Small schools derive strength from their uniqueness, from the initiative of their teachers, and from the engagement of their students. Small school educators value independence, but pay for that freedom with extra work organizing and coordinating efforts that would otherwise be the responsibility of a central office.
Technology planning is a function which need not - and should not - reside at the district level, when each school has a different culture and vision. Not every school will use technology in the same way, even if general categories of use may be standard or borrowed from existing plans. If use determines deployment, (and it should), school technology planning is properly located at the the faculty level than with district administrators or equipment vendors.
However, the task of technology planning is an education in itself, and not to be entered into lightly. It is an opportunity for teacher and student empowerment, but also for frustration and failure. A "teacher-friendly" approach to the process can help get the novices and the "techies" onto the same page, providing the tools and tips they need.
Public schools have a history of planning initiatives falling flat. Inadequate funding, lack of follow-through, and changing priorities can all derail efforts. Four factors are central to small school technology planning:
This is by no means an exhaustive list.
Not all aspects of technology planning require faculty direction or even input. Two prior infrastructures - power and data - are best done as part of school construction or renovation. It is very difficult - and expensive - to change these fundamentals midstream. However, even a school with a low student:computer ratio and few classroom computers can accomplish a great deal, providing that teachers:
Open source software makes it possible to use surplussed equipment for classroom and home computing, as long as schools have the power and data infrastructure (and space and furniture). With the creative use of students and volunteers to help support the initiative, computer labs and classroom clusters can provide rich environments for teaching and learning with current tools, and access the world beyond school walls.
However, a teacher with a digital projector and a website where students can log in from home is much easier to create and support, and can be just as transformative for the teaching and learning process.
School technology planning can (and should) be incremental, giving faculty and staff time to learn about their own needs and what works best in their particular setting as they make broader and more costly decisions. It is not necessary to draft a long and detailed document before purchasing initial levels of infrastructure and equipment, following an "action research" effort than a "master plan".
However, there is some readying to be done.The first stage in small democratic school technology planning is gearing up for the job: getting a team ready to work, plan and learn together as they develop a sense of how to best work together and master the issues.
Technology plans should reflect the unique culture and aims of each school, which means faculty, students, and relevant stakeholders need to develop the capacity to guide the process.
The technical and management expertise for technology planning can be learned on the job, and early mistakes need not be costly or final. The important thing is to consciously eschew the traditional bureaucracy of public schooling and become a "learning organization" capable of moving incrementally and responding to the mid-course corrections.
This guide is designed to providing the initial scaffolding upon which small school learning organizations can construct visions and initiate a process for efficient, effective technology for teaching and learning.
Putting technology to work in a school setting requires a Research and Development (R&D) approach. The R&D phase (called "Action Research" by some) should be chartered ("we're going to spend some time figuring out what works here") and honored (sharing results in mini-conferences with stakeholders).
The terminology and background knowledge required for the R&D phase can be picked up through the following:
Not every member of the planning committee need do all of these things, but each should do at least one. The "planning intranet" is a good place to post ideas and start discussions after attending a conference or reading a good article.
R&D traditionally takes place in "labs" - places set up for design and experimentation. A good lab has high-end equipment, appropriate tools (for configuring, fixing, replacing equipment), and resident technicians who can help new users learn to operate the equipment.
To support technology planning, designate regular hours for a "computer lab" to be set aside for teacher who want to explore teaching with technology together. Set this space aside a few afternoons a week where teachers (and invited students!) can work together in relaxed and informally focussed way. If there are internet filters that prevent access to blogs, forums, and other Web 2.0 technologies, find a way to disable them for this space, during this time.
Begin technology planning when there are the following four factors in place:
Trying to begin a technology planning process with no available funds will frustrate participants. There are many grants and partnering opportunities available for underresourced schools, but "outside the box" thinking may be required to establish these relationships.
Any significant change initiative, no matter how appropriate it may be to a given setting in theory, will fail without the concerted effort to make time and place for it. Regular meetings and designated team member roles (with attention to leadership, communication, and datakeeping) can maintain focus and intention.
