From the Field
“Planning for digital learning requires a comprehensive review of academic achievement goals so that the use of technology supports student achievement.”
Carla Wade, Digital Learning Specialist, Oregon Department of Education
The full scope of teaching, learning and administrative needs that call upon technology in today’s schools demands a thoughtful mix of devices and infrastructure in order to achieve a broad range of goals. The careful planning for digital learning with the necessary infrastructure are critical for digital learning success. Districts have begun moving away from technology planning as a stand-alone activity in favor of more comprehensive planning efforts that include technology tools and resources as one overarching component of achieving school-wide goals. In this integrated approach, districts carefully analyze all applications of technology across the entire school before making investments in facilities, devices, or professional development. Integrated plans document the many school-wide needs, goals, and activities that call upon technology as a resource across the school. Stand-alone technology plans reflect their more focused technology planning process.
District strategic planning can encompass the school’s focused technology planning process to ensure efficiency and effective digital learning and technology implementation. While many districts undergo technology planning to produce a technology plan document, districts often find the whole planning process to be at least as equally valuable as the plan itself. The discussions and collaboration lead to buy in and an understanding of what needs to be accomplished and why. Comprehensive planning offers many benefits:
- Planning orients districts and schools toward long-term thinking about reform and improvements. With a future-facing approach, leaders can establish vision for how technology can support broader goals and objectives that help to align resources for successful technology implementation.
- Planning can encourage districts to emphasize excellence over compliance. Even though most technology plans include similar elements, districts have the freedom to populate plans with various ways of exceeding, and not just meeting, expectations.
- Good planning can cultivate a healthy school culture by calling for decisions rooted in accurate data and valuing the input of a variety of stakeholders throughout the process.
E-Rate Technology Planning Requirements
As part of E-rate Modernization, the FCC eliminated the program’s technology planning requirement. Technology planning is still expected, but submitting and certifying technology plans is no longer a mandate. This shift in E-Rate requirements does not minimize the importance of planning for technology infrastructure. The FCC noted, “We are certain that even absent this rule, technology planning will continue to occur because technology has become a central part of school and library infrastructure, and technology planning has become integrated into applicants’ core strategic planning.” Program details related to technology planning are available on pages 79, 197 & 198 in the July 2014 E-rate Modernization order.
With these changes comes an excellent opportunity for schools to revisit and reassess their technology planning process and their strategies for transforming education to bring digital learning opportunities to educators and students.
Critical Steps for Planning Process
From the Field
Indiana Innovation Planning Grants
The Indiana Department of Education offers Innovation Planning Grants to support school districts in planning to shift to digital learning and 1-to-1 environments. Each grant is $30,000 and provides resources for data collection, consultants, writers and professional learning for educators. Typically, districts apply for the Indiana Innovation Planning Grants the fiscal year prior to applying for the state’s Digital Learning Grant program, which supports device purchases, and professional learning for 1-to-1 environments.
For example, in 2012, Seymour Community School Corporation won a technology planning grants for their Focus Area See More T.E.C.H.: Technology Education Connected to High Achievement project. The district spent the 2013-2014 school year focused on three goals: 1) auditing their infrastructure, policies, practices related to digital learning 2) training the technology leadership team in 1-to-1 implementation, project based learning and flipped classrooms and 3) identifying one elementary, one middle school, and one high school academic need that could be addressed through the implementation of technology tools. Throughout the year they developed a technology plan to support digital learning and then applied for and won a Digital Learning Grant. In 2014, each 6th grade student and teacher will receive a device and the 6th grade will shift to a digital learning environment. The long-term goal is to have a 1-to-1 environment for all classes 6th grade to 12th grade.
Successful districts have embraced the concept that both the technology planning process and the technology plan itself represent two important but very different aspects of planning. A high quality planning process includes a broad stakeholder group working together to intentionally devise a method and rationale for meeting technology outcomes that support learning needs across the education enterprise. Planning for technology in this way is an iterative process that is alive, kinetic, and never truly complete.
Good technology planning embraces the general structure of any thoughtful, systematic process. That is, stakeholders begin with a gap analysis or needs assessment, then define goals, activities, timelines, and outcomes to address the needs, before determining whether needs were met and refining the process based on results. Technology plans are useful for aligning communication messages, keeping issues fresh in everyone’s mind, and for monitoring progress. Plans typically need to be updated every 2-5 years to reflect the rapid changes inherent in technology implementation.
