Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Time to End the Tech Plan

I just got one of the notices that I dread.  It is time again to rewrite our district technology plan.  While this is not the most heinous event in life, it got me thinking about where the requirement for a technology use plan come from and how can we improve it?

I did Internet search for school technology plans to see what I could find.  The oldest plan that I could find is a technology plan from September 1982 from a district in Salt Lake City.  Interestingly, it was a 12-year plan for the small school district that totaled 412 words.  Juxtapose that with the nearly 300 pages of our last technology plan and you begin to question if all the effort and energy that goes into this tri-annual rewrite is energy well spent.

Thinking back nearly 30 years to the early 1980’s I distinctly remember the day that I began my path as an educational technologist (unless you count being the 6th grade nerd that could fix the reel to reel projectors).  Apple computer had a program called, “An Apple for the Teacher” where each California school received a brand spanking new Apple II Computer.  The day that the computer arrived at our school, my principal had no idea what to do with it.  After sitting in the office for nearly three months, he took it to my room one afternoon and directed me to figure out what to do with it. 

There is little doubt that when technology arrived at the schoolhouse doors 30 years ago we desperately needed a plan to “figure out what to do with it”.  This probably gave birth to the Technology Use Plan.  A plan that informed everyone about the use a new and unfamiliar tool.  This was a good idea!

Fast-forward thirty years, and technology is so integrated into everything that we do it is nearly impossible to find an activity that has not had technology make an impact upon.  Instead of asking, “How do we use this?” you are far more likely to hear, “Why can’t I get this online?”  Computers with Internet access have shrunk to the size of cell phones and a recent study found that 68% of 12 year olds have a cell phone.  We are awash in a digital tidal wave.  Just like the music industry, and the printing industry, education is quickly moving to being completely digital.  There are schools that eliminated the synchronous face-to-face school experience totally.  Instead of planning how to use technology, we are more likely to look for an electronic solution as our first alternative. 

In this point, it makes little sense to write a detailed, three-year technology plan that is separate from every other planning document that a school district writes. What is needed is a brief description that easily communicates the district’s direction to the stakeholders.  Leave out the massive details that change as the environment changes.  For example, a budget section that attempts to project what the budget will be five years from now when we can’t even tell what the budget will be this year and that began in July!  A simple plan that is integrated with other district activities and is revisited more often is what is needed.

Every district writes a single plan that directs all the other functions of a district, from the program for English Learners, to the GATE program.  It is called the Local Educational Agency Plan.  Directing technology from this plan as a program integrated with all the other activities of the district would be a needed improvement.  The LEAP is rewritten each year rather that than the three or five year rewrites that the technology use plan requires.  I can’t even predict what technology will be available in three or five years, no less describe in detail how it will be used to support learning in my district.  Incorporating the district’s technology planning into the single plan, making it a much smaller document, and revisiting it more often is an improvement that is long overdue.

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