Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

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(Full Disclosure: I believe every high school student should have a laptop)

The New York Times wrote an article on May 4th, 2007 that resurfaced via Twitter last night. Titled Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops, It took me less than four paragraphs to start shaking my head in disbelief at the way this school district went about trying to, should I say, force students and teachers to use laptops and technology.

It’s easy to say that technology is just a tool or that the technology needs to be invisible, but actually making that happen is harder than just saying it.

Scores of the leased laptops break down each month, and every other
morning, when the entire school has study hall, the network inevitably
freezes because of the sheer number of students roaming the Internet
instead of getting help from teachers.

I love this paragraph. So the network goes down therefore more kids should be going to teachers for help right? I mean if they can’t “roam the Internet” in study hall then they should be asking for help right?

Or how about this one:

Many of these districts had sought to prepare their students for a
technology-driven world and close the so-called digital divide between
students who had computers at home and those who did not.

The reason why a school goes 1:1 is to close the digital divide? Not for learning, not for allowing students to take advantage of the wealth of information on the net…but just to close the digital divide?

Like any tool…before you launch it you need to know what you want to do with it. What do you want users to be able to do, what do you expect and do you have a system in place to support it.

 Maybe it’s me but creating a backwards by design model makes it pretty easy to assess just what you need to have in place before you go 1:1.

What do you want students to do?
If our purpose is student learning than all decisions should start by answering this question. What do we expect students to do with their laptops? What kind of experience do we want them to have? What learning do we hope to see/expect from them when the laptops are in use. Starting with what you want students to do with the laptops allows you to create a plan that will support their use.

What do teachers need to know?
Once we know what type of learning we want to see from the students we can then talk about a Professional Development plan that allows teachers to know what they need to know to make that learning a reality. Sure they are going to have to learn some skills, some tools, but more than that they will need support in understanding how the classroom changes with those tools. When every student is sitting at a desk and has the knowledge of the world in front of them, it changes the classroom. How do we support teachers, help teachers, and train teachers to teach facilitate in that environment?

What resources are needed?
After we have nailed down student outcomes and the PD teacher will need you can then look at what resources will need to be purchased and/or put in place to make this a reality. Do you need to upgrade your wireless system? Do you need more digital storage space? Does the school need new or different software? Also, don’t forget about the human resource of support. Who is going to support teachers, train teachers? What systems are going to be put in place to help teachers make the transition?

How do we make it happen?
This comes under the effective administrator part as it is up to them to set the direction of the school and make things happen. Whether it’s money, people, time, etc. How do you make sure the learning and support you have agreed upon as a school is in place to support learning the best it can?

Just do it!
Set a deadline for yourself as a school or organization. Make your plan…focus on student learning and then just do it. As some point you need to stop planning and get moving! If you don’t have a clear purpose of how a laptop changes the learning landscape then you could end up like this:

Yet school officials here and in several other places said laptops had
been abused by students, did not fit into lesson plans, and showed
little, if any, measurable effect on grades and test scores at a time
of increased pressure to meet state standards. Districts have dropped
laptop programs after resistance from teachers, logistical and
technical problems, and escalating maintenance costs.

Not a good place to be.

Finished!

Thank you to everyone who gave feedback over the five posting about a 21st Century Tech plan. I have been rethinking, reworking, and rewriting based on the comments left on the blog posts and created this 21 page PDF document that brings it all together.

I hope it is useful to someone!

Update: This plan was polished up, reorganized and published in this book in June 2009.

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Full PDF of the entire Tech Plan will be out shortly with updates from those who left comments and made me think!

In the 21st Century, schools need to support locally but think globally. School’s must have a local infrastructure that supports learning but that allows students and teachers to learn and interact globally. Technology plans of the 21st Century must focus on student learning and continue to ask the questions “What do students need to learn and what skills do they need to accomplish that learning objective?”

If schools can embrace the changes of the 21st Century: The skills, learning theories, and literacies students need to be successful, then creating a system that supports learning in this new digital age should be a top priority.

