Five Strategies for District Computer Coordinators to Fund and Manage a Transition to Technology-Ric

The computer coordinator is typically charged with the responsibility of supporting all phases of instructional computing in the school district. Duties such as inventory management, equipment installation and software maintenance are all important parts of the job, but the computer coordinator's primary mission is maintenance of all lab and classroom computers as well as network equipment. The current state of educational computing, however, leaves many computer coordinators in a quandary.

Unlike curriculum coordinators, district computer coordinators do not have a standardized curriculum to implement, and the technical side of the job keeps growing more complex. The barriers to increasing educational computing are formidable, and many district computer coordinators lack the vision to fully convert computer labs and local area networks into technology-rich learning environments.

After working with computers and networks, the district computer coordinator's mission is to help teachers learn to use the educational technology productively and effectively. Most district computer coordinators provide support to teachers when equipment breaks, but lack the funding and time for total educational computing management.

Five Strategies

Five strategies were used to focus the district computer coordinator's role in Louisiana schools on the process of funding and managing technology-rich learning environments. These strategies were born of the experience of the Louisiana Challenge, a statewide systemic reform initiative entering its third year, which was designed to increase the use of computers in schools for teaching and learning (see http://www.challenge.state.la.us).

These five strategies present a direction for the district computer coordinator to take when transitioning to technology-rich learning environments. Together, the strategies redirect this key staff position's job from one of managing hardware and software to one that involves coordinating the search for funding; managing the technical, training and curricular aspects of the process; and explaining the incentives to the faculty. Louisiana has used this approach with success.

First: Funding

The first step focuses on district and school funding for computer and network hardware and software. The computer coordinator's goal is to secure funds for the purchase of equipment, and assure that the computers are properly installed and set up.

Like most states, school computer use in Louisiana started with individual districts buying equipment using limited district funds. Realizing this was not working and a more comprehensive plan was needed, a group of district, university and state educators started looking for funding to develop a state technology plan.

To help ensure that all students in Louisiana become technology literate, the Governor's Louisiana Education Achievement and Results Now (LEARN) Commission, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), the Governor's Education Advisor, and the State Superintendent of Education developed the Louisiana State Plan for Educational Technology. The plan, just one of the state's initiatives to upgrade public education and improve student achievement, focuses on goals such as creating technology-rich learning environments, professional development and effective use of funding (see http://etrc33.usl.edu/state).

Funding to develop the plan and support expansion of the program to pilot sites came from a variety of sources: National Science Foundation, BESE, Goals 2000/LEARN and the U.S. Department of Education. As a result, a $38 million classroom-based technology trust fund was established by the Louisiana Legislature, and a process was developed to distribute the funds to each district.

Recently, each district in the state was asked to write proposals for computer and network equipment, complete district technology plans, and appoint a district technology facilitator. Local computer coordinators can easily assume the expanded role of district technology coordinator and take responsibility for writing district technology plans and proposals for state funding.

Second: Technical Issues

The second step focuses on the more technical issues of installing and maintaining computer and network hardware and software. Standards can be established by a team of teachers and administrators from the district and coordinated by the district technology facilitator. Actual implementation falls into two categories: major initiatives and small, everyday projects.

For large, one-of-a-kind projects, schools in Louisiana have developed partnerships and organized community events such as NetDays for wiring buildings. The Calcasieu Parish Public Schools, for instance, have sponsored five NetDays, wired six schools, and set up a dedicated tech center for continuing technical support &emdash; all in the course of the last two years (see http://hal.calc.k12.la.us/ ~techctr/TCIndex.html). Lafayette Parish Public Schools added a fund-raising component to their NetDay plans. Individuals and corporate sponsors who wanted to provide funding could buy network hardware kits dedicated to specific schools.

For smaller projects, the district technology facilitator has handled the problem-solving personally or delegated to other computer coordinators in the district. Some setup and installation activities, such as connecting the local area networks to telephone switching equipment, required technical skill beyond the district staff. In Lafayette's case, the purchase of services from outside vendors was necessary, and this meant calling in BellSouth.

