First Issues: Questions for the Technology Planning Committee

EARLY ADOPTERS
MAINSTREAM
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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