Drafting a Customized Tech Plan: An Up-to-the-Minute Design
2/15/2004 By: Gwen Solomon
It's all about measurable results. Today, states and districts are zeroing in on standards-based learning and high stakes test scores-even benchmarking results in advance of the school year. Technology planning is-or should be-a key part of any such learning design. With careful planning for integration we can help districts more successfully address standards and, in general, arm our students with core skills they need to compete in the new economy.
A key factor for any plan is, of course, the bottom line. It's a new game out there since ed tech budgets were planned just a few years ago. In 2003, state educational technology cuts averaged almost $3.5 million. And at a time when new technology is getting better, faster, and cheaper, even upgrading may have to be deferred. Still, planning is necessary, and doing careful analyses up front can uncover critical needs and the most cost-effective solutions. Some districts find that evaluating the total cost of ownership focuses their planning. This strategy allows them to assess and manage technology investments, measure the instructional impact the investments have had, develop budgetary guidelines, and understand the real costs of the current infrastructure and new initiatives.
No Child Left Behind
The framework for today's planning is the No Child Left Behind Act. Part D was designed "to promote initiatives that provide teachers, principals, and administrators with the capacity to effectively integrate technology into instruction aligned with challenging state standards." The legislation advocates using technology as a means to improve curriculum, assessment, and teaching in all subject areas. It supports using electronic networks to deliver courses for students who would not otherwise have access to such content and calls for evaluation of the resulting impact on student academic achievement. It also supports professional development and encourages leveraging funds in this area to enable a more widespread integration of technology across the curriculum. Successful implementation of each of these elements requires planning.
Because technology planning is no longer the stand-alone process it was in the last century, and because planning must now consider district, state, and NCLB goals, communication has become more essential than ever. Administrators, teachers, tech support and IT staff, and other stakeholders must work together so that they all understand how to leverage and complement each others' resources.
Along the way to a successful technology plan, many challenges pile up. Small budgets and even smaller technology allotments mean that resources are often spread too thin, and many educators are still not integrating technology into their curriculum. This is an issue as the professional development funds and time set aside to bring novices up to speed may not be as available in the future as it is now. Administrators often lack information on how to evaluate technology's effectiveness, and in turn, how to advise and lead their staff. In addition, finding the best uses of technology, especially to support NCLB goals, is still not an easy task. And to top it off, technology keeps changing, and analyzing what emerging tools will best meet a school's or district's needs is yet another source of uncertainty.
The Vision Thing
Despite challenges, effective integration of technology is possible. The first step is to have a vision for the future and a strategy to make it happen at the state, district, and even school levels. For example, Nebraska is developing a matrix that shows how their state technology plan addresses NCLB as well as other state initiatives. In Plano, Texas, the school district's vision includes providing comprehensive, equitable, ethical, and efficient use of existing and emerging technology, and engaging, challenging, and nurturing diverse learners. In California, Napa New Technology High School aligns technology with its project-based learning education model. (See "Reports from the Field")
Inside the Plan
A successful technology plan should focus on district goals, and how technology would support them through student learning. It should identify the district's specific objectives, implementation strategies, and the equipment, resources, and professional development needed. Finally, the plan should outline the criteria for evaluating technology use and what accountability measures will be used.
Overall, today's successful technology planning process requires a new approach and careful attention to detail. A-Z steps for proceeding are outlined in "The ABCs of a Top Game Plan."
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The ABCs of a Top Game Plan
Here, we present 26 steps to developing a successful technology program.
The best kind of technology planning results in a clear strategy for implementation. Technology goals should always be aligned with instructional objectives, standards, and assessments, resulting in cost-effective solutions and improvement of student achievement. The following guide will help you get started.
A Set up a committee. Create a lead technology committee with a good representation of knowledgeable people from the major stakeholder groups such as administrators, teachers, school board, and other community members plus special education, staff development, IT and tech support, library media, and curriculum specialists.
