Saturday, October 19, 2013

Nine Things Schools Should Consider When Creating a Technology Plan

I recently received an email from a friend who is on the school board of a smaller Christian school. Knowing that I have a lot of opinions about educational technology, he asked me for some advice: their school is developing a technology plan for the next five years and want to plot things out well so it will be successful.

I was really glad to hear that. I think many schools just go blundering into the realm of technology and don't have a well-reasoned plan for how to design how technology will be infused into the classrooms.

So after some thought and reflection, here's my advice: nine things schools should think about as they create a technology plan:
  1. Focus on learning. This one is key, and when technology programs don't turn out well, I think it's usually because the school missed this point. Technology is great, but the purpose of school is helping kids to learn. How does the technology help support learning?
  2. Get teachers involved in the conversation. It might have to be a "this is happening, we want your input as to  how it will happen" kind of conversation, but the teachers are the one who are going to have to implement whatever technology plan is developed. They must be involved in the conversation if the technology is really going to be used well.
  3. Look for the innovators and early adopters on staff and get them excited about it. I've been reading a lot about diffusion of innovation theory lately, and the model that seems to always work best is to have an innovator willing to take the risks to figure things out. When the innovator finds success, other early adopters will be inspired: "Hey, that looks pretty great. I can do that too!" The early adopters become the evangelists that get everyone else excited and help support colleagues who might be a little more hesitant to begin using more technology.
  4. Support teachers. Related to that last point, many teachers are going to need training and ongoing support, especially if they haven't used much technology in their teaching in the past. There is a great model for teaching with technology called TPACK (Technology, Pedagogy, and Content Knowledge), with the idea that teachers need to understand all three of these domains and how they overlap and interact.
    • Image reproduced by permission of the 
      publisher, © 2012 by
    • Content knowledge = understanding what to teach
    • Pedagogical knowledge = understanding how to teach
    • Technological knowledge = understanding how to use technology
    • The idea here is that great teaching in a high tech environment still depends on great teaching (mastery of both the content and how to teach it) as well as understanding how to use technology to help students learn!
  5. Fund the initiative. Let's face it, technology programs are expensive. Not just the initial capital outlay to get the devices and infrastructure in place, but the ongoing support. A successful technology plan is going to have a realistic plan to fund both the capital costs and operational costs for today, as well as planning for obsolescence tomorrow and the replacement costs for getting the next generation of technology in place.
  6. Don't neglect infrastructure. If you are going to have students using an in-school network or accessing the Internet (which is probably assumed in this day and age,) be sure that the hardware, cabling, electrical supply, and bandwidth are all adequate for the amount of traffic that will be on that network.
  7. Who is going to be the guy? When everything goes ka-pooey (and it always will at some point), who is in charge of taking care of the situation? Will you have someone on-site who is in charge of this? Will it be someone off-site you call in? How will you manage the situation until outside help arrives?
  8. Focus on capabilities, not just devices. iPads are sexy, everybody loves them! But what do you really want students to be able to do with technology? A tablet may or may not be what you need. Of course, the same argument can be made in the opposite direction: Laptops have more horsepower, but for many educational tasks in elementary and middle schools, a tablet will do things well enough. Desktops still have a place in education, but I think mobile devices are probably the future, because they have more flexible capabilities overall.
  9. Get the technology as close to students as possible. In my thinking, having teachers using technology is likely to provide some benefit for students' learning, but having students using the technology makes it even more likely. Certainly, just handing a kid a tablet doesn't ensure that he or she is going to learn anything, but when you compare watching someone else do something on an interactive whiteboard to doing something yourself on the tablet in your hand, I think that doing it yourself is probably going to result in deeper understanding in most cases.
I hope that isn't an overwhelming list for schools developing such a plan. I have a lot of opinions about the pros and cons of specific devices, but I think schools will have better success overall if they take the time consider these kinds issues before talking about specific tools.

I can't overemphasize the point about funding. Technology is expensive, and it fits a weird place in schools. Tech tools are not consumables (like crayons and paper) that constantly get used up and need to be replaced, but neither are they furniture (like desks and bookshelves) that can last for years with relatively little maintenance. It might help to think of technology in the same category as textbooks (though with a slightly shorter life-span): they are a tool for learning that needs to be updated every few years.

What am I forgetting here? Do you see other elements that schools need to consider as they create a technology plan?


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, my friend. I hope it's an encouragement to schools to plan well! It's not something to undertake too lightly, in my opinion.