Dr. Ruben Vanderlinde (Twitter: @rubenvanderlin) is a tenure-track professor (Research Foundation Flanders - FWO) at the Department of Educational Studies at Ghent University in Belgium. His research interests are educational innovation, school development, practitioner-based research, and the integration of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in education. He publishes widely on these topics, both in ISI listed journals and more practitioner oriented journals. He teaches ‘Educational Innovation’ and ‘Early Childhood Education’ at the bachelors and masters of Educational Sciences (Ghent University). Dr. Ruben Vanderlinde is methodologically experienced in mixed method research, and currently a member of the EAPRIL-board (European Association for Practitioner Research on Improving Learning). He was a visiting research scholar at the Curry School of Education (University of Virginia), and at the ‘Internet Interdisciplinary Institute’ of the Open University of Catalonia (Barcelona).
Q: How did you become interested in research on technology integration and school improvement?
A: When I was a doctoral student, I studied the implementation of a new compulsory technology curriculum for primary schools in Flanders, the Dutch speaking area in Belgium. In response to social inequity in our educational system, our government adopted this new technology curriculum in an effort to have every student digitally literate when leaving compulsory education. Regarding technology integration and school improvement, it was very clear for me from the beginning that I wanted to look for differences in schools, instead of teachers. Therefore, the leadership of technology curriculum was the perfect context for my research, presenting a great opportunity for me to set up my Ph.D. studies. One of findings in pilot study was that schools differed from each other in terms of leadership approaches and leadership practices, especially when these approaches were translated into policy planning activities of primary schools.
Q:The research-based Technology Planning in schools (TPS) model you proposed is an encompassing, holistic model. If a superintendent tells you that the district is spending millions of dollars to buy digital gadgets (e.g., tablets) to students. With your research and expertise in technology planning, what would you say to the superintendent?
A: Indeed our TPS model is a holistic model. It is also evidence-based, because it is grounded in several studies both quantitatively and qualitatively—on technology planning. This model is helpful for teachers and school leaders to develop school technology plan, for researchers to investigate technology planning, and for policymakers to support schools in the technology planning process.
Concerning the advice for the superintendent, my response is: we need to focus on necessary supporting conditions. Technology or infrastructure are, in this context, subservient to the focus on supporting conditions. My research has shown five issues are at stake in schools throughout the implementation of tablets.
- Successful technology integration is always grounded in a clear vision of high quality education.
- Successful schools take into consideration their budget in combination with what technology devices mean for school improvement.
- Successful schools further link technology integration efforts with organizational structure. As such, integrating technology always presume engagement and responsibility of different stakeholders involved: teachers, technology coordinator, parents, etc.
- Maybe the most important one: Successful schools empower teachers—who integrate technology in their classrooms—through professional development, coaching, and guidance.
- Last but definitely not least, successful schools know the role of technology in the overall curriculum: Put differently, any technology initiatives should revolve around curriculum, not technology itself.
Q: You were a visiting scholar at University of Virginia and researched collaboratively with Dr. Sara Dexter. Could you share your visiting experience with us?
A: Studying at Curry School of Education in the University of Virginia was a springboard to my academic career. I’m just back to Belgium from a second visit at UVA. I loved to live and work on the campus designed by Thomas Jefferson. Sara and I shared the same view on school technology leadership. We look at practices of different leaders, instead of formal leadership positions. Sara has translated effective school technology leadership to the practices of setting direction, developing people, and making the organization work. Together with Sara and my supervisor Dr. Johan van Braak, we looked at how Flemish schools translated these three broad practices in the context of implementing the technology curriculum implemented by the government.
Q: How do you perceive the differences of school technology leadership in America and Belgium?
A: I don’t think there are huge differences between school technology leadership practices in America and Belgium. For instance, Dr. Sara Dexter and I recently compared the position of technology coordinators in American and Belgian schools. The results were rather similar: in the schools in both countries, a lot of technology expertise is present, but the challenge is to bring the expertise to the surface. We also found that in our two countries, technology leadership was also a matter of sharing information, exchanging ideas, going to each other for advice, looking for the colleague that has the right expertise, and so on. One surprising finding is that school technology leadership was clearly distributed among all teachers in both America and Belgium.
Q: How do you envision the future of school technology leadership in terms of both research and practices in schools?
A: We have to watch out for differences between schools. On the one end, some schools are good at integrating technology in their classrooms. They constantly implement new IT projects. They start to use tablets. Students in these schools are well-prepared for the digital age. On the other hand, some schools are still struggling with the technology integration. Technology in these schools is often out-of-date. Therefore, my major concern is these differences will become more persistent. In a recent interview for a Belgian teacher journal, I called this a new digital divide between schools.
Q: What advice would you give to our doctoral students in school technology leadership program?
A: I think I’ll give the same advice as I give to Flemish doctoral students. Writing Ph.D. dissertation could be very hard, but it might be one of the most rewarding experiences in your academic career. I also recommend them to travel, to go to conference, and even to stay for a longer period at a university abroad. In my case, being at a foreign university invigorated my Ph.D. research.