Preparing 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.
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:
- subscribing to a monthly university or organization journal (like THE Journal)
- subscribing to a weekly trade publication (like eSchoolNews)
- subscribing to an active list serve (like EDTECH)
- attending a regional educational conference (through ISTE)
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:
- 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.
- The Expert: A technology advisor / trainer to help the teachers make the most of their time and efforts.
- 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.