A 21st Century Tech Plan looks to bring people and resources together. A system that allows all school stake holders to log on through a single system and access the information they need when they need it. It should allow stake holders to communicate more efficiently. By creating a network of users you allow them to connect to each other, forming relationships that are natural to student’s today.

Schools must embrace the changes that the digital age has brought. Schools must understand that by not creating a digital landscape for our learners that we alienate them and miss opportunities to engage them in the learning process.

No tech plan is easy to implement. Technology is a moving target. A multi year tech plan is really a year to year tech plan with a guide to the direction the school wants to go. This is why it is critical to meet the needs of the school today with an eye on tomorrow. A tech plan must be fluid, it must be adaptable. In the digital age one skill that we must teach our students is to learn, unlearn and relearn information as it changes. The same is true with a tech plan. Build it, Evaluate it, Revise it on a yearly basis. Good schools in the 21st Century always have a three year tech plan because they are constantly changing their end goals based on new emerging technologies. To say the programs that I have mentioned in this document are what a school should do would be absurd. They are merely examples of programs that are available to schools today for little or no cost that allow them to create a digital landscape ripe for learning, interacting, connecting, and conversing.

The first step is to understand that when you put students at the center of your technology plan that teaching and learning change. With an infrastructure and support model in place, and an implementation process that brings the school along in a vertical fashion so that all pieces of the plan are adequately supported, schools can change. Teaching and learning can and will change.

We are living in rapidly changing times. Our world continues to flatten and become more connected. Our students today already live and learn in this globally connected world. It is our responsibly as educators to prepare them for that connected future. In order for that to happen we must engage students in their learning spaces. A 21st Century Technology Plan puts in place a system that allows teachers to teach successfully and allows students to engage in the learning process. Only then can we continue to move forward with society into a globally connected digital future.

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When you get right down to it all the technology in the world and the best support structure are nothing if you do not take the time to implement the technology in a way that supports the structure of the entire plan. The process of implementing your tech plan can have lasting consequences on the buy in you get from stake holders. Implement the plan correctly and you bring the stake holders and the system along at the same time. Implemented incorrectly you can end up alienating stake holders or never fulfilling your tech plan’s goals.

Most schools do not have the financial freedom to implement a complete technology plan in the span of one year. Therefore, schools are forces to implement new technologies, new plans, over several years. Let’s face it, in the end it has to do with money. You need money to implement the tech plan. From switches and wires, to teacher training and support, it all costs money. Because schools are forced into multi year plans it is easy to get stuck in a routine of working on or focusing on one part of the plan without ever moving on. Infrastructure is usually where this happens. Schools decide they are going to focus on upgrading their infrastructure over a period of time. By the time they get done upgrading it is time to replace the 3 to 5 year old equipment to meet new standards. In these cases schools continually work on their infrastructure and never truly implement the technology into the school or classroom.

There are two things I believe can be done when creating a tech plan and implementing that tech plan. First, you must identify what it is you want end users to be able to do on a year to year basis. From there work backwards and create your infrastructure needs based on what you want teachers and students to do that year. Do not overbuild your infrastructure but instead build it to meet your users needs. Secondly, evaluate your technology and implementation plan on a yearly basis. You might create a 3 or 5 year tech plan, but technology does not stand still or wait for anyone.

Start with the end in mind

Doug Johnson provides a nice visual of the different layers of technology needs in school. I like the fact that the diagram shows that it is the technology infrastructure that is the foundation on which to build. You can not add hardware and software that your infrastructure cannot support.


What I do not like about the diagram is that the use of a triangle depicts that the infrastructure must be wider than the student and teacher use at the top of the triangle. Although you do need a solid foundation I believe your base should be in-line with your use. In other words, there is no need to have a base that is state-of-the-art if your users are only word processing. Build your infrastructure to support only what you need. So if I rework this diagram is looks like this.

