Technology can improve student performance and managerial efficiency. However, the mere presence of computers itself does not lead to academic gains or administrative efficiency. In fact, there is evidence that disorganized additions of computers actually reduce student achievement, distract administrators from their primary goals, and waste funds.
Here are 10 strategies administrators should undertake to assure that their technology programs realize their promise:
- Provide leadership. Become an advocate for using computers to address broad needs, while paying special attention to finding the opportunities that most directly address local concerns. Work with the school board and superintendent to find points of agreement on priorities and vision, as these parties control spending. When problems emergemissed deadlines, cost overruns, etc.address them immediately, even if it means delaying implementation of a program until it can be done correctly.
- Regularly review your technology plan. Because students’ needs evolve and the computer and software industry constantly produces innovations, a district’s technology plan cannot be static. It is especially important to review key investment decisions in the plan to make sure they directly contribute to the district’s overall educational goals. This also helps guarantee that projects are adequately funded, from purchase to installation to training.
- Carefully consider each purchase. School district officials who have funds to purchase technology may be overwhelmed with their choices. It’s critical that good decisions are made when spending these precious dollars, especially since early hardware and software decisions will drive investments in the entire program for years. Consider technology purchases to be at least as complex as other infrastructure projects, and go through the entire routine of requests for proposals, documentation of system requirements, vendor presentations, site visits, software evaluation, comprehensive cost analysis, and tests of software. Also, make sure your vendors have a strong track record.
- Set a single standard. Don’t let individual schools or administrative departments use incompatible software that can’t “talk” to other systems. Fewer software platforms also require less spending on training and upgrading.
- Don’t try to design software. School systems rarely have staff members with the training to design unique software applications to meet a district’s needs. Fortunately, there are off-the-shelf products that make this “do-it-yourself” mode unnecessary. Find a good vendor and pay that company to modify existing software, as needed.
- Don’t move too fast. Implementation places extreme demands on a district’s current mode of operation, and it can be stressful to staff. Be realistic about how quickly a new system can be adopted. Separate implementation into steps that enhance (but do not significantly modify) current practices and those that require radical change. For steps that are significantly different, make sure you provide training and demonstrate a personal belief in the new way of doing things.
- Get everyone involved. Everyone who is affected by an increased use of technology in the classroom or administration should have a role in both planning and implementation. Cross-functional teams can help improve acceptance of change.
- Support your technology systems. System maintenance and upgrades are essential. Teachers and staff members will lose interest in technology if their equipment does not work. Create a dedicated management information systems (MIS) department, rather than relying on troubleshooters randomly placed throughout the school system. This department must resolve problems promptly, not in three or four weeks. Analysts say one technician can service up to 300 personal computers, so don’t exceed this ratio.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of technology. Don’t be afraid to learn about what’s working and what isn’t working, both in the classroom and in administration. Come up with quantitative measures of user satisfaction and output (student achievement, efficiency in the purchasing department, etc.).
- Hire good people. Technology is one of the most excit ing areas in education today, and it is attracting some well-trained, motivated people. Find them, and give them exciting challenges. This will help keep these people in your school system.