Note, there are many examples of the power of incremental change in Tanach from the children of Israel transforming into a nation through their 40 years of wandering in the desert to the gradual rebuilding of a second Jewish commonwealth during the time of Chagai, Zechariah, Ezra, and Nechemiah. But this would probably be better treated in my TanachRav blog.)

So if you are a teacher trying to implement technology in your classroom, my best advice would be not to revamp all your lessons. Rather begin gradually, creating one or two technology enhanced units. Then create a few more. First try one technology tool. I often recommend to first assign something for the students to do like a Showme or Educreations lesson as a review or a project where students have many technology options like presentations using Haiku Deck or Prezi (and some non-technology options as well) to show their research. Many years ago, I first learned how to use PowerPoint by assigning a project and looking over the shoulders at my students while they worked. Then try a technology tool in class like Socrative or Skitch. Next, build a technology enhanced unit using an app like Nearpod. If you work gradually one tool at a time, one unit at a time, you will slowly build your repertoire and soon harness the power of incremental change.