I don’t like the concept of technology plans. If technology is really integrated into everything we do, we shouldn’t need a separate plan for it. We don’t have curriculum plans and assessment plans and personnel plans in the same sense as we have technology plans.
That’s not to say technology planning isn’t important. It’s certainly necessary to invest a little forethought into what we’re doing with technology, so we can ensure we’re making judicious use of our limited resources, and to try to anticipate and meet the changing needs of our students and staff. But when the technology plan becomes an exercise in explaining what we’re going to do to meet some politician’s idea of how technology should be used in schools, it loses some of its value.
Case in point: in our current technology planning tool, we’re asked to evaluate the extent to which we are integrating the use of technology into each subject area at each grade level. We then need to identify our target adoption level, and describe our plans for achieving that goal, measuring it, and sustaining focus and momentum. The implication is that we should be striving to use technology to teach every subject at every grade level, and that we should have a plan for reaching that goal.
That sounds a lot like the little boy with the hammer: suddenly everything needs pounding. But it’s clear that we don’t have nearly enough hammers, and by saying that we’re going to use technology to do everything, we’re setting ourselves up for disaster.
Sadly, realistically, we’re still in the automation phase. This is where we take some job that used to be done without technology, apply the use of technology to it without changing the process, and then declare that it is somehow better or more efficient. Here are some real-world examples:
- When students buy lunch, they pay for it by typing in codes at the checkout station. The code is tied to their debit accounts. Mom or Dad can send in a check to add money to the account, or they can add money online. This process saves the student from having to keep track of lunch money. It makes the line move marginally faster because the students don’t have to find their money. But it’s questionable whether it’s worth the significant investment in hardware and software needed to make it work, along with the need to set up and manage accounts for every student.
- If you want to apply for a job in the school district, you do that online now. There’s a form there that you fill out, and it gets submitted electronically. When there’s an opening, administrators can see who has applied for a particular position. What do they do with the online applications? In most cases, they print them out so they can have them in hand during interviews.
- We have installed a lot of SmartBoards in the last couple years, and some teachers are doing great things with them. But there are also a lot of teachers who are using them as overhead projectors. There’s a white screen. They can draw with their fingers. That’s all they’re doing. When overhead bulbs are $10.00, and data projector bulbs are $300, you have to wonder about the efficiency of this approach.
- We do grade reporting eight times a year, counting interims. Each time, the EMIS office prints class lists for all of the teachers, and the teachers have to sign off that they’re correct. Then, teachers enter grade and comment information in the online system. If they’re using the online gradebook, the grades are there automatically, but there are still lots of people who just use it for grade reporting. The grades are exported, and verification sheets are printed. The teachers have to sign off on these, saying, “yes, those are really the grades I meant to give.” Then, the interims or report cards are printed, and (in some cases) mailed home. But the parents can check their kids’ grades at any time through a web interface, eliminating the need for this whole system.
We need to focus on technology initiatives that make a difference. What can we do with technology that we can’t do without it? How can we use technology in transformational ways to make teaching and learning better in our district? Those are the things we have to get into our technology plan. I find myself saying this a lot recently. There are many things we spend an extraordinary amount of time on that have absolutely no effect on student learning. We have to stop focusing on the things that aren’t important.
And somewhere, amid all of the leading questions and agenda-driven prompts, we’ll find somewhere to put the good stuff.