A purely ad hoc or reactive approach to technology implementation ("squeaky wheel gets the grease") can be wasteful and frustrating, and is not the same as a planning process. For the faculty and staff of small schools, this isn't news - and it is as true of technology integration as it is of curriculum planning.
It's also important for the process to be enjoyable - that an efficient and pleasant collaborative culture develop among this group. Teachers must be capable of restraint as well as action--there is often pressure to rush out and buy equipment to get things going, when funds might have been better spent later on as needs became more obvious.
What follow are some first issues a new technology team might wish to tackle, as they develop working relationships and tinker towards a more complete vision for technology planning.
|Favor revolutionary change||Favor evolutionary change|
|Visionary||Pragmatic or conservative|
|Strong technology focus||Strong problem and process focus|
|Risk takers||Risk averse|
|Experimenters||Want proven applications of compelling value|
|Largely self-sufficient||May need significant support|
|From "Stuck at the Barricades" (Geoghan, 1990)|
Many questions that have direct bearing on technology planning fall within the domain of the "techies" - but many more are broader policy questions that any teacher might conceivably have a strong opinion on. Here are a sampling of the kinds of questions a new planning team might want to tackle to get the ball rolling:
Answering these question will require all kinds of in-house expertise: coordinating projects, facilitating meeting, working with vested interests, writing grants, and the rest. Unique to technology planning is the need for in-house experts in the hardware, software, and pedagogy of classroom computing.
School districts often rely on coutside experts for their technology planning. It would be surprising if such experts were objective and reliable enough to entrust with time, space and personnel decisions on behalf of schools. Informed decisions require familiarity with each school's goals and a participatory understanding of how things get done there.
Fortunately, there are usually teachers who already function as informal computer experts, who would appreciate the blessing to act as checks against the enthusiasm of "outside experts" - and support the efforts of those experts that are appropriate for the time and place.
Individuals who are identified as the "technology gurus" have an ongoing responsibility to maintain and develop their expertise, in order to provide appropriate advice where it's needed. Readiness to become an in-house "technology guru" doesn't require a great deal of prior experience to start off, but the apprentice should be willing to be immersed in technology education for a year or two.
This "rapid enculturation" process is familiar to anyone who remembers purchasing a used car for the first time. One must suddenly learn all about financing, engineering, soundness, and resale value.
Trade journalists offer the following advice to the staffpeople developing tech savvy:
Tech gurus need a lot of time to play and practice. Administrators should identify tech gurus and honor them with equipment, free periods, and approval to attend conferences. Attached is an "extra service position" request for the creation of "Technology Turn-Key Trainers" from a past school district.
Regardless of how savvy the technology gurus of the school are, there are bound to be false expectations placed upon them. It is important for everyone, and particularly gurus, to guard against unreasonable demands and hopes - else teachers will be unduly frustrated, and gurus may be burned out.
Realistic expectations should define how the culture of technology planning for the school is established.
|The Promise||The Reality||Recommendations|
|More Possibilities||More Goes Wrong||Tech Support Strategies|
|More Information Sources||Information Overload||Start Small and Keep Focus|
|Tasks Take Less Time||Learning Curve||Realistic Expectations|
|Creates Free Time||Creates Addiction||Selective Engagement|
|Teacher Personal Growth||Students Come First||Designated Access|
|Collaborative Learning||Juggling Act Required||New Strategies|
|More Student Productivity||Equal Access Needed||Fundraising/Lobbying|
|20th Century Schools||No Space for Computers||Restructuring/Lobbying|
|Professionalization||Getting "Staff Developed"||Collaborative Culture|
|Improve Communication||Miscommunication||Learn When to Talk Offline|
|Schoolwide Planning||Issue Overload||Realistic Expectations|
|Remote Partner Classes||Synchronization Conflicts||Realistic Expectations|
|More Teacher Power||More Student Power||Democratic Community|
One difficulty with technology envisioning is that there are two predominant cultures (or rather, cults) related to school computing: "true believers" (who think that anything you can use a computer for is worth using a computer for) and "Luddites" (who would rather we return to 18th century farming).
Somewhere in between the two lies the reality - that computer vendors are not schoolteachers and don't know what works and what doesn't in that setting, but that there are many very powerful learning opportunities computers provide. It's important to navigate a path between these two extreme visions, and "Get Real" as you envision what the implementation process will be like and require.
