Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Long-range technology planning for Texas schools - do we have the nuts and bolts to make it happen?

Week 2 Assignment

The Texas Long Range Plan for Technology, 2006-2020, has some fairly ambitious goals for technology in Texas schools over the next ten years. One of the easiest-to-define areas in the plan is that of infrastructure. The plan outline envisions that every school in Texas have state-of-the-art infrastructure by 2020, and that the schools and districts maintain that state-of-the-art status constantly. The plan specifies a "high-performance infrastructure to take advantage of new technologies" (p. 35), and talks of ubiquitous high-speed connectivity, safety, security, flexibility, scalability, and reliability. Campuses and districts will integrate voice, video, and data, and be able to host large volumes of digital content, and powerful applications. Teachers and students will have easy access to tools, anywhere, any time, and will work collaboratively with a strong sense of community. Teachers, parents, and administrators also will have anywhere, anytime access to data and information about student success and school operations, and technical support will be readily available. The vision even calls infrastructure "the critical element" in the implementation of this long-range plan (p. 35). 

Statewide, only 6.7 percent of districts in 2007-2008 identified themselves as having achieved this idealistic state, up from 5.2 percent who made the same identification the previous year. Some 57.2 percent, however, said they were at the Advanced Tech state in the most recent data, up from 53.3 percent in the previous year. At my own campus, our infrastructure is progressing, receiving successively higher marks in each of the three most recent years, but we remain in the Advanced Tech stage. In order to make the leap to the final stage, massive capital investments would be required, the district's philosophy regarding firewalls and necessary bandwidth would have to be reworked, and large numbers of additional technical and instructional support experts would have to be hired – all during a time when school funding in Texas, and especially in my own district, is being squeezed more tightly than ever.

There is some hope, that economies and efficiencies may be achievable, however, to help with these challenges. Verizon Business cites its top technology infrastructure trends for 2010, many of which will benefit schools:

  1. Enterprise Social Networking. As Texas moves toward a vision of a more collaborative and collegial culture among its students and its teachers, this trend will help move us in that direction.
  2. Cloud Computing. A movement toward webs of networked computers, paired with offsite resources to take over some computing tasks, may help with the need for increased computing power and bandwidth in a way that does not significantly increase costs to districts.
  3. 360 security – As network and cloud security becomes more advanced, secure, and dynamic, this improved ability will help schools and districts increase and maintain the safety and security of their own data and systems.
  4. A move from telework to telepresence, and seeing is believing - While teachers have never been able to telecommute, a move toward telepresence and the advent of more effective software and systems for videoconferencing in business will translate easily to more, and more effective, distance education for schools.
  5. Increased wireless applications – as more wireless opportunities are developed, this will help schools serve students in more dynamic settings, as the computers and experiments can leave the classroom and travel to less traditional settings on- and even off-campus.
Can this ambitious plan come to fruition? Possibly. Trends in the business world will help education, but financial and philosophical challenges also must be overcome before the reality will be seen in our classrooms.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Technology TEKS for little ones

Week 1 Assignment

In order for children to read well, they must begin learning their ABCs at a young age. In order to become fluent in mathematics, they must begin counting early. And in order for them to become proficient with technology, they also must begin practicing with it at a young age.

In Texas, there are technology outcomes specified for the end of a child's kindergarten year. These include the children's ability to open and navigate through learning-type software programs. In this area, children follow direction as they listen to and work with storybooks, multimedia encyclopedias, and other tools. They also can name basic computer input devices, including a mouse, keyboard, recorder for voice or sound, touch screen, and CD-ROM. They can move and double-click the mouse to work with programs, and can use proper terminology to describe what they are doing on the computer. Children at this age also can operate touch screens and voice and sound recorders, such as CDs. They can insert and play CDs, and use touch screens and voice and sound recordings properly. The children also can use software applications to create and express their own ideas, including creating writings and drawings with software. Finally, children will recognize tht information is accessible through the use of technology, and will learn via this medium.

As these TEKS are followed, the children are well placed for achieving the subsequent technology TEKS through elementary, middle, and high school. These TEKS map to the four key areas of the more advanced TEKS. These early childhood TEKS address primarily the Foundation area of the fully developed technology TEKS, which has students understanding and complying with laws and policies, understanding and using hardware and software, and inputting data. The younger children implement this area by moving a computer's mouse, learning the names of computer components, creating a picture, and knowing how to play a CD. As they become older, they will learn the more advanced steps of these basic areas, including creating multimedia presentations, and using the internet to research a topic.The basic skills the children learn at this young age will be woven through their future technology efforts, including their work acquiring information, solving problems, and communicating solutions.