The technology planning process typically includes:
- Readiness Planning and Needs Assessment that includes a current assessment of topics such as:
- An examination of the status of the current technology plan, whether the goals have been accomplished and if not, should they be continued.
- An inventory of devices and hardware including the technology that the district already has access to.
- An understanding of the current and projected level of the students’ knowledge and skills regarding the technology tools.
- An understanding of the current level of teachers’ knowledge and skills in using technology as an integral part of instruction.
- An understanding of how technology is maintained, by whom, and when, including insurance coverage, outsourcing, help desks/tech support, and other approaches the district is taking to ensure the investment in technology remains fully operational.
- Vision setting – Early in the process, districts typically establish an overview and a mission and/or vision statement that addresses what the district needs, and what impact the technology is expected to have on learning.
- Create a planning and leadership site-based decision making team representing a variety of education stakeholders from multiple programs and diverse backgrounds
- Establish an overview and a shared mission and/or vision statement that addresses what the district needs and what impact the technology is expected to have on learning
- Ensure that the vision/mission is communicated and there is buy-in from educators, students, parents, business, and community
- Leverage existing partnerships and initiatives
- Research promising programs in your state and across the nation
- Provide strong campus support and leadership
- Develop specific goals, objectives, and activities/strategies that transform teaching and learning and align to the district’s strategic plan and results of needs assessments
- Ensure that state and federal requirements and expectations are included in goals, objectives, and strategies.
- Include a timeline to help ensure that goals and objectives are met in a reasonable time frame
- Communicate with education stakeholders the timeline for implementation and expected results
- Identify the person and/or departments responsible for each activity
- Include a process for aligning activities/strategies with curriculum standards
- Include well-defined strategies for evaluation, assessment, and accountability
- Incorporate new instructional approaches and communication models in the plan
- Include a detailed explanation of all expenses associated with the plan, its implementation, and anticipated funding sources
- Budget for people support—pedagogical and technical
- Budget for student enrollment growth and changes in personnel
- Include a sustainability plan for the technology over time
- Develop a process for measuring the effectiveness of the plan based upon metrics that were included in the goals, objectives, and activities
- Include dedicated time for planning, collaboration, communication, feedback, and adjustment during the plan’s implementation
- Determine formative and summative methods for evaluation, including online measures to document progress and achievements
Successful technology planning engages stakeholders across the district in a process that closely aligns with the topics identified above. Rapidly changing technologies and new ways of using technology for learning suggest that by its very nature, technology planning will continue to be needed. Also, since it takes time to move through a full planning process, districts can expect to almost always be in some phase of technology planning.
Key Considerations for Readiness and Needs Assessment
From the Field
PowerUp – Houston Independent School District
In 2013, The Houston Independent School District launched PowerUp, a districtwide initiative aimed at digitally transforming teaching and learning for all students. The PowerUp initiative was developed, launched, and continues to be implemented by a cross-functional team made up of various departments including curriculum, professional development, instructional technology, information technology, communications, and the administration. PowerUp is about creating a personalized learning environment for today’s 21st-century learners and enabling teachers to more effectively facilitate instruction, manage curriculum, collaborate with their peers, and engage today’s digitally wired students. The initiative includes trainings for students, staff, and parents as well as the adoption of an online teaching and learning platform, which is currently in the pilot phase on 48 campuses with plans to launch in all 283 schools during the 2015-2016 school year. For more information visit www.houstonisd.org/powerup and watch this short video.
The first planning activity that will contribute directly to the development of a technology plan is to assess readiness. Early on, this means conducting a needs assessment, environmental scan, or evaluation of conditions for success that will provide accurate data upon which to base a variety of planning decisions ranging from device purchases to tech support. Types of data that might be collected include: demographic information, student data (learning climate, opportunities, achievement), perceptual data, and information about infrastructure and facilities. Readiness assessments lead to action planning that defines the audience served, professional development and resources needed to carry out the technology plan.
- Does the district have data on teacher technology literacy skills and comfort with using technology while teaching?
- What professional development opportunities related to technology have teachers availed themselves of over the past two years? What are they asking for now?
- Are teachers comfortable with leveraging the technology tools to help meet individual student needs?
- Do the teachers have broadband access in their homes?
