Thinkfest!  
About Face! Technology Planning Upside Down, Inside Out, and Standing on Your Head
by Dr. Larry S. AndersonFounder/Director, National Center for Technology Planning (NCTP)
MultiMedia Schools • October 2001 
In the previous column, you and I agreed to dive into some areas of technology planning and implementation that were both exhilarating and thought-provoking. The time has come, then, for us to do just that!

I encourage you to strap yourself in, hang on, and think deeply along with me as we "stare down" one of the sacred cows in our profession—technology planning. It is, after all, due time for us all to dust off our time-worn opinions of this concept. We simply must hold our beliefs up to the light of scrutiny to see if they still have the same merit they did when we first adopted those notions. We ask ourselves, "Are those ideas and philosophies still meritorious—or are they merely time-worn?"

I pledge that I will join you in this wholesome, healthy self-examination. This column will be a revelation of my fresh beliefs about planning. I suspect that some of you will find my statements shocking, even marginally heretical. Reflecting upon conversations I have had with many of you, though, I am comforted to know that it still is okay for a person to change his/her mind.

So, if you change your mind in the process of our time together here, know that you will have earned membership in a growing body of "Thinkfesters" who face, accept, and adopt change as it comes to us. We don't change just for the sake of change, however. Rather, we promote the ability to change when fresh facts and conditions are applied to an area where tradition tempts us to allow the status quo to form a crust of bland, complacent acceptance around principles we hold dear.
 

Old Wine in New Bottles
I can recall seeing one particular book in my father's library. He had many books—not a proliferation of "junk" or ordinary books; rather, he had invested in books that were of great value. One specific book, though, that caught my attention and forced me to think deeply about the title, not to mention its contents, was Old Wine in New Bottles by Lynn Copeland.

The impact of this book was that old ideas can find new life. There can be a resurrection of notions that have faced endangerment from "critique drought."

It is time to share with you my old wine (technology planning philosophy) as it has found a new bottle (planning model). I hope you savor its taste, but I caution you. This may take some getting used to.
 

What Once Was...
From the first days in 1990 when I began to focus intently upon technology planning as a concept, a theory, a practice, a process, I developed a growing evangelism for the fact that planning is a complex issue, and that education leaders must determine to immerse themselves in this complexity if they are to realize the maximum benefits of the process. The reason? If a technology plan (document) is an accurate reflection of the school, its philosophy, and its intended actions, then the plan must contain as many components as possible.

I have told many people that planners should strive to include every conceivable idea in their plans, especially if there is the slightest chance that individuals who read this written technology plan will consider it a blueprint for action. It's like this is their one chance to get everything they want catalogued in one place, just in case any questions are asked or any opportunities for expansion come their way.

One result of this is that many schools developed plans that were lengthy and extremely detailed. I recall seeing one technology plan from a school in a major city that took up nine 3-inch notebooks! I remember being impressed. I wonder, though, if I would have been so impressed had I opened the plan and tried to make sense of it. Sheer volume, I have learned, does not equate to high quality.

This concept of being quite specific is not entirely fault-ridden. I continue to believe that all those facts I used to promote so adamantly remain true. However, I no longer hold such concepts to be pivotal to success. Quite to the contrary, I believe strongly that there is a much more beneficial fashion in which a truly usable technology plan can be prepared and maintained. Let me explain why this shift of philosophy on my part has occurred.
 

Uncle Sam Always Knows Best!—Yes??
When the Bush administration took power in the U.S. government, the entire concept of accountability had new life breathed into it. Accountability is a good thing—or can be. After all, you and I have the full expectation that most professionals with whom we deal—doctors, lawyers, plumbers, electricians, computer technicians—are completely accountable for the efforts for which we pay them.

For several years, we have heard pleas from members of Congress that schools show them, in a substantive fashion, what the "return on investment" has been for the millions of dollars Congress appropriated for various educational initiatives. Educational technology is one of the key initiatives in which Congress has channeled investments. Our representatives deserve to receive a meaningful report from educators to help them understand how well they have done with the apportioning of limited funds.
 

But, Wait!...There's a Catch!
This question arises, then: "How can a school demonstrate its accountability?" From what sources, and by what means, does it acquire the information that will enable the school to provide an accurate report?

Audit! Perhaps that word sends chills down your spine. I admit it, when I hear this word, I immediately think of the horrible prospects of a tax audit—and how one can really mess up a person's life. A technology audit, however, can be a good thing. If school personnel fear a technology audit, I suspect it is because they simply fear the unknown.

