National Center for Technology Planning
P. O. Box 2393
Tupelo, MS 38803

(voice & fax)

Dr. Larry S. Anderson

Developing Effective Technology Plans
John See
Technology Integration Specialist
Minnesota Department of Education

[Originally appeared in The Computing Teacher, Vol. 19, Number 8, May 1992]
Contact information for John See -- unavailable as of Feb 2012

Effective technology plans are short term, not long term. Five year plans are too long. Technology is changing so fast that it is almost impossible to plan what type of technology will be available for use five years from now. Even one year plans may be about as far ahead as we can now effectively plan for specific purchases of certain types or brands of equipment. Pehaps tech plans should be divided into phases, not years.

If you do develop a long-term plan, tie it to your district's budget cycle. Pull the plan out every year during the budget process and review it to make sure you have not tied yourself into buying outdated equipment. Do not let a technology plan lock you into old technology and applications just because it says so in the plan. Newer, more powerful, lower cost technology may be available to replace what you have specified in your plan.

Effective technology plans focus on applications, not technology. In other words, make your technology plan output based, not input based. Develop a plan that specifies what you want your students, staff, and administration to be able to do with technology and let those outcomes determine the types and amount of technology you will need.

Many technology plans are based on numbers of machines - input. Typically, technology committees go before school boards asking for a computer lab, or computers for classrooms. Of course the first question board members will ask is, "Why do you need them"? Why not answer that question in your plan. It may be better to go to your school board saying this is what we want our students to be able to do - output. Then, tell them what technology you need in order to accomplish your goals and what cost options there are.

By taking this approach, you can also answer the debate over which brand names to purchase. This argument over whether to use Apples or IBMs in schools is really not important. If you can drive a Ford you can drive a Chevy... and if you can drive an Apple you can drive an IBM. It is the technical applications that the machines can help us perform that is the important issue. The real question always must be, "what applications of technology are available that will help our students, staff, and administration work smarter, not harder?" For example, if your outcome is to use technology to help restructure the role of teachers, then there seems to be one brand of computer on the market that offers the most personal productivity power. Buy it. If your outcome is to automate the media center, or use CD-ROM data for instruction, then another brand of computer is more powerful. Buy it. Trying to standardize your district's purchases on one brand or model of computer and make it perform all present and future applications of technology is impossible.

Effective technology plans go beyond enhancing the curriculum. Don't buy technology to teach about technology. Do you really want to spend $30,000 to $50,000 to put in a computer lab that enhances the curriculum. I can enhance the curriculum with a $20 dollar filmstrip. We better be able to do more than enhance existing instruction with new instructional technology. Do you really want to spend $30,000 to $50,000 to put in a computer in order to teach computer literacy? Do you really want to spend thousands of dollars to teach students how a computer works? Do you really want to spend thousands of dollars for machines that will only be used for keyboarding? Why do we need a computer to teach keyboarding anyway? Why make high powered technology available to students and staff and then not let them use it to increase personal productivity because the computers are always scheduled to teach keyboarding or low level drill and practice games?

I agree that we need to teach keyboarding skills. Keyboarding is a basic skill now, but it is a temporary one at best. Spending thousands of dollars to teach about technology at the expense of using technology for more powerful tasks seems to be a waste of money, especially when you can buy real keyboards for about $30 to use for keyboard instruction. And, what ever happened to the old typewriters? Don't they have a keyboard?

Remember the real question, "what applications of technology are available that will help our students, staff, and administration work smarter, not harder?" What do you really want to use technology form - teacher/student productivity, management of instruction, or curriculum applications? Maybe all three areas are appropriate at the same time.

Effective technology plans define technology as more than computers. Many technology plans only deal with computers, but there are many types of technology available which have appropriate uses in education. Include as many types of technology in your plan as possible. For example, television production is one type of application which doesn't get much attention. I don't understand why. Is it because it's fun and education can't be fun? Is it because it takes two weeks longer to do a video than write a report?

We need to understand that learning to read and write video is as important as learning to read and write English. Think about where kids today get, and will increasingly get, information - from a video screen. Learning the grammar of video production is the next basic skill after learning to read and write.

Television production is much more than giving kids a camera and shooting pictures. Done correctly, students involved in video production become involved in cooperative grouping, teamwork, planning, research, writing, visual literacy activities, and many higher order thinking activities. In fact, it is a basic information skill students must understand if we want them to deal effectively with information in the future.

So, why don't we use this technology to its full potential? Well, maybe it's because we still believe we have to get to the end of the text and there isn't enough time for this fun learning activity. Or, maybe it's because we are such a visually literate society. We are all used to seeing the finished products of WCCO and ABC or NBC. They use the right video grammar. When kids turn in a video project, we look at it with professional standards in mind and say, "What a piece of junk. Was it really worth all the time the kids put into this product". What we really need to remember is what our first attempts at writing the letter "A" looked like. Then put early attempts at video production into the same light.

Effective technology plan stress integration of technology into the curriculum. Effective technology plans help teachers answer the question we have all heard before, "What do I have to stop teaching to teach about the computer?" The answer to that question is, "What are you teaching now that you can teach more effectively and efficiently with this tool?" And the answer applies to all curriculum areas. I think it is wrong to buy technology to teach about technology. Do we have classes called "pencil?" Then why do we have classes called "computer literacy?" It is wrong to teach about technology in isolation from other subject areas. Technical applications must be taught as part of an existing subject so students understand how technology can be a tool that makes them a more productive and powerful person.

