Technically, It’s not a Tech Plan

Posted by on Feb 28, 2009


Technically, we already have a tech plan.  We are required to submit one to the state of Illinois in order to receive our eRate funding.  The problem is, while it’s a solid plan, its focus is far too narrow to be a true guiding document for the entire district’s implementation of technology.  We needed more.  This fall, we began the process of working to accomplish that goal.

We started out with the understanding that the actual, pragmatic technology practices in place in our district were far too nebulous.  We had what some might call pockets of innovation, but we lacked a unified, cohesive vision of how technology impacts the learning experience.  I believe that is the case in far too many districts due to a perception by decision makers that simply acquiring technology is the answer to the need propagated by our shifting culture.  Unfortunately, as this article details, technology itself is simply not the answer.  If a tech plan is built exclusively upon technology, it is doomed to fail.

In the hopes of avoiding the inherent failure of technology being implemented for the sole sake of implementing technology, we determined to build our plan upon the bedrock of student learning.  The process and potential final product we established is something I’m extremely excited about.

We started our process by determining that we would eventually be building a vision framework for technology rather than a specific technology plan.  The key difference between the two concepts being; a plan is something you execute, typically in a linear fashion, to its end and evaluate whether or not you achieved success by its implementation.  Whereas, a framework is a foundation and structure upon which you build to establish a solid, dynamic end result that has room built within it for growth and change.  Our framework will serve as a guiding document to assist teachers in engaging students in more robust learning experiences through the use of technology.  The focus is entirely on students and their learning experiences.

Once we knew that a learning-based framework was our final goal, we had to determine what, exactly, that meant.  What would be the learning upon which we build?  We started looking at a myriad of learning skills being presented as essential by a host of educational groups.  We culled from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, NETS, AASL, and Bloom’s digital taxonomy.  We compiled a list of 26 core learning skills to be explored and narrowed down to five.  We chose to go with five, and call them “Foundational Learning Skills” because we found that number to be both manageable and attainable as a focus for the framework.  We also expect to revisit each of the five foundational skills in subsequent years to examine our effectiveness and determine if we should supplant a skill with another based on the change of society and modern practice.

We know in order for our framework to be successful, we need to build it with the support and representation of all vested groups within our district, so we established a committee with which to work.  Our technology committee is comprised of 55 individuals with a direct interest in our students’ futures.  We have representation from every building in our district, and we have administrators, teachers, technology support staff, parents, community members, and specialized support staff.  The committee met in January and whittled down our list of 26 skills to our 5 foundations.  The process yielded; collaboration, communication, critical/evaluative thinking, ethical behavior, and problem solving.

Our next task is to take each of the five foundational skills and build three learning experiences that can span and spiral from pre-k to high school graduation.  We subdivided each learning experience up to specifically cover grades PreK-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12.  Each level builds upon the previous, and provides a means by which a teacher can be provided guidance into understanding how technology can interface with learning.

The image below shows a potential example of this framework for the foundation of “communication.”  We purposefully selected experiences that have a key technology component but focus more on the learning experience rather than the specific technology.  We are currently at the point where we are building a matrix like this for each of the five foundational skills.  This example only lists two specific learning experiences, but ultimately, each of the five foundational skills will have three unique learning experiences.  Click on the image to see a larger version of the example.


When this framework is completed, it will serve as a guide to help teachers better understand the way that technology can help students access learning with greater depth and engagement than prior to the advent of any of the specific technology referenced in the framework.  The framework will help drive the focus for professional development and technology purchases, as well as the specific support our staff will need from our technology leaders in our buildings.  We are also working to establish a strong pilot procedure for teachers who want to innovate and experiment with new emerging technologies, so we can have specific data to consider each year when we revisit the plan to make adjustments and refinements to keep current with the changes in our profession.

I am very excited about this process, and I absolutely believe this will help provide a cohesive vision for our district’s technology implementation.  I also firmly believe this will result in a positive change in the way students engage the process of learning.  There is still much work to be done, but I do believe we are headed in an extremely exciting and student-centered direction.

Thanks to jinglejammer for the Flickr image.


  1. Andrew Kohl
    February 28, 2009

    Interesting, Ben. I’m curious how the final plan looks. I’d also love to read any reflections that you have on the process — things that you had to do to bring certain stakeholders into the conversation, etc. I applaud your direction.

    Looking at your framework, do you worry that the example lessons would be taken too literally? I would worry that some K-2 teachers would grab hold of the pass-along story idea and consider that one project as their technology integration. It illustrates the concept nicely, but I’m assuming that there is room for innovation within each part of the framework?

    It’s hard to get past the problem I’ve mentioned and I’d also love to hear how the presentation of the plan and subsequent dialogues have clarified the purpose in this area.

    Thanks for sharing. Fascinating stuff.

  2. Dean Shareski
    February 28, 2009

    I still struggle with including specific applications like podcasting. Will podcasting be something students need to know? I don’t know. It seems that providing a scope of sequence of this nature around these types of skills might not be the best approach.