B Set up technology subcommittees. Members should gather information, express viewpoints, and report back to the main committee. Be sure to include representatives from all stakeholder groups in the community.
C Conduct a needs assessment. Work with a technology representative in each school to get an accurate inventory of existing hardware, software, and human resources. Use purchase orders and packing slips for details. Determine what is available, what has performed well, and which staff members have skills for integrating technology, tech support, and training.
D Identify the overall strengths and weaknesses in the current program. Find out what existing elements can be used as a foundation for the new program.
E Create a vision of technology integration and policies that can support it. Address NCLB goals. Get input from the subcommittees.
F Meet with parents, school board members, and other constituent groups regularly to gather input and inform them about the plan's progress.
G Agree on goals for technology use. Don't forget to align the technology goals with the district's mission, NCLB goals, student career goals, and the curriculum.
H Determine objectives for administrative, assessment, and instructional uses. Evaluate the resources needed to reach them.
I Prioritize goals and objectives. Determine short- and long-term goals and objectives and the strategies that will be needed to achieve them. Do a feasibility study by evaluating the potential for success and identify what is required in order to accomplish each goal.
J Evaluate how you can build the current infrastructure to accomplish goals in a logical way. Identify what new software and hardware products need to be purchased. Explore cost-benefits and total cost of ownership options.
K Identify new instructional and technology integration strategies. Explore what methods teachers should employ initially to reach short-term goals, then determine a system for integrating technology for the long term.
L Identify professional development strategies that will help educators to implement new instructional and technology integration techniques for the short and long term. Use the National Educational Technology Standards as a guide (cnets.iste.org).
M Establish a realistic timetable. Don't rush spending or implementation. Remember the tortoise.
N Develop a realistic budget. Look at funding options from various sources and see how to leverage funding from one program to support another. For example, districts can purchase technology through programs such as Title I or Reading First, and can also leverage opportunities offered through professional development programs.
O Decide on a contingency plan in case the economy gets even worse. Even the best-laid plans are occasionally put on hold. Rather than experiencing a setback, have a backup plan ready that allows for slower growth or further refining priorities.
P Establish milestones. Identify ways to measure the success and progress of technology implementation and to assess how well technology leads to achieving goals and objectives.
Q Write the first draft of the technology plan.
R Analyze uses of technology and how to leverage them. For example, determine how technology-based assessment can support objective measurements or how online learning can support cost-savings.
S Plan for evaluation. Find the best measures that will demonstrate whether or not goals and objectives were reached.
T Review the first draft of the plan. Technology committee members should review all sections to make sure the plan is cohesive.
U Circulate the plan. Meet with stakeholders to get approval. If they were kept in the loop and updated regularly, this should be easy.
V Put the plan into action. Now that the plan has been approved, call on everyone to commit to making it work and get started.
W Invite committee members and the community into the schools to see how technology is working.
X Interest the local press in writing about district success stories. Good publicity helps communities maintain support for the plan-and vote for funds if needed.
Y Evaluate the effectiveness of the program. Use the measures selected to determine what things are working well, what needs improvement, and what has to go back to the drawing board.
Z Update and revise the plan. It's time to take stock of accomplishments, start a new committee, and decide what has to happen next.
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Reports from the Field
Here, four veteran educators offer the what, why, and how of their own tech plan designs.
Napa New Technology High School
By Bob Pearlman
When the Napa Valley unified school district launched a task force last summer to study the expansion of their New Technology High School from a two-grade program to a full four-year high school, a key issue they considered was the feasibility of extending the one computer to one student ratio to the two lower grades. The task force reviewed the school's project-based learning education model and technology's role in supporting and reinforcing the curriculum. Since students, staff, and parents use technology as a tool for learning, communication, and collaboration, the recommendation was to move forward and maintain the 1-to-1 ratio.
