San Diego’s i21 initiative follows Intel’s K-12 Computing Blueprint for eLearning Initiatives, which helps school leaders implement anytime, anywhere learning programs. The blueprint is based on real-world successes and includes consideration for the many variables facing schools today, Intel says.

Here are its seven components…

Policy

Policy affects every component within the blueprint, and rightly so—as “federal, state, and local policy provides the context in which all education takes place,” the blueprint notes. School leaders must understand policy, and how it affects education, in order to make technology initiatives successful.

An important part of this is recognizing that policies should be flexible and should be evaluated periodically, making modifications if necessary. Doing so will help policy makers create realistic policies with workable time frames. Periodically evaluating existing policies also helps state and local education leaders determine whether the policies truly are working in the interests of those whom they are meant to benefit.

Educators, school leaders, and other stakeholders can become involved with policy making or regulation in several ways, including as individuals or as members of an association or advocacy group. Other ways include working closely with local media, developing fundraising plans, and partnering with local or community organizations to support policies that will benefit both parties.

Though many policies are created at the state or federal level, school districts have control over their own acceptable use policies. These guidelines for technology use should include the definitions of appropriate and inappropriate technology use, consequences for violating the policy, and plans for addressing student safety, among other items.

Leadership

Inspiring and supportive leaders are behind nearly every successful school technology implementation. School and district leadership have a huge influence on whether ed-tech programs are effective, and state and federal leaders also can help or hinder an ed-tech implementation through their actions or policies.

The Software & Information Industry Association has developed a number of suggestions for school leaders as they prepare to implement a new technology program. Some of those suggestions include identifying the program’s objectives before planning, drafting evaluation criteria, and assigning an effective leader to manage the implementation.

“Effective leaders are ones who are able to balance top-down and bottom-up approaches to planning and implementation,” according to the blueprint.

If school and district leaders hope to implement a successful technology initiative, they should identify key stakeholders who will have a say in the process; build a technology task force; develop teacher buy-in; create a strategic and sustainable plan; involve people, process, technology, and data; and maximize communication.

Teachers and students who support the proposed initiative can prove valuable by championing the vision in the community and among colleagues and stakeholders. Additionally, explaining the proposed initiative’s potential benefits and outcomes can help generate early buy-in.

Some sample objectives for a one-to-one computing initiative, clearly identified by a school or district leader, might include using data-driven decision-making performance solutions, improving teachers’ technology skills, reigniting students’ interest in classroom lessons, improving students’ technology skills, and enabling administrators to provide comprehensive professional development.

Effective communication is essential to effective leadership, and communicating through social media plays a large part in today’s schools. School leaders increasingly are using social media such as Twitter and Facebook to communicate with students, parents, and community members. For instance, the Urban School of San Francisco uses Facebook and Twitter to update students and parents on the progress of its one-to-one laptop program.

Funding

Project leaders must account for not only the up-front costs of any proposed technology implementation, but also the ongoing funding that will be necessary to sustain the project.

The strained economy has made many people wary of large-scale education investments, but initial project costs could be covered by a variety of sources, including grant-making foundations, community bonds and allocations, and statewide pilots and seed funding.

If school and district leaders hope to procure computing devices, such as laptops or tablets, they have a few avenues to consider. Purchasing the devices is a beneficial option if ongoing funding is a concern, but leaders must consider the need for future upgrades or device replacement. Leasing the devices spreads the cost over a period of time and makes upgrading or replacing devices easier. A lease/purchase arrangement offers some installment financing, and some hardware companies support upgrades during the lease period. Leveraging student or family-owned devices is a fourth option, and schools might be able to negotiate lower student or education rates at which families can purchase devices for their children.

Consideration for ongoing costs is essential if school leaders hope to support a technology implementation for the long term. Ongoing costs might include hardware maintenance and replacement expenses, subscription fees for online content or access to other resources, and professional development costs.

Schools might be able to locate funding for this ongoing support through grants, discount programs such as the eRate, support from local organizations, community partnerships, or family contributions.

“In addition to looking for innovative and realistic approaches to [total cost of ownership] budgeting, it is important to look for ways in which the innovative use of technology can actually save a district money,” the blueprint notes. “The long-term effects of one-to-one adoption, for example, can bring many parts of an annual budget down after year one.”

For example, communication costs might fall if teachers and administrators begin to communicate with families electronically instead of through paper-based means alone.

Digital content

Investing in technology for its own sake will not change education. Effective professional development, willingness from teachers, and a realistic and enthusiastic vision for how technology can enhance curriculum and instruction are necessary as well.

Technology should be applicable to all learning styles and should support student activities that would be difficult or impossible without use of the technology.

Digital content should be flexible, meet the needs of all learners, be translated into other languages if applicable, and be adjusted to fit different abilities.

Proper and effective professional development will help teachers feel confident and well-equipped as they incorporate technology and digital content into their lessons.

Infrastructure

Aside from the devices themselves, school leaders should consider infrastructure issues that might arise during a technology implementation. These issues might include which mobile devices to choose, or how to deploy a secure wireless network.

When it comes to computing devices, project leaders must know the student-to-device ratio, how many—if any—desktop devices are needed, and what precise mobile devices will best suit students’ and teachers’ needs. Leaders also should consider implementing a battery exchange program, providing onsite charging and device docking, making software upgrades easy, and establishing detailed plans for device maintenance and support.

Devices will best support students and teachers if they offer several hours of battery power between charges, have sufficient storage capabilities, and have wireless capabilities.

The network that will support these student and teacher devices is equally as important as the hardware. A school network should be stable and secure, and it should able to support the necessary number of users without slow traffic or hiccups. Some schools are moving from wireless Wi-Fi networks to WiMAX, which is faster than Wi-Fi and has a greater access range.

School IT leaders will have to support this infrastructure, and they will best be able to do so if they schedule regular collaborative meetings; log, track, and analyze reports to identify and address weaknesses in the IT infrastructure; and use students to help maintain equipment and support users, Intel says: This approach reduces the load on the IT staff, while giving students a chance to develop and apply their own IT skills.

Professional development

“Professional development is one of the most crucial—and frequently overlooked—aspects of implementing a technology initiative,” the blueprint says. In fact, truly effective professional development goes well beyond a single training session and “is ongoing, frequently reinforced, well-supported, and embedded into the daily life of schools.”

The blueprint contains many tips to help school leaders build and sustain an effective professional development program, including:

  • Provide teachers and administrators with the technology one year prior to implementing with students; before they can be comfortable using the technology to teach, educators must be comfortable employing it for their own personal use and professional growth.
  • Offer opportunities for educators to get their how-to technology questions answered through just-in-time, technology-based modules and peer support.
  • Teachers, like students, should have opportunities to learn at their own levels and in their own style.

Just as school leaders aim to use data to monitor and shape instruction, they should do the same when it comes to professional development. A human capital management solution will let a district track teachers’ participation and progress in professional development offerings.

Results

Education leaders should approach ed-tech initiatives with their intended results in mind—and beginning a project by identifying its goals from the get-go, and determining how to measure progress toward those goals, is a critical first step.

Consistently monitoring data and results is key as well, because the initiative might need some revisions or tweaking to ensure that benefits everyone involved.

According to the bleuprint: “Not only is this sort of evaluation crucial to the success of individual programs, it helps education leaders in other parts of the country and world learn from one another’s success and build new programs based on scientifically-based research.”

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura