Connecticut Schools’ Three-Year Technology Plan

After the 2008 Presidential Election, an election that saw great citizen involvement and use of technology, people are watching the Obama transition team and sites like to see what sort of citizen engagement will emerge. However, there are important opportunities for citizen engagement available locally that too often get too little focus. An example here in Connecticut is the efforts by school boards across the state to form their new Three-Year technology plans.

My understanding of the process is that technology committees are supposed to meet in each school district with representatives from the school and from the community. I’ve had the opportunity to serve as a community member of the technology committee for the Woodbridge School District. It has been very challenging for me since some people seem to feel very uncomfortable with the openness that I believe is imperative for such a committee, especially given my approach to involvement as a blogger. It has also been very challenging because I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on technology and have viewpoints about technology and education that seems to be considerably different from that of some members of the committee.

Yet for all my disillusionment with the committee and how technology is and isn’t used at the school, it appears as if they are doing a laudable job compared to what I’ve seen searching the web for what other school districts are doing. I did find the agenda for the Canterbury Public Schools November 20th technology committee meeting.

A. Review of current Technology Plan
B. Brainstorm of possible additional committee members
C. Next steps

Hamden is the other school that stood out. They have version 1 of their 2009-2012 technology plan online.

Some schools had their 2006-2009 technology plans online, like Greenwich, Cheshire, and North Haven. Madison’s 2003-2006 technology plan is also online as well as other resources.

One of the best resources I found was the CT Educational Technology blog. It had links to some very interesting articles, such as a blog post about S.1492: Broadband Data Improvement Act, which includes Title II, “Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act.”. This section, which the blogger notes has implications for e-rate applicants.

Specifically, Section 215 imposes an additional CIPA requirement for E-rate applicants' Internet Safety Policies. Such policies must include "... educating minors about appropriate online behavior, including interacting with other individuals on social networking websites and in chat rooms and cyberbullying awareness and response."

The blog also includes a link to an acceptable use policy that addresses Web 2.0 issues. The Franklin Parish, Louisiana acceptable use policy which includes

Teachers may allow individual students to use email, electronic chat rooms, instant messaging, social networking sites (I. E. facebook and myspace) and other forms of direct electronic communications for educational purposes only and with proper supervision.

I’m very interested to hear how school districts will educate students about appropriate online behavior on social networking sites, especially in districts that don’t allow students to access these sites.

It seems as if the blog and the online technology plans would be a great way for school districts to gather and share information to create better technology plans. Yet since the plans are mostly older plans, they may be of limited value.

More significantly, it seems to me as if there are a number of significant problems with many of the plans. Often the person representing the community is yet another teacher or aide at the school. I’ve been frustrated that the Woodbridge technology committee seems dominated by employees of the school district, yet the committee has more PTO members, Board of Educations members and simple parents like myself than any other committee that I’ve seen. If you want citizen engagement, these committees would be a great place to get involved.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been concerned that the Woodbridge plan seems much more focused on buying new hardware and software than on professional development and changes to the curriculum. Yet again, it seems like the Woodbridge plan is doing a much better job of this than many of the plans that have almost no money set aside for professional development. Some of this may be because I’ve mostly found older plans and perhaps this will change.

Yet trying to find resources on technology related professional development for educators also is a challenge. CT Kids Link has a policy brief on Technology Professional Development for CT Educators, but it is from 2000.

With this lack of focus on professional development, it seems as if many plans end up being shopping lists for hardware and software being pushed by educational technology corporations, and often the technology plans focus of specific brands of educational technology instead of getting to the underlying issues.

What are these issues? The template for technology plans has a great phrase, “The locus of control for learning must shift from teacher directed to student directed learning”. It seems as if this shift is very slow in coming. Woodbridge would seem to be well positioned maximize this shift.

According to the PTO site, The Woodbridge school policy focuses on resource based learning.

"Resource-based learning places students at the center of the learning environment which uses as many resources as possible, including teachers and textbooks." - Carol-Ann Haycock
The following statement, RBL - A Workable Comprehensive Definition, was developed by Beecher Road staff on November 30, 1996.
Students learn best through a wide variety of primary sources, personal relationships, cooperative explorations and print/non-print media. The Resource-Based Learning program at Beecher Road School is a system of study that encourages inquiry and enables learners, both students and teachers, to acquire and use information from multiple sources.

In this area, the Woodbridge Board of Education was forward thinking. Resource based learning seems like the logical basis for twenty first century learning and helps focus on the phrase about the shifting of the locus of control for learning that the State’s template provides.

I have much more to say about my thoughts about school technology plans. I hope many of you do too. Technology was a key factor in driving citizen involvement in the 2008 Presidential Campaigns. Let’s hope that it can be a key factor in driving citizen and parent involvement in the schools of our state and our country.