Massachusetts: Systemic Planning & Appropriate Tools Lead Massachusetts School Districts Toward Full Integration of Technology, Increased Student Achievement

'With the appropriate tools and good planning, technology enhances education and improves student academic achievement. I am excited about the online tools we provide to every student and teacher in the Commonwealth through the Virtual Education Space, VES. I am also pleased that Massachusetts has new guidelines to help schools to use new tools for technology integration.'
- Massachusetts Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll

Massachusetts launched a visionary project called the Virtual Education Space (VES) three years ago. The goal was to establish a statewide 'virtual education space' so that VES could be used as part of daily life in school districts across the commonwealth. The plan was to provide a set of Web-based tools and online programs in VES that would support students, teachers, administrators and students. VES would then consolidate relevant tools and information into one statewide teaching and learning environment.

With a strong commitment from the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education, David P. Driscoll, and the hard work of many educators, after three years of development, Massachusetts is witnessing the fruits of its labor. Currently, VES is able to bring together districts, schools and the Department of Education in one online community that is accessible over the Internet. VES makes it easy for students, teachers, administrators and Department of Education staff to communicate, collaborate, share educational resources and augment classroom instruction safely, securely and free of charge. Users are able to access the following tools in VES:

  • Virtual Hard Drive (VHD) for shared and personal file storage.
  • Discussion Forums for online communication and collaboration.
  • Technology Self-Assessment Tool (TSAT) to assess teachers' technology proficiency and professional development needs.
  • Teaching and Learning Resources (TLR) tool to access more than 30,000 lesson plans and resources.
  • CLASP Online for documenting district curriculum guidelines based on the state's Curriculum Frameworks.

Here are a few scenarios of how students, teachers and administrators are using VES:

  • Students log in to VES and download their math homework assignment from the VHD. After finishing the assignment, the students open their history class discussion forum to post a message about George Washington that they found in their history class folder. Next, students complete a PowerPoint file for the next day's science fair on climate change, uploading it to VES so that they can access it when they get to school.
  • Teachers use the TLR tool to search resources on the 'Federalist Debates.' They choose two lessons from a list of high-quality results. Switching to the discussion forums, teachers share the lesson plan links with their colleagues. Teachers also post some questions and comments about how technology can be integrated into the lessons. Teachers also use the TSAT to identify their technology skills so that they can participate in technology professional development activities that will help them teach the lessons.
  • Administrators log in to VES to post an announcement to the staff regarding the new Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test results. Based on the new data, administrators schedule curriculum meetings and invite their principals using the online calendar. To prepare for the meeting, administrators review the new math benchmarks developed in CLASP and approve changes authored by the curriculum team. Before leaving for the day, administrators upload the final draft of a grant proposal into the district administrators' folder so that their team can review it.

When VES was launched, Massachusetts realized that to use the new online tools effectively, school districts needed to build their technology infrastructure and prepare students, teachers and administrators to use the technology appropriately. Hence, in 2000, a set of guidelines for local technology planning was provided to assist schools in their efforts. The 'Local Technology Plan Benchmark Standards for the Year 2003' was a set of guidelines that school districts could use to create conditions for the effective use of technology. This document described the conditions that technology experts believe would maximize the impact of technology on learning.

In general, Massachusetts school districts have made steady progress in working toward the goals set forth in 2000. In order to help districts move forward and continue their efforts, the state's Education Department recently developed new guidelines. The Education Department collaborated with the state's Educational Technology Advisory Council (ETAC) and technology specialists throughout the state to create the 'Local Technology Plan Guidelines (School Year 2003-2004 through 2006-2007).' This document is based on the Massachusetts STaR (School Technology and Readiness) Chart), which was developed by ETAC.

These guidelines are not ends in themselves, but means to support the use of technology to improve teaching and learning. They illustrate the complex set of interactions of people, materials and dimensions that are involved in using technology effectively in schools. The Massachusetts Department of Education encourages school districts to use these guidelines to develop their long-range technology plans. Each year, districts are asked to submit data on the implementation of their technology plans to the Education Department for review so that they will get approval for their plans.

We know that without sufficient access to computers, proper infrastructure for connectivity, and efficient support staff, school technology programs are unlikely to impact student achievement. Without high-quality technology professional development, teachers will not be able to help students become technologically literate; moreover, they will not be able to integrate technology into the curriculum effectively. Technology holds great promise for improving student learning; thoughtful planning and the right tools, such as VES, can help ensure that this promise is realized. We believe that by providing these tools as well as support and guidance through the guidelines, Massachusetts is leading its school districts toward full integration of technology, and thus increased student achievement.

Online Resources

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.