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March/April 2002
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The Technology Committee: Building a Foundation for Assessment
by Rob Reilly Ed.D. 
Computer Education Teacher • Lanesborough (Massachusetts) School System 
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[logo]Haven't we often wished for more hours in the day? Don't we often wonder where all our time went? Well, let me suggest that all our missing time has been consumed by all the technologies that have befallen us in the past decades. We just do not realize what the technologies are doing to us—we do not assess their impact correctly. This is due to the fact that we believe that "technology" will make our lives easier, will lessen our workload, will provide more leisure time.

At least, that's what we have been led to believe by the many commercials we see on television. It seems that if we accurately assess the situation, we'll soon see that technology does not make our lives easier; technology makes our lives richer. And by making our lives richer, technology does not lessen our workload; it allows us to do more and more and more in a given amount of time.

Yes, technology has made our life richer. However, let me again suggest that richer does not mean that our lives have been made easier. Certainly going online to buy something may be a time-saving enterprise; online banking is much less time-consuming than actually having to drive to the bank or use paper and pencil to do what we now can do online. Or is it? Let's think about what the net effect of all this technology is.

I recall my grandmother often observing that the current generation has "too many things to do, they're too stressed by all the demands that they have put upon them." You don't save time; you can now do more things, which makes life more stressful. All the time that is saved is simply filled by other things that technology has now time-compressed (e.g., banking to online banking, 1900s style washing machines to modern-day machines, clotheslines to in-home dryers).

In some aspects of life, technology does make life better by easing our workload. But for many other aspects of our lives, technology creates more work ... or, at least, creates more things for us do, thereby consuming more of our time. We have just not recognized that yet.

My point is that we do not accurately assess the usefulness, the nature, or the outcomes of using technology. If this is true, and I believe it is, then we must question how we assess our success or failure in regard to the use of technology in schools and libraries. Given the idea that technology does not make our lives easier but makes them richer—which means we now do more things, which, in turn, means we have increased demands on our time—let's explore this notion in a school or library situation.

Technology in the Service of Education
Ferdi Serim, the executive editor of this magazine, has said on several occasions "effective educational programs place technology into the service of learning but not as a stand-alone enterprise." At the building level, IT (information technology or instructional technology) is a critical point-of-usage by staff and students.

When mechanical breakdowns occur they are usually fairly straightforward and can be overcome by time, sweat, and expert labor. Techies generally can't wait to fix technical problems—to hunt down the cause and overcome it—to explore the inner workings of the technology (well, good techies think this way). Techies are quite adept at assessing technology needs, assessing usage, and assessing the cause(s) of a dysfunctional system (well, goodtechies think this way as well).

Techies are expert at making these assessments because they comprehend the nature of technology. If the problem cannot be addressed by some surface-level analysis, they have tools that will probe the deep recesses of the technology to search out the cause of the breakdown. So assessing the mechanical side of technology is not a problem. The problem arises in the application of the technology—how technology is used to improve education, to improve the curriculum, to improve the professionalism of the educator.

I suggest that it would be productive for us to assess the foundation of the technology committee that guides a school or library's technology planning mechanism—to assess what they assess—to assess their mission, which will ultimately impact the effectiveness of all the technology that is deployed within the organization. To inject a metaphor here, you can't make an accurate measurement with a faulty measuring device. That measuring device is typically the technology committee.

Usually schools have a technology committee that is led by the library media specialist and/or a technology coordinator. But many schools do not have such committees, or the existing committee does not delve into the issues that will provide accurate feedback about its status. But let's try to add a new dimension to those folks, or, if your school does not have a committee, let's get started with a solid foundational perspective of its mission.

Blanket Assumptions
As for the technology hardware itself, it's one thing to be able to populate an organization with technology and keep it running. But it's quite another thing to appropriately populate a school or library with various pieces of technology and support it. (And by support I am not talking about fixing mechanical breakdowns, I am talking about support for the people using the technology.)

Typically schools and libraries purchase computers based upon a superficial needs assessment that flows from the idea that "everyone should have a computer." Or the notion that "We need at least one computer for each classroom."

When a business organization sets out to purchase technology, it relies on consultants to assess its needs, make recommendations, and implement those recommendations. (Just go to any Internet search engine and type-in "technology assessment plan" and peruse the hits.) Understandably, schools and libraries do not have expense accounts to hire outside consultants. But this can be overcome by knowing what consultants look for and how they view assessment.

First of all, consultants do not make blanket assumptions such as "every teacher and/or classroom should have a computer, a printer, and Internet access." They realize that providing computers to people who do not know how to use them with the expectation that they will learn how to use them (somehow) is not a good approach. But schools do this—don't they?

With that said, let's explore a technology committee. Or, more accurately, let's build a mind-set that accurately assesses the technology needs of the organization.

The Technology Committee
What is your technology committee like? What should a technology committee be like if you do not have one? Well, having technology-literate people on board goes without saying. Also having an administrator on the committee is critical—absolutely critical. The committee can set all the guidelines and pass all the rules it wants, but if it lacks full administrative support then everything that the committee does, or will do, is just going to be so many useless words on paper. So the administrator who is a committee member must be a person who has a good deal of political clout and is willing to use that clout with the top-level administrator as well as with the school board.

It is also critical that at least one member of the technology committee be technologically illiterate. Yes, someone who knows very little about computers, someone who may not even own a computer! This person must also be somewhat assertive, as he or she will be needed to speak up when the committee forgets about the people who must use the technology. This may seem to be an imprudent suggestion, but there is a definite need to have a feedback loop that encompasses the skill level of most of the staff. Having such a person on the committee will provide down-to-earth feedback, and you'll need an accurate reality check if you expect to really succeed—to really impact the vast majority of the staff (who are not yet technology gurus).

