The Small School's Technology Planner

Why This Guide?

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. 

The Risk of Technology Planning

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.

Infrastructure on a Budget

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.

Preparing for Planning

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.

Gearing Up for Technology Planning

Technologies that Enhance LearningPreparing for a Participatory Planning Culture

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.

Required Research

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.

A Teacher R&D Lab

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.

When To Start

Begin technology planning  when there are the following four factors in place:

  1. The Team: A group of committed teachers willing to set aside time to meet, train and plan together, with a principal who supports their work.
  2. The Expert: A technology advisor / trainer to help the teachers make the most of their time and efforts.
  3. The Cash: A source of funds set aside for the effort.  If funding is limited, include seed funds for grantwriting to obtain more.  

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. 

Coaching the Planning Team

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.

First Issues: Questions for the Technology Planning Committee

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)

Where to Start?

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:

  1. Current Experience: What have we done so far that worked?  What uses of hardware, software, and models have enhanced student learning, and why? 
  2. Budget & Grants: How much money do we have to start with, and how can we get the most leverage from it? Where are the "low hanging fruit" for grant funding?
  3. Equity vs. Pilot Projects: How important and urgent is the goal of providing equal access for all students and teachers?  Are pilot projects okay?
  4. Departmental Needs and Readiness:  What are the priorities and interest levels for technology integration among various content areas and grade levels?
  5. Student Skills, Teacher Skills:  What should all students and teachers be able to do? By when?

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.

The Need for an In-House Guru (or "Technology Turn-Key")

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.

Precepts for Tech Gurus

Trade journalists offer the following advice to the staffpeople developing tech savvy:

  1. Embrace and master diversity. Include PCs, Macs, and Linux boxes in scope of study.
  2. Talk simply. Convey what needs to get done and how while masking the underlying technical complications. (This is hard!)
  3. Read with clear purpose. Limit trade journal reading to a few highly relevant publications and read every issue. Clip relevant articles (or if online, copy them to disk). Read the editorials.
  4. Transition gradually and incrementally. Work out the bugs before moving to schoolwide solutions.
  5. Use knowledge-based staff training. Teach the principles, not just the rules. Train teachers to manage their own systems, to the extent they are willing.
  6. Distribute management. As they discover the power of computing, colleagues will want easy access to data and resources.  Give them good software, and don't keep them behind firewalls.
  7. Ensure adequate support. Establish an informal "help desk" with phone/email support.  Let support requests form the basis for training sessions.

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.

Gurus Don't Work Miracles

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.

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Getting Real about School Technology

Why Get Real?

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.

The Monkey's Paw

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.

Considering Community

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.



The Monkey's Paw: Explanations

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.
Juggling Act
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).

Student Productivity
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.
& Lobbying:
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.
AUPs, School/Community
Design an Acceptable Use Policy, and use online forums to reinforcenew norms.

21st Century on a Shoestring
20th Century
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.
& Lobbying
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.
"Staff Developed":
Teachers are bombarded by Somebody Else's Agenda for they need to know and do, and technology gets foisted upon them.
Teacher Culture:
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.

Power Corrupts
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.
Establish Democratic
School/Community Culture:
With power comes responsibility. Norms for respecting the interface between classroom and online environments must be established and maintained.

Involving Relevant Stakeholders in Useful Ways

Tech ScoutsStakeholders Who Care About School Technology

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. 

Let The Students Lead Sometimes

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. 

For a full description of this model, visit

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.

The Envisioning Process

Six Hats Envisioning by deBonoGetting The Vision Thing

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.

The Forest and the Trees

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:

  1. What should technology-rich classrooms in the various disciplines look like (Science Labs, Multimedia Libraries, Design Studios, etc)?
  2. How will the presence of machines change patterns of space use and scheduling? (machines can cause carpal tunnel syndrome when poorly placed, they changethe look and feel of spaces, they break sometimes, and there are rarelyenough of them for all students who want access).
  3. How will the quality and significance of student work change when it becomes a group resource, and how will it be evaluated?
  4. How should the relationship between school and society change as they are linked electronically?

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.

Implementation: Purchasing and Deploying Equipment

EdUbuntu Thin Client InfrastructureGather Data Before Making Purchasing Decisions

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. 

Equipment Purchase and Deployment Issues

  1. Inventory & Needs Assessment: get repair & wish list from teachers.  This can build good feeling AND show the school is being accountable. 
  2. Datakeeping: Develop an inventory, purchase and repair database & process.This is an excellent time to draft techie students to help design and populate a database.
  3. Budget: Determine a funding portion to make available - don't spend everything at once, even though there's not enough money as there is for everything you need. Save the extra for total cost of ownership (repairs, upgrades).  Think projector bulbs!
  4. Repair and Recycle with Student Help: Make existing equipment functional. Students learn the "mix 'n match" school of computer repair fast and greatly enjoy the experience - if your students are too young, consider using high school interns! Don't invest staff time or repair funds in machines that are too old to make much difference going forward. You can often find donated equipment containing replacement parts.
  5. Prioritize: Develop and articulate a rationale for making choices about what's bought first. Create workspaces that are ergonomically healthy - even if they cost more. Get Everyone's Input: circulate a draft purchase order among planning team for comment., and have an open meeting. It's a great time to enlist the support of parents, some of whom will be technology experts..
  6. Select Software: Much of what you need is online and free, and educational software can be very expensive.  That said, some programs are well worth the spend, like or Decisions, Decisions (Tom Snyder Software).  
  7. Purchase and Deploy Equipment and Software: Keep track of serial numbers & placements.  Use a LAN Management program (like Altiris) to create "images" of computer hard drives that can be easily copied and updated, or consider Thin Clients if you have the infrastructure. Make sure teachers are committed to dust covers, food prohibitions, and any other abuses that may harm the school's investment. Make sure computers are placed in ways that support best use as well as maintenance access.