A long-range plan for technology

Week 1 Assignment

The State of Texas has a long-range plan for technology in its schools. First published in 1988, the plan has undergone several revisions, as technology has continued to morph an develop, and is now in the version adopted in 2006. I was not aware the state's plan existed, but it certainly makes sense that it does, especially in today's constantly changing world of technology. Danish physicist Niels Bohr, who died in 1962, noted decades ago that "Technology has advanced more in the last thirty years than in the previous two thousand. The exponential increase in advancement will only continue." These light-speed advances in technology continue through today. Even country musician Brad Paisley sings  how, in his youth, he longed to be able to watch television while on long car trips, and for a Pac Man game he could play at home - both of which he can easily do now.

The implications here for Texas educators are students are myriad. In order to prepare Texas' students to survive and even to thrive in such an environment, a host of services must be in place. Technology in education has several advantages. It can be delivered just-in-time, when ever a student or teacher needs it and from any location. Distance learning, e-classes, and online courses abound. Additionally, technology offers the flexibility for students to learn in a manner that suits their interests, needs, and learning styles - fully customized for Johnny versus Jane. It drives students to be more engaged in their learning, which ultimately results in higher-order thinking and greater success for each of them. Finally, technology allows students to have access to a wealth of information their classroom teachers could only have dreamed of. To expect one individual to be a font of knowledge about everything related to, say, biology, is impossible. However, for that individual to guide her students, point them in a direction, and help them to develop the questions and find the answers for themselves, is invaluable. In this setting, students can collaborate and work collegially as they formulate real-world situations and find solutions for them, extending their learning far beyond the traditional.

For such systems to be delivered, however, first, Texas educators must themselves be well versed in these new technologies. They must not only be comfortable using them to analyze student achievement data, check e-mail, conduct research, and develop presentations. They also must be fluent in using these technologies appropriately and flexibly to help each student learn at his or her own pace and individual learning style.  Texas' teachers say that they perceive themselves to be fairly comfortable with technology, and that they have a desire to learn more about how to use it.

Second, school administrators must expect that such technology be integrated and fully utilized ubiquitously. Every day, every class, every subject - technology's integration into the learning process should be as normal and expected as hearing a teacher's voice. Administrators also must provide the support for these systems. All educators must receive professional development when they need it, in a fashion that allows them to integrate their leanings into their own classrooms immediately and effectively.

Third, the technology infrastructure must be in place to provide the information and technology required by this ambitious vision. Huge bandwidth, dependable hardware, compatible software, integrated media, secure and accurate data, and just-in-time technical support are vital to this implementation.

One caveat is necessary, however. The vision document notes that "The value of educational technology in schools is dependent on the learning experiences that are brought about by teachers and students" (p. 18). In other words, technology is only so many fancy flashing lights, cool toys, and fun games unless teachers and students work together to make meaningful. That is the most important key to ensuring that technology in Texas education works to help students learn. As a potential campus administrator myself, it is incumbent on me to keep this idea in mind. Technology as toys is useless. Technology as a suite of fully utilized learning tools, on the other hand, is priceless.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Technology Skills Inventories – or, how much do I know? And – do I know as much as I think I know?

Week 1 Assignment

The Texas Education Agency  and the State Educational Technology Directors Association each have developed instruments for determining the levels of technological literacy and proficiency among educators. The two are, in total, some 29 pages and 113 items long. As a tool for self-diagnosis, they are very thorough. The TEA tool was created by Patty Lanclos in Spring Branch, Texas. It measures how closely individuals perceive they are in alignment specifically with the eighth-grade technology applications TEKS by having them respond “yes,” or “no” to each item. The SETDA instrument is published by the national organization, which is headquartered in Glen Burnie, MD.

On the TEA tool, I ranked as fairly tech-savvy. I am comfortable with most media, and fairly knowledgeable with many programs. However, I do not appear to be as knowledgeable about machine operations. For example, I do not know tell how much RAM a computer has installed. I also am not certain how to interface analog and digital media, do not understand the difference in various graphic file formats, and do not use collaborative software. I also do not design multimedia presentations, use telecommunications tools for publishing. Largely, I do not use or require my students to create multimedia or technology projects, nor do I use or set procedures, timelines, or rubrics for such projects. However, I am fairly proficient, even adept, at using most of the technologies available to me, including interactive software, classroom feedback systems, and various input devices including interactive white boards and classroom tablets.

As for the SETDA tool, it identified myriad weaknesses and gaps in my knowledge and use of technology. Neither myself nor my school gathers or uses data to determine how well (if at all) technology is helping our students to learn. Additionally, I use very little student-directed technology. My students do not create projects, communicate with others, or even use tutorial software. There are some programs I do use, such as Geometer’s Sketchpad, which allow the students to manipulate and learn about dynamic mathematical concepts. Additionally, teacher collaboration about technology is fairly limited at my school.

Finally, I also completed a non-assigned assessment, the “Rubric for Administrative Technology Use.” On this instrument as well, I ranked as moderately adept, but not extremely so. While I am fairly well versed and comfortable with many technologies, I am not fluent enough to lead their implementation.