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Critical Issue: Developing a School or District Technology Plan

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ISSUE: To realize the benefits of technology, schools must develop a plan for integrating technology into the curriculum. An effective technology plan is based on the shared vision of educators, parents, community members, and business leaders who have technological expertise. It ensures that technology strengthens existing curricula and supports meaningful, engaged learning for all students. It also specifies how the technology will be paid for and how its use will be supported.

OVERVIEW: Because technology continues to play an important role in modern industrial society, integrating technology into the schools will help prepare students to succeed in a rapidly changing world. "Technology is transforming society, and schools do not have a choice as to whether they will incorporate technology but rather how well they use it to enhance learning" (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory & Illinois State Board of Education, 1995). Technology integration also is important because it supports the goals of education reform. To ensure that technology is effectively integrated into the schools, educators and community members must collaborate to create a formal technology plan. Developing a plan for using technology to support education reform means more than providing for the acquisition of computers and software. To be successful, a technology plan must promote meaningful learning and collaboration, provide for the needed professional development and support, and respond flexibly to change.

Schools that effectively use technology have a carefully designed technology plan that is a part of the overall school-improvement plan. A technology plan that is not integral to the overall improvement plan is likely to be short-lived (Cradler, 1996). As part of the school-improvement plan, technology should support the curricular goals of the school. "Technology is neither an end in itself nor an add-on," notes the Office of Educational Technology (1994c). "It is a tool for improving--and ultimately, transforming--teaching and learning. To accomplish that job, technology must be an integral part of [the] school or community's overall plan to move all children toward high academic standards."

How does a school system develop a technology plan, and what is included? The experiences of schools that have successsfully integrated technology provide useful guidelines. Zaritsky and Zeisler (1997) have developed planning tables to identify the tasks and responsiblities that are essential to technology planning in schools.

The first step in developing a technology plan is convening a planning committee or team to review the school-improvement plan already in place and research the district needs. An effective team enlists educators but also takes advantage of the expertise of community members and the input of parents and students. Planning partners may include administrators, principals, teachers, district office representatives, parents, potential business partners, and a representative from the county office, regional agency, or department of education (Cradler, 1996). The specific organizational structures, committees, and membership may vary among schools that have integrated technology effectively, but the plan should be the result of input from educators and community members with knowledge, experience, and expectations of the role of technology in their school (Massachusetts Software Council, 1994). The support of key administrators and influential teachers is critical to the plan's implementation and success.

The planning team then becomes responsible for the development of an overall technology plan. Team members develop a vision for the plan, determine the goals that must be met to reach it, and create steps to implement those goals. According to John See (n.d.), technology integration specialist for the Minnesota Department of Education, "Effective technology plans focus on applications, not technology." He urges schools to "develop a plan based on what students, staff, and administration should be able to do with technology and let those outcomes determine the types and amount of technology [the] plan requests."

Mary Moffitt's Picture Mary Moffitt, director of learning technologies at District #54 in Schaumburg, Illinois, discusses the importance of teaching and learning implications when making decisions about technology acquisition. [256k audio file] Excerpted from the video series Learning with Technology, program #3, Planning to Plug In (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1996). A text version is available.

The team begins its task by building a knowledge base in regard to the learning process. Team members must understand how students learn, what skills students need to succeed in the workplace, and how technology can be used to improve education. Implementing technology in education requires team members to become familiar not only with learning research but also with research on the most promising ways of using technology to improve student achievement, condition of facilities, available technology (including cost), and professional development opportunities and requirements.

As the team gathers information and develops a knowledge base, team members are able to generate a collective vision for technology in the school district. This vision should support meaningful, engaged learning for all students, outline the district's learning goals for placing technology in the hands of educators and students, and support the curricular goals of the school. The proposed plan must promote technology used for authentic tasks. Tools such as Guiding Questions for Technology Planning are designed to help planners make the transition from abstract vision to concrete plans.

The implementation plan for the team's goals must include an awareness of the school district's budget. See (n.d.) cautions that effective planning for equipment should be short-term. Technology is changing so quickly that it is impossible to know what advances will be available in five years. The plan should be reviewed each year during the budget process to make sure the district is purchasing the most current equipment and to take advantage of new and lower cost technology.

Ken Reid's PictureKen Reid, school social worker at Elizabeth Blackwell Elementary School in Schaumburg, Illinois, discusses the pitfalls of purchasing technology without making plans for student learning and curriculum application. [264k audio file] Excerpted from a videotaped interview for the video series Learning with Technology, program #3, Planning to Plug In (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1996). A text version is available.