Key cost components of the expansion plan included network infrastructure, hardware, and software. The network connections, switches, drops, access points, wireless, and servers that comprise the infrastructure would grow. The workstations, multimedia computers, laptops, printers, keyboards, and memory upgrades would increase as well. They would need additional network software and curriculum packages in math and biology.
NTHS already invests $100,000-$200,000 annually to maintain and upgrade its technology and infrastructure. Technology costs for the expansion were estimated at $150,000 for 2004-2005 for adding the 9th grade and $180,000 for 2005-2006 for adding the 10th grade. To lower these and future costs, they are studying the use of thin client (networked computers without hard drives) and family purchase of laptops. Even so, the costs well exceed their district's allocated technology budget, so special grants and a targeted fund-raising campaign are needed to supplement it.
Five schools have started up in the past two years based on the NTHS model and have been supported through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Eighteen more will start up in California and in other states over the next four years. All of these schools face the challenge of planning and financing a robust technology infrastructure and 1-to-1 student-to-computer ratio that enables their student-centered learning environment.
Bob Pearlman is a strategy consultant for education reform and the director of strategic planning at the New Technology Foundation.
Nebraska Technology Planning
By Dean Bergman
The approach we use for technology planning in Nebraska is to put the emphasis on the goals, objectives, and activities that enhance learning, and then incorporate technology strategies that will support them. Applying technology initiatives to other state-level initiatives has presented some challenges. As a result, we are now in the process of developing a matrix that aligns the provisions of our state technology plan with the State Department of Education's School Improvement Model, the State Board of Education's goals related to technology, and of course, the provisions of NCLB.
Our approach includes requiring schools to write a comprehensive school improvement plan instead of just a technology plan. We also require districts to develop data systems that provide useful student information to teachers to help them improve learning. Having these electronic management systems promotes more effective use of data.
Technology planning in Nebraska has traditionally addressed the needs of its schools through representative participation from teachers and administrators, higher education institutions, and other school-related organizations. Technology leaders guide them to understand what our students and educators need to function effectively in the 21st century.
As we crafted the current plan, we were sensitive to the statutory and regulatory provisions of the NCLB act, but didn't emphasize it in the plan's final content. Using this strategy means that we will accommodate NCLB and go beyond just the federal requirement to focus on how we will best serve the current and future needs of our students and educators.
The existence of a state technology plan in Nebraska causes no regulatory or funding mandates on our schools. Instead, it is used as a guidance and leadership document to promote technology options that enhance learning. The only requirements are that schools file a technology plan and submit a self-monitoring instrument based on the Nebraska Rubric of Essential Technology Conditions. This gives us the data we need to provide assistance to those schools through various grant monies or technical support.
More resources can be found at Nebraska's Technology Education Center Web site (www.nde.state.ne.us/TECHCEN).
Dean Bergman is administrator of educational technology for the Nebraska Department of Education.
Tech Plan Budgets in a Tight Economy
By Sara Fitzgerald
At a time when funds are limited, it's more important than ever for education leaders to know how much their technology infrastructure costs. The total cost of ownership includes all costs associated with operating and maintaining a network of computers including tech support, staff development, utilities, and the cost of replacing the equipment at the end of its useful life.
Technology leaders often find that budget cutters target soft costs such as those associated with staff development and tech support. In writing a technology plan, districts should focus on what they are trying to accomplish with technology and set funding priorities to achieve their goals. Without careful planning, the investment in educational technology could fall short of its expected return or even produce a backlash against spending additional dollars on new technology.
The Consortium for School Networking, in partnership with the Gartner Group and the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, developed a free, Web-based tool to help school leaders assess their costs. The goal was to provide school administrators and technology directors with the means to better estimate the total cost involved when they build a network of computers and wire their classrooms to the Internet.