There's a well-known cautionary fairy tale called The Monkey's Paw, in which a talisman that seemingly bestows the magical power to grant any wish produces side effects that are far worse than the wished-for benefits. At right is a chart of such "side effects" to plan against in new technology implementations, a good touchstone to explore in establishing realistic expectations. Chart links click to explanations below.
I do not mean to imply that technology is a monkey's paw in the classroom, only that it can appear so if not properly contextualized or prepared for. Its tabular form is designed to be stimulate group discussion as part of a faculty pre-orientation to technology planning and implementation.
NOTE: The Monkey's Paw was adapted from Getting Real, a "technology kit" created for IMPACT II's Teacher Policy Institute by Janice Gordon (Mott Hall School) and Bram Moreinis (Institute for Learning Technologies), written for teachers about to enter a major phase of technology implementaion. It address issues that arose in the responses to the Getting Connected Survey we circulated among five schools. These issues are discussed at length in the essay, Promises and Problems: Getting Real about School Technology also part of that kit.
Having agreed to steer clear of promising the moon, and before diving fully into the planning process, the technology team should wisely consider what stakeholders should be actively solicited, and how it can make best use of the wide range of community members and their capacity to support technology initiatives.
New Possibilities, New Problems More Possibilities: Technology makes new learning tasks possible, increasing creativity, productivity, range, learning style matches, etc. More Goes Wrong: Technology implementation requires new systems for troubleshooting, reliance on more sensitive systems, and new sets of expectations for reliability (compared to chalk, which always works). Tech Support Strategies There are many things schools can do, including creating a tech help network, and promoting realistic expectations for R&D.
|More Sources of Information of All Kinds|
|More Information Sources:||Many new information resources can be brought into the classroom, providing variable perspectives.|
|Information Overload:||Teachers and students may begin to take in information faster and farther than is personally healthy or socially acceptable, failing to integrate it into knowledge.|
|Start Small and Keep Focus:||Practice selective engagement with resources, have realistic expectations for how much you can cover, and stay sensitive to collegial feedback to keep you from becoming too much of a cyber-head.|
|Using Saves Time, Learning Takes Time|
|Tasks Take Less Time:||You can do the things you are already doing more efficiently, and therefore do new things.|
|Learning Curve:||It takes extra time up front to learn to save time - and some never succeed, always using time saved to take on new learning curves.|
|Stay Balanced:||Have realistic expectations for how long it will take to master a new technology, and set time aside for R&D to apply skills to the classroom.|
|Frees Up Time for Computer Addiction|
|Creates Free Time||The more teachers seek technological solutions to deskwork, the morefree they are for human purposes.|
|Creates Addiction:||Computers become alternate universes to explore, full of the luresof tangential interests and skills.|
|Keep track of your initial purposes for using technology as you go. Don't lose the students!|
|Teachers Become Learners|
|Teacher Personal Growth Possible||The Internet brings many professional growth opportunities into the classroom.|
|Students Come First:||It's hard for teachers to get online during the school day, when students also want access - and they may not have computers at home.|
|Designated Access:||Work for home computers and Internet access, and create special times and/or spaces for in-school access for teachers.|
|The End of "Frontal Teaching"|
|Collaborative Learning Groups||Computers enable (and even force) alternatives to teacher-centered lessons.|
|Bring computers into classrooms requires skillful managing of small groups, counter balancing the attraction of computers and the need for focus on academic work, and alloting adequate work time for students.|
|New Strategies:||Professional development can focus on developing mini lessons, independent projects, and computer-mediated academic discussions (through email and bulletin boards).|
|Increase Student Productivity||Students can find more information faster, therefore having more timeto go deeper into assignments and emphasize analysis.|
|Equal Access Needed:||All students are owed adequate access to technology once these opportunities are possible for some.|
|School stakeholders need to working within school and district to build necessary infrastructure and find resources, human and material. Developan access plan to approach equity of student access.|
|New Uses and Abuses|
|Students Master New Skills||Students can bypass textbooks to become primary source researchers, multimedia producers, published authors, and information brokers for other students and teachers.|
|Inappropriate Use:||Student can become pirates, pornographers, information terrorists.|
|Design an Acceptable Use Policy, and use online forums to reinforcenew norms.|
