Tech Plan Part 1

It seems in the past month I have read about, have had e-mails from, or read twitter messages looking at creating or at least revisiting their school technology plans. I guess the 3 year plans are coming do, or schools are starting to understand that the technology plan written in the late 90’s or even early 2000’s will not work for what is needed in our schools today.

With the uncontrollable use of social networks and media sites by both teachers and students schools are having to revisit their technology plans and rethink technologies role in their schools.

I personally have been thinking a lot about this lately as, like others, our school is in this process. So I’ve decided to write a series of post focusing on the notion of a technology plan in the ear of the read/write web. Please note that this plan does not in anyway represent my school, but instead are my own thoughts on what a tech plan should and shouldn’t be and do.

The Circle:

Any school when developing any plan should starts with student learning in mind.

Learning Support

So let’s start in the center and work these ideas out a little.

Student Learning:

In order to create a technology plan that supports student learning we must first understand how students learn in this new digital landscape. We can look at the new Bloom’s Taxonomy and George Siemen’s Connectivism Theory (Download Knowing Knowledge for real in depth thinking). I believe these two documents along with endless resource from the blogosphere and Ed Tech articles can help any technology plan in defining why changes need to be made focusing on student learning and what students need to know for the future. Karl Fisch’s Did You Know is always a great way to kick off a School Board or parent presentation. A good tech plan should include a pedagogical theory of how the plan, and in the end the tools are going to impact student learning. This is our goal as a school, to teach students for their future and a tech plan should include a pedagogical reasoning for how these tools and new teaching and learning methods will meet those needs. Without a solid pedagogical section of the plan I believe your plan can not and should not move forward. You need to understand how this plan affects student learning and teacher teaching. It is in this section that you must have buy in from all involved stakeholders (School Board, Superintendent, Parents, and Teachers). Without everyone on board understanding how technology changes the way we teach and learn your plan already has one strike against it.

Course Management System:

I believe every school should have some sort of course management system (CMS). Whether it’s Moodle or Blackboard or something else is another argument. What is important is that this system needs to start and replace the school networks of the past. No longer should files only be accessible at school. By implementing a web based CMS you can easily move all classroom documents into a web platform where PC or Mac does not matter, where anytime anywhere access is easily attained and where assignments are easily tied to documents. Here is a run down of things I believe a CMS should allow you to do:

  • Be able to have both private and public sections
  • Be able to scale to the size of your school
  • Be able to allow for different assignment types (forums, chats, assignments, journals, etc)
  • Be able to create weekly/monthly/yearly backups (daily if you would like)
  • Be fast and reliable
  • Be easy to navigate
  • Be as cost efficient as possible (a.k.a. Most bang for your buck)

In the end your CMS should take the place of file systems in the school, and at the same time add the functionality to allow for students to interact and courses to have an online component if chosen. At the very least they should be used as a way to store and share files with a class, club, or community. The CMS begins to create a new web based information backbone for your school.

School Portal:

A school portal should be the homepage for the school. Some schools might opt to use the public side of their CMS to be their school portal while others opt for a separate system. Either way with your CMS being web based linking the two can easily be accomplished allowing for overlap.

The school portal should be a public access site (although it too can have a private side) where the larger school community comes for information. The site must be managed by someone at the school and not by central administrators. Only by having the site managed locally can the site truly reflect the happenings at the school. The use of pictures, articles, podcasts and videos can all be used as evidence of student learning on the site. I believe Drupal to be a great use for a school portal (Check out drupal-ed an install of drupal with added modules for education). It allows individual teachers to have a blog section where they can post happenings in their classroom. If a school wishes those blog posts can be promoted to the front page, making it rather easy to create a dynamic site where the content is constantly changing and up-to-date. For what I believe to be a good example of a school portal have a look at Tim Lauer’s Lewis Elementary School site. This site is a drupal install that is manged locally by Tim. Tim being the principal has local control over the look and feel of the site. In every job description I have ever seen for a principal position somewhere it usually points out that they need to communicate regularly with parents and the community. I believe that Principals (Or V.P.) should be the gatekeepers to the school portal. Does this mean new communication skills for principals? Absolutely!

Teacher Websites:

The newsletter was the communication vehicle of the 20th Century. In the 21st Century we need to move our communication to a more relevant form. Throughout the late 90’s and into 2000 we pushed teachers to create web pages. I personally cannot recall how many training sessions I did using FrontPage, Dreamweaver, or a host of other web page creation tools. You had some teachers take to making webpages while others never grasped the concept of a well constructed web page. Add to that the fact that you also need to understand File Transfer Protocol (FTP) or some other web file hosting system and you can easily see how creating a web page becomes overwhelming.