In this way the infrastructure, resources, support, and outcomes are all in-line and supported by each other. We do not add more then we need, instead we build the system just large enough to support what we need. Once we understand that we are only going to build what we need instead of what we might need we can then look at what we want students and teachers to do with technology and work backwards to make sure that systems are in place to support those outcomes. So over three years our plan looks like this:

Even though the layers of support must be horizontal, the implementation of the whole system must be vertical. By implementing in a vertical format each year sees added value to the end user. Allowing stake holders to buy into a system and ‘see’ results on a yearly basis.

If a school only focuses on infrastructure, in many cases the end user does not ‘see’ results. A new server means nothing to a teacher. But being able to work with new content or enter grades online does. By implementing the plan in a vertical way we make sure that the user sees results yearly. They see the impact the money and hard work is having on the education system as a whole.

In word form it might look like this:

Students will: be able to upload multimedia projects to the web and embed them into their e-folios

Teachers will: be able to support students in the creating of multimedia projects and learn how to embed projects into e-folios

Resources needed: Time to train teachers, Time to train students

Infrastructure: Internet connection, server to house files, A way for students to upload videos and embed them on e-folios

Starting with knowing what we want students to do we can work backwards to make sure we have in place the infrastructure we need to make this outcome happen.

To often we think horizontally when implementing technology. We cannot afford to try and think of everything we might need our infrastructure to support. Technology evolves to fast to try and guess what we will need. Instead, we need to start with what we want students to be able to do and build an infrastructure that will allow us to do that today with an eye on tomorrow.

By looking at technology implementation through a vertical lens schools also can decide how much they can afford to do any given year. Each school’s budgetary demands are different. Some schools might take smaller chunks of their plan then others based on the financial resources they have available. No matter what a school’s financial resources are, by implementing in a vertical format a school ensures that the students are impacted in some way. That the end users are seeing results with the money and not just servers and wires in a locked closed.

Each school must decide how to best implement their plan, but by taking a vertical approach you focus on impacting education and student learning. Again, keeping our focus on student learning from the design through the implementation stage is a key factor in successfully bring all stake holders on board with a 21st Century Technology Plan.

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Support Structure

You can have the best educational portal, and the best infrastructure, but if you do not have the support in place to both help teachers use/understand technology and support infrastructural needs then the money you spend on hardware will be lost.

Throughout the late 90s and into the 21st century schools have spend a lot of money on computer hardware and technology systems and infrastructures. Now that these systems are in place we must think and rethink the support needed to not only keep these systems up-to-date but also how it impacts teaching and learning in the classroom.

I wrote a posting in June of 2007 where I outline a two prong approaches to technology support in schools. Below is the diagram that I created to outline that support structure:


ITs (Informational Technologists): These people know networks, their job is to make sure day in and day out that the network is healthy. They focus on keeping viruses out, keeping computers running, and making sure that the overall school network is in place, up-to-date, and working.

ETs (Educational Technologists):
These people know education. They will likely have had classroom experience and have been put into positions as ETs because of their use of technology in the classroom. Although they may be familiar with networks and the hardware of the school, their focus is on the tools, the learning, and the training to embed technology into day to day classroom use.

Schools first focused on hiring IT postions. People that can make sure that the network and computers are running. But many times these ITs are pushed into the positions of ETs where they may not have classroom experience, may not be up on new tools, new approaches, or new methods in teaching and learning in a networked classroom. ETs on the other hand are hired to help teachers and teach students the technology skills and approach the district has adopted.

Today, I believe I was to narrow in my support structure and the more I look at it the more I feel I left out a key component. The media/literacy specialist are a key component in the support structure of the school’s technology plan. I’ve reworked the image above to now include this new position.


The Literacy/Media specialist is not a new position but instead an evolution of the librarian posting that today focuses not only on written text, but on other information sources. The Literacy/Media specialist needs to be a specialist in the area of 21st Century Literacy skills and should be helping to teach those skills in the context of the media/library center. The Literacy/Media specialist must understand that the Dewey Decimal system is being replaced by tags, categories, and Boolean searches. That is not to say that the Dewy Decimal system is going away, just that students today engage with information that is digital more than in print. They do Google searches before they check out a book. I’m not arguing if this is right or wrong but do believe it just is.

