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  • Abner Oakes

Having the Right Tech

One last blog post before the year’s end and this one brings us back to the implementation benchmarks. (You can see them here and here.) You may remember that we’ve been doing a few different posts on the benchmarks, teasing each one out to tell their stories. Well, let’s do that one more time in 2014, and here’s the benchmark that I will address:

BENCHMARK 7: My school/district has the resources and expertise to manage and support a new mission-critical technical tool.

In short: Does your school or district have the bandwidth, the computing tools, and the access to these tools to allow a web-dependent gradebook like JumpRope to work and work rather well, no matter what else might be running on your system? Can teachers and school and district administrators get into JumpRope - for that matter, get into any online tool the district has up and running - with little fuss and fanfare?

My own interactions with computers span several decades. I played games on primitive versions of them back in 1968 or so. My friends and I would walk home from elementary school in Hanover, NH, stop in at Dartmouth College’s Kiewit Computation Center, and boot up some early computer games - versions of football and race car driving. For the driving game, we’d sit in front of the teletype and punch in the speed that we wanted our car to take a hairpin curve, and then the teletype would clatter away, typing out a version of the race track, showing where each of our cars were, if they’d not spun out. It was pretty cool for 1968.

My work in schools and with standards and technology started around 1998; I trained in schools that were implementing an early Learning Management System (LMS) to track the standards-based curriculum that they were creating. This leap to using computers for this sort of work was quite alien to some teachers at that time. I remember hearing about one training session when a veteran teacher took the computer mouse in her hand and pressed it against the computer screen, thinking that that was how it worked. As you might imagine, things did not go well at that school - at least when it came to housing their curriculum work on the LMS.

So, what do we hope to see when we go into a school and think about JumpRope implementation and the technology needs? Well, one way to think of this is to look at ISTE’s 14 Essential Conditions, which ISTE calls the “necessary conditions to effectively leverage technology for learning.” Let me share with you the first seven so that you get some idea of what they say:

Shared Vision: Proactive leadership in developing a shared vision for educational technology among all education stakeholders, including teachers and support staff, school and district administrators, teacher educators, students, parents, and the community

Empowered Leaders: Stakeholders at every level empowered to be leaders in effecting change

Implementation Planning: A systemic plan aligned with a shared vision for school effectiveness and student learning through the infusion of information and communication technology (ICT) and digital learning resources

Consistent and Adequate Funding: Ongoing funding to support technology infrastructure, personnel, digital resources, and staff development

Equitable Access: Robust and reliable access to current and emerging technologies and digital resources, with connectivity for all students, teachers, staff, and school leaders

Skilled Personnel: Educators, support staff, and other leaders skilled in the selection and effective use of appropriate ICT resources

Ongoing Professional Learning: Technology-related professional learning plans and opportunities with dedicated time to practice and share ideas

Powerful stuff, I know, but 14 of these conditions are a lot to take in. Let me try to simplify this some, in my own way. I like to put these tech conditions/needs into three buckets: Plans, people, and stuff:

Plans: Too many tech ideas get rolled out willy-nilly, without the sort of pre-planning and then action planning that needs to happen for there to be success. What are your school’s or district’s big ideas when it comes to technology, and then what are your action steps to enact those big ideas? Don’t be afraid to dream big - but ground those dreams with a simple and direct action plan.

People: Really, really important, right? We can never underestimate the importance of having skilled technical people in school buildings. And I love it when those people are multi-skilled - that is, they know curriculum and assessment cold and understand technology’s role when it comes to curriculum and assessment.

Stuff: When I say “stuff,” I mean both the hardware and the software. I know that it’s hard but very much save this for last. Do not be seduced by the baubles of Google Apps for Education, for example. when planning. Try to keep this for last.

Now, I understand that my construct might be too linear for a school or district as it thinks about technology on various fronts. For example, you might need to think about certain tools during the planning process - such as a gradebook that will seamlessly work with a standards-based teaching and learning approach. (Hint, hint.) And those tools might drive whom you hire to help keep things up and running. So feel free to take my construct with a proverbial grain of salt but be sure that you get to all three parts, in some manner.

So, what do you think? Is this helpful background for our benchmark about technology? And, if so, what are your next steps?

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