The need for quality computer education in our schools is creating a great opportunity and a tremendous problem at the same time. The opportunity comes through the application of new and exciting tools to foster increased learning for students through technology integration. The problem arises, however, when technology plans are poorly designed or implemented, leading to a lack of measurable results, high frustration levels, and budget overruns.

So how can schools better manage technology programs to ensure computer fluency among both students and faculty? By addressing the five primary components of a successful technology plan: a long-term vision, hardware and software, professional development, student curriculum, and evaluation and assessment.

Long-term vision

Imagine the state of education five, 10, or even 20 years from now. In schools of the future, students and teachers will have technology at their fingertips and they will use it in an environment of heightened learning. Students will communicate, collaborate, create, express themselves, access information, and process information using technology that is seamlessly integrated into all classroom activities. The academic lessons of tomorrow won’t prepare students for the future in an abstract manner, but rather they will actively simulate real-world experiences utilizing ambitious interdisciplinary projects that inspire and engage children.

Remember, students need special training in reading and writing in order to make reading and writing incidental to the study of other subjects or to the execution of professional work. Along the same lines, computer fluency is a prerequisite to the very high level work that occurs in industry today and that will occur in tomorrow’s schools.

Selecting hardware and software

Educators often find themselves thrown into an arena full of clashing operating systems, development uncertainties, and software turmoil when faced with the prospect of upgrading or purchasing new equipment for computer labs and classrooms.

What hardware should schools buy? The answer is simple: Buy the market. Buy equipment the way businesses buy it. Measure performance, price, and software stability.

Consider carefully the return on investment when buying today. Analyze your needs for the next three to five years minimum, and buy the most powerful systems your budget will allow.

Also, be sure the platform purchased will support the software necessary to develop skills students need to succeed in tomorrow’s workforce. These skills encompass 10 core technology areas: desktop publishing, telecommunications, spreadsheets, databases, programming, multimedia, applied technology, word processing, operating systems, and graphic design.

In addition to educational titles, purchase software that is commonly used in business, such as Microsoft Office.

Finally, your operating budget needs to include a line item for annual hardware and software upgrades, not just for the initial capital expenditures.

Professional development

Once you’ve selected the right hardware and software, teachers must be properly trained to use it.

Most educators today have come to the realization that teachers need formal training when it comes to learning how to use technology. This is achieved through structured, comprehensive professional development programs that train teachers in the 10 core technology areas.

Professional development should utilize curricula specially designed for educators, promoting mastery of the 10 technology areas through real-world, hands-on exercises that directly relate to the teaching experience.

Once teachers have mastered those areas, professional development needs to move into a second phase: integration training. “Technology integration” has become a real buzzword in education these days. It sounds easy when you think about it: just train the teachers and students in how to use the computer, and then use it in the classroom. But we are having a very hard time achieving it. Why? Because many schools try to do the last thing first. In the rush to achieve technology integration, they often bypass the fundamental technology training itself.

Through integration training, teachers learn to incorporate computers, CD-ROMS, educational software, the internet, and other technology tools into their own classroom activities and teaching materials. Then, the real transformation of education begins to take place.

Curricula for students

Once your building is outfitted with the best hardware and software and your teachers confident in their computing skills, the next component of the plan is implementing grade-specific technology curricula.

An effective curriculum should integrate key learning objectives with software specially selected for its academic value and its ability to help students gain lifelong technology skills. Learning objectives should be defined by a scope and sequence document and cover the 10 core areas.

Another factor to consider in developing curricula is the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS), recently developed by the International Society for Technology Education (ISTE). These standards provide an excellent blueprint for the development of results-oriented, grade-specific curricula.

Assessment

Technology plans and all of their components need to be continually monitored for effectiveness.

Some questions to ask in your assessment process are: How effectively do your teachers integrate technology and use technology resources to enhance learning? Is higher academic achievement being realized? Are student grades, on the average, increasing? If your answers are insufficient, perhaps you need to reassess how your technology program’s goals and tactics are being implemented.

Professional development training should include pre- and post-testing to assess teacher learning. Refresher courses or supplemental training may be needed as technology evolves. Additionally, the content of the professional development courses themselves needs to be reviewed regularly, since the technology areas we emphasize today may be totally different two years from now.