Friday, May 1, 2009

Technology Plan - On paper/In reality

I finished the technology plan late yesterday afternoon. I have my fingers crossed that it will pass the review of the state. It is pretty clear to me that the powers that be have some specific agendas for us to follow. They are careful not to tell us exactly what we MUST do, but there are specific requirements we are expected to meet. Some notable examples are:

  • Insure that students are technologically literate by 8th grade.
  • Provide professional development for technology that shows staff how to use new technologies to support education.
  • Promote curricula and teaching strategies that integrate technology based on relevant research and leading to improvements in academic achievement.
  • Measure teacher and administrator performance on technology skills defined by the state.
  • Integrate technology into the curriculum.
  • Provide adequate funding of technology.
  • Maintain compliance with the Children's Internet Protection Act. Protect minors "from pornography and activities that can harm them".
  • Provide an accurate count of computer resources and show that you can support them financially.
  • Use technology to promote parental involvement and increase communication with parents.
  • Integrate technology with instruction and align with state standards to improve student achievement and increase technology literacy.
Some of these directives come from state government and some come from the federal government. Does this mean that they are providing money to accomplish these goals? The answer is a resounding NO. My best estimate of our current budget (including salaries) is $778,400.97. Of this amount, the state provides us with a whopping $8,000.00. The federal government does better, contributing $34,664.80 through erate.

Despite the meager contribution provided and despite their demands for a plan, the expectations that are outlined seem appropriate for the task at hand. Without a plan, we will waste our money because, while there is a lot of potential in technology, there is a lot of potential waste in it. Our students and our teachers can benefit from the opportunity that technology affords but here's the catch:

Teachers and students will only benefit from technology when it is organized and supported in a fashion that is:
  • Reliable,
  • Useful and Relevant to the task at hand,
  • Provides tools that fit well together,
  • Integrated into the work flow.
This assumes a few things.
  • Conscious choice of tools that fit the budget and work together.
  • Teachers and students understand how to use the tools adopted.
  • Teachers and students are supported in the use of the tools.
As distasteful as it was to pour through all the notes and memories of our work over the past 3 years, it has helped me assess whether we are making good choices. It has helped me bring a few of our "business assumptions" into focus. Consider these:

Let every school decide.
Our school district is steeped in a tradition of "site based managment" - that every school should have right to choose a path of their own. This is a wonderful ideal and could have benefits in the area of innovation and rapid change. Problem is that it assumes that every school will have an equal amount of talent in all areas of management, development and support. Clearly there are some benefits - "economies of scale" - when a district can promote decisions for all schools. While this seems obvious in the area of technology, we continue to deal with resistance to a common adoption of software, hardware and support procedures.

It's not about the technology, it's about student learning.
True. We need to keep student achievement and learning at the forefront. Technology types are often criticized for putting technology at forefront instead. It is popular to criticize technology directors for restricting access to websites and narrowing the types of resources available. These criticisms fail to consider that the directors are trying to protect students, teachers and the community resources to insure reliability.

Living on the cutting edge is a good and necessary activity. But - with great power comes responsibility. When people are trained and understand the risk of an activity, they are empowered to handle the vagaries of that activity whether it is exposing oneself to "bad guys", dealing with lost data, or breaking their operating system. I would love to have a greater number of skilled people to help us innovate, test, train and promote new technology. I don't see these people standing up for the job. I see people who feel overworked and happy to get through the day with their current responsibilities.

Make it available and they will learn to use it.
We've seen the myth of this over the past 10 years in our district. There are a plethora of options available to our teachers for publishing web pages, collaborating and communicating with their students, peers and parents. There is software and hardware available to create presentations, provide practice, research and simulate concepts. What we lack is the time to show them these resources and support their use. Paradoxically, we spend our limited time chasing novel hardware and software applications instead.

These "myths" splinter our efforts to promote a coordinated and supported system of tools and training. They represent a segmented view of the task at hand. In writing the tech plan it is obvious that we need to recognize the interdependence of our learning plan. This plan needs to start with:

  • What do students and teachers need to know? If technology is a legitimate tool for learning, how does it fit into the core curriculum? Are the 21st century skills adequate for student? I expect they are a good place to start.
  • What are the most important tools (knowledge, skill, hardware, software) for accomplishing the former? Once we have agreed on what they need to know, we can choose some standard tools that promote the goal.
  • Are we teaching and supporting our teachers and students in the use of these tools? Once we understand the most important responsibilities we can increase their reliability.
These are pretty mundane prerequisites. They aren't as enticing as the lastest release from Twitter. But if you don't understand your direction, who 'ya gonna twitter?