|21st Century on a Shoestring|
|Actualize visions: "All students with laptop", "computers in every classroom," "bringing schools in sync with the world of work."|
|No space in physical plant, inadequate wiring, security, storage -and no money for upgrading.|
|Work toward pilot projects, not schoolwide bootstrapping, and new funding partnerships. Lobby the school board for new facilities.|
|Learning Stuff, Stuffing Teachers|
|Professionalization:||Teachers gain access to state-of-the-art tools and workplace opportunities to increase the stature of the profession.|
|Teachers are bombarded by Somebody Else's Agenda for they need to know and do, and technology gets foisted upon them.|
|Establish democratic governance - teachers together make the decisions and set the priorities.|
|Talk and Mis-Talk|
|Networks permit asynchronous sharing of information, making collaboration more efficient and feedback more frequent.|
|Miscommunication:||Misperceptions occur with unfamiliar media, and poor choices of when to use what media create conflicts.|
|Troubleshoot communication IN PERSON, talk about netiquette, develop savvy online cultures, and have realistic expectations for growth pains.|
|Trains Run On Time|
|Schoolwide Planning:||Improved communication will enable more efficient and meaningful dialog and planning process.|
|Issue Overload:||New channels for mutiple curricular and administrative initiatives and emergencies pull on everyone's time, slowing technology infusion and creating resistance.|
|Realistic Expectations:||Manage communication and always consider opportunity costs. Technology doesn't solve problems, people solve problems.|
|Tear Down the Walls!|
|Partner Classrooms:||New possibilities for Collaboration with other teachers/students withinschool, with other schools, between states, between countries.|
|The lack of control over partner environments, cultural misconceptions, and scheduling changes can be disappointing to students.|
|Realistic Expectations||Have backup strategies, help students understand the risks of collaborationat a distance.|
|More Teacher Power:||Teachers imagine they can do things with students they couldn't do before, and plan elaborate projects.|
|More Student Power:||Students learn to direct their own learning and participation when the program is more individualized and less supervised - making the teacher's plans less compelling.|
|With power comes responsibility. Norms for respecting the interface between classroom and online environments must be established and maintained.|
There are many school community members with a stake in supporting and guiding school technology. Even though each may care about and be able to help with or be served by aspects of a developing plan, their involvement must be shepherded by the technology planning team of teachers and staff. It is important to identify what the opportunity for their involvement is, and what steps are necessary to support and manage that involvement, before creating and publicizing for that opportunity.
Once your school has Internet access, external stakeholders can become much more active members of your school learning community. The list below is by no means exhaustive in either groups or their interests, but can provide a framework for considering who needs to be involved when.
A caveat: while it is most convenient to bring on new stakeholders as you become ready, they need to be ready too - plan in advance for who will be involved how and when, and make sure a "public relations" plan is ready to educate everyone about what you're up to and when and how they can participate. Outside influences can be very supportive in money and time, when well-facilitated; they can also be huge obstacles when scorned.
|Students: Computers become their daily work tools, and bring the world of their media experience into the classroom||Teachers: As teachers, as learners, as collaborators and as administrators, the availability of computing changes the way they work.|
|Parents: Computers at home lead to computers at school. No computers at home mean computers at school are even more important.||Community-Based Organizations: Libraries, Recreation Centers, Boy Scouts, the Lions Club - all these have interests in community networking.|
|Vendors: Hardware, software and connectivity vendors will offer sweet deals to reach the "captive audience" of educational markets.||Colleges and Universities: University faculty and students can support schools as tutors, mentors and facilitators if there's connectivity.|
|District, State and Federal Educational Organizations: Sources of grants, support and standards related to educational technology.||The Rest of the Community: Computer labs can be open 12 hours a day. If everyone pays taxes, everyone should enjoy access if possible.|
Tech Scouts are student clubs and courses that empower students to learn enough about technology to provide technical support services to their shool and community outreach to other schools through the Internet. The ethos of "service learning" and the requirement of schools to provide workforce preparation skills sets the scene for Tech Scouts projects. In developing their various service teams, tech scouts must to learn to think like entrepeneurs as they chose what services to offer and how.