Another important component of the technology plan is professional development and support for teachers. No plan, no matter how well conceived, will be of any value if it is not implemented at the building and classroom levels. Staff development activities should help teachers become comfortable and proficient with the technology and give them the opportunity to devise ways to use it in their classrooms. The uniqueness of each teacher and class must be acknowledged and used to build specific teaching strategies to meet the goals outlined in the plan. Teachers must have a reason to use the technology and should be involved in developing projects that apply technology to student learning (Cradler, 1996). Teachers also must have access to on-site technical support personnel, who are responsible for troubleshooting and assistance after the technology and lessons are in place. Technology that is not easily accessed and implemented will not be used. If problems cannot be solved quickly and easily, teachers will return to more traditional ways of teaching.

Aaron Headly's PictureAaron Headly, former technical support specialist at Community High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, talks about the importance of on-site technical support when high-performance technology is incorporated into the curriculum. [285k audio file] Excerpted from a videotaped interview for the video series Learning with Technology, program #2, Tools for Thinking (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1995). A text version is available.

Last, the plan must have an assessment component. Educators, parents, and community members are more likely to support technology if they are able to see proof of its value in helping students learn.


ACTION OPTIONS: The technology planning team and teachers can take the following steps to develop, implement, and refine a school technology plan:

Technology Planning Team:


IMPLEMENTATION PITFALLS: Decision makers may fail to provide the right mix of technology and wiring to support networking and collaboration between the classroom and the larger community. They may fail to plan for the inevitable obsolescence and necessary upgrading of technology. When selecting hardware and software, they may rely too much on vendor (or biased) advice and may make inappropriate choices. They may fail to provide ongoing training and technological support for both educators and students. They may fail to define or enforce security policies (see Creating Board Policies for Student Use of the Internet), threatening frequent replacement or repair of equipment, copyright infringement problems, or access to inappropriate files. Thorough research, comparison shopping, and planning are essential to the successful implementation of the technology plan.

Although the curriculum may change as a result of technology-enhanced instruction, assessment models may not be updated and may fail to measure improvements in students' skills. It is essential for schools to use assessment models that are compatible with the goals of the technological innovation.

Instead of emphasizing higher order thinking skills, complex problem solving, and cognitive research, the technology may be used to teach merely the same old curriculum. Using technology effectively in education requires shifting the focus from teaching to active learning.

To manage the implementation of technology into the school, decision makers may create specific duties, regulations, and policies that are counter to the collaborative nature of the technology plan or the ever-changing nature of technology. It is imperative that the vision statement and the technology plan are developed with foresight, consensus, and long-range goal planning.

If the planning team lacks focus, members may lose interest. To prevent this situation, the team leadership must be dynamic and enthusiastic. Priorities must be established and tasks completed according to a reasonable time frame.

The cost of implementing a technology plan may be a source of conflict in a school that is already struggling with low funding. Money to purchase computer equipment may be taken from instructional budgets, causing cutbacks in what some educators consider to be necessary materials. To provide alternate sources of money for technology, schools may wish to investigate grant opportunities and funding sources. Participation in the technology planning team offers educators an opportunity to voice their concerns about essential materials needed in the classroom.

DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW: Some educators may oppose the use of technology plans as a means to better learning. They may argue that such plans shift the focus of schools from the content of the information conveyed to the means of delivery (hardware, software, and networks).

Other educators may believe that schools and teachers lack the technical knowledge and experience needed to create effective technology plans. They may think that the professional development time and funding necessary to upgrade teachers' technology skills could be better spent on learning more about content areas and teaching strategies.


District Plans:

State Plans:


Federal Funding for Technology
U.S. Department of Education
600 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202

National Center for Technology Planning (NCTP)
P.O. Box 2393
Tupelo, MS 38803
Phone:  662/844-9630 -- Fax: 662/844-9630
Contact:  Dr. Larry S. Anderson, Founder/Director

National Foundation for the Improvement of Education (NFIE)
Road Ahead Technology Program
1201 16th St., N.W.
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 822-7839; fax (202) 822-7779
Contact: Marilyn Schlief, Senior Program Officer


This Critical Issue was written by Alan November, senior partner at Educational Renaissance Planners in Evanston, Illinois, and Carolyn Staudt, an educational consultant, in conjunction with Mary Ann Costello, a free-lance writer, and Lynne Huske, Pathways coordinator at North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.

Development and production of this Critical Issue were supported in part by the North Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium.

Date posted: 1996
Revised: 1998
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