The Leadership Role in Making the Technology Connection

Imagine this: At the end of a busy school day, you remember that you have a report to present to the board of school trustees tomorrow. The problem is, you have not gathered the information yet and do not have the traditional types of resources available at hand to complete the report. No problem! Using your computer, you call the state department of education computer and download any relevant information for the report. Then you log on to the Internet, where you find additional information. You save this so that you can use it at home later that night to develop your report. At home, you use all of the information you have gathered to develop the presentation for the board tomorrow.

Maybe this is not how you presently develop presentations, but this is a model that we must prepare ourselves, staff, and students to use in order to be successful in the future.

Setting the Stage

Technology presents new opportunities to change how we function, and leaders need to model the use of technology to change and improve the environment in which educators function. As we plan for technology in our school districts, we must keep two issues in mind:

 

  • Technology has the potential to change how we work, teach, and learn in our school districts; and
  • This potential will only be realized if leaders assume the lead role in realizing this potential.

In April 1995, the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) released an extensive survey to the U.S. Senate that addressed the issue of how technology should change and improve education. The report, Teachers and Technology: Making the Connection, had a central theme: "we will never effectively realize the potential of technology to change education unless we address the issue of involving our staff in the use of technology".[1] If we are going to effectively address this concern, then we must reconsider our leadership role in promoting and defining the use of technology by our staff.

Research consistently finds that leadership is a key to successful implementation of technology. For example, Mergendoller (1994) states: "The role of the principal is crucial in promoting school technology use. Similarly, for technology to become diffused across a district, leadership by the central administration, especially the superintendent, is critical. These findings are supported by the organizational change research, which has consistently found that change efforts do not succeed without active administrative leadership, particularly by principals. Research has shown that leaders perform four important tasks: (a) obtaining resources, (b) buffering the project from outside interference, (c) encouraging staff, and (d) adapting standard operating procedures to the project."[2]

As educational leaders, we need to provide leadership in addressing the necessary issues to realize the potential of technology. Leadership issues can be narrowed to the following five topics: Creating a Vision, Monitoring Influence, Funding, Involving Staff, and Creating Standards.

Creating a Vision

Technology will never provide the changes in education that it should until we create a local vision of how technology should impact how we work, teach and learn. The key is to develop a vision for technology in our school buildings and districts that will take our individual vision of how technology should influence what we do and making it a shared vision with others.

The importance of creating this shared vision cannot be underestimated. If we do not have a mutual vision of where technology will take us, then it will be difficult to set priorities, to know where we are headed, and to know when we have achieved what we are trying to accomplish.

From Individual Vision to Shared

Through a partnership with our local telecommunications provider, Ameritech, we were able to expand our vision for the use of technology to include the following -- productivity, communications, and learning.[3] In developing this shared vision of technology, Ameritech offered to review our district technology plan, as they do for many customers prior to purchases.[4] This is done to advise the customer whether present technology decisions will be compatible with future network solutions. Providing information about network solutions prior to hardware purchases eliminates much of the disappointment and frustration in finding that some products cannot function in a networked environments.

Our challenge is to constantly re-define how we use technology in order to take full advantage of its improvements. There are a number of factors to consider, but the first step is to develop a shared vision of the technology delivery system.

A Shared Vision

There needs to be a vision of how technology should be implemented to provide both connectivity and cost advantages so that present expenditures will support its use in a changing future. Too often, school personnel let a particular product or vendor determine what technologies to implement. Instead, we must have a long-term vision of where we want to go.

Diagram 1 graphically shows the vision we at Noblesville Schools developed for technology. Once we decided to create a networked environment in our district, then other technology decisions to accomplish this purpose became easier. This makes it possible to balance short-term decisions with long-term purposes.

It is the responsibility of school leaders to guarantee that decisions and purchases will lead the school district to achieve the vision established for technology. Associated with this is the monitoring of influences that attempt to determine the use of technology within the school district.