Infrastructure, Equipment & Content
- Can the broadband network support the plans for digital learning?
- Has wi-fi access been planned for adequately?
- Does the school have sufficient electricity to support upgrades?
Access to Tools and Content
- What education technology tools are currently available to enhance education for all students?
- How has digital content already been incorporated into the curriculum?
- What technology resources are available via the current procurement opportunities?
Information technology team
- Does the district have a thorough inventory of the devices in the district, including the age, operating system and warranty coverage of each?
- How are the devices deployed within each school and how are they deployed among schools?
- How has the district planned for long-term sustainability?
- What are the demographics of the student body? Have they changed over time or have certain parts of the district changed over time?
- Looking at data from various assessments – informal and formal, in all subject areas – how are students performing against standards and other benchmarks? Are there areas of concern statewide, district-wide, school-wide or by grade level?
- How prepared are the students to use digital learning tools seamlessly in the classroom ?
- What are the plans for new students as related to technology literacy and familiarity with the devices and tools in your district?
- What type of device and broadband access do students have at home?
Home Access Readiness
From the Field
Lamoille Union High School
Lamoille Union High School District’s 1-to-1 program’s planning process included publishing the pre-program’s device and broadband access data. For more details visit their website.
When planning for technology, leaders should also consider the level of access to devices and broadband students currently have and should have at home in order to achieve their vision. Connected students can collaborate with fellow students after school, access research materials, develop multimedia projects, and use advanced features of digital textbooks. Without access to devices or broadband at home, 1-to-1 programs can lose a great deal of their effectiveness. As the Digital Textbook Collaborative noted in its 2012 report, Digital Textbook Playbook, “While schools must be connected in order to create a successful digital learning environment, digital learning cannot only happen at school. To accomplish truly ubiquitous learning, students must be able to connect outside the school walls.” In the National Broadband Plan, home access to a high-speed internet connection is described as “critical to maximizing utilization.” During the planning process, districts may consider surveying families to gather data on student-device ratios at home including the types of devices and also student broadband access at home.
Involving Stakeholders in Setting the Vision
From the Field
“When you understand how to strategically plan for digital learning implementation, the benefits and the challenges, district leaders clearly can convey their vision.”
Superintendent, Cottonwood School District, Idaho
Organizing stakeholders for planning means determining early in the process who will have the authority and accountability to carry out the plan, who may have an interest in the outcome of the plan, and who can have influence in ensuring the plan is a success and then inviting representatives from those groups. Typically planning teams include representatives from a variety of groups such as school board members, administrators, teachers, assessment and data specialists, technology staff and community members. Local leadership (e.g. school principals) is key for making sure the planning team has detailed and accurate information, as well as providing an important communication and implementation resource. One recommendation is to include at least some of the district’s less tech savvy educators on the stakeholder committee to gain a more complete picture of all teachers’ priorities, not just those of early technology adopters.
An important stakeholder group to include early in the planning process is the technology support team. Tech support encompasses a range of services from device and network maintenance to user support, and may be configured in a variety of ways. Tech support usually begins with a helpdesk or service desk, but also can expand to include service level agreements with various providers, face-to-face training and professional learning, and online support, both live and media-delivered. With this much contact across the spectrum of technology implementation, tech support staff can provide valuable insight into technology planning, implementation, and refinement.
Initiating the planning process with a shared vision serves as a firm compass point for how technology will support teaching and learning goals. Unlike a consensus in which everyone agrees, developing a shared vision represents buy-in from all stakeholders and reflects efforts to involve the right people at the right times.
One way to achieve a shared vision is to use clear language in all aspects of the process. Districts that have spelled out target audiences, goals, methods, timelines, responsibilities and outcomes enjoy less confusion because of better communication. Another idea is to elevate the interconnectedness of technology with other initiatives taking place at the school above the benefits of particular devices or setups. Sometimes compromises on realizing the full potential of devices, for example, can be more effective for achieving the particular learning outcomes set forth by school-wide goals and indicated by accurate local data.
Implementation of the technology plan depends on wholehearted support from all members of the school community. Only when teachers are attuned appropriately to purposes of the plan, given sufficient ownership in ideas and opportunities for growth through the plan, and provided the level of training they deserve will they ensure full infusion of technological concepts into the curriculum and its related activities.
