The 21st Century Learning Environment
There are eight purposes along with a primary goal and two additional goals for Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT), the name of the federal funding for technology. These all can be boiled down to the idea of improving student achievement through the appropriate use of technology, including the acquisition of technology and the support of the users of the technology. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is providing $650 million to states to further this goal.
While states are free to provide support for any or all purposes and goals for EETT in their grant applications, a few common approaches are emerging as Requests for Proposals (RFPs) start to become available to schools. One of the most common can be called 21st century learning environments. This term was picked up by the Obama administration as it began to put together ideas for what was to become ARRA shortly after the election. The intent with 21st century learning environments is to provide a comprehensive approach to school improvement with sufficient technology and support to improve student achievement.
The comprehensive approach includes computing devices (laptops, mini-notebooks, etc.) for students, a laptop for the teacher, projection device(s), interactive whiteboards, printing and response devices (clickers) for the classroom.
Just as important as the technology, however, is the technical support that will ensure the equipment continues to run effectively and efficiently, that will deliver sufficient bandwidth and offers professional development for the teachers not only in how to use the technology, but also in how to change the teaching and learning process so that it takes advantage of this technology.
If your district is in a state that is using some form of this model for its EETT ARRA grants, then there are some things to watch out for as you fill out your grant application:
- Follow directions. First and foremost, of course, follow the exact directions of the grant applications. You may have the greatest ideas that are perfect for your district, but if you don't put them into the format and categories asked for in the RFP, you limit your chance for success.
- Be prepared to report. Because this is ARRA funding, it is extremely important to pay attention to reporting and accountability. The overall ARRA legislation has additional requirements for reporting how funds are used and the impact of the funds on students and student achievement. States differ somewhat in what they are asking for, but be sure that you are prepared to gather the information your state requests and to attest that you will do what is required. Failure to do so will jeopardize whether you are successful with the grant application.
- Include professional development. The law requires that at least 25 per cent of the money be spent on professional development. None of the other components in the comprehensive approach of 21st century learning environments will work well without sustained professional development. Consider models like "train the trainer" that stress capacity building and look to models that actually use the technology to provide sustained teacher support, such as online collaboration and communities.
Beware of the funding cliff! ARRA funding will go away within two to three years, depending on the specific program. As the ARRA guidelines say, "These funds should be invested in ways that do not result in unsustainable continuing commitments after the funding expires." Here are some specific things to think about regarding the 21st century learning environment model. If you are going to purchase a lot of technology devices, look for ways you can balance the purchase as a part of your overall refresh cycle of hardware. Build this into your technology plan. In addition, talk with your hardware vendors about strong maintenance and support contracts and warranties. They may cost a little more up front, but they can extend the longevity of your purchases. For digital content, many of the subscription services are aware of the funding cliff and are willing to be creative and create perpetual subscriptions, front load payment for multiple years or otherwise be flexible.