Monitoring Influences

Many influences -- both internal and external -- affect how we use technology in our school districts. Too often, we have allowed individual vendors to decide for us how we use technology. It can be valuable to use vendors to help in planning and decision making, but it must always be remembered that they are more interested in selling their product than in providing direction for the future of your school district.

As leaders, we must also become users. And we must all be involved in planning and implementing technology in our school buildings. If we are preparing our students to work in a technology-rich environment, as educators we have an obligation to bring the best of technology into our schools. This will happen only if we become adept users of technology and apply it as a tool to make our schools better places to work and learn. We need to explore how technology will allow us to do more tasks effectively and implement those strategies. Furthermore, we have an obligation to share what we are doing with other educators so that they may also enjoy the advantages that technology provides.

Also, we need to look at what business has found about how technology can and should change the work place. Tapscott and Caston, in their book Paradigm Shift, explain how business first viewed technology as an opportunity to downsize and hopefully become more productive.[5] Most of the businesses that followed this model only have not been successful. This happened for two reasons:

 

  1. It always takes more time to implement new technologies at the start and if this time is not provided, then the full benefits of the use of technology might not be realized; and,
  2. Time saved from use of technology should be re-invested back into the business to make it more productive.

These two reasons must be foremost as we implement new technologies in the educational environment. The support, training and time must be provided so that new technologies can be effectively implemented, and once in place, we must reinvest the timesavings into other areas that will make what we do as educators more productive.

In addition, educators must also monitor the influences that impact funding for technology. Again, it will be difficult to influence decisions about funding if there is not a shared vision and support among the leadership for what the district is trying to accomplish.

Funding

We have to reconsider how we fund technology in our school districts. Too often we view technology as a single budget item and forget that there are two distinct aspects of funding technology. First, we need to budget for maintaining the technology we already have. This includes the replacement and repair of equipment, service agreements, and training of staff. It d'es schools more harm than good to implement new technologies at the expense of letting present programs and equipment go unused because staff are not trained or the equipment is not maintained.

Second, we must have funds available to implement new technologies and programs. This includes equipment, technical support and training. It is more important to make steady progress forward than to unrealistically assume that one day the funding will become available to do everything at once.

How you involve the community and how you use additional funds such as grants are two important aspects of providing leadership. Community involvement is critical to technology planning and implementation. The community connection is necessary to take advantage of resources available in the community and to gain community support, and should be viewed as an opportunity to develop partnerships, connectivity and deeper involvement.

Partnerships should be formed with the business community to obtain a better sense of how the world of work is changing. Visits should be made to businesses that serve your community and employ your graduates to develop a better understanding of the skills that business thinks students will need in the future. Also, try to develop joint ventures to train school and business staff in the use of new technologies.

Another funding source for schools is grants. Given the broad purpose of technology, it is not difficult to submit grant proposals that will assist a school district in achieving its technology purposes at a quicker rate than would be possible if only local resources were used. The important aspect, however, is that grant funding should not determine how we use technology in our schools. If the grant d'es not fit or cannot conform to your proposed uses of technology, then don't apply for that specific grant.

Involving Staff

As you plan and implement new technology, a number of things can be done to involve your staff. If staff are not included, then it is very unlikely that you will be able to maximize the use of technology. As school leader, we would suggest that you consider involving staff throughout the planning process, program coordination, curriculum development and staff training.

Planning Process

We have found that a number of areas must be addressed in order to develop an integrated technology plan. Those areas include defining responsibilities, coordinating programs, establishing standards, developing curriculum, and training staff. As you address these areas in your planning process, it is absolutely necessary that key staff members be included. This should comprise both your teaching and support staffs. It is far more difficult to get support for a technology plan after the fact. Important aspects of the planning process include program coordination, curriculum development, and staff training.

Coordination

To have the necessary program coordination to carry out a comprehensive technology plan, a number of topics should be addressed. We suggest that you consider the following topics:

  • Devising a building- and system-wide approach to planning and evaluation, which includes a defining of standards for the school district.
  • Managing resources, figuring in the costs of installation, maintaining inventory, and ensuring that a support structure is in place.
  • Offering a continuous and unified technology curriculum for everyone in the community, including kindergarten through adult levels

.