Third: Training

The third step focuses on training faculty, staff and administrators to use the computer and network hardware and software. A computer coordinator's goal is to help teachers to be more effective users of educational technology, which means operating the equipment and incorporating it into classes.

For example, the district technology facilitator in the Lafayette Parish Public Schools coordinates training of faculty and staff, offering semester-long classes where the tuition and a stipend is paid by BESE. In addition, short non-credit classes are offered at local school computer labs and at the district office training lab. These short courses, typically two or three hours in length, take place after school or on Saturdays. While they do not provide the participants re-certification or academy credits, they are free of cost to district employees.

Short course topics include computer literacy curricula such as introduction to the Macintosh operating system, common desktop and network applications such as Microsoft Excel, and authoring programs and languages such as HTML. Additional courses are offered by the Educational Technology Review Center at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, which is located in Lafayette (see http://etrc33.usl.edu/etrc).

Fourth: Curricular Aspects

The fourth step focuses on using computers to achieve curriculum, lesson planning and instructional objectives. In this case, the computer coordinator's goal is to manage the development and distribution of electronic curriculum materials and facilitate instructional processes to produce more effective use of desktop and network software resources.

To assist the computer coordinator in this job, the Louisiana Challenge implemented a local curriculum development system, and lesson plans are shared between districts using telecommunications (see http://www.challenge. state.la.us/lessons/index.html).

New curricula and instructional methods are continuously being developed by teachers and funded by the Louisiana Challenge. Participants at pilot sites share both curriculum development responsibilities and the results. Two examples of created curricula are: Are We Running Out of Oil?, a topic of great interest to residents of Louisiana, and Population of Cities in Louisiana, an activity requiring students to use demographic data from the net.

Fifth: Incentives for Teachers

The fifth step focuses on the incentives for teachers to incorporate computer-based curricula in their classes and participate in the building of technology-rich learning environments.

The most successful method for increasing use of computers has been when the district computer coordinator helps the teacher find specific activities that utilize available hardware and software. For example, a Lafayette High School biology teacher who had A.D.A.M. Essentials and ClarisWorks wanted advice on how to develop activities to combine the two programs. He received several suggestions from the local computer coordinator, which he implemented and later expanded.

Of course, an effort needs to be made to inform faculty and staff about the resources available through the new media in hopes of encouraging teachers to develop their own activities. Lafayette Parish Public Schools, for example, pre-organized some online resources and made them available to faculty (see http://www.lft.k12.la.us/grants/chal/res.htm). This type of "hand-holding" help d'es increase the number of educational computing activities and gets teachers involved.

Clearly, faculty and staff members who become involved with developing the district technology plan will be in a leadership position. There will be many opportunities to receive paid training, stipends for curriculum development, and the chance to use the new computer and network hardware and software. As teachers become more proficient and develop skills with computer-based instruction, administrators will be more enthusiastic about putting new equipment in their classrooms.

But in addition, they may be promoting individuals to newly created positions in educational technology management. This path for career development is a professional incentive and needs to be addressed in district staffing plans.

Conclusion

No matter how educational computing proceeds, the integration of curriculum and computers will continue to face many barriers and the single most important is funding. In addition, there will always be a need for improving curriculum and instruction.

This set of proposals takes a key staff person, the computer coordinator, and redirects his or her work from a narrow focus of managing hardware and software to a wider, more-encompassing one of funding, technical planning and training, curriculum development and getting teachers intimately involved. In essence, a district computer coordinator's job description needs to change to facilitate district-wide design and development of tailored educational computing systems. By focusing the work of this key staff person, districts take a major step in making the transition from just using computers to building a true, technology-rich learning environment.

Alex Rath is an Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at University of Southern Louisiana (USL), and a former junior high school teacher. His research interests include educational computing and science education. E-mail: rattle@usl.edu

William Rieck is a Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at USL, and a former chemistry teacher and high school principal. His research interests include curriculum development and science education. E-mail: war8752@usl.edu

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.

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