The Tech Largess Monster

Abridgement from the News-Times (1/10/08):

Thanks to a $2 million financing deal with the county for fiscal 2007, the school system is in the process of upgrading outdated equipment, and plans to install wireless canopies at all schools by 2009. They are also researching the possibility of making new constructions totally wireless.

One of the biggest initiatives under way is preparing to make the transition in March to NC WISE, the state Department of Public Instruction’s new student information management system. The school system has used the Student Information Management System (SIMS) for many years. But the state has been in the process of switching all school districts over to NC WISE the last several years, with 2008 being the year for Carteret County to make the switch.

That’s another reason that outdated computer equipment needs to be updated. Ms. Temple said thanks to the $2 million five-year technology replacement plan, a wave of new equipment has come into the school system since September.

Ms. Temple outlined a two-phase update plan for the 2007-2008 school year. From September to December 2007, the school district has purchased and distributed the following equipment in various county schools: 786 Dell computers (450 desktops and 336 laptops); 264 InFocus data projectors (with one extra lamp per projector); 96 HP network printers; five Dell servers for Newport Middle, Morehead City Elementary, Smyrna, Beaufort Elementary schools and the Central Services offices; three wireless canopies for Broad Creek Middle, Beaufort Middle and Morehead City Middle schools; and software for student and faculty/staff computers.

The second wave of equipment will come in between now and May 2008. That will include 689 computers (laptops and desktops); and three additional wireless canopies at Smyrna, Morehead City Primary and East Carteret High School .

Additional technology projects for 2007 include 21st Century Leadership staff development opportunities, projector installation projects and wireless capabilities for new construction sites at schools getting classroom additions under the $50 million school bond projects.

Whether on TV, at Senior Project presentations, or in the local rag (see above)—I have heard much ado, hopefulness, praise, and gratitude for the significant technology deal we hammered down to cap the 07-08 local budget go-round.

Now, some five months away from my previous position . . . and six months away from striking that deal, I am achieving enough distance to remain encouraged on many levels.

  1. My successor has hit the ground running, in a job with big-picture complexity that few who have never held truly grasp.
  2. County politics seem to be improving.
  3. All schools have greater access to technology.
  4. Folks are talking about technology in schools again.

Never the Pollyanna, though, I remain cautious and concerned about our focus. Buried somewhere at the bottom of the above article, I see scant reference to “21st Century Leadership staff development opportunities.” The emphasis seems still to be stuck on stuff.

We fought hard battles to maintain that our technology refreshment campaign would never become an NC Wise initiative. Any time we drain instructional resources for NCWise or any other function of management, we risk paying homage to the beast of accountability.

For our own benefit, we must not lose sight of the fact that this deal was structured to replace computers in classrooms, labs and media centers. That translates to students and teachers.

Thus, instead of hearing the trumpets of a student data management system in conjunction with this deal, I’d rather see much more air time given to 21st century instructional leadership models like IMPACT: Guidelines for North Carolina Media and Technology Programs. That translates into innovative and relevant teaching and learning.

The 21st century teaching and learning conversation will evolve more naturally next year as the technology implementation stage draws down—lest this year we inadvertently redefine ourselves as accountability mongers.

We will run amuck if we idolize the accountability beast (NCWise aka the Tech Largess Monster). Even NC blue ribbon panels say we are in accountability overkill.

A question from the Oracle: Keeping accurate data on 100% of our students . . OR . . . ensuring that 100% of our students and staff are proficient in terms of 21st century technological applications for educational gain—which would be the heaviest lifting? Which would yield the greater benefit? To which, then, should we be directing the greater resources and laser-like focus?

As I have shared here before and with the county commissioners:

We will no longer be able to say we have so much old technology. We will no longer be able to say we have to spend most of our time keeping the old stuff running. We will not be able to say as vehemently that we don’t have enough modern computers for students. We will ultimately have to figure out how to allow students to bring their own devices from home and connect securely to our wireless networks.

In short, once the procurement and implementation stages are complete, we will have to address how these 21st century tools are going to impact 21st century teaching and learning for 100% of our teachers and students.

And that’s when the heavy lifting begins.

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