Curriculum Development

Major goals for technology must be developed for students and staff. Specific competencies for students should be created as part of a curriculum guide for each course and subject area taught within the district. Curriculum development is an ongoing process that will guide the selection and use of technology. Minimum competencies must also be established, and efforts made to guarantee that opportunities are being provided to all.

In addition to a curriculum guide, we suggest considering two specific areas for technology learning goals. First the Technology-Specific Curriculum (Chart 1) lists the minimum expectations for what our Noblesville students will accomplish at each grade level from kindergarten through twelfth grade. These expectations require teachers to integrate technology into different subject areas according to a curriculum-integration focus list. This list helps us guarantee that all students, as they move through the grade levels, have acquired certain technology skills and have encountered technology in various subject areas.

Second, the Information Navigation (Chart 2) supplies a scope and sequence of learning goals related to information services available through the use of technology -- research, online searching and automated library systems.

Training Staff

Staff development is a key to implementing and expanding the use of technology in any school district. Staff development needs should be determined by recommendations from:

 

  • inservice committees in the elementary, middle and high schools;
  • building technology committees; and
  • district technology committee.

We cannot underestimate our leadership role in involving staff throughout our districts in the planning process, program coordination, curriculum development and staff training. Another key role is creating district standards for the use and implementation of technology.

Creating Standards

Standards are critical in our attempt to achieve cost savings, to reduce the possibility of purchasing several solutions to the same problem, and to develop a uniform platform for delivery of technology services both within and among our buildings. In planning for technology, consider defining standards on a number of levels. We suggest the following:

Computer System Platforms

Apple and MS-DOS c'existence
Networking interface (i.e., Ethernet)

Applications Software

Define district standards for instructional & administrative software

Voice and Video Applications

Define standards from the type of telephone handsets to the format of VCRs, CD-ROM drives & videodisc players

The responsibility for planning and developing standards must be accepted by decision makers at both the district and building level. At the district level, recommendations should be created for a district-wide technology package or "architecture" that includes voice, data (text and graphics), and video. This recommendation must start at a conceptual level until a district-wide network is implemented.

In the short term, the local area network (LAN) architecture for each school must be defined, including the applications and users to be supported. This architecture should reflect the vision of what will be created as well as current status and short-term priorities and concerns.

Summary

Technology's promise of improving the teaching and learning environment can only be accomplished if the leadership and support is in place to allow it to happen. This requires constant review and involvement. The challenge for us, as educators, will be to develop and implement both long- and short-range plans that achieve this purpose.

At issue here is not whether students will learn to use technology, because they will no matter what we do in our schools. The important question for us as educational leaders is whether or not we want to be part of the solution. If we do not become involved as leaders in developing and implementing technology, others will step forward and do this for us. If this happens, the end product might not be something that promotes the best interests of students or education. We cannot provide the necessary technology unless we have a functional understanding of what we can accomplish through its use.

Ronald Costello has served as director of secondary education with Noblesville Schools for the last ten years. E-mail: ron_costello@mail.nobl.k12.in.us

References:
1. OTA, Teachers and Technology: Making the Connection, conducted by the Office of Technology Assessment for the United States Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, April 1995.
2.Mergendoller, John R., et al., "Case Studies of Exemplary Approaches to Training Teachers to Use Technology," OTA contractor report, September 1994.
3. Costello, Ronald W., "Using Business Criteria to Make Technology Decisions in a School District," T.H.E. Journal, 21(4), November 1993, pp.105-108.
4. Technology Study for Education: Noblesville Schools, conducted by Ameritech Information Systems, Indiana Bell Telephone, completed in May 1992.
5.Tapscott, Don & Caston, Art, Paradigm Shift: The New Promise of Information Technology, New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1993.

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

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