Feb 06 2009

Countdown to a 21st-Century Classroom

Here's a step-by-step look at bringing technology into the teaching process.

10. Create a strategic plan.

The Albuquerque (N.M.) Public Schools’ 2005–2010 Master Tech Plan established standards for infrastructure and computers across the nation’s 25th-largest district. This common framework supports 21st-century deployments.

9. Seek diverse sources of funding.

The School District of Manatee County (Fla.) combines Title 1, Enhancing Education Through Technology (E2T2) and other grant funds to finance 21st-century investments. The district extended funds and financed a one-to-one project with a half-cent sales tax increase in 2004.

Partnering with area chambers of commerce to educate local voters about the benefits of one-to-one computing helped the district secure a “yes” on the sales tax referendum.

8. Centralize oversight.

Albuquerque created an Information Technology Advisory Council (ITAC) to guide all projects exceeding $100,000. If a local school proposes a schoolwide digital projector deployment, ITAC assesses available technology, explores standards and handles the request for proposals.

“ITAC enables growth not possible if decisions were made locally,” reports CIO Tom Ryan. The council consolidates projects to achieve the best possible pricing.

7. Don’t put the cart before the horse.

Florence School District (Ariz.) boosted bandwidth and network capacity as the first step in a plan for a massive district deployment of one-to-one computers, whiteboards and digital projectors. Albuquerque prioritizes investments by the following scale: infrastructure, computers, software and peripheral devices.

6. Do a test-drive.

Florence invested in a small whiteboard and digital projector pilot in anticipation of full-scale implementation. Tech enthusiasm spread like wildfire, says Director of Educational Technology Nicole Steele. Plus, when parents witness the benefits of these projects, they tend to lobby for additional funding.

5. Build faculty buy-in.

“The rubber meets the road in the classroom,” says Tina Barrios, supervisor of instructional technology for Manatee County Schools. Leadership is critical: Smart district leaders engage the unenthused by finding a hook to link tech to other priorities and creating school-level support teams.

4. Develop a multipronged training plan.

Manatee County’s instructional tech department blends extensive workshops with face-to-face modeling and mentoring. Specialists also help teachers develop lessons to optimize 21st-century technology. “Allocate at least 30 percent of the hardware investment to training,” Barrios recommends.

3. Assess, then assess again.

Five years after its initial one-to-one project, Manatee County collaborated with the University of South Florida and the Center for Curriculum Renewal to evaluate success. The team completed classroom visits; interviewed teachers, students and administrators; and analyzed test data.

The result: increases in enrollment in upper-level classes at the high school. The district also looked at interim qualitative benchmarks such as involvement by parents and teacher affinity with IT.

2. Tap into outside experts.

City and university leaders join Albuquerque’s CFO, procurement officials and tech directors at monthly ITAC meetings. Outside experts offer a critical eye and information about their own best practices, says Ryan.

1. Estimate ROI.

Educational return on investment — tied to factors such as increased engagement and motivation — is notoriously difficult to measure, says Manatee’s Barrios. Albuquerque attempts to gauge educational ROI by determining whether or not a tech project increases opportunities for teaching and learning. ITAC maintains a trim bottom line by focusing on the total cost of ownership over five years.