Support Team

The technology support team is made up of Literacy/Media Specialist, Educational Technologists, and Information Technologists. It is the collective power of this team to work together to support the over all use of technology in the school. From professional development for staff, to teaching research skills to students, to making sure that the network systems are running smoothly. The communication between all team members is critical and if possible I recommend having their offices within close proximity to each other. This helps to facilitate communication among all team members. We group grade levels or departments together in schools so that teachers can support each other and work together. The same accommodation should be made for the technology support team.

Support Personal

Informational Technologist: I believe that there should be enough IT positions to support the schools needs. After doing research schools have anywhere from 2500 students per IT position to 100 students per IT position. I believe it depends on your school and your school’s set up. If you are in a 1:1 laptop school then more IT positions will need to be created to support the infrastructure needs of such a system. I do believe that each school should have an IT support person on campus. That IT support needs to be decentralized and that each school should have a dedicated IT person starting at 300 students. 300 students is a guide for many specialist position within schools and I believe that same guide should be used when you are talking technology.

Educational Technologist: These positions are new dedicated positions that many schools do not have or are just now realizing that they need if they want to move forward with technology use in the classroom. A ratio for this position of 300:1 (Student: ET) I believe works nicely. Allowing the ET to support both the students and teachers in an embedded technology model.

Literacy/Media Specialist: Every school should have a Literacy/Media Specialist. I did a search on the American Librarian Association (http://www.ala.org/) website to try and find what they recommend as a student to librarian ratio and did not find a recommendation. No matter how you slice it, a school should have a Literacy/Media Specialist.

So a school of 300 students should have a support structure that looks like this.

IT: 1 position
ET: 1 position
L/M Specialist: 1 position

For a large high school of 2500 students or so the support structure would be:

IT: 8 positions
ET: 8 positions
L/M: 1 position

Of course I see this as a perfect scenario. Can schools afford that many positions? Probably not, but in a perfect world teachers would not need this support if they were coming out of teacher training programs that focus on teaching teachers how to teach 21st Century Skills. Until that happens these positions I feel are critical to a schools at they continue to move forward in their use of technology as a tool in the classroom.

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Technology whether we like it or not reaches into everything we do in schools today. The Student Information Systems that run our schools hold more critical data than any other single program in most schools. As we design our school wide systems in the 21st Century we must think about how all this information is connected, how and who needs access to what information and how do we make it available to them in as few clicks as possible.

The Circle:

As you see not much has changed from the educational portal plan that focuses on student learning to the infrastructure plan for the school. We have replaced Student Learning with Student Information System. Just like everything we do, the programs we use, the way we manage the educational side of our technology revolves around Student Learning. From a school wide systems approach we start with the Student Information System. This core piece of software will determine a lot of what we can and can not do as we create a school wide system.

Student Information System (SIS):

There are a number of Student Information or Student Management Systems available to schools. SASI, Admin+, and PowerSchool being just three in what is a long and complicated list.

This one fundamental piece of software can either make or break how the system as a whole works. I am not going to talk about any specific piece of software but I want to put my thoughts out there on what I believe this software should do for the 21st Century school

Open Access:

First I believe that the system must have an open database that allows a school to incorporate other programs into it to allow for a seamless system. A program built in a database like mySQL would allow easy integration into the educational programs we talked about in Part 1. By having an open database a Student Information System (SIS) allows schools to customize their educational portal using the tools they want. Most programs today have a closed database, or a database created by them that does not work well with other programs. We need to break down these walls, use open systems and give schools the control they need to create a system that is easy, secure, and if possible gives ubiquitous access. These systems must be accessible and customizable.

Ubiquitous Access:

In today’s anywhere, anytime, learning environment we want access to the information where we are not where the information is. In other words, you should be able to access anything and everything you want from an Internet connected computer. Student Information Systems of the future must be web based, they must allow teachers, parents and students access when they need it. Having a closed system that runs on closed applications should be a dieing breed. Parents should be able to access information when they want it, students should be able to check grades from the lunch room, and teachers should be able to complete report cards on a Saturday on their couch with their favorite coffee mug.