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. 

Supporting Pilot Projects and Ongoing Professional Development

Web Project Life CycleClassroom Project Planning and Support

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").

  1. Host an Orientation: The period after new computers have entered the school is a sensitive one for all concerned (particularly parents). Share the broader vision, and help all stakeholders establish approrpriate expectations for the level of activity and support appropriate to this stage. Help teachers "Get Real" about the promises and perils of classroom computing by discussing promises and problems. 
  2. Find and Share Project Examples: Invite teachers to find project examples online and share them in team meetings. Schedule field trips to other schools that are using technology well.
  3. Support Project Design: Develop a system for in-house project generation, selection and implementation. An annual project development cycle is an excellent model to shoot for.
  4. Offer Ongoing Teacher-Targetted Workshops: Plan workshops for teachers interested in participating in technology planning and project development. Consider also the wide variety of online courses  for teachers.
  5. Find More Funding: Implement a funding strategy to purchase items left on the wish lists and expand the capacity to support teachers as their need for more computer access and functionality increases.

Student Work as Curriculum Content

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.

  1. Organizing Production: Will students be primary authors of the school website? Will they be empowered to do web editing and develop their own voice?
  2. Defining Acceptable Presentation: What kind of material should be online? These issues can be explored in bulletin board discussions.
  3. Linking and Collaborating: Who should be linked to the school website? Web pages can connect the school to other schools and to community organizations - thus, visiting the school website gives the browser an image of the "web of connections" between stakeholders.
  4. Indexing Work: What plans exist for cataloging and sharing student and teacher work products as curriculum content for other students and teachers in other classes, grades and schools? Is student work of a quality that such dissemination is worth promoting? How should student work be selected and presented for such distribution?

Take A Breath!

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.


From Pilot Projects to Schoolwide Planning

Next StepsReaching the Mainstream

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.

Funding Technology

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:

  1. Organize Grantwriting: Work with principal, other administrators, other schools to strategically apply for funding opportunities at federal, state and local levels.
  2. Contingency Planning: What are the continuing costs that need to be budgeted for (such as repairs, upgrades, technical support)? What mechanisms ensure these costs are supported?
  3. Stakeholder Participation: What role does/should the state department of education, the district office, the school board, other community groups and businesses wish to play in ensuring successful and equitable technology deployment? What kinds of support can be asked of them, keeping in mind that accepting their support means taking on their agendas?

Extensive guides and resource lists for technology fundraising are available from many publications, including eSchoolNews.

Issues for Faculty

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:

  1. Refining acceptable use policies for equipment use, network accounts and internet access, so that conflicts can be solved with schoolwide policy rather than individual savvy. This supports mainstream teachers who are less experienced about such issues - just as being able to "send students to the office" takes the burden off those whose disciplinary skills may be less developed.
  2. Considering administrative computing applications (grading, attendance, parent communication etc.). Grade submission via electronic conferencing, for example, can greatly speed up the gathering of data - and makes it easier for teachers to consider each others' comments as they develop remediation and enhancement plans for their students. But it's important to be very conservative about such solutions - there should be a reliable and obvious advantage, else the change won't be worth the trouble of training mainstream teachers how the system works.
  3. Exploring interdisciplinary curricula, bringing mainstreamers and early adopters together: Ensure faculty feel respected and supported for their own curricular goals by the vision they are being invited to take part in through the following:
    1. Arrange visits for them to and by other schools.
    2. Meet with each department to brainstorm project ideas.
    3. Make networked computers available in the "teachers lounge."
    4. Support home computer purchase by faculty through incentives.
  4. Empowering students to maximize their use of technology for learning and share what they know with teachers, which will encourage teachers to support it on their behalf.
    1. Staff and promote an afterschool computer lab (if this has not yet been done)
    2. Support purchase of computers for student home use through incentives.
    3. Train student webmasters to help develop the school's website.

Advanced School Networking Issues

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.

  1. Standard Classroom Configurations: what equipment should be common to all classrooms? What software applications will be schoolwide, with what security system?
  2. Mail System: find a Mail Server for student and faculty accounts, develop a process for managing accounts and diali-n acccess.
  3. File Sharing System: choose a File Server for the LAN, develop a process for managing user accounts and dial-in acccess.
  4. Scaling Up: What is the plan for successive stages of scaling up the current infrastructure? Having a 3-5 year plan ensures that no redundant costs are incurred (paying for infrastructure that will have to be dismantled once the next phase of implementation goes in).

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.