Monday, August 3, 2015

A More Holistic Approach To Technology Planning

When I was a Director of Instructional Technology I was deeply involved in the technology planning process from one end to the other. Regularly I had to sit through presentations of new products, listening with a skeptical ear while instructional promises were made. I'd also council administrators who felt that the next flashy thing they saw walk through their door, their school had to have. And often I would evaluate our programs and purchases to ensure we were headed on the desired course or if we needed to make a u-turn.

Typically the technology planning process can go wry in many ways:

Lack of True Planning: Sometimes a rush to make things happen can cause the entire planning process to come off the rails. For whatever reason (funding running out, keeping up with the district next door, or a general sense of urgency) the normal, rational process that many would take when it comes to undertaking major technology initiatives is lost in the desire to get things done and make them happen as quick as possible.

No Measurable Outcomes of Goals: When spending the amount of money that normal technology initiatives take it is critical to the success that there are MEASURABLE goals and outcomes. It's all well and good to have those goals that make us feel good but we have to have something measurable that we can judge our successes and our failures against. And these are not test scores. These are not behavior intervention reports or referrals. We have to look at the type of technology we are integrating and decided what outcomes do we want to see? Instructional? A change in pedagogy? Something else?

Focus On The Stuff: Stuff is fun. Stuff is flashy. Stuff is what we are sometimes judged against. If the focus off our initiative is on the stuff it will be easy to loose focus on what really matters; the learning. Often the beginning of the planning process starts with the question "What stuff do we/can we/want to buy?" rather than looking at what needs to change and how technology can support that change?

What is needed is a plan and a more holistic approach.

So what would that look like? What's involved in a more holistic approach to technology planning?

Form A Team: One of the most important aspects of the technology planning process is having many voices represented. Technology and technology systems touch so many different people, it's important to ensure they all are consulted and have a voice in the initiative. It's not just your technology staff or school or district administrators. It's looking at the Special Education department, or the Transportation department, or the Food Services department. But it's also students, parents and the community as well. Consider who the technology could touch and invite representatives to the table for conversations.

Examination Of Current Landscape: Before even thinking about a new initiative it's important to look at where your class/school/district is currently. You have to get a sense of what is out there now before deciding to do anything new or different. Some questions to consider:
  • What aspects of the current technology program work really well?
  • How is pedagogy keeping up with technology integration? Is there a need for more technology or is all that is needed is a deeper focus on pedagogy?
  • Is the technology that is currently in classrooms being used as well as it could be or even at all? 
  • Taking that all into account, what really needs to happen? 
Putting In Place Measurable Goals And Outcomes: Remember, we talked about the need to look at measurable outcomes. I am a big fan of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based) Goals. This method helps to hone your focus and decide on what really matters. Some may not like the SMART approach and have one of their own. Great! Whatever method you use it's important to consider the desired outcomes. Some examples:
  • Number of Classrooms with High-Speed Internet Access
  • Equitable access to devices for students and teachers
  • Equitable access to high-quality instructional resources
  • Development of Next Generation Professional Development
Professional Development: When considering anything to do with technology, most often the PD is much, much more important than the stuff. Large amounts of dollars are spent on the stuff, but I argue an equal amount should be spent on the PD needed to integrate this stuff successfully. Consider the current PD landscape and how it can be leveraged or changed to meet these new needs. This is an area that needs a lot of time, attention and input.

Reflect and Examine: Through out this process, from visioning, planing and implementation there has to be time set aside to reflect and examine how things are going. Where are you as you progress towards your goals? What's missing? Think of it like formative assessment for the planning process. It's easier to catch things that could derail the project as they happen rather than waiting until the end and then looking back.

These are just a handful of things to consider. The technology planning process can most often be complex and challenging. However, it can be more effective and meet more desired outcomes if we step back and consider what we are doing, why we are doing, how we will get there and how will we know we've arrived. 

Photo credit: ORDCampers at MSI Fab Lab 20.jpg via photopin (license)
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