Also by making SIS web based schools no longer need to worry about which platform their school is running (PC or Mac) or what are the issues if they decide to upgrade or switch platforms. The web browser is the single best cross platform piece of software. Teachers (for the most part) already know how to use it, and students and parents would need little training as well.

We need to break down the walls of these programs, we need to make them accessible and integrate into larger school systems and we must be able to access them from anywhere.

All-in-one Solutions:

The Student Information System of the 21st century needs to be all encompassing. No longer should schools have to sync information between programs. For example at my school at the moment teachers have a grading program that they have to sync with the SIS system. The SIS system then has to be synced to the web program that displays the information. That is way to much syncing and the syncing of these programs does not happen on their own meaning we are wasting human resources on these functions.

SIS should have all of this housed within one system that is scalable to the needs of the school. A teacher should be able to enter grades into a web based reporting program. Those grades (if the school so choses) should be accessible by parents and/or students without any other steps having to take place. A teacher should be able to take attendance and (if a school so choses) have that information available to all parents via the web in real time. By setting up permissions a school should be able to allow different stakeholders access to different parts of the system.

The SIS needs to be an all-in-one student information portal where all stakeholders can access the student information they need. One login, one access point to everything you could possibly want to know about your child, your student, your student body.

Integrated System:

By having a SIS with an open database and being web based we make it easier for schools to create an integrated system of student information and educational access. Here’s how I envision it.

Student:

Eva has a 15 minute break between classes. Just enough time to check and see if Ms. Galloway has posted the grades from her essay that she handed in on Monday. Eva fires up her laptop and browses to her schools portal. There she sees that tonight’s varsity baseball game has been canceled….go figure after the three days of rain they have had recently. She logs into the system and navigates to your courses where she finds that Ms. Galloway has posted her essay grade. A B not bad for a last night cram session. She moves her cursor over the grade and a bubble pops up with a comment from Ms. Galloway: “Good work! I think you should add this essay to your portfolio.”
Eva decides that she’ll add the piece to her portfolio collection now know that she can later go back and either not include it as a final portfolio piece or write a reflection about it and turn it into one of her 3 pieces needed for English class. Eva quickly navigates to her portfolio, opens up her web folder and drags the essay from her desktop directly into her web folder through her browser. After the files uploads a box pops us asking Eva to tag the essay with key words so that it can be found later.
With 5 minutes left Eva checks her school e-mail real quick…nothing worth reading. She logs out and heads to class.

Parent:

Mr. Johnson is counting down the hours till 4 when he will be leaving work early to go watch his son pitch in the baseball game after school today. His son’s first as a starting pitcher. He’s been nervous most of the day…excited for his son and wanting him to do well. He’s concerned the game will be canceled do to the heavy rain this week so he heads to the school’s website where he sees a message posted by the AD that the game has been canceled. The nerves die down and sorrow fills his heart…he knows what this feels like and knows what his son must be feeling now. Oh well, at least it saved him a trip to the ballpark. While on the school’s site Mr. Johnson decides to login and check his children’s grades. After logging in he clicks on Paul’s name and is instantly taken to a page that shows that Paul was present in all his classes today. He clicks on Algebra to see how Paul is doing. He knows Paul has been struggling with some of the concepts and wants to see how is grades are progresses. He quickly scans the grades and finds that Paul is pulling a B-. Not too bad! In the upper right hand corner he clicks on a link that says “Student Blog” and is taken to another part of the website where he sees a list of reflections and other writings from Paul. He clicks on the category Algebra and starts
reading. Getting a feel for how Paul is feeling about Algebra and where he’s struggling. He’s a typical teenage boy who doesn’t talk a lot about school at home. Mr. Johnson finds it refreshing that he gets a glimpse into his son’s thoughts through his school blog.