Few schools have undergone a technology audit. Scattered reports from schools that have experienced a technology audit indicate that results are mixed. Some schools have had nightmarish experiences, while others express the opinion that the audit had very little impact. Precious few will admit that the audit was "a good thing" for them. In light of this virus of inconsistency, we at NCTP propose our new technology planning model—one that incorporates the notions of both accountability and audit. And the best part may be that this new model will come close to guaranteeing a positive experience for the school community.

So, as I launch into a linear explanation of the new model for planning, I ask you to keep in mind that the "catch" in the technology accountability picture is the audit. You will just have to repeat to yourself, over and over, "It's a good thing! It's a good thing! Yes it is!"
 

New Bottles for Our Wine
Author Stephen Covey (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, ISBN: 0-671708-635) has entreated us to "begin with the end in mind." Not a bad idea. Let's see, then, how this concept might apply to the new model for planning.

For starters, let's accept the following facts as givens:

  • The federal government expects us to be accountable for the money it sends our way.
  • State department of education leaders have an expectation that we use wisely the funds imparted to us.
  • Teachers don't need "yet another thing" sent their way to encroach upon their limited time for teaching.
  • Perhaps the best benchmark for determining progress, as measured through an audit for accountability, is the written technology plan.
I propose that the process of accountability through a tech plan can be easy, simple, understandable, and "doable." When some people have seen the new model, they say, "Larry, it simply cannot be this simple!" I just smile, shrug, and think to myself, "If you say so." I recall the adage from Henry Ford: "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you are correct!" Also, I reflect upon the wise words offered me by the great speaker Les Brown: "A mind convinced against its will is of the same opinion still."

So, I just nod my head and think, "Well, it really can be this simple, and the sooner we adopt the possibility that it can, the sooner we'll discover success." Also, the sooner we all will be able to show, with great delight, our federal, state, and local leaders what great things we are doing with technology integration efforts. All this will be accomplished by the way we construct our new technology plans!

Hint: If you are at the stage where you need to revise or update your existing plan, test this model! I contend that you will find unparalleled success—and you'll be "way ahead of the pack" when the time comes to demonstrate your accountability.
 

Details, Details, Details
Figure 1 shows a simple matrix. This is, indeed, a graphic of the new "upside-down" model of planning. It involves a process this simple:

  • Decide in your planning committee the main goals of your planning efforts.
  • (This could be as simple as your 3, 5, 8, or 10 key elements of the plan.)
  • List those main actions in the first column of the matrix.
  • In the second column, indicate a time frame in which you would hope to accomplish each activity.
  • The third column reveals the name of one or more persons who will accept the challenge to lead your school's efforts to make this action become reality. A very important point here is that this is not a negative thing. You don't want to "harness" someone with a "chore." To the contrary, make it a positive thing—a demonstration of active leadership.
  • Columns four and five are optional. If, however, you decide to use them, they will be of inestimable positive value.
  • Column four is where you record the evidence that you achieved the action goal listed in column one. Here is where you will catalog the success stories from your school. This is the secret to accountability, because this is where you record the evidence demonstrating it. If you will keep this column up-to-date with current information, you're ready—and purely delighted—for an audit at any time. You'll simply have a chance to brag on what you've accomplished, and the evidence is right there in black and white.
  • Column five can be used to record the lessons you have learned during your quest for techno-excellence.

Technology Accountability Matrix

The beauty of this new model is that the central elements to your technology planning activities are right there in front of you, presented in a fashion that is easily understood by any observer. We have just succeeded in making a hard job quite simple!

All it took for us to accomplish this major achievement was to design a simple model. But, we had to make it concrete. This model will meet the demands of federal legislators who, in their perfect right, are wanting to know how accountable we are. At the same time, it will be a positive, fun way that schools can brag on their successes. Even if there are areas where we haven't quite reached the mark of achievement we intended when we wrote our plans (and that is surely going to occur), we have a way now to put a positive spin on things—to show that we are, in fact, making progress toward goals.
 

Summary
But, wait! There's more! Perhaps you're asking, "But how does this proposed model fit into a 'bigger picture' of the technology planning cycle?"

Well, time and space have run out for this month's column. We'll have to pick up right here next month, so ... come back for more. And be sure to send your e-mailed comments to larry@nctp.com.  


Communications to the author may be addressed to Dr. Larry Anderson, National Center for Technology Planning; e-mail: larry@nctp.com; Web page: www.nctp.com.

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