The Leader
Next item. Who is the technology leader? Who oversees technology integration into the curriculum? The answer to this question is twofold. And let me state here that it must remain twofold. In a word, the technology leader cannot be viewed as, or end up as, the technology janitor. If this is allowed to occur, then the technology leader aspect of the position will be consumed by the technology janitor tasks.

Certainly the technology leader will be asked to assist with various technical problems, but this should only be as a first responder. The technology leader can't become the fix-it person. This will dampen his or her spirit, and it will certainly stop the flow of ideas about curricular matters.

If there is no technology coordinator or technology director (or even if there is one), the technology leader can be any teacher, administrator, or paraprofessional. It just needs to be a person with a vision of how the technology can be used to enhance/support the curriculum and how the technology can be employed to increase the professionalism of the entire staff.

Note I did not say, "integrate the technology" into the curriculum; also note I did not use the term "technology integration" here. It's critical that we approach this issue as one in which the needs of the curriculum must be met, and the needs of educators must be fulfilled. It should not be the case that technology drives the decisions. The curricular needs should drive the decisions and the technology should solve those needs. It should not be the case that educators be given a computer, for example, and then be expected to fit it into their curriculum. It should be the case that the technology leader and the technology committee look at the curriculum and look at the needs of the teacher as a professional and ask themselves what technology is available to make that experience richer. (Remember this means more work for the staff member, as richer does not mean easier.)

The Authority
Another critical foundational question (even if there is a strong administrator on the committee) is about the real effect that the committee can have. That question has to do with whether the committee is just in place to satisfy a state mandate, while the administration unilaterally decides what to do about technology regardless of what the "committee" has to say. I'm not sure what advice I can offer here except to say that asking this question and honestly answering it is a major first step to solving it. If the building principal or the superintendent does not fully support the efforts of the committee, then all may be lost before you start.

Another important foundational ingredient has to do with the oversight role of the committee. To be effective, the committee needs to constantly assess the role of technology in the organization. Consider these questions: "Is 'assessment' ongoing? Does it only occur during a critical incident, or does it only happen every 6 months?" It should be ongoing. If the committee meets every-so-often, or "when the need arises," then its leadership role will be lost. For example, the committee needs to continually oversee the contingency management policy to cover, say, closing the account of a user who is about to be fired or is clearly disgruntled enough to do damage to the computer records. Also for example, the committee needs to scan the horizon for new technologies (hardware and software) that may better assist the staff in their jobs.

Assessing anything is a difficult chore. Doing technology assessment in a school or library is especially difficult as the people who will be tasked with this chore already have a "day job" and assessment is not it. The business community does not expect their workers do perform assessments of this nature; they hire outside consultants to do it. But the simple reality is that business can afford to hire consultants and we cannot—so the task of technology assessment is left to us. It's difficult to become an expert consultant in a short period of time, but that's what needs to occur if technology is going to be effectively employed in schools and in libraries.

Resources for a Technology Committee

Dr. Larry Anderson's National Center for Technology Planning at Mississippi State University is an excellent Web resource. The folks at NCTP have created an excellent Guidebook for Planning that can be downloaded from: http://www.nctp.com/downloads/guidebook.pdf and also be sure to see: http://www.nctp.com/tech_plan_links.cfm.

An excellent site that discusses issues surrounding Professional Development. This site contains a number of excellent Web links to articles that have been written on professional development issues, goals, and pitfalls. It also provides Web links to a number of schools systems that have model programs in effect. http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/educatrs/profdevl/pd300.htm.

The Virginia Department of Education Web site provides policy statements, outlines needed components, and provides sample templates. be sure to bookmark this site it will come in handy sooner or later. http://www.pen.k12.va.us/go/VDOE/Technology/AUP/home.shtml.

The Electronic School's Web site is a great resource to see what new things are popping up in the world of technology for and in the classroom. There are many articles to browse, a school board corner, useful links, and many other useful pages. This is a great site for teachers to use when trying to use when trying to find out about new ways to integrate technology in the classroom. http://www.electronic-school.com/.

The Massachusetts Department of Education has a very forward thinking technology planning document. It's highlight is the separation of the responsibility for technology curriculum development from the responsibility for fixing equipment and maintaining it. http://www.doe.mass.edu/edtech/broad/sixstandards.PDF

The Massachusetts DOE's PreK-12 Instructional Technology Standards also provides an example of forward thinking in this matter. http://www.doe.mass.edu/edtech/01docs/itstand01.pdf or http://www.doe.mass.edu/edtech/01docs/itstand01.doc.

IntegratingIT is dedicated to providing the education community a place to find 'real world' Strategies, Solutions, and Resources for integrating technology not only into the curriculum but the entire fabric of the educational system. This site is organized by the perspective of the Classroom teacher, the School administrator, and the District administrator. http://www.integratingit.com/.

The Instructional Technology Kiosk is an interesting Web site that is actually a short online tutorial about the issues that will be faced by a Technology Committee that will asked to assess their school district's technology. http://www.qvctc.commnet.edu/people/itkiosk/itkiosk.html.

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is anon-profit organization working to integrate tehcnology in the classroom. The ISTE is an excellent Web site to peruse every so often, so put it into your bookmarks. http://www.iste.org.

Dr. Rob Reilly is the computer education teacher at the Lanesborough Elementary School in Lanesborough, Massachusetts. He is also a Visiting Scientist at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is conducting NSF funded research in the area of affective computing. Communications to the author should be sent to Dr. Reilly at e-mail: reilly@media.mit.edu. His Web site is http://www.media.mit.edu/~reilly.
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