While logged in Mr. Johnson checks on his 9th grade daughter Eva. He notices she got a B on an essay that was turned in earlier this week, which he finds strange because he doesn’t remember her telling him she had an essay assignment due. He makes a note to talk to her when he gets home.

Before signing off he can’t help but head over to the sports section and once again watch the highlights from last week’s game where Paul hits a double in the gap. All baseball games are streamed lived through the school’s web site and archived. A video class at school also takes each game and creates a highlight reel. At the end of the year the media class sells a DVD of all the highlights from all the sporting events throughout the school year. Mr. Johnson buys one every year and finds it a great way to document his children’s athletic life through high school.

Teacher:

Ms. Power considers herself an average techie when it comes to computers. Although she had this annoying technology coordinator at her school that is constantly making her think and stretching her to try new things or think differently about assignments.

It’s early in the morning as Ms. Power gets to her classroom. She takes her laptop out of her bag and presses the power button. As she walks over to hang up her jacket she flips the LCD projector on for the day. She remembers last year when the school installed it that she was nervous. She knew this meant that soon the school would be taking away her overhead projector and she wasn’t very comfortable with that at the time. But today she smiles as this year she didn’t even ask for an overhead projector in her room, in fact she hadn’t used one the second part of last year and asked that they take it out of her room over the summer.
As she sits down at her computer she starts her browser and navigates to the schools portal. There she is greeted with a message from the principal about happenings this week. She clicks on the calendar on the left and a new window pops up with a weekly view of after school activities and assemblies happening this week. She also notices a new podcast created by the 5th graders has been posted. She clicks on the link that reads “episode #10” and is taken to another part of the web site where she clicks play and listens to two students talking about what’s happening in 5th grade this week. As the podcast plays in the background she signs into the portal for the day. As she logs in the sidebars on the portal change to reflect information for teachers. Under the heading “Reminders” there is a note from the principal that reminds her that there will be a Fire Drill at 1:30 today. On the left under the heading “Resources Needed” she notices that someone has posted in the resource forum looking for cardboard tubes for a project. In the middle of the page is a posting called “A Week Ahead” that the principal posts every Monday that gives a run down of everything that is happening this week.
Ms. Power clicks on her link that says blog and begins to write today’s outline in a blog post. When she finishes she chooses who she wants to see the blog post. Students, Parents, Teachers, Public there is also a button that says ‘Promote to Front Page’. Every day a different teacher writes something for the front page of the school’s portal explaining what is happening in their class. By taking turns the teachers only have to post something about once a month.
But for today’s schedule she just clicks Parents and Students. The blog post is instantly saved and she checks the LCD to make sure it’s displaying properly on the whiteboard. She next clicks on the SIS link which takes her to the Student Information System. She loves this new system where she only logs in once and can access all she needs for the day. Once there she clicks on attendance and finishes preparing for her students to arrive.

Conclusion:

These are just a couple examples of how a 21st century educational portal should work for all stakeholders. Information that is important to them, information they can access where they want when they want just a click away. We need to create educational portals like Amazon.com creates online stores: One log in to a vast amount of knowledge and resources. Everything you need in one integral system.

It would be great if there was one single system that did it all, but I haven’t seen one yet. Other ideas to consider:

Media Area:

If schools are going to block sites like YouTube and OurMedia then they need to give students and staff another way to post videos and podcasts. Schools should have their own media area for the community to uses. Imagine the power of your school having its own YouTube type site?

Built in RSS Reader:

If it was just there….just sitting in front of teachers and students would they use it? Would teachers use it with students if it didn’t mean another username and password for both students and teachers?

Site-Wide Tags:

The system should use site-wide tags that allow you to find information on any tagged artifact from any part of the site you have access to. Think if a parent clicks on the tag ‘Football’ they could see articles written by both staff and students, they might find videos and podcasts from players, and maybe even a story from a 4th grader about playing football.

In the end it is about access to information. The easier we can make the information available to those that need and want it the better our 21st Century system will be received.

In Part 3 I’ll talk about how I believe you create a support system to fully support both the IT and the educational side of a 21st Century Educational Portal.

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