Tech Scouts was first created for Central Park East Secondary School in Harlem, where student teams performed the following services:
|Student Management: Students in this team arrange times and conditions to meet whatever needs are logged on the school bulletin bard, keeping a posted record of completed work. These requests range from hardware and software installation and troubleshooting to website production and software training.||Composting: Students clean, sort, and prepare older machines for testing, assembling complete systems with bundled software. Deployment of these machines was determined in consultation with the Technology Committee when necessary.|
|Cyber-Librarians: Gaining expertise in advanced search methods and analysis of source authority, this team is on call to search the Web for information in support of specific curricula, create annotated index pages to these resources, make these available to classrooms, and support the transfer of their skills to students and faculty.||Outreach Group: Seeking ways to connect and share expertise with other schools and groups, this group provides technical support and "mentoring" students and teachers in other classes and schools. The Outreach Team may also work towards organizing an interschool Cyberfair, if interest and support from other schools in the network exists.|
|Webmasters: This group develops the website which included a full description of the first semester of the Tech Scouts course. It eventually contained a full array of key documents about the course, LiveWire (an online student magazine), and other student project work.||
However you organize your students and supervise student tech teams, it's important to have a student face on the online and offline work of your school. Their enthusiasm and vision is infectious to community organizations that are eager to contribute money and time to their educational opportunity.
Another caveat: it is important to establish and settle schoolwide acceptable use policy issues before your students start advertising their own sense of appropriatness to a community which likely will contain some parents eager to justify their own fears. Consider well what students are likely to find online and how to respond or prepare for those discoveries. Acceptable use policies can be short posted messages or long signed contracts - it depends on the nature of your community. Keep coming back to these issues as you develop your school technology vision.
If technology is to serve, rather than compete with, existing curriculaand school culture, vision should drive planning. However, the process of establishing an informed vision is messy, requiring an initial period of small, opportunistic incremental steps as faculty and staff develop savvy. Vision occurs on many levels: there's the overall vision for technology's role in the school and its communty, and there are the visions of individual teachers who know enough about technology to formulate ways they want to use it in their classrooms.
Individual visions are the substance behind the overall vision, and give it life. As teachers hold to their vision of what they want to see made possible, the technology planners must find ways to supports flexibility and, as Buckminster Fuller loved to say, ephemeralize: do more with less.
When the technology planning team schedules it's first extensive meeting to brainstorm a school technology vision, many group creativity processes can be helpful, such as those pioneered be Edwward deBono. Process models may seem unduly "encounter group-ish," but they can help members get active and gel, breaking through the barrier of who knows more than whom. In this way, the various visions and images within the members ofthe team can be bro ught together, and a wider range of possibilities andsolutions considered.
A working school technology vision and planning strategy should address both the management of resources and their pedagogic functions. Consult school technology planning guides to consider all relevant aspects. You ma yhave a beautiful vision of a forest, but as you get closer, the trees get in the way. Yet the trees are the components of the forest. Understanding that many of these issues mut be dealt with in their own time, here are some questions to consider as you develop a vision:
Once a working vision has been established that has begun to take these issues into account, enough context should exist to move from pilot projects to broader implementation - deciding what equipment to purchase, and putting it in place for specific purposes.
Before considering new purchases, existing resources and uses need ought to be polled. An Intranet (a website where messages can be posted and commented on) is a great way to for teachers to describe and share uses. Pictured at right is one example.
Also, invite students to visit classrooms with clipboards to establish an accurate, up-to-date account of what equipment currently exists (as well as what equipment is NOT being used and needs to be repaired or redistributed).
Finally, survey the faculty about equipment and software needs. An Intranet survey can get data quickly. Establish immediate priorities and a wish list for later purchases.
Once information has been consolidated about what the school has, what's being done with it, and what immediate needs for repair or purchase exist, the planning committee can begin implementing its vision through three interdependent tasks: developing purchase requisitions, creating equipment deployment plans, and assisting facutly with creating project plans for their classrooms.
