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« Looking forward | Main | Brief Timeline of Technology Efforts in ISD77 »
Wednesday
Jan042006

Looking back

My sense is that the timeline in the last Blue Skunk blog entry is not terribly dissimilar to many school district's technology implementations. (I will be revising it now and then to add things I've forgotten.) Here is my assessment of what has happened with technology in the district since 1991.

  1. We've done a great job on infrastructure. All classrooms are wired for data, video, and voice. All classrooms have a telephone, a teacher computer, and most have TV/VCRs permanently mounted. We have plans to create "smart classrooms" over the next 7 years with mounted LCD projectors and interactive white boards. Our buildings are connected by a fast WAN that has a very high reliability rate, with plans to increase capacity. We have managed to provide student access to reliable computers with up-to-date operating systems and software in all buildings with general labs in libraries in all schools  with  labs in business/tech ed areas, and writing labs in the secondary schools. We're making good progress on establishing wireless access in all buildings with security policies that allow student/staff-owned computers/handhelds to connect. We've managed to hire good and adequate technical staff.
  2. We've done a good job on adminstrative uses of technology. Our student information system, school website, e-mail, networked storage, student portals (Profile), networked calendaring, business funcions of finance and personnel, security, and facilites scheduling are robust and well used. Teachers do attendance, report cards, progress reports, IEPs, curriculum specific skill tracking in reading and math (elementary),  datawarehousing/datamining, and NWEA testing all online. Parents are using online resources we've provided to track student performance in real time.
  3. We've done a fair-poor job on staff development. Our elementary staff gets 12 hours formal tech training every 4-5 years when they get a new desktop computer. We subscribe to AtomicLearning and promote its use. We send out a regular newsletter of technology-related information. We have identified teacher competencies at both a beginning and advanced level, but these are not used for evaluative purposes. We offer voluntary training opportunities and "training-on-demand"  at both the district and building level which a few teachers take advantage of. Staff development in technology at the secondary level is left to buildings where it is minimal. Technology staff development efforts are not a part of the regular staff development efforts.
  4. We've done a poor job on integrating technology skills into the curriculum in all classes with all teachers. While a set of technology and information literacy competencies has been on the books for a long time, they are mostly ignored by many classroom teachers. Our elementary librarians do a good job teaching technology skills, but with only marginal classroom tie-ins. One middle school has a 6 week "tech skills" class; the other does not. Our business and technology education departments have strong technology skill courses that are electives. Most technology use expectations by classroom teachers at the secondary level are in the areas of basic research and writing. Students in high school have a wide range of technology skills (as observed, not measured). Technology and information literacy is not a school board priority as evidenced by board goals. Tech and IL skills are not a state goal with no standards in these areas in Minnesota. The Title II Part D technology requirements of NCLB are not checked for compliance and do not figure into AYP status. The addition of technology has not visibly enabled a move toward a more problem-based, constructivist approach to educating students or giving them "21st Century skills."

If we applied Shona Zubhoff's observation that technology can be used to either automate or infomate, we've done a good job on the automation side. With the administrative functions, most of what we are doing was done in the past on paper, but is now completed faster and/or more accurately. This applies to everything from attendance taking to more legible worksheets to paystubs online.

What has not happened has been the informating side of techology use - doing things that would be impossible to do without technology.  We have better data than ever, but are teachers putting it to use to change how they deliver instruction? We have massive amounts of information available online, but do teachers use a more constructivist, problem-based approach to education? Parents can access their children's test scores, attendance and work completion records - are they using this information to become partners with teachers in making sure their children turn in quality, timely work? Are we even teaching more children basic skills of reading, writing and mathematics than we could have without technology?

To a large degree, the uses and priorities to which technology has been put to date have been in reaction to state and federal requirement, budget tightening, and community pressure. The state and federal governments want more accountability (test scores). Budgets are requiring secretarial and administrative staff members become more efficient. The community and school board want "high tech"  schools - computers, Internet access, a web presence. And since school funding depends on accurate state reporting, NCLB reporting, etc., an adequate, reliable and secure infrastructure has been a high priority.

So the interesting question is: what will the next 10 years in technology look like if, as the personnel people say, the best indicator of future performance is past performance.  Are there factors that might push technology use toward informating purposes rather than simply automating purposes and what's the likelihood of those factors happening?

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Reader Comments (2)

Thanks Doug, this is great stuff. Two questions: Has integration just been ignored, or have there been a series of intitiatives that just didn't get anywhere? Going back into ancient history, was more attention paid to integration back in the Apple II days (Logo, even Oregon Trail, etc)?
January 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTom Hoffman
Hi Tom,

Good questions. As I look back on what I wrote, I don't think I gave enough credit to the things teachers ARE doing with technology in the curriculum and our efforts to integrate technology.

1. We have some teachers who are excited and really do fantastic project at all grade levels and in lots of subject areas with technology. These folks can't get enough. But I would say they represent about 10-15% of the teaching population.

2. Our main focus has been on using technology as a research and communication tool. In this, where research and technology is a part of the curriculum, we have been successful over all. Efforts to teach teachers about the Big6 were successful, but have not been ongoing since the state moved from performance-based standards to content-based standards a couple years ago.

3. Our kids doing science fair and history day projects make major use of technologies in these extra-curricular areas with teacher and librarian encouragement and support.

4. As new resources and programs become available, our librarians do a good job in informing and teaching those teachers WHO ARE WILLING TO ATTEND the meetings/classes when offered.

5. Our teachers have used game/simulation/drill and practice software to a large degree, especially when the MECC products like Number Munchers, Oregon Trail, etc. were available on the earlier Macs and Apple II computers. In my eyes, these programs were separate, more "reward" focused activities, rather than true integration. In other words, playing Oregon Trail didn't happen necessarily when American History was being studied. We have purchased less of this type of software as our focus on productivity software has grown.

I guess what disappoints me is that the classroom technology use we do have going is 1) not universal, documented, or expected of all teachers and 2) not transformative - moving instruction from rote, restraint, regurgitation to a constructivist, problem-solving approach.

Hope this helps clarify.

All the best,

Doug
January 5, 2006 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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