Technology implementation benefits when community stakeholders, educators, and staff are on the same page about what the technology plan involves. This typically requires a variety of communication approaches (e.g. web-based, print, in person, and both formal and informal) and purposes (e.g. information sharing, gathering feedback, hand-on practice, question/answer, etc.) taking place regularly over a long period of time. Formal stakeholder meetings should be held to review the plan and progress toward achieving its stated goals. In particular, when school boards are involved, it is essential to keep them informed on the progress of any program. Continued funding can be realized if the school board is able to clearly describe to community members how funding has supported meeting education goals.
The technology support team must be an integral part of the entire planning process. Tech support encompasses a range of services from device and network maintenance to user support, and may be configured in a variety of ways. Tech support usually begins with a helpdesk or service desk, but also can expand to include service level agreements with various providers, face-to-face training and professional learning, and online support, both live and media-delivered. Tech support staff can provide valuable insight into technology planning, implementation, and refinement.
Budgeting for the Long Term
From the Field
The Maryland Educational Enterprise Consortium (MEEC) has been organized to provide its members opportunities to license the use of education hardware and software at competitive prices. MEEC also provides its members technology relevant services including training and interaction with the vendor. MEEC membership includes public and private K-16+ institutions, public libraries and museums in the state of Maryland.
Technology planning that takes place in tandem with funding cycles allows for greater alignment of plan initiatives with intended results by creating opportunities for consolidated procurement and device purchasing across departments. Economies of scale are possible when:
- The district recognizes that technology plays a critical role in achieving its goals. The district has a budget that will ensure the implementation of its long-range technology plan and has assigned district staff to monitor the plan.
- The budget includes staffing, infrastructure, hardware, software applications, professional development, support, and contracted services.
- The district seeks funding for technology programs from federal, state, and private resources, as well as from academic departments that are supported by technology. The district explores ways that technology can reduce costs and create efficiencies in other areas of the district budget.
- Maximize grant funding to foster an initiative, or to begin a program. Funding streams must be allocated over time to continue programs started with grant funds. One approach is to build in a budget over time that includes dedicated funding in the budget that matches the original grant amount to sustain a program.
Coordinated planning of device and digital instructional material purchases, professional learning opportunities and technology support can help with overall expenditures and potentially save districts funding. Most critical is ensuring that the technology plan aligns with the strategic academic goals for the district.
Examples of Planning with Technology in Mind
As with technology planning that follows a general structure but plays out somewhat differently in each district, technology plans share similar elements even though no two technology plans are exactly alike. There are two main types of technology plans: stand-alone and integrated. Whereas some states mandate long range independent technology plans that focus largely on technology issues only (i.e. stand-alone), others are integrating technology planning into strategic and school improvement planning across the education enterprise (integrated).
SETDA’s State Education Policy Center (SEPC) provides details on state and district technology planning requirements including information on states that require both independent and integrated technology plans. Eighteen states require independent district level educational technology plans and 22 additional states do not require but strongly encourage technology planning.
Following are examples of state requirements for district plans that focus largely on technology issues.
- Beginning in 2014, Florida Statutes (F.S.)1011.62(12)(b) requires each district’s school board to submit to the state department of education a Digital Classrooms Plan (DCP) that has been adopted by the district’s school board. The district plan must meet the unique needs of students, schools and personnel in the district. The state has funded a DCP allocation has been established to assist districts in this effort.
- Independent district level educational technology plans are required by Nevada and are revised every 3 years. The district technology plans are used as part of the biennial needs assessment.
- Independent district level educational technology plans are required by Virginia and are revised every 6 years. The technology plans are reviewed to ensure alignment with the state educational technology plan, assess progress toward meeting state goals for educational technology integration, and ensure that state and federal requirements are met.
Following are examples of plans where technology is a more integral part of school and district-wide planning.
- Connecticut requires district level educational technology plans as part of each LEAs comprehensive or school improvement plan. The plans are revised every 3 years. The state provides planning support through online webinars, face-to-face trainings, e-mail and website support. The district technology plans are used as a guide for common practices across the state. Future plans will be used for deploying district wide technologies including online assessment testing and blended learning systems.
- The Digital Learning Advisory Council (DLAC) in Wisconsin was charged with developing a comprehensive plan for PK-12 digital learning in Wisconsin that would serve as a living digital learning document to provide recommendations to the State Superintendent on initiatives that advance PK-12 digital learning.