Saturday, November 09, 2013

Open Letter on the State of Technology

Open letter regarding the motions from the last board meeting, the ones about:
  • A) reporting to the SD57 Management & Finance Committee about cost-savings associated with single-platform decision in 2010, and 
  • B) reporting to the SD57 Education Programs Committee about student learning initiatives using district technology 
Dear Trustees and SD57 Senior Learning Team,

First off, I appreciate your efforts to restart a long overdue conversation. When I attended an open segment of a Management and Finance meeting in April 2010, the audience was assured by the chair that a technology plan would be forthcoming and the topic of district-level leadership and support (for the kind of work with technology that existed at the time) would not be lost. Again in March 2011 a presentation by district staff at Van Bien T&D Centre called "Enhancing Learning using Technology" looked at where innovation was going in the wider world and hinted at directions for 1-1 student access, a BYOD policy, complimentary purchase strategy, improved consultation with schools, cloud computing, the need for planning, and better wifi. Six of these seven topics have stalled; the only tangible result is the availability of wifi in more schools, though not without issues including a reduced level of access and functionality for teachers compared to the wireless systems that were in place prior to 2011. We've been waiting many years for a real tech plan and for a return to a district-level conversation. Perhaps now is the time to see some movement on these goals.

Regarding Motion B), my suggestion would be to ask a number of teachers about this topic (about what is going well and what is not) in addition to the "good news" stories that will be supplied by administration. I, or any former members of the District Tech Team,  can supply an extensive list of teachers who use technology for teaching & learning if this is helpful. Another source of public information is the substantial district input given on the 2011 "Enhancing Learning" presentation. Morris Scarpino collected this information and I have kept an archive if the data is hard to find. The feedback from the PGSS Tech Committee was particularly lucid (see link below).

Regarding Motion A), my suggestion would be to ask a more relevant set of questions about the state of technology in our district. I am puzzled as to why the board would choose a question about cost-savings in order to start a conversation about how "learning empowered by technology" (aka BC Edplan) can remove roadblocks in SD57. The financial result of technology decisions and directions is fairly clear -- there has been a substantial cost-savings associated with educational technology since 2010 as a result of many factors:
  • single-platform consolidation 
  • non-replacement of key features, software, and services that were provided prior to 2010 
  • adjustments to "greening" schedules (computer lab replacements) 
  • elimination of the District Principal of Technology position (formerly a District Resource Teacher position) 
  • elimination of the District Technology Team and associated release time for DTT members and "Key Tech Contacts" 
  • rejection or deferral of technology innovation requests and project proposals at multiple sites 
  • reduction of school technology allocations (e.g. schools are spending less on technology budgets) 
No doubt there are other factors at play, and perhaps the district budget picture will indicate that total expenditure on technology remains high despite the cutbacks since 2010. Having a leaner technology presence at the district level may be positive in a decentralized model, but this has not translated to more independence for schools to make technology decisions. The point is that we spend less now, and face more restrictions than we did four years ago, for key aspects of technology that support learning and the work of teachers with a vision for how learning can be enhanced through technology. The vibrancy sparked by leadership and district-level collaboration, the engagement of teachers, and impact on students as a result of technology is simply not where it was a few years ago, in part due to financial decisions and in part due to approach. While most districts in BC are increasingly hardware-agnostic, and have embraced mobile technology as integral part of school technology planning, our district is still silent on basic questions about where we are going with educational technology. On a classroom by classroom basis, no doubt you will find amazing, creative, and powerful uses of educational technology by teachers and students; this happens as much in spite of, rather than because of district policy and direction.

I'm sure my thoughts on the topic of reviving a rich culture of technology innovation are not new to you; I have spoken and written extensively about this topic and and would be happy to provide case studies and references to support the arguments I have made. I can also share some very positive examples of how educational technology is being used and how this relates to budget priorities.

Finally, last year I invited those of you who had attended the BCED Leadership Fall Conference to think about and respond to three challenges that face our school district. The second one was the most relevant to technology in SD57 -- I've reposted these challenges here:

Additional references:
Best regards,
Glen Thielmann

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