The TCO Tool promotes a process of defining costs and creating guidelines to help administrators determine whether they have provided adequate funding for all of their expenses so that they can truly understand the total cost of their technology decisions. By better understanding the problem, administrators will be in a better position to evaluate proposed solutions. School leaders can use the tool to measure technology spending and determine if that is appropriate to achieve their goals. It will highlight data on anything that could impact decision-making. Such data may include the number and age of supported computers, tech support costs, and software expenditures. As school leaders make use of the tool over time, it should make it easier for them to track these costs and plan for them.
More resources and the TCO Tool can be accessed through CoSN's TCO Web site at www.classroomtco.org.
Sara Fitzgerald is vice president of communications for Funds for Learning.
Technology Planning in Plano, Texas
By Jim Hirsch
At Plano Independent School District, a suburban district of 52,000 students near Dallas, Texas, technology initiatives for the past seven years have focused on creating classroom environments to support curriculum-based teaching and learning processes. These environments require a variety of tools for technology-embedded instructional activities. The underlying theme was to provide consistent, comprehensive and equitable access to technology resources-not a small feat in a district serving over 50,000 students with 65 school sites and a population speaking over 90 languages.
To achieve this goal, we provided an industrial-strength enterprise-wide network infrastructure that was centered on student and teacher needs, would make information available electronically to all stakeholders, and could easily support administrative needs as well. We created a pull-type information infrastructure for financial statements, curriculum guides, assessment results, Web-based student applications, a myriad of Web information servers, and a data warehouse. All are easily accessible to teachers and administrators.
The next chapter in technology planning for Plano has already begun with the board approval in April 2003 of the 2003-2006 technology plan update for the district. (Plano's planning documents are all online.)
This planning required a substantial amount of input from teachers, students, parents, administrators, and community members to ensure that the efforts can identify and meet the targets, and also be sustained as a process, not just as an event.
The largest initiative is to design a complete financial and student information system to use for greater individualization of instructional activities for students, teaching and management activities for teachers, and information activities for parents and other stakeholders. Other efforts include placing surplus computers in student homes, providing remote access to school-based technology resources such as reference databases, digital video libraries, and student files. Accessibility and ease of use are the goals here.
Plano's Tech Plan and planning documents can be found at k-12. pisd.edu/techplan/process.html.
Jim Hirsch is assistant superintendent for technology for Plano Independent School District.
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High Tech Schools
The following New Technology High School network schools are examples of recent models supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
New Technology High School, Napa, Calif. www.newtechhigh.org
Anderson New Technology High School, Anderson, Calif. www.anths.org
Mare Island School of Technology, Vallejo, Calif. www.mitacademy.org
Technology High School, Rohnert Park, Calif. www.newfoundation.org/network-Cotati.html
Sacramento New Technology High School, Sacramento, Calif. schools.scusd.edu/SacNewTech
Marin School of Arts and Technology, Novato, Calif. www.envisionschools.org/msat
NTHS Learning System www.newtechfoundation.org/nthlearning.html
NTHS project-based learning education model, "Project-Based Learning: a Primer," from January 2003 issue of Technology & Learning www.techlearning.com/db_area/archives/TL/2003/01/project.html
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A Web Tour of Technology-Planning Sites
Sponsored by NetDay, the national nonprofit dedicated to expanding educational technology, this site is an excellent and easy-to-use place for committees to start. The home page lists five major categories: Planning, Infrastructure, Grants and Funding, Classroom Support, and Best Practices and Real Stories, each of which provides links to useful information.
Technology Briefs for No Child Left Behind Planners
The Northeast and Islands Regional Technology Consortium offers 14 briefs on topics ranging from Strategies for Improving Academic Achievement and Teacher Effectiveness to Technology Type and Costs that provide advice on integrating technology into NCLB plans. Most briefs include links to resources and references.
Guiding Questions for Technology Planning
Because it explores issues such as "What is Your Vision of Learning?" and "How Will You Use Technology to Support Your Vision of Learning?", this North Central Regional Educational Laboratory site is an excellent starting point for all members of a planning team. With pages dedicated to topics such as garnering public support, implementing your plan, and evaluating the plan's implementation, the site provides support for the planning process.
