Technology Planning

I don’t like the concept of technology plans. If technology is really integrated into everything we do, we shouldn’t need a separate plan for it. We don’t have curriculum plans and assessment plans and personnel plans in the same sense as we have technology plans.

That’s not to say technology planning isn’t important. It’s certainly necessary to invest a little forethought into what we’re doing with technology, so we can ensure we’re making judicious use of our limited resources, and to try to anticipate and meet the changing needs of our students and staff. But when the technology plan becomes an exercise in explaining what we’re going to do to meet some politician’s idea of how technology should be used in schools, it loses some of its value.

Case in point: in our current technology planning tool, we’re asked to evaluate the extent to which we are integrating the use of technology into each subject area at each grade level. We then need to identify our target adoption level, and describe our plans for achieving that goal, measuring it, and sustaining focus and momentum. The implication is that we should be striving to use technology to teach every subject at every grade level, and that we should have a plan for reaching that goal.

That sounds a lot like the little boy with the hammer: suddenly everything needs pounding. But it’s clear that we don’t have nearly enough hammers, and by saying that we’re going to use technology to do everything, we’re setting ourselves up for disaster.

Sadly, realistically, we’re still in the automation phase. This is where we take some job that used to be done without technology, apply the use of technology to it without changing the process, and then declare that it is somehow better or more efficient. Here are some real-world examples:

  • When students buy lunch, they pay for it by typing in codes at the checkout station. The code is tied to their debit accounts. Mom or Dad can send in a check to add money to the account, or they can add money online. This process saves the student from having to keep track of lunch money. It makes the line move marginally faster because the students don’t have to find their money. But it’s questionable whether it’s worth the significant investment in hardware and software needed to make it work, along with the need to set up and manage accounts for every student.
  • If you want to apply for a job in the school district, you do that online now. There’s a form there that you fill out, and it gets submitted electronically. When there’s an opening, administrators can see who has applied for a particular position. What do they do with the online applications? In most cases, they print them out so they can have them in hand during interviews.
  • We have installed a lot of SmartBoards in the last couple years, and some teachers are doing great things with them. But there are also a lot of teachers who are using them as overhead projectors. There’s a white screen. They can draw with their fingers. That’s all they’re doing. When overhead bulbs are $10.00, and data projector bulbs are $300, you have to wonder about the efficiency of this approach.
  • We do grade reporting eight times a year, counting interims. Each time, the EMIS office prints class lists for all of the teachers, and the teachers have to sign off that they’re correct. Then, teachers enter grade and comment information in the online system. If they’re using the online gradebook, the grades are there automatically, but there are still lots of people who just use it for grade reporting. The grades are exported, and verification sheets are printed. The teachers have to sign off on these, saying, “yes, those are really the grades I meant to give.” Then, the interims or report cards are printed, and (in some cases) mailed home. But the parents can check their kids’ grades at any time through a web interface, eliminating the need for this whole system.

We need to focus on technology initiatives that make a difference. What can we do with technology that we can’t do without it? How can we use technology in transformational ways to make teaching and learning better in our district? Those are the things we have to get into our technology plan. I find myself saying this a lot recently. There are many things we spend an extraordinary amount of time on that have absolutely no effect on student learning. We have to stop focusing on the things that aren’t important.

And somewhere, amid all of the leading questions and agenda-driven prompts, we’ll find somewhere to put the good stuff.

4 thoughts on “Technology Planning

  1. John

    This is a fascinating post.

    I agree that the eTech Ohio technology planning tool is burdensome and more of a “compliance” document than a way of helping technology planning. But I would not dismiss having a solid technology plan.

    My recommendation: try using your own frameworks and models to do technology planning for the school.

    Off the top of my head, I would want a technology plan to include:
    Core IT Strategy (Security; Infrastructure; Servers; Customer Service; Work Orders; Refresh; Standard images; etc.)
    Platform (Thin clients? 1:1 lap tops? some mix?)
    Automation for business processes/back office
    Instructional Technologies
    Technology Integration in Classroom (including Course Management Solutions, etc.)
    Web 2.0 and Personal Learning Networks
    Prof Development

    Then, budget this out with a plan and unifying vision for the next 3-5 years,

    And then treat the eTech Ohio technology planning tool as a compliance document and assign someone to “copy and paste” from your actual planning document.

    And of course, find a strong Education Technology Partner to help execute on your school’s vision. 🙂

    -Nitin Julka

  2. A technology plan will always be flawed because you never know when something will jump the next curve.


  3. I would content that the plan is not for people that know the technology or the way it will be use now or in the future. These plans are designed to build the case for the people who are clueless about what we are up to with these sometimes expensive tools. The questions your system asks of you are based on diffusion of innovation theory (i.e. highly recommended reading if for anyone interested in leadership within the field of instructional technology) and will greatly help these people to build your case.
    You do bring up an important point that I share with you when it comes to burdensome timelines before we can go to deployment. When we make strategic investments in enterprise technologies (i.e. large scale and very expensive) it will require people to invest substantial time in the technology planning process. However, when we are talking about local and relatively small projects it should not take more than 10min. for and IT person to whip out a credit card and make this happen for you or a group of people interested in making the same change to their curriculum. Action also might include the need to start a team of people who can quickly and efficiently understand the need, find/build a solution(s), and then train everyone so that we can deploy the resource the next day, if we are comfortable with that fast a pace. My thinking as an administrator of these projects is much like an investment portfolio where I am responsible for taking some risks and have some nice sold investments in these tools that will help our students learn. It also means that we do it with an eye on returns on that investment (there will always be some documentation needed) so that we can conntinue to learn what the gains (or not) are from adopting these innovations.
    Your concern about the “round peg in a square hole” is also seen in my end of the business. When we are trying to find ways to help people address problems we might sound a bit like a zellot who only sees and hears their cause (i.e. selling the use of technology A, B or C) and not what the true needs are. Just like the investment broker who hears that you want “conservative investments” and sells you a blue chip and not a bond it takes frank and clear dialogue on the true needs you have for learning so that we can find a tool that really works for your needs. I will often ask my faculty to tell me their vision for what they would see as the ideal outcome before we move on to “tech talk.” I have avoided many misinterpretations and found that we are able to deliver much quicker results. Regardless, and I cannot stress this point enough, it WILL take some conversations to flush out all of the true needs and find a solution that everyone likes.

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