Technology Planning for Heart-Pounding Times

By Revenaugh, Mickey | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), November 1999 | Go to article overview

Technology Planning for Heart-Pounding Times


Revenaugh, Mickey, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


Technology planning for schools used to be an exercise in high hopes and meager expectations. As little as three years ago, dedicated committees of technology directors, teachers, school board members and parents were still putting the finishing touches on technology plans that envisioned a semi-distant future of interconnected learning communities and begged for a budget big enough for a few dozen desktop PCs next year.

But now, school technology planners are in a whole different ballgame. In fact, thanks to the E-rate and a white-hot public interest in technology, it looks a lot like the big leagues. There's real money to invest, and real (read: high stakes) decisions to make.

That has school technologists staring at their pre-dawn ceilings haunted by a very particular nightmare: the one in which they have a couple million bucks to spend on technology -- and they spend it wrong.

It's a nightmare worth paying attention to, because this moment of abundant resources for technology won't last forever. Sooner or later, the pendulum will swing, the public will figure everything that needs to be bought has been, and poorly chosen technology will not be so easy to replace. So how do you plan well for technology in these heart-pounding times? You have to start with a shift in perspective.

It Happened To Me

I will admit, some shifts are more jarring than others. For years, as editor of various technology magazines for educators, I had a strict "boxes and wires come last" view of technology planning. I firmly believed that no piece of equipment or package of software should be purchased until it had a well thought out educational use -- ideally, with pre-training of teachers, to boot.

But the pace of technology change forces one to shed such dogma. The linear relationship between purpose and tool has now become a warp-speed tango, in which tools inspire new purposes as often as purposes inspire new tools.

Helping to launch the multibillion-dollar E-rate program only added to my change of view. Bringing robust infrastructure and affordable connections within reach of every school convinced me that only with such resources on hand can schools make real all their great ideas for technology infused curriculum and teacher training. And, as it turns out, the E-rate is the most enticing technology planning carrot imaginable: more than 90% of public schools will be covered by current technology plans this fall, according to some estimates I've seen.

The problem is, too many of those technology plans -- and too many E-rate applications that spring from them -- don't go far enough. They're shaped by small thinking and by yesterday's realities (although often with price tags that are quite out of this world). And when all is said and done, the schools that follow those plans will find themselves just as far behind the technology curve in 2000 as they were in 1996, no matter how much money they spend.

Five Planning Principles

This fall, as the E-rate launched into its third application cycle, I joined the staff Of Broadband Networks Inc. (BNI). In this company's mission and products, I saw a dedication to the key principles I now believe will make the very most of school technology today and tomorrow. These principles are:

1) Bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth: While some in this enlightened age might argue that you actually can be too rich or too thin, there's really no such a thing as "too much bandwidth." Working with partners from the cable industry and elsewhere, BNI designs 100 Mbps or Gbps fiber optic Ethernet wide area networks, and can help districts interconnect and manage local area networks as well. …

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