Technology Planning? E-rate Says: “Fuggedaboutit”
I simply don’t understand E-rate’s rationale for the elimination of the Technology Plan approval requirement within the E-rate application process. I cringe when I think of districts attempting to navigate strategic technology planning and budgeting without a plan. Currently most districts take their cue from their respective state department of education. Although some states still require plans, many of their standards have not been updated since 2012 or even earlier.
Considering the defunding of the EETT (Enhancing Education Through Technology) program back in 2011, the recent change in E-rate policy removing the requirement for approved technology plans beginning in 2015 for applicants seeking category two funding (category one technology plan requirements were lifted back in 2011), and the lack of updated technology plan frameworks at the state level – are we setting up districts to fail?
Although there is a plan to possibly rehab the EETT program in 2016, I consistently advocate for effective technology planning regardless of compliance requirements. I believe it is up to districts to lead the charge in redefining the state guidelines in effective technology planning. Working within the confines and framework set forth by their respective state board of education, districts can take their plans to the next level by incorporating these key focus areas:
Start with a solid foundation. | The technology landscape has evolved. Previously, technology plans focused on wiring schools, computer labs, and making other basic hardware and software decisions. Today’s plans should begin with collaboration with key stakeholders. District IT leaders should assist in identifying the requests of staff and students in an effort to learn about their daily needs – not technology, but their daily work and learning activities. Today, with the proliferation of “blended learning,” technology plans should closely resemble instructional and curriculum planning with technology taking a back-seat and providing more of a supporting role.
Planning for the Technology Ecosystem | A lack of planning makes preparation for “solutions” impossible. A well-detailed and executed plan must include the steps and process necessary to ensure cross functionality and compatibility with systems. A strategy-centric plan will ask the right questions of the leadership, staff, and students to ensure the decisions made in year one will work effectively with the solutions implemented in years two and three.
Governance over overhead. | Effective IT Governance provides a clearly defined framework and process for the district’s IT operation. One important example is service desk software that tracks support requests and provides metrics that help identify service trends, trouble areas, and professional development opportunities. These metrics provide crucial data when creating technology plans. They forecast extra services and resource needs vs. capacity. Additionally, an effective governance program helps identify management overhead concerns. Systems and solutions that require much more hands-on time by IT staff may be modified or discontinued to make room for better performing systems that require less attention by IT staff. Effective IT Governance should help encourage communications not only within the IT department, but throughout the district. Keeping your leadership and staff informed and a positive line of communication open, will help forge strong relationships between IT and where the technology is used the most, within the classrooms.
Invest in Wetware. | Hardware, Software, but what is Wetware? Although the definition has evolved over time, Wetware is a reference to the physical mind or brain. In this case, staff – staff development is essential to ensure success with your district’s planned implementation of hardware, software and systems. The continual process of engaging faculty to participate in trainings, discussion groups, and wikis acts as a catalyst for ideas and innovation in the classroom. This easily provides a vehicle for IT leaders to engage stakeholders and to keep the conversation productive and fresh. Technology plans should also include strategies for grooming IT staff skills that take advantage of these new technologies. I am an advocate for providing continued education opportunities to IT department staff – by engaging the IT staff in learning new and exciting technologies they quickly become a critical component in the brainstorming sessions with faculty and students about the future of your district’s technology. Often times, IT staff get “stuck in the weeds” dealing with systems that are difficult to manage, working without effective governance policies, or dealing with a clear disconnect between the IT operation and the district’s user base. This forces the IT teams to be on the defensive; they will often say “No” to every request for new technology because they lack the resources to manage their current workload.
If you listen to E-rate and other state and federal programs and guidelines for educational technology planning, you get a sense that plans are becoming more and more obsolete or take a back-seat to the application process. E-rate’s recent reform order has provided districts with a more “predictable” approach for budgeting category two dollars with the use of caps and five-year spending cycles. Contrary to E-rate and other program requirements, the need for effective technology planning makes for effective technology budgeting and spending.
Weidenhammer Consulting Group can assist districts with critical E-rate processes such as: strategic planning, wireless and network infrastructure design, surveys, and implementation, RFP creation, and vendor selection. Weidenhammer is also a Trusted E-rate Service Provider.