TECHNOLOGY MASTER PLANNING
- By Glenn Meeks
- January 1st, 2003
Be as honest with yourself as possible and insert the most accurate word for the following statement:When I assess ALL grade levels and ALL content areas in my district, most teachers and students are (rarely, seldom, occasionally, moderately, consistently) using technology as a tool to accomplish instructional tasks in the classroom. Now, answer that statement while replacing the phrasemost teachers and students with the phrase 80 percent of the teachers and students. Did any of you insert a word indicating use above the seldom level? If you did, congratulations (or shame on you for not being honest), you are in a rare minority of school districts. Of the 200 school districts or so I have interfaced with through the last nine years, I can name only two districts who would qualify for the moderately or consistently adjectives (no, I will not name them – I will not open up that can of worms!).
We are starting to hear superintendents state and ask, I have spent …or, Before I spend… gadzillions of dollars, what value have I gained (or will I gain) from these technology expenditures? Can we justify these large dollar expenditures as beneficial to educational outcomes, or are they simply politically expedient? The few studies that have taken a look at the effect of technology on student outcomes clearly indicate that the effective integration of technology is dependent upon the user proficiencies of the teachers, not the quality of the technology. OH!!! So a good technology master plan is more than just a list of hardware and software that we would like to have?
Before we delve deeper into our view of a coherent technology master plan, we need to address the timing issue. We are observing a major disconnect between technology integration and the facilities planning process. The typical best practice is represented by the project architect/engineer team and the district facilities personnel meeting with instructional leaders, or working from a set of educational specifications, to define the parameters of a new facility, and additions or renovation to existing facilities. Essentially, the program is set without the participation of the professional development or technology representatives of the district.
When you look at the overall timeline of a project, the facility program scope (the places) and costs are set up front. Somewhere within six to four months of occupation, the technology group (the things) is told it is time for them to do their thing, and then the professional development (the people) work begins after the staff and students move into the building. In other words, the things and people aspects of a technology implementation are reactive to the facility program scope that was set at an earlier date. That represents a major inefficiency in the process. By the time the teacher knows how to use the building and its technology, the technology is over the hill. The way to overcome the teacher skill set latency in the process is to include professional development and technology participants from the very beginning of the facility planning process. If your planning can be accomplished through a technology master plan that is then fleshed out through a specific project, you will find even greater efficiencies and much smoother sailing.
A good technology master plan should represent a balanced approach to the people, places and things aspects of a technology implementation program. We suggest those aspects are broken down further.
PEOPLE – curriculum and instruction, professional development, policies and process, and instructional technology support.
PLACES – the spaces within a facility and the impact of technology on those spaces.
THINGS – the infrastructure of the facility required to support technology, technology systems, loose or owner furnished equipment and technical support.
The plan should also have a realistic strategic overview within each area of interest that defines: Where are you now, where do you want to go and how will you get there?
When you start to dissect the areas of interest within the people, places and things aspects, it quickly becomes apparent that a thorough technology plan will be complex. Quite a few of you have the same experience that I have, that the more complex a concept or plan, the lower the probability of success (I must admit to a few failures of my own). How do you make a complex plan simple and coherent so your participants can execute the plan? You use one over-riding concept against which everything is measured. What should that concept be? Make the primary concept against which everything is weighed What Kids Learn, the curriculum and instructional program.
What I mean is that you start off with the instructional program aspect of technology implementation, not a wish list of hardware and software. Can you answer the question: What skill set or knowledge the student is supposed to gain is more appropriately or efficiently delivered using technology? The corollary is that you are also defining what learning activities ARE NOT appropriate for delivery via technology. It will also answer questions concerning obsolescence. If you purchase technology to enable a specific instructional task, when does the technology become obsolete? When the technology can no longer enable the student to accomplish that instructional task, not when the technology is three years old. It forces you to use your instructional goals as the driver for hardware and software purchases.
Once you start answering the instructional program questions you can move on to other aspects of a successful plan.
Professional development — if the students are going to obtain their knowledge or skill set using technology for instructional activities x, y, z, what user proficiencies does the teacher need in order to facilitate those activities? How will the teacher obtain those skill sets? Another disconnect we see are Technology Master Plans that suggest the purchase of quite a bit of technology from a capital budget but lacks the matching operating budget to train the staff on how to use those new purchases. If you do not train your staff, do not buy the hardware. (Please forgive me; I will step on a few toes with the next few statements.) A successful professional development program is not measured by how many classes your professional development center or group offers. It should be measured by the amount of consistent use of technology in the classroom by your normal staff. Our experience is that the annual assessment and evaluation process for that classroom teacher must have a technology component to it. Otherwise, what is the motivation for a classroom teacher to learn these new skills?
In addition to the assessment and evaluation issues above, policies and processes represent how you manage people and the systems that are involved in the technology program. What are your appropriate use policies? How would you change your job descriptions if all employees used technology? How do you handle staff and student information and log-ins? What are your limits of access versus security? What are your policies regarding technology purchases? How does the local school staff provide input to the District technology functions, etc., etc., etc.
Tech support — It is our opinion that technical support has two very distinct groups that provide different functions in support of technology. There are the people people who provide assistance to a teacher in their classroom when the teacher wants to learn how to apply a new technology to their instructional program. Then there are the things people who talk to the fileservers and understand what the fileserver is saying when it talks back. That fileserver geek does not have the skill set to assist the teacher with learning how to use technology in support of their instructional program.
What about your facilities? Do you have room in the instructional spaces to implement technology? If you want a computer workstation available for three students to work in a group, you have just burned 33 sq. ft. of space. What about specialized spaces for teachers to create multimedia content for use in the classroom? What about spaces for students to create their multimedia homework? Is that space available for use before and after school hours? Do you have sufficient space in your headend room and do you have wiring closets throughout the building?
The infrastructure of those facilities must be capable of supporting the technology with regards to the AC power, cable pathways and the cooling/heating systems. Last, but not least, are the actual systems and components. Voice, video, data, paging, sound reinforcement, teleconferencing and security systems, along with the computers, printers, servers and video displays.
A good technology master plan will address all seven areas of interest based on the What Kids Learn concept. It should provide an accurate estimate of the capital budget requirements and operating budget impact. Those budgets would represent an Ideal implementation that is then reconciled to the actual revenue sources available for use by the plan. We suggest a five-year plan that is revisited/revised on an annual basis, providing a building block by building block approach that builds on each year’s implementation. A coherent and balanced technology master plan as outlined provides a reasonable opportunity for a successful implementation, regardless of the budget and personnel restrictions your district may be facing.