    Grant it, I don’t have the answers either. I’m just thinking out loud here because we are currently working on a similar project. We you use the word framework, I think about larger broader concepts of, dare I say it, literacy.

    I do think sample lessons would be taken too literally. However on a year to year basis, it’s not a bad starting point for many. I’m all for providing those specifics but when you have to be careful to separate these from the bigger picture, since we already know it’s not about tools.

    Not sure if this advances the conversation but anyway…

  3. Ben Grey
    March 1, 2009

    Thanks for the thoughts, Andy and Dean. This is exactly what I need right now. I’d like to really wrestle with the tough ideas on this to get the process as solid as possible. I’m hoping people will be willing to scrutinize the process and find any and all holes in the approach.

    It’s interesting because I’ve been met with the most resistance when I use the podcasting example. In my opinion, it’s actually a very good example as a podcast is more than a tool. It’s a process. When I had my fifth grade students do a class podcast, I was amazed at how rich a literacy learning experience it really was. Students were conceptualizing stories, writing out scripts, peer-editing, reading for fluency, reading for an audience, and measuring the success of their work against a global audience. I do absolutely believe that’s the kind of learning experience we want our students engaging.

    Dean, you mentioned on Twitter that you were looking for a framework that strikes a balance between the esoteric and the pragmatically specific. I honestly believe this is approaching that. At the foundational level here, the esoteric question is “What is our goal for students?” In this case, I believe the core of what we’re getting at is learning. We want the students to engage in learning. So the next question would be, “How should we engage them in the process of learning?” Again, in this framework, we’ve decided to focus on five of the 26 learning skills we established from looking at a variety of sources. Other districts may well choose to focus on other specific learning skills, but the whole concept is to base the framework around learning. Once the skills for focus are selected, then the more pragmatic part of the plan is engaged. The learning experiences I listed in the example framework are not prescriptive. That may ease your mind, Andy. We are simply looking for ways to focus students in the process of learning in a relevant, dynamic way.

    I think there’s much more to discuss here, and I hope you both will continue the discourse with me. Thanks for the help.

  4. Kelly Hines
    March 1, 2009

    I am intrigued (and excited) by how your district is approaching the development of their technology framework. I appreciate how it is framed around the core elements of content, rather than a laundry list of tools that may or may not still be relevant after the first two years of implementation. I am curious about the questions that Andy raises about whether teachers will view the examples as a mere checklist. I wonder if it wouldn’t benefit all parties if teachers were given 3 examples (as you have now) but one of the elements in a child’s technology portfolio had to be teacher/school created. If teachers had a clearinghouse where their self-generated lessons to integrate this technology could be housed and accessed, they may be more likely to bring these elements into their everyday teaching. I’m not sure, just a thought. I am definitely looking forward to following along with you on this journey and hearing your thoughts, ideas and reflections.

    – Kelly Hines

  5. Pat Haughney
    March 3, 2009

    As one of Ben’s co-chairs, I’d like to chime in on Andy’s questions. We plan to introduce the plan in concentric circles so it has broad-based support. It begins with the 55 committee members, moves out to the buildings via sharing with the principal group, department chairs, building technology committees, and parent groups, and circles back with feedback from those stakeholders. This process will continue until we feel that all constituents have been heard and (as much as is possible in a district of 9500 students) consensus has been reached on the vital learning experiences we believe are essential for our students.

    As far as the lessons being limiting – we worry about that too but are optimistic that the tech support in the buildings will enable teachers to move past those beginning experiences and to develop their own. We are working to establish collaborative spaces where teachers will share their lessons and student work, with specific reference as to how this has increased student learning in the targeted areas. Finally, principals will receive assistance in understanding what these experiences should look like, how to support them, and how to evaluate them?

    Are we naive? Maybe, but all great change begins with optimism, so wish us luck and we’ll keep you posted!

  6. Andrew Kohl
    March 10, 2009

    I’m just throwing this out to start an idea, but what about crowdsourcing the exemplars in your framework? Obviously, you may need to start the process yourselves, but this would enable you to offer several representative lessons across the spectrum of content areas. It would also reinforce the idea that you aren’t advocating a single lesson as integration.

    I know that there are flaws all over this idea, but it also models the skills that you are addressing in the framework. It also shifts the idea of a framework away from being a document that someone can stick in the drawer — it becomes culture and practice.

    We’re just starting a similar process to you in our district, and this concept keeps running through my head. I still struggle with the transition from concept to reality.

  7. Scott Meech
    March 27, 2009

    You mentioned that your committee has 55 members… Can I hear specifics of how you physically ran those meetings to wittle down to 5 foundations. How much preparation work did you do to help guide these discussions? Was it a brainstorming session? Was there “homework” assignments for the committee? Who led the meetings? How high did representation go? Who was the driving force behind this plan?

    These questions are important to understanding the success of your plan. I think there are lots of districts that would like to do this and the process matters to them as much as your outcomes are to others.

    One last question … Where does teacher evaluation fit into your framework?


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