Take writing for example. To me it's a five step creative process. What technical applications are there that help students with this process? Well, word processing fits in every step and desktop publishing is perfect for the presentation, or final step of the process. It's time to stop teaching word processing as a separate curriculum and teach it as part of the creative writing process that can be used in every subject area. And the list of these types of applications for technology goes on and on and on, in every subject area.

It is also important not to develop technology learner outcomes in isolation from other subject areas. Technology outcomes must be included in every subject curriculum revision cycle. It does not make sense to have the media technology people develop their subject outcomes in isolation and then expect every other subject area to integrate those outcomes. It must be a cooperative joint effort.

Effective technology plans are tied to staff development plans. Technology plans that are not tied to long term staff development are destined for failure. We need to think of staff development in technology as a circle. Around the outside of the circle are the words Awareness, Application, Integration, and Refinement. Staff development must put people through each of those phases. First, teachers must become aware of the technology that is available for them to use. What is a computer? What is a video disc player? What is CD-ROM? That's the awareness part, and that's where we traditionally stop. We need to take them to the next steps and show them applications that they can use in their classrooms to help them work smarter not harder. We need to show them the applications that they can use with kids to help students become learners and thinkers, not just learned.

When teachers are aware of the types of technology and applications available we can begin to show them how to integrate technology into the curriculum, to help them teach what they are teaching now, only more efficiently and effectively.

Finally, we need to help teachers refine their use of technology. They must reach the point where they start to ask the question, "If all these technical applications are available and I can use them to help me teach, maybe I can use them to help me change what I teach and how I teach it". That's refinement, and that's part of technology's role in restructuring schools. Unfortunately, I don't think you can go directly from the awareness level to the refinement level, and what is even worse, I don't think people at the awareness level even understand what people at the refinement level are talking about.

Technology staff development must address these issues... awareness, application, integration and refinement, in a long-term systematic manner.

Effective technology plans make technology partof the daily cost of doing business. The most common questions about integrating technology into the curriculum are "Where are we going to get the money?" and "Where am I going to get the time?" The money and time to start are available now.

Look at money first. It's really a question of available resources, and I think there are some resources available now. We need to examine what we are spending resources on now and look at more effective ways to use the dollars. Can anyone really give me a good reason for adopting textbooks. Think of all the money it takes to do a K-12 textbook adoption. Do we really need to do that any more. Wouldn't it be better if we moved to a resource based teaching system and used some of the traditional textbook money to buy instructional resources for the Media Center. And, buy some teacher time to create their own instructional materials, and also use some of the money to begin purchasing the technology needed to really be a teacher today.

Part of the cost of doing business will also include finding the funds for a building-level support person that has a schedule flexible enough so they can go to meetings or conferences and find out what is going on in the world. They will need the time to learn, grow and become a powerful person, but more importantly they will have to share what they find out with teachers so they can become powerful too. As far as time goes, I think the time is there to start also. I know that school districts have to take some responsibility for providing staff development, but ultimately each person is responsible for their own personal and professional growth. Maybe we are going to have to start taking a computer home once in awhile. Maybe we are going to have to start listening during school provided workshops. Or, maybe we are going to have to use our prep hours differently once in awhile.

I don't know where all the money and time is going to come from, but I do think there is enough of both available to start making a difference in what we are doing to, for and with kids.

Effective technology plans have critical attributes based upon research. A recent survey of Minnesota schools conducted by the Instructional Design Section of the Minnesota Department of Education found that there were four critical attributes to successful use of computers by teachers. They are:

A. on-site technical support,
B. access to adequate hardware,
C. access to appropriate types, and amounts, of software, and
D. long-term, sustained staff development and inservice.

Effective technology plans are developed by the staff members who will implement the plan. It doesn't seem effective to me to have one person develop a district technology utilization plan. It happens all the time. It has happened to me. Someone else developed the plan and told me what I was going to do. Well, I guess that works some of the time, but it just seems to make more sense to have the people that will implement a plan help develop it. It makes even more sense to me to have a plan which allows for the purchase of technology based upon funding proposals submitted by teachers that wish to use the technology or try something new.

Maybe technology funds are best spent on technology which people are going to use effectively, rather than buying something because a plan said so. Those kinds of purchases end up sitting in the back of the room gathering dust because no one really wanted it anyway. One teacher turned on to a technical application will become your best trainer and sales person. Why not fund initiative, effectiveness, and success.

Effective technology plans focus on a vision. Technology plans must focus on a vision. It is easy to sit around saying we can't do this because, or we can't try that because,. If all you ever focus on are the problems, and I know that there are many, then that's all you will ever accomplish. Five years from now you will still be sitting around say, "We can't do that because..?"

Develop a vision for the future and focus on that vision. Pick out what you can do right now to help your district move toward making that vision come true. It is time to begin taking advantage of the power of the tools we have available. Time to use technology is one of the tools we have available to help us begin restructuring our schools and make the dreams we all had once finally come true. If you start now, taking one step at a time, you will be amazed how far you went when you look back five years from now.

NCTP extends our deep appreciation to Dr. See for writing this provocative, insightful article way back in 1992. What visionary leadership he has provided to thousands of readers! I encourage you to contact Dr. See directly and express your thanks to him and your encouragement that he will craft even more resources to benefit us all.
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