Monday, June 14, 2010

why I quit my tech committee

Sent to my school tech committee today...

I have already supplied the committee with some suggested agenda items: listed Apr 29 for meeting on May 25; meeting postponed and virtual agenda itemized May 25, meeting rescheduled for June 15. The committee is free to add or subtract from that list for tomorrow's meeting. You may also wish to postpone your meeting until such time as the district supplies it's "informational/FAQ note" that is meant to address our needs regarding a transition and support strategy -- without this your work may be speculative. I had thought that being proactive with some of our own transition plan was possible (explained Apr 29 email), but it was correctly pointed out that "it would be prudent to wait until the final document is out and approved in regards to what and what can be bought and supported at the school level before we start making plans." Without this action from the district, my position as chair is counterproductive and requires me to withdraw from the committee (explained May 25), and so you will need to select a new chair.

I have agreed to attend tomorrow's meeting as an observer (set expectations May 27 re: "where's the district plan?"), and will try to limit my involvement to sharing some thoughts and questions in advance about the district decision-making process that could undermine many successful educational technology adaptations at D.P. Todd and elsewhere. These impacts are, of course, avoidable and could be absorbed but to date the district has not supplied the necessary plan, assurances, or information that should have accompanied their decision to consolidate platforms and engage on an unspecified change in tech direction for our district (requested numerous times including May 21 email). It is acceptable and normal for the district to make decisions that some of us disagree with, but it is less than satisfactory for the district to have pulled the plug on an integrated set of teaching and learning resources without having worked through even a few of the tough questions that must accompany this level of decision-making (see questions below). It is just as problematic to promote structured collaboration and meaningful assessment at the district level and then skip this when given a relatively straight-forward opportunity to do so, not even a response to the many offers by teachers to work cooperatively for efficiency on tech budgets. I understand the board office has had a very busy Spring, but an established mechanism (the DTT) exists for the very purpose of providing collaboration and assessment for technology decisions, and would have been (could still be) one way for the district to meet expectations. If I am incorrect, and some of this work has been done in secret, then I beg (have begged) the board office for some transparency and answers to questions.

To repeat what I've said elsewhere (May 26), a negative outcome of the district's decision is not a foregone conclusion, but is much more probable if they do not follow up with the kind of planning that should have accompanied their decision to consolidate platforms and embark on unspecific changes in tech direction for our district. Indeed, the district may very well be considering some of the solutions to the problems we face at our school, but if so this is not yet public. This planning has been requested, described, modeled, and explained to the district before and after the April 27th decision to become a single-platform district. The board and board office staff at that meeting did not appear confused by what was being asked for, and indeed committed to making decisions according to a plan and that a plan would be forthcoming. As a final attempt to elicit the "mind of the district" on this matter, I have attached a list of questions below that the tech committee is encouraged to consider and pass on in some appropriate manner or format to the district. Many of these items and follow-up questions may be useful for the school tech committee as well.

I realize this may appear didactic in tone, and not particularly succinct, but I am truly interested in holding myself, my students, my colleagues, and the institutional structures in which I work to a high standard of planning, provision of evidence, rationale of decisions, and affected behaviour. My comments are not a blunt criticism of a decision or decision-makers, they are an assessment of a decision-making process, call for reflection, and some information for our school tech commitee. These sentiments and similar concerns were expressed by many others in the lead-up to the April 27th decision; as one colleague put it: "this process of asking parties what they think AFTER the ball has been put into motion is the sort that breeds disenchantment and disengagement." I think a timely analysis of the decision is needed to avoid disengagement. Just as the district's financial challenges can be framed alternatingly with fearful scenarios and also opportunities for growth, the district's tech planning has a similar "worlds" to sort out. I have confidence in the ability of school-based planning and our staff to fill the gap and turn from uncertainty to growth, but this would benefit greatly from a district context that opens the process with a clear plan for support. In the absence of a plan, even a clear statement of what is being left up to schools to figure out would be productive for our school's (next) tech committee.

Unfortunately, it has become quite clear that no district tech plan exists, not is it likely we will see one again. The DTT appears to be dead, it was May of 2009 when we last saw minutes published from a DTT meeting. Maybe I shouldn't complain, though, this is perhaps just a symptom of a larger trend. I think the model for how these things happen is changing, a function of cutbacks among other things. I know I'm guilty of expecting more than can be born by the resources at hand, and must lower my expectations for what the district provides in support of my educational practice. We have to accept that district will no longer be equipped to have a teacher-involved, collaborative mechanism for developing a vision of technology for learning. At any rate we haven't seen this for a while, and perhaps it never really functioned as intended. This is not necessarily negative, it just means that we'll be more of a "community of communities" than a collective. If I think of it that way its actually quite positive.

Not having a "invested core" (teacher-involved DTT, District Tech Plan, tech coaching/leadership/coordinators, tech-based pro-d, Key Tech Contacts, ICT goals, etc.) means teachers and schools will need to become more self-sufficient, and it may be a sign that we have differing needs that can't be met by central planning. I think teachers and schools were more self-sufficient in the 1990s and the centralizing trends of the 2000s were necessary to cross the digital divide. Teachers and district staff needed common ground to make sense of emergent technologies and the many gaps in basic computing skills among teachers and students. Perhaps we've cleared these hurdles... the era of tech-specific workshops, TLITE, questions about how/when to use technology with students, increased reliance on servers and tech support, teachers getting a handle on what their computers can or can't do, etc.