Profiler Online Collaboration Tool
The International Society for Technology in Education offers this free online tool that helps teachers assess their technology ability, share expertise, and learn from others. With this tool, they compile a technology profile to compare with other profiles to help a school or district create teams of experts, self-help groups, and other support systems. Surveys may be customized for specific school and district needs.
Learning with Technology Profile Tool
The North Central Regional Educational Lab offers a profile tool to assess a school's use of engaged learning and integration of technology to support such learning. Participants select the choice that describes their current practices, not their instructional goals. Comparing the two can help the staff understand how close they are to achieving their ideals. Indicators include student learning styles, assessment, and interactivity of technology.
Planning for Technology: Putting the Pieces Together
The graphic is a colorful nine-piece jigsaw puzzle with labels such as District Planning, Technology Enhanced Instructional Units, and Integrating Technology with Standards. Clicking on any piece of the puzzle brings up links to rich resources. The standards page, for example, offers links to national and state standards.
Resources for Guiding Questions for Technology Planning
This site provides answers to common technology planning concerns such as supporting and providing a challenging curriculum, technology and the school's accountability and assessment systems, and providing professional development, training, and ongoing technical support for teachers. Each concern is followed by links to sites with valuable answers.
Technology Planning Guide
Apple Computer offers a comprehensive look at the planning process, from creating a vision for technology integration and evaluating your current status to writing a workable implementation plan. Visitors can use the eight-step process sequentially or as needed. There are also links to two case studies and resources, including printed materials, professional organizations, and other Web sites.
Learning Through Technology: A Planning and Implementation Guide
This site focuses on the various stages of technology implementation efforts and offers links to help planners deal with such topics as building a knowledge base, implementing priorities and strategies, evaluating the process, and institutionalizing technology. There are strategies for dealing with each topic and links to resources.
A Guide to Technology Planning
Although much simpler in form and content than other sites, this guide offers a handy overview of the steps in the technology-planning process. Each link leads to a one-page presentation of dos and don'ts. Simple but effective as a guide, it can also be reproduced for handbooks for technology planners to consult.
Technology Planning Tools
The National School Board Association provides information for anyone who wishes to become familiar with issues relevant to today's education. Besides discussing technology planning and technology integration, the site offers links to the NSBA's Education Leader-ship Toolkit (www.nsba.org/sbot/toolkit/index.html), a comprehensive look at the concept of educational reform. The site provides thought-provoking analyses and offers a look at many of the issues surrounding educational reform.
Talk about one-stop shopping! The home page of the SouthEast Initiatives Regional Technology in Education Consortium site offers links to state, district, and school technology plans; a review of the literature related to technology integration by SEIR*TEC's director; experience-based tools for technology planning plus case studies; a sample technology skills needs assessment; and a link to NCREL's Learning Through Technology site listed above.
Technology Program Evaluation
Part of the excellent SEIR*TEC site, this page features links to a range of useful evaluation techniques and documents. The site is handy both for evaluating current levels of technology use or for adapting resources to a technology plan.
Successful K-12 Technology Planning: 10 Essential Elements
One of the many informative ERIC Digests, this page offers a 10-step process for technology planning. The steps begin with Create a Vision and end with Prepare for Tomorrow. Some have links to examples or further information, and there are many references and links to other resources. The site offers good advice in a straightforward, easy-to-follow style, even though it is much less elaborate than some of the other sites.
Technology Planning For Adult Literacy
This 45-page document was created by the National Center on Adult Literacy at the University of Pennsylvania. Users should be aware that it was created in 1995 and that its main focus is integrating technology with adult literacy. However, it does offer a step-by-step process for technology planning, and an appendix features a useful sample technology plan.
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Gwen Solomon is director of TechLearning.com
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