But the tools are now ready. Web 2.0 has simplified the process to the point that I believe it is time to mandate a web page for each teacher. At this point in time writing a blog post is easier and faster than writing and formating a newsletter.

If a school adopts a school portal that has both a public and private side to it (as drupal allows) then setting teachers up with a login and a simple preformatted page is quick and easy. All a teacher needs to do is know how to type and upload pictures (if they so chose).

Another option is to have a separate install for teachers to house their sites. WordPressMU (Multi User) is a great program for this use. Although technically a blogging piece of software it can easily be customized on a teacher by teacher site to run the way that teacher feels comfortable. In the end it is an simple piece of software that a school can house for use as a teacher website.

Student Network:

In the K12online pre-conference keynote Daivd Warlick talks about when students come to our schools we “cut off their tentacles.” It is time that schools understand the need for a student network that allows students to create personal learning networks and have a voice on the web.

Elgg: A social networking install that I think is showing a lot of promise. It gives the freedom that students are use to in creating groups, and having ‘friends’. The social network however can be controlled by the school and installed as part of the school’s learning network. It comes with built in file uploading capability and a built in RSS reader so that students can start creating there learning networks that reach outside other students in their grade or school, and into the world around them. As a school you can decide to keep this social network private to only your school, or open it up and allow people from outside to view, comment, and learn from your students.

WordPressMU: Another option is a WordPressMU installation that gives each student their own blog where they can customize their online learning portal. They can upload and share documents and reflect on school work. It does not have all the social networking functions of Elgg but I believe it is a great choice and well supported program.

In the end it does not matter what software platform you chose. What does matter is that you do not cut the tentacles of our students. Instead we need to create learning systems that allow those tentacles to reach where we want them to, we can push and pull tentacles in the direction we want, but if we cut them off, they do grow back and sometimes they grow back underground where we do not see them and have no idea where those tentacles are reaching to, who are they connecting to, and what they are being exposed to. Only by allowing the tentacles to grow within the school can we as an educational institution teach them how to use the network for good, how to learn from the network and how to make the network work for you.

Support:

We will cover support in a later part of the teach plan. But please note how support is a key factor that holds all of this together. The Support circle above is like the ozone layer of Earth. If it fails, is not strong enough, or has holes in it, the system has a whole fails.

Program Integration:

I mention different programs that I feel can be used to create a learning system for today’s school. By no means is this list complete, but these are programs that I have personally tried or am using in my own development of a school wide learning network that focuses on student learning. I do not believe that installing all these programs is the answer, but instead looking at the different programs and figuring out how they can best meet your school’s needs. I believe three programs from the list below can give you everything you need to create a complete learning and communication network for your school. Combined in different ways these programs can offer a customized learning platform for your school. The list is not a comparison of programs but rather a look at the functionality that each can provide for your school.

Different School setups that I believe would be successful:

Drupal: School portal and teacher websites
Moodle: Student blogs and Course Management System

WordPressMU: School portal, student network, teacher webpages
Blackboard: Course Management System

Drupal: School portal and teacher websites
Elgg: Student Social-Network
Moodle: Course Management System

These are just a few of the setups that I believe could be combined to create an Educational setting. Of course these are not all the combinations, but are some that I have thought about, have tried, or would like to try in the future.

In Part 2 we’ll take these same tools and thoughts and look at them through a school wide system lense and from an IT perspective.

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10 Comments

  1. Jeff, I agree with much of what you have to say here and like the way you have described these essentials, but can’t think of any compelling reason any institution should ever choose a proprietary package like Blackboard. There are just too many good reasons not to lock in a school to a vendor. Having experienced the exponential licensing cost tactics that BlackCT continues to use, I could never with a good conscience advocate for their product. And product-wise, Moodle has so much more promise for education.

    Thanks for your post, Jeff, and all the best.

  2. Jeff,

    We have a similar model brewing here . However as we move forward we realize that unless there is a common understanding of what learning and 21st century literacy looks like then much of these new tools and systems go unused or used for the wrong reasons. This is a powerful post. Well done. I would add that he lens through which you would look at your diagram would be one that understands what learning looks like, best practice pedagogy, an understanding of multiple intelligences and the power of connectivism.

    Nice one!

