Technology Planning: Doing the Right Thing

Technology Planning: Doing the Right Thing

Today’s technology planners face a huge dilemma: Technology planning activities throughout the United States have morphed from a locally driven assembly and alignment of visions that functioned quite successfully just a few years ago, into a veritable puppet show in which the strings are being pulled by superior agencies that hold the threat of money—or the lack of it—over our heads.

This leaves us with an important choice. We can either go along with the status quo, or we can rock the boat in hopes of making things better. Yes, we can, in fact, do the right thing! However, doing the right thing is not the same as doing the easy thing—boldness and integrity are required. So, what is the right thing?

The E-Plan Approach

It’s a fact that many states currently deploy some iteration of an “e-plan strategy,” which requires districts to file their technology plans online. At first brush, this may sound like a great idea. But according to my research, these e-planning scenarios amount to little more than a series of checkboxes or, at best, some brief fill-in-the-blank data fields. E-plans that fit this description harness school leaders’ imaginations because they merely plug in data on the SEA’s (State Education Agency) Web site. Now, how imaginative and visionary is that? And why would SEAs stoop to such a robotic solution?

Actually, SEAs may not be the source of the dilemma. States are required by federal statute to respond to rigid requirements placed upon them. Programs such as E-Rate and E2T2 (Enhancing Education Through Technology), which supply a majority of technology funding to schools, require schools to submit a technology plan to an entity that can approve the plan. If schools meet these requirements, then funds channeled to states from federal coffers can flow to the schools. But the onus for ensuring that plans are approved falls to the SEAs.

In view of the other demands placed upon SEA personnel, the easy way—but not necessarily the right way—out for them is to prepare a format that ensures uniformity among tech plans submitted by schools. Otherwise, SEAs would find it difficult to perform a critical evaluation of plans created by the broad array of schools in their states. SEAs simply cannot deal any longer with the bold visions and aggressive plans that local school districts propose for technology infusion. Thus, we have this problematic, insufficient (and, perhaps, incorrect) e-plan approach cast upon schools.

Keeping the Technology Dream Alive

In past years, schools and communities have engaged in planning activities to clarify their vision, mission, as well as their associated goals and objectives. The result was a compilation of determinations that often led to great successes. In fact, I once heard a state legislator emphasize, “Plan with your imagination, not your memory.” Numerous testimonials exist to how entire communities have been made better as a result of the deliberate process that we call “technology planning.” But, as a general rule, this is no longer the case. What we witness now is hardly more than yet another report. While schools are required to submit their technology plan to the SEA, the dreams and aspirations generated at the local level are often drained from these submissions.

So, what can you do? It’s time for school leaders to step forward and assume a position of bold, personal responsibility. Technology planning must be conducted for the right reason and purpose. Students—our investment in tomorrow—are the ones who suffer the most when technology planning is pigeonholed during the e-planning exercise.

If you are determined to do the right thing—i.e., to plan for the right reason—you must pledge to ensure that your technology plan has the following seven essential elements:

  • Clear vision and mission statements
  • Involvement by all stakeholders
  • Goals and objectives that are specific for your community
  • Strategies for consistent improvement in all areas
  • An evaluation scheme that targets learning in your particular school
  • A path for feedback (from evaluation) directly into discussion for the next updated plan
  • Sufficient funding to support your current and future proposals

Of course, this is not an all-inclusive list; rather, these points represent the bare essentials. The actual contents of a plan are not as important as the process school leaders go through in order to develop the plan. Yet, both the process and the product must function together for optimum school health.

I hope that readers who are upset by what I am reporting will take action to refute my observations. Perhaps the picture I am painting is not at all what works for you.

Doing the right thing also involves planning for student achievement, professional growth, community enhancement, school culture growth, and experimentation with and expansion of new ideas. Technology plans should fit hand in glove with a school’s comprehensive improvement plan. School leaders who possess a strong determination to employ technologies to make student learning better will readily adopt the “right thing” philosophy and practices.

Call to Action

Facing the reality of the current situation, it is time for technology coordinators, administrators, and other involved educators to put our metaphorical shoulders to the wheel. Evaluate the true effectiveness of your current technology plan, comparing it with the ones you wrote prior to this series of federal requirements, and with the reactions of the SEA to them. One technology coordinator told me that his school district prepares two technology plans—one for the state and one for his district to really use. If this is true for you, so be it. But do not dare neglect the importance of true, authentic planning—and the results that accrue—when considering the value of technology integration in your schools.

This is a call for boldness, which is required to buck the system. I have witnessed a waning in the commitment to true technology planning by local practitioners. Most of the reactions to my question, “Why do you have a tech plan?” are things such as “So I can get my money” or “Because I have to.” This is just sad.

Most technology coordinators and school leaders really want to do the right thing. There is never any better time than the present for visionary leaders to stand up and be counted. Let’s squash this dilemma on behalf of all the learners who depend upon us to stand up for them!

Larry S. Anderson, Ph.D., is the founder and CEO of the National Center for Technology Planning in Tupelo, MS.