Developing Effective Technology Plans

John See

Technology Integration Specialist
Minnesota Department of Education

Effective technology plans are short term, not long term. Five year plans are too long. Technology is changing so fast that it is almost impossible to plan what type of technology will be available for use five years from now. Even one year plans may now be about as far ahead as effective planning for purchases of certain types or brands of equipment can take place.

If a long-term plan is derived, tie it to the district's budget cycle. Pull the plan out every year during the budget process and review it to make sure the plan has not tied your school into buying outdated equipment. Do not let a technology plan lock you into old technology and applications just because it says so in the plan. Newer, more powerful, lower cost technology may be available to replace what is specified in a five year old plan.

Effective technology plans focus on applications, not technology. In other words, make your technology plan outcome-based, not input-based. Develop a plan that specifies what students, staff, and administration should be able to do with technology and let those outcomes determine the types and amount of technology your plan requests.

Many technology plans are based on numbers of machines...input. Typically, technology committees go before school boards asking for a computer lab, or computers for classrooms. The first question board members will ask is, "Why do you need them?" Why not answer that question in the plan? It may be better to go to a school board saying, "This is what we want our students to be able to do"...output. then, specify what technology is needed in order to accomplish the plan's outcomes and goals.

This approach also helps answer the debate over which brand names to purchase. This argument over what brand of computer to use in schools is really not important. Computers are just boxes with brand names on them. They all do the same things. If people can drive a Ford, then they can drive a Chevy. And, if students can write on Brand X computer, then they can also write on Brand Y. Do students who get finished with formal education say, "I can't write with this pen because I learned how to write with a pencil?" The real question always must be, "what applications of technology are available that will help our students, staff, and administration work smarter, not harder?" The common, transferable, technical applications that all computers perform is the important issue. Still, some machines perform certain applications better than others. Buy the machines that do best, that which needs to be done.

Effective technology plans go beyond enhancing the curriculum. Don't buy technology to teach about technology. Do schools really need to spend $30,000 to $50,000 to put in a computer lab that enhances the curriculum? All teachers can enhance the curriculum with a $20 filmstrip. Educators better be able to do more than enhance existing instruction with new, powerful types of instructional technology. Do schools really need to spend $30,000 to $50,000 for a computer lab in order to teach computer literacy? do teachers really want to spend thousands of dollars for machines that will only be used for keyboarding? Keyboarding is a basic skill now, but it is a temporary one at best. Spending thousands of dollars to teach about technology at the expense of using technology for more powerful tasks seems to be a waste of money. And, what ever happened to the old typewriters? Don't they have a keyboard?

Effective technology plans define technology as more than computers. Many technology plans only deal with computers. There are many other types of technology available which have appropriate uses in education. Include as many types of technology in a plan as possible. for example, television production is one type of application which doesn't get much attention in many schools. Teachers need to understand that learning to read and write video is as important as learning to read and write English. Kids today get, and will increasingly get, information from a video screen. Learning the grammar of video production is the next basic skill after learning to read and write.

Television production is much more than giving kids a camera and shooting pictures. done correctly, students involved in video production become involved in cooperative grouping, teamwork, planning, research, writing, visual literacy activities, and many higher order thinking activities. In fact, it is a basic information skill students must understand if they are going to deal effectively with information in the future.

So, why doesn't education use this technology to its full potential? Maybe it's because some teachers still believe they have to get to the end of the text and there isn't enough time for this fun learning activity. Or, maybe it's because our society is so visually literate. We are all used to seeing the finished products of CBS, ABC, or NBC. They use the right video grammar. When kids turn in a video project, many teachers look at it with professional standards in mind and say, "What a piece of junk . Was it really worth all the time the kids put into this product?" What everyone really needs to remember is what our first attempts at writing the letter "A" looked like. Then, put early attempts at video production into the same light.

Effective technology plan stress integration of technology into the curriculum. Effective technology plans help teachers answer the question, "What do I have to stop teaching to teach about the computer?" The answer to that question is, "What are you teaching now that you can teach more effectively and efficiently with this tool?" And the answer applies to all curriculum areas. It is not effective to buy technology to teach about technology. Wasn't it Seymour Papert that said, "Do we have classes called 'pencil'?" Then why do we have classes called "computer literacy?" It is not effective to teach about technology in isolation from other subject areas. Technical applications must be taught as part of an existing subject so students understand how technology can be a tool that makes them a more productive and powerful person in any subject area.

Take writing for example. To me, it's a five-step creative process. What technical applications are there that help students with this process? Well, word processing fits in at every step. Desktop publishing fits perfectly in the presentation, or final step of the process. It is time to stop teaching word processing as a separate curriculum and teach it as part of the creative writing process which can be used in every subject area. The list of these types of applications for technology goes on and on and on.

It is also important not to develop technology learner outcomes in isolation from other subject areas. Technology outcomes must be included in every subject's curriculum revision cycle. It does not make sense to have the technology people develop their subject outcomes in isolation and then expect every other subject area to integrate those outcomes. It must be a cooperative joint effort.

Effective technology plans are tied to staff development plans. Technology plans that are not tied to long-term staff development are destined for failure.

To be completed!!!