  3. Jeff,

    Great post. I will look forward to Part II.

    Our district has been developing along the lines you outline, and uses a Joomla site for the main shared identity, WordPress, Joomla and Drupal for school sites, and we have about 100 teacher and student blogs in place. Our CMS is Moodle, and we use a MediaWiki install for our Open Content Curriculum project (7,200 or so pages and growing). For support we use Skype and Crafty Syntax’s Live Help and FAQ system.

    Hey…those are all Open Source 😉

    Our three-year tech plan, which we just redid last year, was a struggle due to our desire to make it relevant, and tied closely to our curriculum development model. It was worth the effort, and we are glad we did not just do the minimum for E-Rate compliance purposes.

    Keep up the posts…I’ve added you to my regular visits.

    Regards,

    John

  4. As you point out, your three year plan starts with student learning and how technology will support it. The learning must remain the centerpiece. I will tie in with Justin’s point that one’s school first needs to come up with its vision for teaching and learning before we can move forward in designing and implementing communication and learning systems. And as long as you are planning, I would think about adding curriculum archiving/mapping to tie in with the course management system along with an electronic portfolio structure for students and teachers to document, reflect upon and share their learning. Something tells me that some schools must already be using blogs and portfolios together.

    I will be interested to see what other folks, especially classroom teachers, post about having class Web pages. As you point out we are thankfully past the days of having teachers needing to know FrontPage/Dreamweaver to manage their pages. Our teachers ran them at my previous school but I became more skeptical over time about how utilized the pages were by our parents.

    I think it might be helpful for you to gather data from a cross section of your parents about what they would want shared in a teacher’s Web site and if they would take the time to access it periodically. How many would want see some aspects of the course management pages with assignments, homework and curriculum? How many would want to see images of learning activities and examples of student work? As a parent myself, I would be interested in both but with the focus being on classroom learning in the form of a learning community blog that is updated by teachers and students.

    And looking down the road, I would think that more and more of our parents will be accustomed to using RSS readers so a feed setup would tie in nicely to the way we are presently doing much of communicating these days. On that note, how might schools internally use RSS feeds to share communications instead of e-mailing? That question came up when we were doing the groundwork for our three year plan as well as the redesign of our school web site.

    And as you move into Part II, you might want to add the myDragonNet/myConcordia homegrown model to the discussion. As you once said, it sure would be nice to only have to log in once to get to everything. 🙂

  5. This is the direction I am trying to move my district. I am presently transferring the website to Joomla, have teachers using Moodle and many with webpages through our Communication Suite (the only proprietary product). I want to extend to get the Student Network part more available. Swinging between wikis and blogs – I would also like to see John’s 3 year plan!
    Thanks for the post – can I use the graphic?
    Sharon

  6. Jeff, Thanks for this post. My school is also working to develop this kind of plan. We’re a single campus k-12 independent school of over 4000 students, with 1:1 environments in grades 4-9, next year 4-10, and so on through 12th grade. We have a portal, and Moodle is at this point a grass roots movement, but gaining momentum. The tricky part seems to be web2.0. So far, we don’t use WordPressMU (we have Moveable Type, but it doesn’t work well for most classrooms), and many teachers, realizing the power of blogs, wikis, etc. have gone outside our server, which makes for great explorations and learning, but raises many questions about privacy, security, ownership, etc. I’m planning a Masters proposal to facilitate this process in my school so I’m looking forward to participating in the conversation you’ve started.

  7. Jeff, I enjoy reading your ideas and am in the process of putting together a plan for Qatar…will share with you soon. However, I see we are on the same ‘blog page’ with our essential ideas. Thanks for sharing!

  8. This is very helpful. I look forward to part 2. Your graphic is great! I’m a new instructional coaching role in a school and along with the tech committee, boxes ‘n wires guy, and principal am figuring out how to give support across the spectrum of need you capably diagram, all in support of student learning.
    Tim Lauer’s drupal site is my pipe dream of what a fully realized school Web site can be. Nice to see your mention.

  9. Enjoyed the post… curious why you recommended WordPress MU versus WordPress. MU seems to be behind WP proper in terms of support and feature parity, and since WP can host multiple “domains”/blogs, I wonder what you see as the value add of MU.

    Keep up the good work!

  10. Also curious where you see Wiki as a technology mapping into your model. I realize the lines are blurring between blogging, wiki, etc. but do you see a discrete place/purpose for wikis where rapidly iterative and linked editing would happen?

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