Maybe we should just accept that the district (SBO, administration) as a managing and collaborative entity is out of the "tech for learning" paradigm. This "calling" is now in the hands of schools and teachers within the prescriptions of security, stability, and purchasing restrictions (which appear significant). This ground does not appear fertile at the moment, but it does show a path towards self-sufficiency that is begged for when the district bows out of its role as coordinator. Have we passed through the heady days of the digital divide? Is technology still a stand-alone focus area?

My school's tech committee, such as it will become without a table of teachers, knows where to find me... right across the hall in room 180.  I resign from the tech committee after 7 years of work, 4 years as chair.  This time has seen amazing change at D.P. Todd, with educators and students entering the 21st century of digital technology. I'd like to think the vision started with teaching and learning in mind, and included plans for networks, lab environments, desktops, laptops, screen projectors, scanners, video cameras, software for everything, tech support, teacher training, student orientation, renewal, and so on.  Our evergreen plan was cost effective (we spent less per student on technology than PGSS, for example), and had a focus on staff development and student use, digital literacy, creativity, and purpose.  We may well have entered a new era of technology, one in which school-purchased equipment will increasingly play a background role, and so I leave the tech committee at a good time.

I am also resigning my role as P.O.S.R. (Position of Special Responsibility), a formal teacher-leader position I've held for 4 years, Key Tech Contact (6 years), and the Pro-D Committee (4 years, 2 as chair).

The 2010s will be interesting for sure. I think I've got a handle on what I need to make technology and learning work in my classroom, I know the people that can help me and what I can do to help others. I can also dial down my expectations and adjust the way my students and I use technology if there is less money or planning to support my needs & wants. I can look for mutual accountability among colleagues and try to see the silver lining -- when the organization stops providing vehicles for leadership and innovation, a very creative and wild landscape opens up in which we can practice self-reliance.

I have raised these recent concerns about the lack of technology planning and support at every level from tech committee, principal, district technology coordinator, senior administration, and trustees.  Having received nothing more substantial than "thanks for sharing your concerns" I should feel burned out but I also realize that others are counting on me to continue as an advocate for a funded, supported, thoughtfully planned and managed public education system.  And so I leave you with questions that  need to be discussed if this school district wants student learning to benefit from the creative potential of well-used, pedagogically sound digital technology.

District 57 Tech Process: what’s missing?
  1. needs assessment, e.g. what do we use and why, what do we need, what do we expect, why students benefit from our tech choices? 
  2. detailed/accurate total cost accounting, e.g. is there any factoring in of software replacement or training requirements, short-term cost of induced greening? 
  3. meaningful consultation, e.g. under pressure, a consultation period was initiated but no forums were provided by the DSC excepting a presentation slot at a finance meeting... is this the new model for change? 
  4. impact analysis, e.g. what value is placed on the time invested by teachers and others for platform and software specific course learning objects and lesson material? 
  5. statement of intent, e.g. should we expect a reduction in service or quality of teaching tools, or should we expect reasonable replacement? how? when? by whom? 
  6. transition plan, e.g. how long for emacs? imacs? when do macs have to go off network? grandfathering? role of mini-labs? exceptions? 
  7. innovation plan, e.g. macs have been a key piece of adaptations for transformative learning... what's next? school-bought or teacher-bought? sandbox options? 
  8. consider social/human capital, e.g. some of the district’s mac experts have spearheaded district initiatives and tech pro-d in part because they were supported on their macs, what’s the message to them? 
  9. assessment timeline, e.g. no sense of whether this decision will receive further scrutiny... what process will be used to measure results and when will this happen? 
  10. engage in inclusive discourse, e.g. no acknowledgement of cost analyses that challenged district numbers, nor formal discussion or answers to questions, specifically invitation or use of existing structures such DTT, KTCs, or school tech committees... why not?
District 57 Tech Process: some discussion questions
  1. Do you plan a needs assessment for future district tech planning? Brainstorm some questions that could be used. 
  2. Are you ready to take savings seriously and use detailed/accurate total cost accounting? Think of ways an asset inventory could move beyond just hardware and software. 
  3. Will the district employ regular meaningful consultation on its future tech plans and decisions? Describe some methods of doing this, and groups that might be involved. 
  4. Will an impact analysis have any bearing on the expectations placed on teachers? List some professional engagements that can come off of teachers’ plates so that they have time to mitigate district decisions. 
  5. What is the district’s statement of intent concerning future levels of service and options for educational technology? Base your response on the premise that many answers to this question will be acceptable, but there needs to at least be an answer. 
  6. What is the district’s transition plan, including some specifics on existing configurations and unique educational programs? Identify some programs at risk given reduced tech capacity. 
  7. What is the district’s specific innovation plan and expected support for some of our rich-media adaptations? Decide what degree of program loss or failure is an acceptable outcome. 
  8. Will the district consider social/human capital for its tech future? Think of ways to rebuild the bridges with tech practitioners in the district. 
  9. Has an assessment timeline been developed? Discuss what future indicators or data would suggest another tech plan change is necessary. 
  10. Will the district engage in inclusive discourse on its transition plan or mitigation for affected programs? In your response, compare the pros and cons of a collaborative decision-making model, and consider to what extent the DTT has a role in developing ed-tech vision in the district.