This is a long list, and yet leaves off what may be the central issues for establishing the importance of technology in the culture and mission of your school: integrating learning technology into the curriculum. While an initial period of ad hoc exploration is necessary before teachers gain a sense of how to use it well, there are models in place for integrating staff development, project design, and action research.
There are excellent teachers who don't need computers. The importance of considering learning styles, cooperative learning, cognitive development, critical thinking and constructivism didn't start with networked technology. However, the classroom computer cluster model seems to suggest inquiry-based interdependent groupwork, and offers teachers an opportunity to look more closely and explicitly at their objectives and methods to support such an environment.
On the other hand, computers DO make new things possible, such as easy communication with people outside the classroom (both synchronously, as telephones permit, and asynchronously, as letters do). How do opportunities for authetic communication with real-world information sources affect the way class projects should be structured?
Computers allow student to produce higher production-quality work faster, and suggest portfolio evaluation rather than quiz-and-test methods. The work of students can directly affect each other and the world around them. How will such opportunities be promoted, managed, capitalized on?
Supporting "action research" - a more formal examination teaching and learning - as networked computing is introduced is an important task of the planning team. Below are some activities that should be considered as part of an ongoing program of curriculum development support (which is a far more accurate term than "staff development").
One of the transformative opportunities of digital networking is that student work (as well as teacher work) can be available for use across classes, grades and years. This is one reason why a conscious and guided process for curriculum development is so important - it gains the most possible leverage from projects that work, and articulates lessons learned from those that don't.
Because of the opportunity presented by the World Wide Web to share content and collaborate, avoid proprietary solutions to digital portfolio production (such as HyperStudio or the school's bulletin board system). A school website (whether public or internal) should be used to mount and index work. Below are some issues to consider in establishing this common resource.
This guide is intended to provide enough information to get started in the right direction towards a democratic, teacher-directed technology plan. Our last page will touch on next steps: resources and issues that come to the foreground perhaps after the first few years. There are far more comprehensive guides than this, which offer more technical information, which you'll also find there.
After the first years of equipment purchases and classroom pilots, a transition from serving the "early adopters" to enfranchising the "mainstream teachers" becomes more and more critical. Schoolwide technology planning, rather than pilot projects, can become a major focus of the technology planning team. Again, it's important to be conservative in moving to a schoolwide support plan, since not everyone is ready at the same time, and unused machines are money wasted. Another needs assessment survey is a good idea, and based on the results, new plans for curriculum and technical support can be drafted.
As in-house staff take on more responsibility for supporting their colleagues, more and more paid non-instructional time will be needed to prevent their burning out from work overload. Getting grant and district funding becomes an integral part of technology planning. Money will be needed to support substitute teachers, hiring new personnel (as technology supporters and as curriculum integrators), supporting conference registration and transportation, moving to higher levels of connectivity, and purchasing more workstations and servers to provide equitable access for students and faculty become a continuing priority as schools move forward.
Some preliminary fundrasing issues include:
Extensive guides and resource lists for technology fundraising are available from many publications, including eSchoolNews.
The effectiveness of the technology planning team is an issue which should be looked at closely after the first years, by an administrator with a commitment to the process (the principal/director, or a district computer coordinator). The team may need to approach this administrator and ask for their attention and comment - but this can easily pay off in funding and facilitating support. A good administrator is schooled in keeping visions on track, and should be valued for that function. It's particularly useful if the "technology resisters" respect the administrative partner who works with the technology team.
Mainstream faculty invited to particpate need the same kinds of empowerment opportunities that the earlier adopters had, which can provide entry into the democratic process that has been ongoing. Through these issues, they can begin to get educated to a point where they can participate in some of the other schoolwide technology decisionmaking that will concern them. Some tasks and strategies which might encourage their contribution include:
Many schoolwide technology issues will remain the realm of the early adopters who have learned enough about the possibilities and terminology to make informed recommendations. If they have not yet been addressed in the first year(s), here are a few major ones.
As the by no means comprehensive list above indicates, there are many decisions to be made and issues to be addressed as technology planning goes schoolwide. An excellent guide (which can be printed out an circulated) has been created by the graduate students of Dr. Larry Anderson and his National Center for Technology Planning, which has it's own very complete website of technology guides and plans from other schools for comparative study.